Every year, thousands of visitors descend upon a small town some six hours North-East of Mexico City for an annual spectacle known as the Dance of The Voldores (or “Flying Men”.) Strapped into rope harnesses atop a 100 foot replica tree trunk, four performers wow audiences with a choreographed aerial display, recreating a theatrical rite that dates back to occupation of Cuetzalan by the Aztecs. Steeped in ancient history and enveloped by the paradisaical Sierra Norte Mountains, the spiring city of Cuetzalan is metaphorically compared to a vivid mirage, since it is often partially concealed by a misty mountain fog.
Cuetzalan lies within the Mexican state of Puebla, located at 172 km to the North West of its namesake city. The naming of the city is thought to derive from a tribute, given to the first Emperor of Technotitlan, which comprised of a red feather bouquet with blue tips – set upon a pair of teeth. Wrapped in ancient mystery, with an abundance of well-preserved archaeological sites dotted around its municipal territory, Cuetzalan was granted the “Pueblos Magicos” accolade in 2002. Discovered in the early 1920's by archeology enthusiast Vicente Lombardo Toledano, the ruins of Yohualichan remained concealed from the world until 1978. A series of connecting above-ground chambers, pyramids and strange “box” buildings, Yohualichan is the remnants of a once great settlement belonging to the Toltec culture and remains one of the best preserved within the Sierra de Norte area.
Central to the pull of Cuetzalan as a tourist trap is its continuation of ancient festivals and rituals. The “Dance of The Voldores” remains one of the highlights, yet many also flock to the mountain town for the annual “Feria” (Festival). In essence, Feria is a celebration of the Gods and the gifts bestowed upon the people of Cuetzalan. The “Dance of The Quetzals” is yet another important rite performed at this time, said to represent the cosmic movement of the Earth within the galaxy. Dance of The Quetzals continues to be performed by locals, as a “prayer” to the Gods for sustained protection.
Due to the altitudinous nature of Cuetzalan, a wondrous array of spellbinding natural attractions can be found within its municipal area. A total of eleven noteworthy waterfalls lie within close proximity to Cuetzalan – the Waterfall Veil de Fiance arguably the most beautiful and extremely popular among abseiling enthusiasts. Cavernous chambers litter the rugged exterior of Cuetzalan, each with its own magical allure. The glistening yellow stalagmites of the expansive Cavern Atepolihui (Cave of Four Heads) form chapel-sized chambers of indescribable beauty and extend across a network of 32 km.
The city of Cuetzalan is not without a generous sprinkling of colonial history. With its Gothic spire and bold, white Baroque facade, the Church Santuario de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe is one of the most noticeable buildings from any approach to Cuetzalan. Its sister church, the Paroquia de San Francisco is rather more aged and grey than Senora de Guadelupe, yet hides an opulent interior – its nave based upon the design of a Basilica and thought to date back to the 13th Century. Competing with an eclectic diversity of cultural traditions, relics and attractions, the Church of San Francisco is often overlooked by tourists, however all who pass through its doors concur it to be the highlight of their Cuetzalan trip!
Attractions & Things To Do in Cuetzalan
The Yohualichán Ruins – second only in importance to those of El Tajin, the Yohualichán ruins provide a fascinating insight into the formality and functionality of ancient Toltec architecture, as well as a glimpse of how the civilization evolved over hundreds of years. Open: Daily, 8 am – 6 pm.
Cavern of Chivostoc – located on the Southern route to the neighboring town of Junta Auxiliar de San Andrés Tzicuilan, the Cavern of Chivostoc has become somewhat of a daredevil attraction for visitors to Cuetzalan. Locals tell of an ancient curse put on the site. Any man who enters, may become separated from his spirit, unless he utters “ya vámonos” (“now we leave”) before departing the chamber. Open: Daily.