The Coati Cartels of Tepoztlán, Mexico
A plastic bag began rustling quietly on a hill above Tepoztlán. The middle aged Mexican couple ahead of us needed some energy — it had been a hard climb. I had only been in Mexico for a couple days and one of the few words I’d learnt was “torta”, which is a kind of sandwich, but the sound the coati (little raccoon things) of Tepoztlán associate with sandwiches is the rustling of plastic and as soon as they heard it they poured down the hill from all directions in search of a meal. The Mexican couple were panicked at being harassed by about 10 coati — the one word I understood of the woman’s despairing demand was “torta”; I’m pretty sure she said something like “Give them the sandwich or we’re all going to die!!”. The husband (I’m guessing) obliged and the coati scrapped amongst themselves, and on we climbed to the top of the hill above town to see a small pyramid.
Tepoztlán, around an hour’s drive from Mexico City, is a completely different world to its sprawling neighbour. It’s a small town in every sense of the word and in the 3 days we spent there we felt like we got to know it pretty well. From the best food we’ve tried in Mexico (so far), to passing loved up couples at almost every street corner, to our run ins with the coati cartel, Tepoztlán gave us a great feel for small town life in Mexico.
Apart from the chance to see the playful coati, the walk to the pyramid is also a good chance for a workout after 1 too many cheese and cream filled quesadillas. The information I found online said you’d better posses a high level of fitness and good walking shoes, but I had neither and did it pretty easily, so don’t let the internet put you off. It took around 50 minutes to get to the top off the hill and luckily it was almost entirely in shade. The pyramid at the top is a bit of a disappointment but chances are you aren’t really visiting for that reason – it’s the nature (and clifftop location of the pyramid) that’s the biggest draw. The views over the town are great but you’ll have to pay for the entry ticket (around $60 pesos), to see it properly. If you don’t buy the ticket you’ll still get to see the pyramid from a distance but it’d be a shame to miss the view. If you aren’t lucky enough to see a gang of coati harassing people that you‘re standing close to, just take out a plastic bag and give it a rustle – they’ll hear it from a mile away. We had forgotten that fact after being at the top of the hill for a while and decided to get out a biscuit. The coati came running and our biscuit went back in the bag, safe from the clutches of our stomachs for another hour.
If you’re in need of a few kgs of granola or sweets, Tepoztlán has you covered. In fact, you can find pretty much any nut, grain, candy or fruit that you desire at the market near the zocalo. We bought some granola, a couple of kgs of mangoes and some sweets that looked like fruit (but just like an episode of the Twilight Zone, every fruit tasted the same…). You don’t really have to bargain because the prices are usually displayed, which makes it a pretty relaxing (and cheap) place to shop. The market is also full of small stalls cooking delicious quesadillas and tacos, as well as the usual clothes and souvenirs.
While Tepoztlán’s colonial centre might lack some of the charm of other towns in Mexico, it does still possess plenty of character and is a great place for a walk. The streets are fairly free of traffic, which isn’t particularly common in this country full of cars, and you’re more likely to see shops and restaurants aimed at locals than tourists. What really sets Tepoztlán apart though are the huge jagged cliffs that surround it – it’s probably the most scenic town I’ve been to in Mexico so far, and you can reach the trees and hills on foot in about 15 minutes from the centre.
Ex-Convento Dominico de la Natividad
There aren’t many sights in central Tepoztlán (a short walk around town will pretty much reveal them all in a matter of minutes) but the Ex-Convento Dominico de la Natividad is worth a look. From the colourful front gates decorated with beans to the intricate murals covering the walls, this church/monastery is full of unexpected sights. There was even a weird art display – I have no idea what it all meant because the description was in Spanish.
Monsters? Aliens? Who knows…
The Food in Tepoztlán
We’ve been in Mexico for nearly 3 weeks now and the best food we’ve found so far was in Tepoztlán. We ate at the market whenever it was open (the food stalls closed quite early) and also tried out a few local restaurants. We never had a bad meal and the prices were a lot lower than we were paying in Mexico City. We often had a filling meal of quesadillas, tortas, tostadas or tacos for around $65 pesos (less than $5 USD for 2 people). We also found an awesome ice-cream shop which had just about any flavour you can imagine (although the names were all in Spanish), and at $20 pesos for 3 different flavours, it’s great value.
Getting to Tepoztlán
You can reach Tepoztlán in about an hour from the south bus station in Mexico City. The ticket will set you back around $100 pesos. From the bus station you can get a taxi to the centre for around $40 pesos but we were too cheap to pay and ended up walking for around 30 minutes to our hotel. We wished we paid for the taxi. Hotels are pretty easy to find, but as Tepoztlán is a popular weekend getaway for residents of Mexico City, it might be better to book ahead if arriving on a Friday.
Further reading: Tepoztlán is considered a “Pueblo Magico” (magic town), a title given to lots of cool small towns in Mexico. Check out this page on visitmexico.com for more information.
Have you been to Tepoztlán, and would you be scared of the coati? Let me know!