SOUL OF M E X I C O TOURS
MEXICO'S SILVER ROAD
The mystique of Asia's Silk Road meets its rival in Mexico, where not only did the trade of new spices and other commodities emerge, but also, the birth of the very first international trade network the world had ever known.
Initially inscribed into the earth beneath the feet of indigenous merchants and warriors, who traded salt, feathers, semi-precious stones, war and women between established trade centres, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (The Interior Royal Road) materialized following a chance meeting between the Spanish, and Chichimeca at La Bufa, in modern day Zacatecas City. Introducing the Spanish to the rich silver deposits initiated unfathomable bloodshed, religious conversion, protectionism, racism and colonial control of indigenous lands. The blood of innocent civilians and war mongers drenched the trail that extended beyond Mexico City, to Veracruz for Spain, and later for trade with the Manila Galleons out of Acapulco.
La Puerta del Camino Real, or Door to the Royal Road, ultimately gave rise to Mexico as the trade centre of the world, during a time of xenophobia and oppression, alongside fascination of the unknown and an intense desire to trade, to own, and to eventually control and destroy.
Protected by UNESCO, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro is an engrossing pilgrimage through Mexico's history, and our exploration of this small region is just one series of other tours we are developing. La Puerta del Camino Real refers to the region closest to Mexico City, as it was founded before the northern region.
This August, our journey starts in Mexico City for the convenience of international and domestic flights. We will explore Santiago Tlautla, to walk along a protected portion of the original, handmade road and bridge. Staying in Tepotzotlan, our walking tour includes the former College of San Francisco Javier, which is just one of 55 properties along the full route, protected by UNESCO. Heading north to Guanajuato, we will stop at the Ancient city of Tollan-Xicocotitlan, and soak in medicinal spring waters revered by the Chichimeca for their healing properties, though they now flow through the modern La Gruta Spa in Atotonilco. In Guanajuato City, we will be entertained by a tale of two star-crossed lovers of the mining era, before exploring the ceramic galleries of Dolores Hidalgo, and Church of El Grito.
Though Mineral de Pozos and Real de Catorce are not listed as part of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, their potential for being added is probable, as the mines of these ghost towns once fed the Camino, as though tributaries of a larger stream of riches. Beguiling for their crumbling structures, slowly being reclaimed by nature, these towns are a photographers playground. In the silence of a still afternoon, it's easy to imagine the presence of a thousand ghosts upon the breeze, to hear the voices of past warriors, merchants and their loaded caravans navigating the cobblestones. This is a rich historical area awaiting romantics who dream to imagine a world as it was, and yet it still remains one of Mexico's best kept secrets.
Our exploration of this region concludes in the opulent city of Zacatecas, where we will visit the iconic La Bufa, where on September 8, 1546, the Chichimeca first presented Spaniard Juan de Tolosa several pieces of silver-rich ore. By 1586, Mina el Eden was open for mining, for the extraction of silver, gold, zinc, copper, iron, and lead. The mine closed in 1960, but was re-opened on January 1, 1975 as an underground museum. Mina el Eden is still viewed by historians as one of the most important silver and gold mines of the world, as it dominated the international mining industry for close to 300 years, and had a tremendous impact on the construction of El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. There was only a small segment of land required, to connect El Camino to Acapulco, through Mexico City, and just like that - Mexico consummated the world's first intercontinental trade route.
The construction of Mina el Eden's museum with tram passage to La Bufa was visionary. We will start with a rail-car ride into the centre of the mine, which houses an interesting fossil collection, and a safely constructed underground passage through two levels of the mine, complete with props of miners, and views of an underground spring. From there, we will take an elevator back to the street, where a tram-car whisks visitors across the city, directly to La Bufa. The set-up is a fluid and interesting walk through history.
