Pueblos Magicos: Cuetzalan, Puebla is One of Mexico's Many Magical Villages
In the state of Puebla, nestled high in the hills of Mexico’s Sierra Norte is the town of Cuetzalan. This tiny town surrounded by a tropical forest filled with waterfalls, grottos, and coffee plantations. Thanks to its lush flora the area was once home to the quetzal, a strikingly colorful bird that was worshiped by the native civilizations and whose feathers were highly coveted amongst Aztec priests and the upper class. The name Cuetzalan dates back as far as 1475 and in Nahuatl means “place of many quetzals.”
The town itself is a world away from modern Mexico. While most residents speak Spanish, Nahuatl is actually the preferred language. Through its architecture, traditions, gastronomy, and inhabitants Cuetzalan is a beautiful representation of both its indigenous and colonial past. This is why in 2002 Cuetzalan was named as one of Mexico’s “Pueblos Magicos” (Magical Villages).
The center of the town features a colorful and vibrant market, the Municipal Palace, and handful of quaint, beautiful churches including the San Francisco Parish Church, built in the 17th century. Culturally, Cuetzalan is full of life. It hosts a number of fairs, festivities, and activities throughout the year. Among these, one of the most unique is the Voladores. Blogger Rebecca Smith Hurd, of All About Puebla, describes viewing them during her visit. “These “flyers” dress in colorful costumes, scurry up a tree trunk that’s at least 60 feet tall, and then — tied by their ankles to ropes wound around the tree — jump off as if they were scuba diving in mid-air, backward and head-first. Four people soar around the tree as the rope unwinds, while a fifth person dances on a tiny platform at its top. The impressive, death-defying ritual expresses people’s harmony with, and respect for, the natural and spiritual worlds.” In addition to the Voladores, the town offers a few other traditional dances like the Santiagos, the Negritos and the Quetzales.
In the month of October, the town hosts its two biggest festivals. The Huipll Festivity, in which young girls between 14-20 years of age are outfitted in traditional, embroidered dresses parade around town while musicians and dancers perform; and the Fair of the Coffee, which celebrates their most important crop.
The town is also a popular destination for hikers and cavers from across the world. Just a short hike from Cuetzalan, through the surrounding tropical forest, lays an extensive network of underground caves including the Chivostoc, Chapultpec, Atepolihui, and Ampolihui caves.
The Pueblos Magicos program identifies towns that reflect “the culture of Mexico” through attributes like architecture, traditions, customs, music, gastronomy, festivities and handcrafts. There are currently 52 destinations throughout Mexico that have earned the Pueblos Magicos classification.