Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mazamitla Part 1: Magic Pueblo in the mountains

Detail of Mazamitla's Parroquia de San Cristóbal. This church is one of the most architecturally unusual of any I have encountered in Mexico.  Many writers have groped for a way to describe Parroquia de San Cristobal. "Oriental", "Swiss chalet", and "Norwegian" are a few of the terms often used. Above, level after level of white balconies grace the rear of the church steeples, each accented by beautiful woodwork. The photos in this and two postings to follow are the result of multiple visits to one of Mexico's loveliest and most visited Pueblos Magicos. Some of those visits were to simply enjoy Mazamitla itself. Other visits used the little mountain town as a base for exploring colonial hacienda ruins and gorgeous waterfalls set in the rugged backcountry to the south of Lake Chapala called the Sierra del Tigre. This series is therefore a composite. In Part 1, I will focus on Mazamitla itself, giving you a sense of why the town achieved the much coveted title of Pueblo Magico in 2005. For a list of the present 36 Pueblos Magicos, click here. More may have been added by the time you read this.

Parroquia San Cristóbal

Front view of Parroquia de San Cristóbal showing its "gingerbread" steeples.  The original, rather humble, adobe church was rebuilt in 1957 into the lovely building you see above overlooking the town plaza. The small city of Mazamitla sits high in the mountains south of Lake Chapala, about 1.5 hours drive from my home in Ajijic. The best way to reach it is to travel west from Ajijic along the Lake through Jocotopec, then turn left on Mexico Highway 15 which runs along the south side of the Lake. After about an hour's drive from Ajijic, you will reach Tuxcueca. Turn right at the main intersection and follow the newly repaved road as it winds up into the Sierra del Tigre Mountains, providing gorgeous panoramic views along the way. About half an hour after turning at Tuxcueca, you will reach Mazamitla, where the road intersects Mexico Highway 110, also called the Colima-Sahuayo Highway. For a map of Mazamitla, click here.

Detail of the Parroquia's steeple and clock tower. The name Mazamitla comes from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. It means "the place where arrows to hunt the deer are made." The pine-forested mountains surrounding Mazamitla would have provided both numerous deer and unlimited supplies of wood for arrows. Since those times the forests have provided materials for buildings such as the Parroquia. The doors, windows, balconies with their innumerable spindles, and the wooden corbels supporting the roof overhangs all show the liberal use of wood with a most pleasing effect. The municipality (equivalent to county) has slightly less than 12,000 inhabitants. They engage in farming, logging, commerce and a considerable amount of tourist related activities. At 2200 meters (7217 ft.) in altitude, the average year-round temperatures range from 25.7C (78F) to 7.1C (44F). This cool, dry climate makes Mazamitla a magnet for Mexicans from Guadalajara in the summer months. Many well-to-do Guadalajareños have built cabins and vacation homes in the area around the town.

The rear of the church displays unusual rounded corners with more wooden balconies. The church structure is larger than it appears, taking up most of the block on which it is situated. Speaking of churches, there is an old Mazamtila custom relating to marriage. A young man seeking a bride must first approach the father of the girl for permission and bring him presents of cigarettes and liquor. If the father refuses, the couple can elope, but they must show repentance by appearing later, wearing black and carrying a cross to the church.

Rear of the church assumes the appearance of a ship's prow. The long narrow deck, bounded by the railing with the steeple "masts" in the back create the appearance of a ship, somehow beached 2200 feet above Lake Chapala, the nearest large body of water. Hopefully Mazamitla will bury their power and telephone lines under the streets, as some Pueblos Magicos have been doing. All that wire makes for difficult photography.

La Posada Alpina

Busy scene on Calle Portal Reforma, the location of Posada Alpina. Our hotel, the Posada Alpina faces the Parroquia across the main plaza. Many of the second floors of the buildings around the plaza contain restaurants with wonderful views of the plaza below. Posada Alpina is a beautifully decorated little place that, unfortunately, has no website or email address. However, they make up for that with a great location and simple, comfortable rooms at a very low price. I got a single room for the equivalent of about $25 (USD). The hotel also has off-street parking, a very important consideration in a town with narrow, crowded streets and limited parking. Guadalajareños come mostly on the weekends so, during the week, your chances of getting a room simply by showing up are excellent. When a van-load of us showed up unannounced on a Tuesday afternoon, we were the only guests, and had our pick of the rooms. For information about Posada Alpina and other hotels and cabins in the area, click here.