While in Zacatecas, we will visit the ancient city of Chicomoztoc, which continues to baffle archaeologists. Possibly a trade centre, this city lies along El Camino, and is suspected by some as being the legendary Aztlan, which was the origin place of the mighty Aztec. Aztlan is said to be comprised of 7 caves, symbolizing seven wombs from which the seven Aztec tribes were born. Out of the Xochimilca, Chalca, Tepaneca, Colhua, Tlahuica, Tlaxcalteca, and Mexica, all of whom speak Nahuatl, the Mexica were the last to depart Aztlan, and their calendar starts on the date of this departure. As the other tribes had already settled lands in the Valley of Mexico, the Mexica were nomadic for a time, eventually settling on Lake Texcoco, where they constructed the powerful fortress of Tenochitlan. Archaeologists are uncertain that Chicomoztoc is Aztlan, though it was abandoned at the same time the Mexico claim to have left their ancestral home.
As victors write the history, indigenous contributions to the rise of El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro are almost never mentioned. We conclude our tour at Chicomoztoc as a reminder of the extensive trade systems and highways founded by the first people to settle these lands. The ancient city of Atlantas and the legendary womb of Aztlan, the exotic and mystical Silk Road, and the alluring El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro are all comparable for intrigue, beauty, legend, historical significance, superb architecture and powerful landscapes.
Join us this summer, to introduce yourself to this captivating history through our 11 day introduction. Price per person is based on attendees, starting at $46,000 MXN (12 Guests) to $40,000 MXN (16 Guests). Please click on the link below, to read our detailed itinerary and list of inclusions.
"We loved the silver tour. We loved the magnificent architecture, native ruins and rich history. Mexico is full of beautiful places and endearing people."
Lisa Romary & Dave Mosher
This tour starts in Mexico City and ends in Zacatecas City, but we include the return domestic flight to Mexico City so international and national guests have easy access from just about anywhere in Mexico. If you would like help with your arriving flight, we are ready to assist you!
The return flight from Zacatecas will depart early in the AM, for CDMX, so guests may book flights departing Mexico City around 1-2 PM. Please contact us BEFORE you book your flight, to confirm the departing flight time from Zacatecas City.
Please email Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org
"A Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step"
- Lao Tzu
Day One: Tuesday August 1, 2023
Hotel Location: Mexico City
Arrive in Mexico City. We will check you into the hotel and have dinner for introductions, and to go over any questions you may have about our itinerary!
Day Two: Wednesday August 2, 2023
Hotel Location: Tepotzotlan
This morning we will have an early breakfast and depart the hotel by 8:30 AM. We will head directly for Santiago Tlautla, where we will have a chance to see an original piece of the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, and bridge – both of which are protected by UNESCO for their historical significance. After lunch, we will head to Tepotzotlan to check in and enjoy a walking tour of the city, which includes a very important and beautiful convent.
Day Three: Thursday August 3, 2023
Hotel Location: Guanajuato City
This morning we will have an early breakfast and depart the hotel by 8:00 AM, heading for the ancient city of Tula, where we will see the famous figures most commonly known as the Atlantean Statues. From Tula, we will make our way to Atotonilco, to have lunch at La Gruta, then spend the afternoon enjoying the hotsprings. Though today, La Gruta is a modern spa and pool, these waters were once a destination for local indigenous peoples, who understood the medicinal powers of the water. Warriors came to heal their wounds, and others came to make sacrifices to the gods. After visiting La Gruta, we will stop to visit the incredible church, which has become known as Mexico’s Sistine Chapel. At last, we will check into our hotel in Guanajuato City on time for supper.
Day Four: Friday August 4, 2023
Hotel Location: Guanajuato City
Today we will enjoy a more relaxed day, starting with breakfast and a walking tour of the city. We will break for free time after lunch, so guests can browse the galleries and people watch. We will meet tonight at 7:30 by the Juarez Theatre, and engage on an entertaining street theatre performance about a miner who falls in love with a wealthy mine-owners daughter. This star-crossed romance is Guanajuato’s own Romeo and Juliet tragedy that will touch hearts.
