Shopping at a Cuetzalan tianguis.
  • Shopping at a Cuetzalan tianguis.
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A hundred and eight miles from the city of Puebla in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental, mystical Cuetzalan is dotted with waterfalls, springs and natural pools set in tropical forest. Most guidebooks describe this remote mountain village as a must-see attraction.

If you drive from Mexico City, you will pass the fuming (and still active) volcano Popocatépetl and its dormant mate Itza. The drive changes from dry landscape to lush forest as you climb mountain roads and enter rainforests surrounded with fog, and you realize this really is a magical place. Visibility on the road can decrease to 10 feet; everything is soaked with moisture.

Cuetzalan streets.

Cuetzalan streets.

With spectacular mountain views and a huge town marketplace with its impressive variety of handicrafts and restaurants, you can spend all day just exploring here.

Many travelers boast the best coffee they’ve ever tasted was from Cuetzalan; there’s also a local liqueur called yolixpa, an exotic mixture of alcohol and native herbs. Sunday tianguis (markets) have a variety of objects for sale, from hats and baskets to pottery and wood, and you can start your meal with a wild fungi soup followed by bean and mole tamales.

Los voladores.

Los voladores.

Cuetzalan is known for its ancestral dance with voladores, or the "Flyers in Cuetzalan." The voladores (flyers), dressed in brightly colored traditional costumes, climb up a 150-foot pole, tie their ankles to ropes wound around the center pole, and then proceed to jump from the pole, gracefully descending around and around as the ropes unwind till they reach the ground. As each voladore “flies,” another performer balances himself at the top of the pole while playing traditional tunes on his wooden flute until all voladores reach the ground.

There are several places in the village to enjoy this amazing tradition, including the atrium of the Church of San Francisco.

The major landmarks to see in town are the Parish of San Francisco (left), the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Shrine of Guadalupe, City Hall and the Ethnographic Museum Calmahuistic. Atepolihui Cavern is located outside of Cuetzalan and worth a visit while you're in the area. A local guide company provides the equipment you'll need to explore the cave. There are also many waterfalls in the area if you spend several days here.

Villas Cuetzalan in the cloud forest.

Villas Cuetzalan in the cloud forest.

A charming place to stay is Villas Cuetzalan, nestled in a cloud forest. The 400-peso price includes wood for the fireplace, continental breakfast and a guided tour to nearby waterfalls and the cave of Cohuatichan.

We also stayed at the Hotel Taselotzin, the only environmentally sustainable hotel in the area. Located in the Zacatipan neighborhood and operated by indigenous Nahua women, it has a catchment system for rainwater and organic waste recycling. The hotel has 10 comfortable rooms. There's a restaurant and traditional herbal medicine and craft store on premises.

Cuetzalan is at times is warm and humid, but at 3,000 feet, nights tend to be chilly and there can be extreme variation in day and night temps, so dress in layers – and bring a rain jacket. However, the state of Puebla has great weather all year, so any month is a good one to visit.

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