Posada Alpina is full of delightful little architectural details. A stone arch-way leads to a stairway to the second floor. Notice the painted tiles set on the riser under each step.

View of plaza from the Posada Alpina's second-story bar. After our arrival we split up to explore the town. Finally, tired and in need of liquid refreshment, we assembled on this balcony to enjoy how the slanting rays of the late afternoon sun illuminated the ever-changing scene in the plaza below.

The hotel has two internal courtyards, each ringed by balconies. Like the church, the hotel used wood liberally for decorative touches on doors, windows, and balconies. In the courtyard below, the hotel has an outdoor dining area to supplement its indoor restaurant.

A fountain and flagstone patio decorated the second courtyard. I would advise getting a room in this area because it is further back from the sometimes-noisy plaza. Notice the plants and blooming flowers everywhere. This picture was taken in February! (Photo by Chuck Boyd)

An unusual planter containing more blooms. This interesting piece of artwork is made of welded copper. I recently saw more of this artist's work at a Chapala restaurant on the Lake. Two things you can always count on in Mexico are the year-round blooms of wildly colorful flowers, and wonderful art everywhere.

La Plaza Principal

La Plaza Principal separates the Parroquia and the Posada Alpina. In the center of the plaza is the kiosco. While one finds a kiosco in virtually every Mexican plaza, they are all different and reflect the history and characteristics of the local area. This one is another example of the creative use of wood. Each time I have visited Mazamitla, I have found the plaza area immaculate, except for the times when there were improvements underway.

Like the spokes of a wheel. The roof is supported by rafters arranged like a wheel's spokes, or perhaps a sunburst.

The Jardin, or garden, was beautifully tended. Mexicans take great pride in their plazas, and someone is usually sweeping, clipping, painting or providing some other form of upkeep. All this pride and effort is a good thing, given the amount and variety of use that the typical plaza sustains,

On either side of the Jardin were broad flagstone areas with fountains. More two story wood and adobe buildings surrounded this north side of the plaza, with more beautiful wooden balconies on top and wrought-iron benches on the bottom.

Tonatuih, the Aztec sun god, glares out from a plaza sculpture. The sculptor recreated the famous face of the so-called "Aztec calendar" in bronze relief and set it into the flagstone of Plaza Principal. The calendar forms concentric rings, which correspond with Aztec ideas about the nature of time and the universe. The sun god was associated with human sacrifice and the original "calendar" may have been a sacrificial altar. Extending down from Tonatuih's mouth like a tongue is a blade. Aztecs believed that the sun needed blood in order remain strong, and that they were living in the 5th creation of the universe. Arranged around the face are 4 boxes with symbols indicating that the 4 previous creations were destroyed by wind, fire, water, and a jaguar. The circular sculpture is 4 meters (12 ft) across. The original stone calendar is located in the Anthropological Museum in Mexico City and weighs 25 tons.

On the south side of the Jardin, an unusual fountain. The fountain, which was not operating when I took this photo, spouts water from the hole once filled by the beam which moved the old mill stone. The stone may come from the colonial era. The dedication attached to the fountain was for Luis Barragan Morfin, an "architect and universal man who captures the essence of this land and converts it into art." Mexicans have good reason to be proud of their many skilled architects and artists. Luis Barragan (1902-1988) grew up in Mazamitla and was an expert horseman and great lover of the local landscape. This heavily influenced his work. Other influences included a visit to the Alhambra, a product of the Moorish occupation of Spain and one of the most perfect buildings in the world, and his friendship with French landscape artist Ferdinand Bac.

