Has anyone told you about the buses in Mexico? They’re amazing.
Far from the scary “Greyhound” bus tales of my youth in America, buses here are nothing of that sort and often feature business-class type luxuries. The bus stations are clean, functional and well-organized. We checked our bags as if at an airport and were given water and a snack for our easy journey.
For our two-week Mexico trip we booked several rides, and from Mexico City for the shortest leg of our journey we traveled 100 miles for an overnight trip that I believe everyone should do. Here lies one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever seen, it left me awe-struck immediately. While I’ve seen on other blogs “you can totally do it in a day” ignore that, and stay at least overnight.
The colonial city of Taxco (pronounce the x like an “s” and you’ll say it right) while the Aztecs, who ruled the area before the Spaniards came, called it Tlachco after a ball-playing place (Lonely Planet). This place in Mexico is known as the “city of silver” for the mines extracting this precious mineral for decades. Now that the mining has stopped, they are more well known for their silver handicrafts and charming village life. In fact, it is one of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos, or “Magical Village,” which is an initiative by the Mexican government shining a special light on notable places that exhibit natural beauty, cultural riches, or historical relevance; a bit like Italy’s “I Borghi più belli d’Italia.”
It sits perched prettily on a hillside, high above the sea level, its charming streets are surrounded with views of the surrounding hills and mountains (in fact, I’ll tell you how to get the best view of the town a little later).
I teamed up with Visit Mexico for several legs of our trip and in Taxco, they were gracious enough to outfit us with a local tour guide, the wonderful Nico, to make sure we got the most of our short time there, something that made our trip infinitely better and probably would make yours too. Nico is a Taxco native though he lived in Mexico City for four years. He came back because he didn’t like the rush of the big city, he used to wake up at 4:30am to be at work at 7:30am. Coming back, he became a silver artisan, and now a tour guide.
11am Arrival in Paradise
It’s impossible not to be instantly struck with Taxco’s enviable charm immediately upon arrival. Even the taxi’s are something to be awe-admired, all are Vacho Volkswagen beetles, zipping around in the steepest streets I’ve seen in Mexico. I was told they no longer make these cars which means you may see them replaced in the future but what a shame, they really make an adorable scene around Taxco.
No doubt you will be gripping the seats tightly as you whip around tight curves and make your way up seemingly impossible hills, all part of the of the charm right? The town features white stucco buildings and red roofs, with extremely clean streets and there is an air of relaxation that seems a million miles away from Mexico City.
After hailing a Taxi from the bus drop off point, we drove up to Hotel Mi Casita, simple in many ways but incredibly impressive in others. Our room was large and airy, boasting a large double bed, wooden furniture typical from the area, and something every freelancer appreciates, great WiFi.
From every room you can get a beautiful view of Church of Santa Prisca from every room for the cost of around 75$ a night.
12pm An education in interesting” Easter Rituals
Since our visit was a few weeks before Easter, our guide Nico wanted to let us in on how they celebrate the holy week here. Which when I heard about it, I wasn’t expecting at all, it has a rather grisly ring to it. The Semana Santa (Holy week) includes the usual palm weaving and processions sure, but what’s more important is what else happens. I should have clued in to what we were in for since our meeting point at three statues, of men undergoing some sort of religious ritual.
I’m of course talking about the penitentes (“the penitent ones”) who take part special processions, those who participate are largely silent, some are chained and bent down, some have hot wax candles to drip on themselves at any time, or carry bundles of thorny blackberry bush stalks (encrucijados) and the scariest (to me) are of course the Flagelantes who use whips with spikes on the end to hit themselves. They are usually outfitted in black, hooded robes while all of this is going down. It’s prestigious to be part of this tribe more a brotherhood than anything else, with its emphasis on anonymity. Members must undergo several steps to get to the point where they too, can take part.
Nico#2 showed me an example of the spiky rope and it hurt just to slightly touch the nailed part so I cannot even imagine when it would like to actually see someone hit themselves with this. Nico explained that the Spanish had a tough time getting Mexicans to stop believing in idols, and one way was to undergo these rituals, think of it as a way to ask forgiveness for worshipping idols. It’s important to note that rituals that cause pain or suffering are not something the Spanish necessarily invented, in prehistoric times, Indian times also practiced human sacrifice.
Sure we might find this a bit bizarre but its a cultural tradition here and I imagine it probably means a lot to many people. In Italy some towns pelt each other with oranges or roll huge wheels of cheese in various battles around the boot so honestly, the better question would be, who’s actually normal? If you want to read more about this I highly suggest reading about it on this worthy article on The Daily Beast.
1pm Old Town Taxco
After this colorful beginning we headed to Ex-convento de San Bernardino de Siena, the first Franciscan convent built in 1595 (finished in 1637), one of the oldest in the Americas. Inside you can see two important works: El Cristo de los Plateros (The Christ of the Silversmiths) and El Señor del Santo Entierro (The Lord of the Holy Burial). It was completely destroyed in a fire and rebuilt in the 19th century.
