Photos: Nikhol Esteras
The Sierra Norte, or Sierra Juárez, is an emblematic territory for the state of Oaxaca. Its natural wealth extends across a large part of southern Mexico with a profound historical and cultural significance. The word we often use to refer to Oaxaca, and the Sierra Norte in particular, is “magical”. These landscapes of ethereal beauty have the largest biodiversity in Mexico and are worthy of our admiration, care and preservation.
“The Sierra Juárez is one of the most representative areas for its social organization, ways of life, traditions and development of community enterprises. … It has more than 400 species of birds and 350 species of butterflies, which can be observed in its own ecosystem.
In the routes along its trails, enjoy activities such as zip-lining, mountain biking, rappelling, climbing, traditional medicine, flora and fauna observation and agro-tourism. All supported by community guides and excellent tourist services.”*
The route of The Sierra Norte is vast. There are 13 villages to explore and whether you decide to know one, some, or each of them, you will leave with an experience of well-being and peace balanced with a healthy sense of adventure. With hundreds of species to observe, dozens of traditional crafts to explore and emblematic foods to taste in each village, you can wander for weeks or focus in on one village for an inspiring, fulfilling weekend getaway.
We have compiled a guide to some of the most relevant date of each community to help you choose a starting point for your journey through the extraordinary Sierra Norte. We are sharing some of our favorite restaurants, attractions, crafts and lodging to start you on your way to a restorative getaway in an inspiring place wrapped in mysticism and history. Bear in mind, though, that one of the best parts of a trip to the Sierra Norte is the ability to detach from your daily route and reconnect with nature, with yourself and with a profound culture. Don’t schedule too much or you might miss out on the magic of the Sierra Norte!
“Love is like a tree: it grows by itself, roots itself deeply in our being and continues to flourish over a heart in ruin.”
Víctor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame
All of these towns have ecotourism centres that provide cabins and camping areas. Food is available from the many family-owned restaurants as well as local markets.
SAN ANTONIO CUAJIMOLOYAS
Known as the capital of the hongo silvestre (wild mushroom), which can be found from May through September.
Don’t miss: The local women’s collective sells preserved mushrooms and handicrafts made from sarcina, leaves of ocote pines. The zipline that runs right across the top of the town.
Explore: Cerro Pelado for hiking, Coyote Canyon, Yaa-Cuetzi lookout, Llano de Tarajeas (open field), the natural vantage point at Piedra Colorada and crop patches in the middle of the forest at Parcelas.
Recommended local dish: Mole cuajado en ollas (mole curd) and troutDenominada la capital del hongo silvestre, el cual abunda entre los meses de mayo a septiembre.
SANTA CATARINA IXTEPEJI
Don’t miss: The former parish church
Explore: Palo Hueco Waterfall; Peña Prieta Viewpoint; and Cabeza de Vaca Trail (ideal for identifying plant species and birdwatching)
Crafts: Molinillo (wooden chocolate mixer)
Recommended local dish: Trout
IXTLÁN DE JUÁREZ — “Land of Fibres”
Ixtlán’s ecosystem combines four different climates and plays a crucial role in the community’s water supply. In the cloud forest you can observe the formation of clouds and, in some places, the Pico de Orizaba volcano is visible.
Don’t miss: Santo Tomás Apostol Church built in the XVII century in the Churrigueresque style
Explore: The lookout at Cuachirindó Mountain; the monument to Zapotec warriors, Juppa y Cuachirindoo; and the arch of Ya-huela Cave in the eco-tourism park.
Recommended local dish: Trout
SAN ISIDRO LLANO GRANDE
A village completely ensconced in a forest!
Explore: Pinovete Waterfalls, Llano de Berro (valley of pine trees with abundant fauna and flora, perfect for birdwatching), Sepultura El Peñasco (a natural rocks formation), lookouts at Las Torres and Yaa Tini
Recommended local dish: Try the wild local herb, poleo.
SANTA CATARINA LACHATAO
Known for its traditional medicine culture and healers, Santa Catarina Lachatao is called an “enchanted valley plain”. There is a great variety of local organic crops including apples, quince and vegetables.
