The Valley of Tepoztlan
Nestled amid jagged cliffs and rock-carved mountains, Tepoztlan is a gem that is far away and yet so close to the sprawling metropolis of Mexico City. Only a little over an hour's drive by car or by bus, this ancient town offers the perfect weekend getaway for the Big City's weeklong weary denizens. And yet, despite its proximity, the moment you pass the highway tollbooth and begin the winding descent into the town, you immediately feel yourself transported to a different land. As the rugged cliffs tower over the rich verdant foliage that invitingly guides your drive into the heart of this small town, so too does the fresh, dry air seep into the very essence of your psyche, offering a playful sense of magic that will last with you throughout your visit.
Much has been written and much has been said about the magic of Tepoztlan. While the question of whether Tepoztlan is really magic or not may be left open to debate, depending on your philosophical biases, one thing that is unquestionable is the place magic and mystique has in the mythology of Tepoztlan, both past and present. Tepoztlan had an important place in Aztec/Mexica mythology, having been considered to be the mythical birthplace of the great plumed serpent god, Quetzalcoatl. Today Tepoztlan continues to capture the imagination of Mexicans and foreigners alike, believed by many to be a place that harbors an energy or force that humans can tap into to replenish their souls and their bodies. Thus Tepoztlan has been a popular attraction to hippies and others who believe you don't necessarily have to be a Jedi apprentice to feel the force.
While you may not believe in the existence of an autonomous energy pervading the valley in a seductively mystical cause and effect relationship, it would be difficult to deny the salutary effects that dry, clean air, ample sunshine, and abundant vegetation can have on people. One such focal point for energy and health seekers alike has been the Tepozteco mountain, at the top of which is to be found the ruins of a 10 meter high Aztec pyramid dedicated to Tepoztecatl (the god of the harvest and fertility) and a breathtaking vista of the small valley of Tepoztlan (unless it's a particularly hazy day, in which case the view is still breathtaking because if gives you the sense of being higher than you actually are).
The Tepozteco is no mean feat and can only be reached at the end of a steep and arduous climb of between 45 minutes and one and a half hours, depending not only on your own level of fitness, but probably also the level of fitness of those around you - especially on a crowded Saturday or Sunday afternoon. The path is gorgeous, and with a little imagination it can give one the sense of being an intrepid explorer, swashbuckling through jungles and climbing narrow mountain ravines to discover the remnants of a lost civilization. This experience will be greatly enhanced if you manage to begin your trek as early as possible, indeed the crack of dawn would make it something special. Back in the real world, it's best to begin your trek before 11 a.m. on a weekend.
Having descended from the Tepozteco, the first thing to do would be to head on in to Tepoztlan's central marketplace, or mercado. Here you'll find a good opportunity to relax and immerse yourself in small-town charm steeped in a sense of rustic bonhomie, where you may even hear the elder townsfolk still speaking their native Nahuatl. You'll be surprised by the variety of refreshments on offer. Besides the ever popular michelada - a concoction of beer, lime juice and chile - and the traditional pulque, you can partake of non-alcoholic drinks like horchata, a concoction created from milk and ground rice, as well as a wealth of fresh fruit juices. Eating is indeed an added pleasure in the market, with every sort of taco, torta and gordita you can imagine, ranging from the classic chuleta and bistek for those who like to stick to the familiar, to the chapulines (fried grasshoppers) for the more intrepid gourmand. Then of course there are chicharrones (pig skin and fat), recommended for those who might complain that they just don't get enough saturated fat in their diet. The marketplace is also good hunting grounds for handicrafts and cloths, including pottery, weaving, silk and embroidery, as well as the usual gaudy touristic bric-a-brac, all quite cheap. Remember to haggle over the price of everything with exaggerated hand and mouth gestures.
Places To See in Tepoztlan
For those wanting to just take it easy, another great site is the Ex-Convento Dominico de la Natividad. Built by Dominican priests between 1560 and 1588, the monastery and the attached church feature a very interesting façade where one can find indigenous symbols and designs intermingling with angels and the Virgin Mary. Also worth noting is an intricate mural of pre-Hispanic origins composed of dozens of different varieties of seed (as a symbol of fertility and the harvest). This monastery is thus particularly interesting as it is a living testament to the merging of pre-Christian with Christian mythology and religion, creating an interesting fusion of different civilizations and marking a continuity that is thousands of years old. The monastery also includes a museum that is worth checking out. Another worthwhile detour could be to the Museo Arqueologico Carlos Pellicer where you can find interesting arts and crafts documenting the ancient cultural heritage of the area. There is no tourist office in Tepozt (the familiar form in which bourgeois outsiders from the city like to refer to the town) but everything is more or less within walking distance and anyone can point you the right way.
Places To Stay in Tepoztlan
If you need a place to stay in Tepozt, we suggest you get to know someone with a house there. People with weekend retreats in Tepozt are not hard to find in Mexico City. If it should happen that you have not yet befriended one of these people, there are some good, clean and cheap options, such as the Hotel Meson del Indio (395-0238, Revolucion 44), Hotel Posada Ali (395-1971, Netzahualcoyotl 2). For more expensive options, there is Hotel Tepoztlan (395-0522, Las Industrias 6), Posada del Tepozteco (395-0010, Paraiso 3) and the beautiful Posada del Valle (395-0521, on the road to Mextitla 5) that boasts a breathtaking mountainous view, a very soothing ambiance and a Temazcal (Aztec steam bath).
Getting To Tepoztlan
Getting to Tepoztlan is easy. By car you can take the toll road to Cuernavaca and then take the exit marked "Cuautla/Oaxtepec". Buses depart from Mexico City's southern terminal in Taxqueña half-hourly and cost about 40-50 pesos (4-5 dollars). A good time to go could be September 7 for the Carnaval with dancing and singing going on all day and night, including processions in the streets and ceremonies on the Tepozteco.
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