Next up was the beautiful Plaza Borda, the central hub of town and where the action is at. This is where you’ll find the ornate 18th-century El Templo Santa Prisca, the cathedral of all cathedrals that also has a second name (San Sebastian) exhibiting the Churrigueresque or Spanish baroque style. It was a gift from the city’s most famous patron, a Frenchman who struck it rich in the mines, which also nearly made him bankrupt. I’m talking about the main squares namesake: Don Jose de la Borda.
The cathedral is beautiful, and quite fascinating, making a visit with a guide well worth it. According to Nico#2, before the 16th century, the Bible didn’t exist while other holy scriptures did (the Bible encompasses them all together). During the reform movement the Catholics lost thousands of followers and in order to help reclaim them and teach their people the bible’s teachings, they needed to create picture books, painting, architecture, engravings, everything was a symbol to evoke emotions which is why everything is so ornate.
They were pretty smart in using these symbols as well, for example you might find it rather strange that the alter in the church is dedicated to Saint of Agriculture and farming San Isidro, but it makes sense. It served as a reminder to donate money to the church to bring good luck to next year’s harvest. Inside the church you will also spot a Virgin Mary made completely of silver (120 kilograms I was told) which was built and donated by local artisans.
The Virgin Mary is very important to Mexican culture and you will often see her depiction in places. I could not agree more since my own mother wanted to name me Guadalupe but luckily that was regulated to my second name after my father vetoed it. No offense to any Guadalupe’s out there, it just has an unfortunate rhyme with my last name that would have made my days at school horrible.
Speaking of symbols, you can even notice tricks in the way the floor is made. In one back room with paintings depicting the life of Mary, Nico #2 showed us how depending on how you looked, one side of the floorboards appeared one darker than the other. Done on purpose of course, to dazzle visitors.
Historically Taxco went into decline after it was almost completely mined out after the 17th century. The rejuvenation of what you see today is because of William (Guillermo) Spratling who came here in 1929 and set up a silver workshop, thus starting an industry. You can learn more and see his personal collection of pre-hispanic pottery at the William Spratling Archeological Museum
After all this, my brain was jelly. It was time to eat. We sat down at a nearby traditional eatery, Restaurante La Hacienda. They had a terrace where you can eat but we chose to stay inside, enjoying enchiladas, black bean quesadillas, and the traditional favorite in the area Pozole.
This is soup dish served with hominy, avocado, tortilla pieces, pork rind. It’s delicious and filling and reminded me a lot of the soups we would eat growing up. I was also told to try the local jumiles, but I had enough of insects in Mexico City so I stuck to more safe favorites.
3:30 A Visit to Taco’s Silver History (and Shopping)
After lunch, I was ready to finally explore some of the city’s famous silver shops. A lot of the best ones can be found around the main square, Plaza Bordo. Of course people will try to sell you silver in the streets or at the weekend market but at least you know in these shops the silver you are buying is real.
Funny enough, I read that during WWII the silver industry in Taxco was a bit like Paris in the twenties. The US couldn’t purchase these materials from Europe so they sourced their silver from Taxco creating a boom with many notable visitors (Mae West, the Vanderbilt’s) making their way to this tiny Mexican pueblo magic.
My favorite shop (pictured above) was EBA Elena Ballesteros. A great little shop with something for every budget, earrings, necklaces, sculptures, which is great for me since my budget is basically what an Italian salary could afford. I was pleased to find out they had a satellite shop in Fredericksburg, Texas, near my hometown of San Antonio. Great to know for the next time I’m on town. One thing to look for is a 925 stamp. This signifies that it is Sterling Silver, comprising 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.
Keep in mind that on Saturdays artisans sell their jewelry near the Estrella Blanca station so if you are more into markets than stores, make sure to base your visit around then. Also the Feria de la Plata, the annual Silver Fair, takes place at the end of November / beginning of December.
We also made it a priority to visit the Mina de Taxco, old Mining museum located under the Hotel Posada de la Mision (also where our bus from Mexico departed from) for a tour which despite the fact that it was only in Spanish was really fascinating. You are completely outfitted in a helmet and vest before taking an elevator, and plenty of steps, into the old mine. I could see this being quite cool for families, they also offer you a drink and a chance to admire the hotel before you leave.
6:30pm The Best View in Town
To wind down the incredible day, it was time to take the cable car to Monte Taxco Hotel to check out an even better view in town. Roundtrip for an adult costs $95.00 pesos and the last one leaves around 7pm so if you plan to stay for dinner, have them call you a taxi.
But if you want to really have a good time, I would actually head over to De Cantera y Plata Hotel Boutique. I honestly couldn’t believe that Taxco had a five star boutique hotel like this, and I will note this for our next visit. Prices are extremely reasonable, around 130 per night and the hotel represents a typical taxqueñan home with 10 beautiful suites, all with a clean interior design edge. We got to sit down with the wonderful director of public relations Edelmira, who despite telling me she didn’t speak great English, was more than happy recount us about how much she adores the city of Taxco.
