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All About Zacatecas – Mexico

Zacatecas - MexicoAll About Zacatecas – Mexico

Zacatecas is a small Mexican city tucked into a tight valley and surrounded by low hills. Located on the northwestern edge of central Mexico’s vast highland plateau at an altitude of 2445 M / 8065 ft, Zacatecas has a very dry and surprisingly cold climate.

I’m talking winter temps of mid-30s F at night / mid-40s F daytime for several months each year. The warmest months are April and May, just before the rains start in mid-May. At that time of year, nighttime temps are about 50-60F, with daytime highs sometimes reaching the low 80sF / 25-29C.

Chilly nights even during their warmest months. If you thought Mexico was hot everywhere, think again!

Zacatecas at nightZacatecas was one of the most prosperous cities during Mexico’s great silver mining days, mid 1500s-1800s. Eden Mine, on the edge of town, was one of the biggest and most productive mines in Mexico, with huge tunnels cleared in seven layers below the Earth. Today the mine is open for very interesting, informative tours.

Vast fortunes were made at Zacatecas. Some of the profits were used to build gorgeous and elaborate commercial & government buildings, churches & monasteries, and grand homes built from local limestone in shades of yellow, beige, pale pink and soft orange.

These buildings have been so beautifully maintained and restored that the city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. The main street, Hidalgo, lined for many, many blocks by beige and golden stone buildings with wrought iron detailing looks like a sparkling fairy-tale at night, when the entire street is illuminated with golden/white lights.

Zacatecas main street illuminated at night

Zacatecas main street illuminated at night

In fact, it’s the most beautifully illuminated small town I’ve ever seen. And that’s after nearly 20 years of world travels.

Zacatecas is famed and beloved by Mexicans for its beautiful architecture, world-class art museums and scenic viewpoints (more below). They refer to the charming town as ‘precioso’ – precious.

When I visited Zacatecas for one week in April, 2017, I was super lucky to find Hotel Villa Colonia, a fabulous little hotel/hostel located in a historic house just ONE block behind the city’s massive stone cathedral.

My private room with wooden shutters provided me with glowing views of the cathedral illuminated at night, seemingly close enough to reach out and touch.

enjoying morning views of cathedral and town.

enjoying morning views of cathedral and town.

The hotel’s large rooftop balcony provided views over the whole city. Every morning I went up there to practice yoga and meditation with panoramic views. Then I’d head downstairs to cook my breakfast, which I then took up to the rooftop to eat before heading out to explore one or two amazing museums, charming parks and stunning historic buildings.

Zacatecas’ outstanding, world-class museums are primarily thanks to several Zacatecan artists who became some of Mexico’s top artists ever. In addition to their own prolific works, they each amassed incredible collections of art, with which they each, separately, founded large museums to display them in.

Rafael Coronel Museum - Zacatecas

Rafael Coronel Museum – Zacatecas

Rafael Coronel Museum is housed in an massive old monastery, which is itself an attraction. Partially restored and partially left in it a ruinous state, the monastery houses probably the largest collection of Mexican masks in the world, with over 3000 masks displayed in a never-ending series of rooms.

Also on display is a massive collection of African art, mostly masks; a large collection of Japanese ukiyo-e prints; other art objects from around the world, and of course, Rafael Coronel’s paintings.

modern art in Manuel Felguerez Museum - Zacatecas

modern art in Manuel Felguerez Museum – Zacatecas

Manuel Felguerez Museum is housed in a huge former prison. Felguerez was a prolific modern painter and sculptor, one of Mexico’s pre-eminent modern artists. In addition to a vast collection of his varied paintings and amazing sculptures, the museum houses a collection of other sculpture artists’ works.

Pedro Coronel Museum is housed in a massive historic Neo-Classical building, a former Jesuit college. This is a truly amazing and literally world-class museum as it contains the Zacatecan artist’s incredible collection of original paintings by many of the world’s most renowned artists. I’m talking Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, George Segal, Marc Chagall, Joan Miro and Kandinsky. Seriously!  (no photos allowed, for obvious reasons)

Turns out that Coronel lived in Paris in the early 1900s, where he was part of the various modern art movements in Europe at that time. As a result he was friend and associate with all those great contemporary artists. Thus, his vast collection.