Day Five: Saturday August 5, 2023
Hotel Location: Mineral de Pozos
This morning we will leave the enchanting city of Guanajuato for Dolores Hidalgo, where we will visit the Church of El Grito, and lovely ceramic shops with colourful pieces that are reminiscent of Talavera. Our next stop will be for a charcuterie board (meat, cheese and olives) and glass of wine at Cuna Tierra Winery, before arriving at the Ex Hacienda Santa Brigida to explore the fantastic ruins of an old mining site.
Day Six: Sunday August 6, 2023
Hotel Location: Real de Catorce
Textile lovers will enjoy our first stop today, along our way to Real de Catorce. We will be visiting Santa Maria del Rio, where local women weave exquisite shawls on backstrap looms. Santa Maria del Rio is one of the most famous textile towns in central Mexico, and even if you do not collect textiles, you will find yourself fascinated by the rich history of this art form. From there, we will make the long and arduous journey to the ghost town of Real de Catorce, which is seated in the Sierra de Catorce. If you have issues with claustrophobia, please contact us before booking this tour, as the 2 KM tunnel to reach the town has low ceilings and is only wide enough for one lane at a time. Once on the other side of the Ogario tunnel, it truly feels like the end of the world, as this wonderful Pueblo Magico sits on a throne, overlooking the vast desert below.
Day Seven: Monday August 7, 2023
Hotel Location: Real de Catorce
This morning we will meet for breakfast at 8 AM, then head out by 9 for our first horseback excursion. We will ride up to Puebla Fantasma, which is completely abandoned now, but was once a small mining town high above Real de Catorce. The views on the way back down, are stunning, and the chance to ride through these crumbling ruins is quite enchanting. Upon returning to Real de Catorce, we will have lunch and enjoy a walking tour of the town, which includes a very old bull ring, interesting church and cemetery, cock-fighting theatre, and dozens of shops selling Wixaritari beadwork, yarn art, topical medicines, clothing and jewelry.
Day Eight: Tuesday August 8, 2023
Hotel Location: Real de Catorce
This morning we will head out on our second horseback journey, to visit a special temple at Cerro Quemado. We will ride through the ruins of old haciendas, before escaping civilization for the powerful Sierra de Catorce. We will dismount our horses and walk for approximately 15 mins, which is a very short but difficult distance, due to the high altitude of nearly 11,000 feet. The local medicine man and keeper of the temple offers smudging for a small fee, and there is also handmade jewelry available. Cerro Quemado overlooks the sacred peyote desert, and we will be learning about the connection between the two sites. We will then return to Real de Catorce for lunch, then descend to the peyote desert in a Jeep Willy, where we can look back up to Cerro Quemado – the highest peak of the region. The Peyote desert is called Wirikuta, and is where the Sun was born, according to the Wixaritari. We will return to Real de Catorce by supper time.
Day Nine: Wednesday August 9, 2023
Hotel Location: Zacateceas City
This morning we will meet for breakfast at 8 AM, and say goodbye to Real de Catorce. Our journey to Zacatecas takes about 4 hours, and only has one official bathroom stop, so please be prepared for the long journey! We will arrive in Guadalupe for lunch, and visit the Convent of Guadalupe to view an important collection of historical paintings. From there, we will check into our hotel and enjoy the centro.
Day Ten: Thursday August 10, 2023
Hotel Location: Zacatecas
This morning we will meet for breakfast by 9 AM, then head out to visit Mina el Eden. If you are claustrophobic, please discuss this with us, as we will travel into the depths of the mine on a small rail-car, then walk through two levels of this ancient mine. From Mina el Eden, we will take an elevator to a tram car that will deliver us to La Bufa, where Chichimeca Warriors first introduced the Spanish to the rich silver deposits of the region. From La Bufa, we will return to the centro for lunch and spend the afternoon exploring the prolific art collection of Rafael Coronel. Guests may spend as much or as little time here, as the ex-convent that houses the museum is walking distance to the hotel. This art collection is most famed for his unreal masks, but also features many other galleries, including a beautiful collection of pre-columbian artefacts.