Don’t miss: Santa Catarina Church which has beautifully preserved wooden altar pieces carved in the baroque style. There is also a former mining hacienda, Cinco Señores
Recommended local dishes: Chicilio mole, mushrooms and other vegetarian dishes including black bean tamales, corn and cacao-flavored wáter
SANTA MARTHA LATUVI — “Rolled up leaf”
This village is known for its agro-tourism projects. Fruit production is the town’s main income source.
Don’t miss: The Apple Fair is in July. You can also visit tepache and pulque producers as well as a temezcal
Explore: Pre-hispanic trail Camino Real, Molcajete waterfalls, Peidra del Corredo lookout, El Arco River
Recommended local dishes: Pulque and tepache, mermeladas and candied fruit
SANTA MARÍA YAVESÍA
The community’s cleanliness and the biodiversity of its old forests are outstanding. The ecosystem is compounded by forests with pine trees and holm oaks, as well as cloud forests. The Papaolapan River rises here and caves are abundant
Don’t miss: Former mining hacienda and La Concepción Church, built in XVI century by Franciscan friars and famous for its multiple domes
Explore: Archeological sites, Lotoa waterfall, hiking to Cueva de la Virgen with a water reservoir along the way
Crafts: Carpentry workshops
Recommended local dishes: Trout, bread, mermeladas, chintextle (a kind of chile), asiento vegetal (vegetarian lard)
CAPULÁLPAM DE MENDEZ
Designated as a Pueblo Mágico (Magical Town) by the Federal Government, Capulalpam is located in one of the best preserved natural areas. You can enjoy forest landscapes and a great diversity of flora and fauna.
Don’t miss: San Mateo Church, a yellow quarry stone temple built in the XVII and XVIII centuries. It has a great variety of altarpieces. You can also visit the Centro de Medicina Indígena y Tradicional (Center of Indigenous and Traditional Medicine) for spiritual cleansing, massages, temezcal and natural medicinal remedies.
Explore: Centro Recreativos Los Sabinos y Los Molinos for leisure and recreation, El Calvario lookout, La Cruz Blanca lookout, rigorous hiking at Cerro Pelado, the grottos of la Cueva del Arroyo (Arroyo Cave)
A small community with around one hundred residents whose homes lie in a valley surrounded by mountains. The town was named after the town’s commercial enterprises during the late XIX and early XX centuries, making ice, transporting it to the city on donkeys and selling it.
Explore: Two natural vantage points with panoramic views, full of helm oaks, ash trees and oyamel. There are also local waterfalls, streams and crop fields
SAN MIGUEL AMATLÁN — “Land of Amates” (“amate” is a native tree from this area)
This is a beautiful area of yellow holm oaks, beautiful landscapes and wild agave.
Don’t miss: Yagatzi Eco-tourism Centre and Museo de Origen de los Pueblos Mancomunados (Mountain Villages Association History Museum)
Explore: Old mining haciendas and aqueducts, Loma Amarilla lookout, Los Chapoteadores (natural formations), Cerro Pelado for adventurous hiking
Workshops: Regional cooking classes
Recommended local dishes: Chichilo and other moles, fava bean soup, atole (hot corn and masa drink)
GUELATAO DE JUAREZ
Don’t miss: “Laguna Encantada”, an enchanted lagoon surrounded by gardens, and Museo del Pensamiento Juarista, a museum inspired by Benito Juárez which includes a reproduction of his childhood home
Explore: Cultural walks with Turismo Leela-Too and black bass sport fishing
Known for its coniferous forest and diverse flora.
Don’t miss: Los Pinabetes, an area full of pine trees up to 300 years old and 30 metres in height.
Explore: Puente Colgante (hanging bridge), Piedra Larga for birds and coyote sightings, Las Cascadas waterfalls
Crafts: Granja del Señor Eli for exhibitions of local trades
Recommended local dish: Creole hen mole
SAN JUAN ATEPEC, LLANO DE LAS FLORES — “Mountain where water is abundant”
This community is located on a high plateau. It has a cloud forest with oaks and pine trees. Around its lined trails you can appreciate the beautiful view or birdwatch
Don’t miss: An “enchanted” well where religious ceremonies are held
Explore: Velo de Novia waterfall, the underground river at Cueva de los Ladrones, and the Parque Ecológico Bicentenario Daniel H. Alavés, an ecological park with cave paintings
Recommended local dishes: Mustard stew, turkey mole, yellow mole (mole amarillo) made with potatoes or peas
* Gobierno del Estado de Oaxaca