Scenes from Mazamitla Streets

Transportation of the four-legged persuasion. I hope I never get too used to my sudden encounters with Mexican cowboys and their beautiful horses on the streets of small towns in Mexico. When we turned a corner, we came face to face with these two. I barely had time to get my camera up before they went cantering by. Horsemanship and the traditions surrounding it are very important here.

A typical commercial street in Mazamitla. The buildings are low, usually not more than 2 stories. They have rust-red tiles on the roof and white plaster walls. Intricately carved wooden doors and windows are common. Planters are interspersed between the old-style street lights.  Workers were busy laying this flagstone street, and it may soon become pedestrian-only, a blessing and relief from auto congestion in these narrow streets.

Calle Portal Reforma, just south of the Plaza Principal. A hotel with long wooden balconies occupies the second and third floors, while various small shops line the bottom level. The sign for Restaurant Bar "El Chupy" offers breakfasts and lunches a la carte with Rico Menudo on Sundays. Menudo is a traditional Sunday morning dish and legend has it that it can cure a hangover. The dish is a sort of soup or stew made from tripe (beef stomach) along with lime, chili peppers, onions and other ingredients. It is often made communally, with the 7-hour preparation time as much a social occasion as the eating. For a recipe, click here.

Wrought iron provides an elegant touch to this white-painted adobe building. The sign on the left proclaims "Arte y Cultura" inside, while the right-hand sign offers "Billar" (billiards).

Mexicans love flowers. The apartment above is built over a small tienda (store). The array of flower pots provides not only color but a certain degree of privacy for the porch. I have noticed that even the shabbiest shack in the tinest village is likely to have a coffee can in the window containing some sort of colorful flower. The upturned corners of the roofs in Mazamitla give the town a slightly Asian feel.

This concludes Part 1 of my Mazamitla series. In the next posting, I will take you to see the ruins of the colonial-era Hacienda de Contla southwest of Mazamitla and will outline some of the dramatic history of the Sierra del Tigre. I always appreciate comments. If you'd like to leave one, you can either do so in the Comments section below, or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim


  1. Amazing pictures.

    Excellent info about Mazamitla, I live in this place but your images and words make me want to know better my own town. :)

    Thank you.

  2. Reading about Manzamitla allowed me to include it in my next visit to Mexico. Gracias Amigo

  3. I'm researching routes from Melaque to Mexico City and stumbled across your blog - I love the pictures & detailed descriptions of places you've been! Could you write a bit about the drive from Colima to Mazamitla on Mex 101? Have you been on the 15 as far as Morelia? I'd love to know the travel times for these routes!

  4. Nice work, and I do mean work. A lot of your pictures seem to be many years old. All of the electricity in Mazamitla was buried three years ago. Since you post no dates on photos, people have to assume that everything is still the same. It isn't. This is a big overall internet issue, since almost no one posts dates on their information.

  5. Jonathon- While some of my pictures were taken a couple of years ago, the last one in this posting, which shows an upstairs porch lined with flower pots, was taken in the late Fall of 2010. It clearly shows overhead wires. Perhaps they haven't gotten to that part of town yet, although it is only a couple of blocks from the Plaza.

  6. dear jim, my husband and i speak span he is mexican desent from new mexico/ thinking of leaving here. want quiet place to live awhile and die. is the s of lake chapala a good place? ive lived in oaxaca and loved it but cant walk that much anymore think a trip to mazamitla is a good idea. friend wants to go to ajijic, i know its not our bag but s shore seems different id appreciate it if you respond but understand if you dont
    sha-ron and patricio esquibel
    thank you

  7. Yes, thanks for the wonderful essayette about Mazamitla. It whets my appetite for a visit, which I and my wife will be making soon.

  8. Hi,

    Can you recommend bus line from Guadalajara? We are older, and not looking for the cheapest. Thanks

  9. Sfvaywalk, dude! The bus service leaves for Mazamitla from Central de Autobuses‎ Nueva Central Camionera, in
    Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Mexico -- an enclave of Guadalajara -- at 5:45, 6:30, 7:30, 8:30, 9:30, 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, 13:30, 14:30, 15:30, 16:00, 17:00 y 19:00.


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim