Real de Catorce
Real de Catorce is a travel destination that’s one of those well keep secrets popular with the backpacker set and people in the know looking for a beautiful, remote get away. The town of Real de Catorce promises gorgeous 100-mile vistas set against rugged terrain and a simplistic environment that has a population of less than 1000 residents, and all of four streets.
Also referred to as Real, it is located 9,042 feet above sea level in the state of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, 160 miles northwest of the capital city, which is also called San Luis Potosi. Real de Catorce is situated in the Catorce Mountain Range, which is one of the highest plateaus in Mexico where the summits may extend over 10,000 feet. Many visitors enjoy the experience of doing nothing but communing with nature and taking in the view. While many locals make up Real’s population, American and European tourists, having found this little piece of welcoming ambiance, retire here, quietly isolated from anything that goes too fast. Like cars. And you are encouraged to leave yours behind.
The only entrance into Real is through the Ogarrio Tunnel, dug right into the side of the mountain. The 1.5 miles journey is on a dimly lit, one-way road. You have to wait your turn, and attendants stationed at each end, equipped with telephones, will let you know when that is.
Mountainous roads from Matehuala to the Ogarrio Tunnel can be risky driving without guardrails. Although a few people do take their cars inside Real, the streets are designed for pedestrian travel. Narrow streets may be filled with braying burrows, cackling chickens, street vendors, and playing children. Take the bus to and from Real, and use your feet inside of it. If you fly into Monterrey, Mexico, catch a bus to Matehuala, and then transfer to Real. The cost is about $25 plus an additional $6 for the transfer.
Originally founded in 1779, Real’s history is in silver mining and mysticism. While once a thriving mining community, the mines are now depleted and abandoned. A primary reason for the continued existence of Real may be in the many spiritual pilgrimages that take place here, mostly from the indigenous people of Mexico. From Catholics visiting the Parish of Immaculate Conception to Huichol Indians paying a visit to Catorce, at times it can be a busy place. If you're looking for the town’s usual peace and quiet, check an events calendar before going.
Where to Stay
Hotels in Real are inexpensive ($50 per night at the Meson de la Abundancia), offer great views, and local hospitality. Many people leave Real having made new friends from their stay at a small hostel or bed and breakfast. Some choices include The Hotel Angel y el Corazon, The Ruines, and the Quinta La Puesta Del Sol.
What to Do
During the day, visitors can take guided tours via horseback or jeep through the mountainside, visiting historical landmarks that include abandoned mines and Ancient dwellings, they can shop, bike, or simply enjoy nature. The town shuts down early, leaving only the restaurants open for casual dinners, wine, and the sounds of local musicians.
Where to Eat
Surprisingly, for such a small town, menus in Real are quite diverse. For example, The Meson de la Abundancia offers home made fettuccine dishes, a variety of pizzas, and is known for the best Arrachera south of Monterrey, Mexico. The Restaurante Eucalipto offers large steaks and traditional Italian cuisine. The small and intimate El Cactus Restaurante offers popular local dishes. If you’re on the go, grab a burrito from one of the small street vendors.
Best Time to Go
Because of the altitude, snow may fall in the winter, making you wonder if you are really in Mexico. If you go during this time, be prepared with coats. Even during the warmer months, it’s wise to bring a jacket because the nights can turn cold. Real is very popular as a weekend getaway for nearby residents, so you’ll find the weekdays to be a better time for the best hotel availability.
Bring paper money. Many places don’t accept credit cards, including some of the hotels. Most places accept either cash or pesos, but there are no moneychangers in town and most shops won’t be able to break anything over a twenty. Also, be aware that in the remote regions of Mexico, there are bandits. If you want to venture out into the great beyond, use a local guide, who will know where you can safely go and still enjoy all there is to enjoy in Real.