Real de Catorce boasts about 1,000 full-time residents, yet this small town in the state of San Luis Potosi is attracting increasing numbers of tourists every year. Located near the town of Matehuala Mexico, at an elevation of more than 9,000 feet, this picturesque town presides over an amazing view, perched on a plateau in the Sierra de Catorce range. Located in central Mexico, well north of larger cities such as Guadalajara and Mexico City, Real de Catorce requires at least a few days to visit, but it's worth the extra planning.
Stepping into this most charming of San Luis Potosi mining towns is like stepping into a page from a history book—crumbling ruins from Real de Catorce's heyday in the 1800s are now being renovated and restored to their former glory. Whether you are a pilgrim visiting the miraculous image of St. Francis of Assisi, to go cycling or running in the desert landscape, or simply soak in the visual splendor of this mountain town, travel to Real de Catorce will not leave you untouched.
Real de Catorce first became important in 1772, when silver was discovered in the mountains surrounding it. Over the next century it became a hub for the newly rich industrialists who reaped the benefits of the mines, and luxury shops, elegant stone buildings, and the Parish of the Immaculate Conception Church all sprung up during this time. Real de Catorce quickly became one of the most important silver mines in Mexico. All this came to an end, however, when the drastic drop in the price of silver after 1900 left Real de Catorce a ghost town.
Today, visitors to Real de Catorce have rediscovered its charm. Its location can't be beat: It has spectacular views of the valley below, and outdoor enthusiasts will want to explore the high desert on bicycle or on foot. You can even explore the mountainside on horseback. Every year, Huichol Indians travel to Real de Catorce to collect a supply of peyote, the mystical cacti that provide spiritual nourishment and guidance, from the desert area around the town. Normal tourists should refrain from gathering peyote themselves, however; it is forbidden for anyone but Huichol Indians to gather or possess peyote. The town itself is also beautiful, with the white dome and tower of the Parish Church crowning the winding cobbled streets. The image of St. Francis in the Parish Church is reputed to grant miracles, and many pilgrims journey there every year to ask for favors to be granted.
The greatest attraction of travel to Real de Catorce is a more relaxed pace of life in beautiful surroundings. Visitors spend their evenings dining in the many newly established restaurants, listening to live music, and their days lazily walking the streets and seeing the colonial buildings. The atmosphere of the town recalls days gone by, and was in fact used as a set in several films, including Bandidas and The Mexican.
Visitors to Real de Catorce may want to start from the nearby town of Matehuala Mexico, just 30 miles south of Real de Catorce. The drive brings you through another mining town, Cedral, and allows you to see some beautiful views of the plateau. During holiday seasons, staying in Matehuala Mexico may be preferable, as hotels and inns in Real de Catorce can get busy, and more expensive. Bring enough cash to get you through your stay—banks and moneychangers may be hard to find in town. If you're looking to get away from Mexico's more crowded beaches and resorts, this might be the perfect place to spend your vacation.