Esteemed by natives for its clay and pottery artistry, the small highland town in the North East of Morelos State was only recently invested as Pueblos Magicos, despite a significant proportion of the town already listed as a World Heritage Site. Just beyond the hills of Tepoztlan, in a valley criss-crossed by multiple ravines, Tlayacapan village forms the epicenter of over 26 Augustinian chapels, dominated by the San Juan Bautista Mission. An obtrusive monument casting its shadow across the farmlands of Tlayacapan, San Juan Bautista is just the start of an amazing cultural journey.
Prior to the inclusion of Tlayacapan on the list of Pueblo Magicos (2011), few were aware just how rich in heritage Tlayapan really was. For starters, this tiny mountain village set 1,630 meters above sea level gave birth to one of the most widespread dances in Mexican culture – the Chinelo. Traditionally performed at Carnival prior to Ash Wednesday each year, this bobbing, bouncing street dance was the product of five creative youngsters determined to liven up the carnival proceedings. Dressed in rags, accompanied by drummers, the fivesome took to the streets with their theatrical show. Hailed for breathing new life into the dreary old rites, the fivesome were commemorated each and every year by community groups dressed in rags and fake beards, dancing through the streets. Today, Dance of the Chinelos tends to be performed for many religious and cultural events, however it still remains the highlight for Carnival and Tepozteco Festival on 7th - 8th September..
Delving into the history of Tlayacapan, visitors are often amazed by the myriad of links with prominent civilizations and Spanish conquerors. First inhabited by the Olmecs as early as A.D 300, Tlayacapan became one of the first highland towns of Morelos to be conquered by the Aztecs, subsequently used as a base for their next mission – Xochimilco. Fast forward to 1539 and Tlayacapan was once again besieged by invaders; this time the army headed up by Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez. Endowed with the most fertile lands surrounding Tlayacapan, Spanish rule would dominate the town for a further 300 years, influencing much of the colonial beauty still in existence today.
San Juan Bautista Monastery is without doubt the largest asset for tourism within Tlayacapan. First of a series to be built in the Popocatepetl volcanic region, San Juan Bautista remains one of the largest (in use) churches of Morelos, exceeding 28 meters in height. A key attribute of the church is the main nave, alleged to have been inspired by Santi Quattro Coronati Basilica in Rome. A visit to the Refectory Museum is a must. Housing several stunning murals, along with paintings by M. Angel Guerrero Garro, the museum is also home to six mummies, recently discovered beneath the Convent mezzanine.
Tlayacapan reveals little clue to visitors about the many fascinating attractions here, and as much is true for La Cerería Museum and Cultural Center. Originally the headquarters of the Spanish Encomendero (a body set up for the regulation of Native American labor), La Cereria now holds Mexico's oldest wax museum, along with restored 16th Century art from the convent. Try your hand at Nahuatl painting; create your very own souvenir candles or wander the contemporary galleries dedicated to local artisans – La Cereria embodies the creative soul of Tlayacapan.