Real de Catorce

Real de Catorce is a colonial mining town that once had a population of about 40,000 people. As the silver and gold mines in the area gave out, the population dwindled to only a little over 100 people. Today wealthy Mexicans and foreigners have moved into Real de Catorce looking for an unusual retreat. Many people say the Real de Catorce could become like San Miguel de Allende and Cuernavaca, the place to be for artists and the alternative foreign crowd in central Mexico.

Real de Catorce is unique from the first moment you arrive or try to arrive. There are only two roads into town. The main road rises some 4000 feet in only about 10 miles. The road ends in a tunnel through the mountain that surrounds the town. The tunnel is almost a mile and half long and only one car wide.

If you take a bus to Real de Catorce you will have to get off your normal size bus and board a minibus for the last leg of the journey into town. The ride in the minibus into town is a never to forget experience. The driver will go hurling through the curved tunnel at breakneck speed. This is especially memorable due to the fact that the minibus only clears the walls and roof of the tunnel by inches.

The town of Real de Catorce has some of the most amazing views in Mexico. You can see for miles out over the surrounding desert and mountains from many areas in town. The town is towered over by Parroquia de San Francisco. Each October between 50,000 and 100,000 pilgrims enter Real de Catorce for the weeklong festival of San Francisco. The church is not one of the more impressive ones in Mexico.

What is worth visiting in the church is a room off the main sanctuary that displays the thousands of small amateur religious paintings called “retablos” that pilgrims leave as thanks for answered prayers.

Real de Catorce tends to attract an unusually diverse bunch of people. There are wealthy foreigners and Mexican that have constructed large mansions in and around the town. There are pilgrims in town to pray at the church. There are also always a number of people in town for a different type of trip. Real de Catorce is in the center of the area where the peyote cactus grows wild. This cactus is a hallucinogen. Many people looking for an alternative experience to the norm make the pilgrimage to Real de Catorce in search of this cactus.

Real de Catorce is located in the Northern section of the San Luis Potosi state. It can be reached by bus from the town of Matehuala ($2.50 for the 1 ½ hour bus ride). If you are planning on driving to Real de Catorce please note that large vehicles such as campers cannot enter the town.