Day Eleven: Friday August 11, 2023
Hotel Location: Zacatecas
This morning we will have breakfast early and depart Zacatecas by 8:30 AM, arriving at Chicomoztoc early enough to beat the heat of the summer sun. This ancient site remains a mystery to Archaeologists, who have devised many theories about the builders and inhabitants, as well the purpose of this beautiful old city. What remains clear, is that it was razed at one point in time. We will learn about the various theories and explore the structures. We will return to Zacatecas for an afternoon of free time, so everyone has the chance to do some last minute shopping and packing. This evening, we will enjoy our last supper together!
Day Twelve: Saturday August 12, 2023
Hotel Location: N/A
Flights depart Zacatecas early enough for guests to fly into Mexico City, with connecting flights to anywhere in the world. Please do not book your flight from Mexico City until our tour is confirmed so you can leave yourself enough time to check-in, once in Mexico City. (This is especially true if you are departing Mexico on an international flight, as the airport’s domestic terminal isn’t connected to the international terminal.) Your domestic flight from Zacatecas to Mexico City is included in the price.
Please email Jennifer at email@example.com
EXPLORE AMAZING GHOST TOWNS
The Silver Road is littered with countless ghost towns, predominantly in the state of San Luis Potosi. We will stay in two Pueblo Magico Ghost Towns, being Real de Catorce and Mineral de Pozosl, and will have the chance to explore several abandoned treasures from this historical time.
STAY IN OPULENT CITIES
We will stay in the UNESCO designated city centro's of Guanajuato and Zacatecas during our travels along La Ruta de Plata. Built from the riches of the mines, these cities have beautiful esthetics and feature intricate architecture and important museums.
LEARN ABOUT INDIGENOUS NARRATIVES
Not only will we visit the ancient cities of Tollan Xicocotitlan and Chicomoztoc, we will also learn about the Wixaritari culture, including visiting the sacred peyote desert Wirikuta, and horseback riding to a Shamanic Temple at Cerro Quemado. The Rafael Coronel Museum features countless traditional masks, and an incredible collection of ancient ceramics from all over Mexico.
VISIT EXQUISITE CHURCHES
There are dozens of churches along our journey that are stunning, and/or interesting to visit. While some museums are inadvertently housed in convents and churches, we will visit the Sanctuary of Jesus of Nazareno de Atotonilco, the Iglesia del Grito in Dolores Hidalgo, the Church of Our Lady Guadalupe in Real de Catorce and the Basilica Cathedral in Zacatecas. These are four churches we feel should not be missed, due to their historical importance and incredible artistry.
EMBARK ON EXCITING ADVENTURES
Real de Catorce is home to many exciting adventures that may not be for the faint-of-heart. Horseback riding is at a walking pace, but with tricky footing for the horses. The Jeep Willy ride to the Peyote desert is incredibly fun, but a bit of an adrenaline rush. We will descend about 3000 feet over the course of half-an-hour or so, stopping at an abandoned mine-site part-way through. These experiences are all fun-filled, but if you have concerns, it is possible to explore the town on foot, and enjoy some rest. Please contact us for more information.
JAIME HERNANDEZ BALDERAS
Jaime Hernandez was born and raised in Patzcuaro, and has been a National Guide for many years. For some, guiding is a job or a career, but for Jaime, it's a lifestyle. Fluent in Spanish, English and proficient in P'urepecha, Jaime's fascination with culture and world history offers incredible insights into the impact of the world on Mexico, and Mexico on the world. We truly appreciate Jaime's dedication to respecting traditional protocols when organizing tours that bring guests to local communities and families, as having an invitation sets a different understanding of indigenous communities, than simply arriving and intruding. We are honoured to work with such an esteemed and knowledgeable guide and friend.