We opted for dinner at their restaurant “Punto 925” where smart visitors should ask for the balcony table overlooking all of glittering Taxco, order a margarita as your meal awaits and revel in this splendid view before hailing a taxi home.
After dinner, we opened the huge balcony doors at our hotel and just listening to the nightlife. We could hear people heading out to the night’s fun, singing, honking, a general positive feeling radiates through this town. It was like going out without having to go out, I could have stayed for hours but instead we fell asleep pretty quickly after such a long day. Instead I woke up at the crack of dawn to take in an incredible sunset over the Church of Santa Prisca, a moment I wished was infinite.
9:30am Eat Breakfast like a Local
Later that morning we only had time for breakfast before having to get the bus back to Mexico City. I live for a good Mexican breakfast, especially if I’ve enjoyed a few margaritas the night before. Nico #2 wasted no time in taking us to a truly local spot, Restaurante Santa Fé.
That Saturday morning, it was filled with local families getting pastries, chilaquiles and pancakes in one room, while in another room women looked through bins of silver jewelry. It was quite the experience, especially when the owner Reyna Lastra came out to chat with us while pointing to the “wall of fame” featuring famous people who have stopped at Sante Fe along their own journey through Taxco. I could see why he was proud. This is a place that has seen it all with over 50 years of history, it remains no-nonsence and quite frankly, delicious. I dug into my green chilaquiles with gusto, I’ve been waiting for this dish for years.
At some point in our conversation, Reyna suddenly disappeared and reappeared with some ashtrays with the restaurant’s logo, a little souvenir from a very proud man. I took it quite happily, it might make a great plate for guacamole when I get home since I don’t smoke but it’s the thought that counts.
Another poignant reminder of the kind people in Taxco and their overwhelming generosity with two frumpy foreigners. I will be back, I just wish it could be tomorrow.
To hire an official tour guide in Taxco: Nicolas Brito Lopez is your man. Call or text him at +52 (1) 762 102 0142 to arrange a visit.
Where to stay
- Hotel Mi Casita. Stay in a charming Mexican home with incredible views of the main cathedral, ask for a room with a balcony. address: Calle Altos de Redondo 1 Colonia CentroTaxco de Alarcón, Guerrero, 40200 Mexico. Website. 75$ per night.
- De Cantera y Plata: five star boutique hotel overlooking Taxco’s old town. Only 10 suites. address: Camino a la Posada, 39, Taxco 04210, Mexico.
- El Templo Santa Prisca, Plaza Borda.
- Ex-convento de San Bernardino de Siena, the first Franciscan monastery and one of the oldest in America. Built in 1592 by the Franciscan Francisco de Torantos. B. Juárez, Barrio del Exconvento, 40240 Taxco, Gro., Mexico.
- Plaza Borda (the Main Square)
- Casa Borda Centro Cultural: a cultural center hosting experimental theater and contemporary sculpture, painting and photography by Guerrero artists. Plaza Borda # 1, Real de Cuauhtémoc 1, Centro, 40200 Taxco, Gro., Mexico.
- William Spratling Archeological Museum: Calle Porfirio A. Delgado 1; Taxco; 011-762-622-1660.
- Mina de Taxco (Old Mining museum): Cerro de la Mision#32, Taxco 40230, Mexico.
- Museum of Silver: Plaza Borda 1, Taxco; 011-56-762-622-0658
- Monte Taxco (for the best view in town), you’ll want to head to the teleferico (cable car station) and pay a small fee to get to the top.
- Las Grutas de Cacahuamilpa (limestone caverns around 30 kilometers north of Taxco, look for tours taking you there).
- EBA silver, a great place to buy quality items in silver. address: Muñoz 4, Taxco, Mexico
Where to Eat
- Restaurante La Hacienda, Guillermo Spratling No. 4, Centro, 40200 Taxco, Mexico.
- Punto 925, Road to Posada 39 Fracc., Lomas de Taxco, 40200, Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico
- Restaurante Santa Fé. Miguel Hidalgo 2, Taxco de Alarcón Centro, 40200 Taxco, Gro., Mexico.
How to pack
- Bring sunscreen, already in March the sun was in full blast and a hat is also recommended. Keep in mind that between April and November rainstorms are common through they usually clear up by the evening. Bring comfortable shoes as the steep streets are nothing to laugh at. Also refrain from wear revealing clothes if you plan on visiting any of the churches, which you probably will.
- From Mexico City, you can book tickets to Taxco from the southern bus terminal, known as Taxqueña, this is the website we used. The trip takes around two and a half hours and depends on traffic. I would have a look in advance just to make sure you have an idea of how often they leave.
More useful articles on Taxco
- For one of the best guides to Taxco, check out this website which also clearly lays out what to keep in mind when buying silver.