It’s great to have finally hit Central Mexico. Zacatecas, the capital of the state of the same name, might just be my favourite place in Mexico so far. Despite the development around it, the city itself oozes character, and feels largely untouched since colonial days. The old, higgledy streets are packed with market produce and street food – tortillas, tomales (meat and cheese wrapped in corn leaves), gorditas (toasted corn tortillas stuffed with goodies), swirls of sweet breads, pointy-leaved agave plants, mysterious vials of herbs, dried rattlesnakes, fresh slabs of cheess, punnets of strawberries, tubs of organic honey…
I’ve spent the last few days riding in the desert that surrounds it, sipping mescal in the evening with fellow travellers, and exploring Zacatecas’ warren of side streets that zig zag out in every direction.
The view from the Villa Colonial Hostel roof terrace.
The baroque cathedral, hewn from local stone in a nearby quarry, was built between 1730 and 1760, and boasts a particularly ornate, florid facade.
It looms high above the sidestreets, giving sense to the city and helping to untangle the confusing array of options.
Founded in founded in 1584 thanks to the abundance of silver in its hills, Zacarecas is awash with beautifully renovated colonial architecture and stone slab paving.
The imposing colonial architecture theme extends along the main street. I, however, was just as impressed by the figure below the traffic light, who runs ever faster as the seconds count down, sprinting manically at the very end.
In the evenings, the young and trendy gather in these arches to eye each other up. There’s a liberal, lively vibe – Mexican goths, kids on BMXs and skateboards gap jumping the steps, old men swatting wasps off home made street donuts…
A warren of allyeways are linked by flights of steps set into its steep hillside.
And old dude busking some sweet Mexican tunes in the street.
I like the fact though that Zacatecas still has everyday hubub and life to it; amongst the shiny new euro cars, there are old pickups kicking around, and its rough and crumbly round the edges.
Cruising the market streets.
And there’s plenty of cheap street food to choose from, like these 6 peso tomales.
Or these prickly pears, ready to cook up and stuff inside a corn tortilla.
Or maybe dried rattlesnake, complete with rattle?
On the same food theme. I rode out with Carlos out to some agave farmers in the desert, pictured here. Although they were busy boiling up rat stew, they served up delicious, thirst quenches cups of fresh agave juice. Each plant produces half a litre of juice each harvest, and can be harvested four times a day for 4 months, before it dries out.
Rat stew. Lovely!
Within the market, I feasted on fresh fruit juices. More my style.
10 pesos, less than a dollar, for a hearty glass.
Pick your brew. Mix and match. Or add in some quails eggs (1 peso a pop)...
Funky VW Beetles clap-clap their way around town and up its steep streets.
Luckily, Zacatecas hasn’t been overly homogenised like some of the history-steeped cities in Europe. There’s still a good sprinkling of dust and peeling paint…
This square was a good spot for people watching. The elderly, immaculately clad cowboy in the corner of the picture had just been hurrying down the road to catch up with his tiny pet chihuahua.
A gaggle of sombreros.
We found this most excellent bakery. Pick your own, head over to the paper bag ladies, then pay up at the till on the way out.
Zacatecas is also famous for its part in the Mexican Revolution; its taking by Pancho Villa in 1914 proved to be a turning point. A statue stands proud on La Bufa, an outcrop of rock that towers over the city.
In my hostel room. Clean clothes and a shower!
The Need to Know Section
Cheap digs: There’s a few hostels. I ended up behind the cathedral at the Hostel Villa Colonial. A nice, clean place with a friendly atmosphere. 90 pesos for a dorm room (rooms of 4) or 250 pesos for a double with bathroom and TV. There’s wifi there too, and a great roof terrace for chilling out.
Food: check out the market, and the fish restaurants and panaderia around the plaza.
Bike shops: I found one in Zacatecas with a hotchpotch of parts, mainly for road bikes, called Zacatecas Bicletas. Apparently there’s a bigger shop in neighbouring Gouadeloupe.