Jennifer Bjarnason was born on the West Coast of Canada, and has been living in Michoacan since 2016. With 31 years experience working with indigenous artists from the Pacific Northwest Coast, Jennifer's background as an art dealer is what initially brought her to Michoacan, assisting a boutique hotel with art tours. From there, as she continued to explore Mexico, Jennifer opened Soul of Mexico Tours and began leading groups on adventures, from day trips to a two week excursion that follows part of Mexico's incredible Silver Road. Jennifer organizes most of our logistics, designs most of our tour content, creates parties, schedules lectures, personally selects wines, mezcals and beers for special events, and even makes sauces, baked goods and other special treats for our picnics. She looks forward to hosting you!
Not all tours are meant for everyone! Please take a moment to read through a few considerations, before committing to this tour!
Elevation: If you suffer from COPD, are on oxygen, or suffer from altitude sickness, this may not be the right tour for you. We start at an altitude of 1981 Meters (6500 Feet), and climb to a height of nearly 3050 Meters (10,000 Feet). We will reach our highest altitudes in Real de Catorce, after spending one week adjusting, so our guests can adjust. This is only a serious consideration if you already have issues breathing.
Claustrophobia: The Ogarrio Tunnel to Real de Catorce is nearly 2 KM long, is narrow and has low ceilings. We will travel in the van to reach the village, but if your claustrophobia is severe, please contact us for more information. There is no way to avoid driving through the tunnel, on this tour. We have two underground activities that are not recommended for guests with claustrophobia. As they are day-activities, it is possible for you to skip them if you have concerns.
Horseback Riding: Not everyone is comfortable on a horse. We have two excursions on horseback, both of which are in Real de Catorce. Some of our guests have hiked part-way to Puebla Fantasma, and it would be possible to explore the start of the tour to Cerro Quemado on foot, to see the hacienda ruins. For beginners, it's important to feel sturdy in the saddle, and your foot-holds. The paths are tricky, but your horses will move at a walking pace. We will assist you with your saddle, and offer some tips to make you more comfortable.
Jeep Willy Ride: The Hill of the Repentant is a hair-raising ride that descends sharply from Real de Catorce to the Peyote desert. The road is narrow, with a small ravine on one side. There are times when the Jeeps will reverse, to let the oncoming traffic pass, making this a bit of an adrenaline rush. Exhilarating is a word to describe this awesome bucket-list adventure, and yet it is a common and daily commute for the locals (see the children below, who are sitting at the back of the jeep, with their feet dangling over the edge!). We don't want to scare you off, but if you have a severe fear of heights, please let us know so we can offer advice on whether you should skip this activity, or jump on board. (If you are afraid of heights, please do not sit on the roof of the Willy!)
Our group of 12-16 guests will be on the road for 10 days together. (The other 2 days are travel days) Most of our driving distances will be broken-up, with the exception of one drive that will take us from 4-5 hours, depending on pit stops.
Be Flexible: Traffic jams or delays can happen anywhere. Sometimes museums are closed without notice, and we will need to find a new activity. We will always try our best to keep our schedule and activities fluid.
Be Punctual: We ask guests to be 10 mins early for departure times, so we can load the van and maintain our schedule as best as possible.
Switch Seating: This isn't always necessary if guests are happy with their seating arrangement, but different seats offer different views.
Read your Itinerary: We will print itineraries for everyone, and ask you to please check it over at night, so you know what is happening the following day. We will always discuss departure times for the following day, but it is helpful if guests pay attention to our schedule of events and activities.
Taking Photos: If you are taking up-close photos of the locals, please ask permission. This is especially important with indigenous peoples, and children. Most often, you will be met with a warm smile.
Sales People: Please acknowledge sales people in the streets, even if you aren't interested in what they have on offer. As guests, we must be mindful to show respect for the local people, including those who are homeless and asking for change.
Tipping: It is standard for foreigners to tip between 15-20% in restaurants. If you purchase anything in the grocery stores, and someone bags your items, the standard payment is 5 Pesos per bag. (They pay for their own bags, and do not make a wage. They are often seniors who have no pensions). A standard tip for hotel rooms is $40 Pesos per night. We recommend tipping each morning, as someone different may be cleaning your room each day.
Please contact Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org