It’s amazing that such an excellent, priceless collection of international art is held in little Zacatecas, Mexico, a small city that very few people outside Mexico have ever heard about.

Francisco Goitia Museum - Zacatecas

Francisco Goitia Museum – Zacatecas

Francisco Goitia Museum is housed in a grand former mansion of a rich Zacatecan man. This museum showcases a selections of works from all of Zacatecas’ most famous artists as well as biographical information about each artist. Thus is gives a great overview and summary of the historic art scene in the city.

Zacateca’s museums would more likely be found in Mexico City, with the caliber of art they contain. But, indeed, there they are in Zacatecas!

The museums are so big, their collections so vast, that I could only visit 1 or 2 per day. So museum visits alone took four mornings to explore.

getting ready to enter Eden Silver Mine by mine train

getting ready to enter Eden Silver Mine by mine train

Another morning I joined the fascinating Eden Mine tour. On other mornings I did some hiking (details later). In total, I needed an entire week to explore Zacatecas.

In evenings I enjoyed various free outdoor entertainments. The city hosts a dizzying array of street music and performances most nights and definitely on weekends and holidays, when people near and far flock to the city to admire its gorgeous architecture, art and free performances.

Most evenings, roving groups of musicians wander the streets playing marching music while gathering ever-expanding crowds of tag-alongs. It’s part of a popular Mexican diversion called callejoneada. A wandering self-made street festival, found in several small historic towns in central Mexico, including Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende.

performance by local indigenous tribe

performance by local indigenous tribe

Several beautiful, well-maintained parks and gardens dot the city center, as well as open stone-paved plazas. And, needless to say, it’s easy to find delicious local food anywhere in the historic center.

Another famous spot in Zacatecas is La Bufa, a huge rock outcropping on top of the main hilltop overlooking town. Visitors can get there by walking up Calle de Angels or by taking a bus from Hidalgo Street.

Zacatecas used to have a famous cable car that crossed high over the city from one hilltop over to La Bufa. The stations and cable cars are still there, but quite sadly they were closed in late 2016, though I’m not sure why.

La Bufa and views of the city

La Bufa and views of the city

I heard that the city is building a new cable car to replace it. But I don’t know why the original wasn’t kept open until a new one opens. But I do hope they open one of them soon, since it looks like quite a thrilling ride over the city.

Up at La Bufa, several walking trails meander through the hills to other look-out points, caves and forests. You can also circumnavigate the massive rock outcropping. Two mornings I climbed up to La Bufa, admired the views and hiked around the hillside trails.

There’s also a small historic church, a museum dedicated to a famous battle that took place, and a few eating spots. Primarily people visit La Bufa to see the fantastic panoramic views over the city down below.

Quinta Real Hotel with historic aqueduct in the background

Quinta Real Hotel with historic aqueduct in the background

Other interesting unique spots in Zacatecas include the historic stone aqueduct, Quinta Real Hotel which is housed in a former bull ring, and last but not least, La Mina Disco.

It’s the world’s only bar/club located inside a mine tunnel. It’s inside the same Eden Mine tunnels where tours take place during daylight hours.

La Mina Bar

La Mina Bar

La Mina Bar is reached via the mine train! Perhaps this is also the only bar in the world accessed solely by train?! Inside, the bar is essentially a cave illuminated by colored lights, a massive black-light and large TV monitors playing the latest dance videos.

It’s a beautiful club and very popular attraction on weekends. Mina Bar is only open Thursday-Saturday. On Saturdays wild, drunken nights go on until the wee hours of the morning.

Zacatecas quickly and easily became one of my favorite cities in Mexico. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in art, museums, architecture and night-time performances.

You might also enjoy:

All About Guanajuato – the coolest town in the world

All About San Miguel de Allende

All About Queretaro

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