Zacatecas, Mexico – A Tourist’s Guide

zacatecasZacatecas is a state in northern central Mexico, the capital being Zacatecas City.  It is Mexico’s eighth biggest state with 1.5 million inhabitants and has a mountainous terrain with many hills, ravines and valleys.  The area has much cultural and historical importance, and although is covered mostly by desert, agriculture is the main source of income for the indigenous people.  Zacatecas is Mexico’s main producer of beans, chilis and cactus leaves while also producing a significant amount of the country’s guavas, grapes and peaches. The local population is almost all ‘mestizo’ (mixed indigenous-European) and depends on cattle farming, mining and tourism for their livelihood. The name Zacatecas was originally taken from the language of the indigenous people who populated this area prior to the Spanish invasion, meaning ‘people of the grasslands’.  The climate is temperate and semi-arid with an average maximum temperature of 26?C in summer and 9?C in winter, where freezing temperatures are also common.  Maximum rainfall is between June and October.

The city of Zacatecas was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 1993 and declares it to be a place of outstanding historical and cultural significance.  Zacatecas city began as a Spanish mining town in 1546 as the area was discovered to be rich in silver and other minerals.  It was considered to be an extremely wealthy area, second only to Mexico City in population and economic impact in the 16th and 17th Century.  Many battles between the Spaniards and indigenous people were seen in this area but the city still maintains its Baroque buildings and structures and mining remains an important local industry. The city has a beautiful Centro Historico (historic centre), which is small and easy to navigate on foot.  Zacatecas is at an altitude of 2,400m so it is recommended that visitors take a few days to acclimatise before partaking in any exercise.  The area can be accessed by direct flights from Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Houston and Mexico City to Zacatecas International Airport, which is only 20 minutes by taxi from the historic centre.  If altitude sickness is a problem on arrival and walking is a problem, there is the Maxibus and the Tren Zacatecano, which will take visitors around the city, stopping at all the historical sites.

The main square in the Centro Historico is called Plaza de Armas and is adjacent to the cathedral, which was built in the 1700s and is a beautiful example of the architecture from this era.  The centre has many churches and buildings which are all 19th century or older, and the streets are steep, narrow and irregular reminiscent of a medieval town.  Numerous museums have relics of the 16th and 17th Century, one is located inside a partially renovated convent, another inside a prison.  Aside from the cathedral, the city’s most recognisable landmark is Cerro de la Bufa, an unusually shaped mountain where the summit can be reached by foot or cable car for spectacular views.  The inactive silver mine ‘El Eden’ can be explored as can the silver-processing hacienda at Centro Platero Zacatecano to learn how the state of Zacatecas still mines over 50% of the worlds silver.

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