Palm trees line a street in San Pancho, Nayarit
inspiration

Pueblos Magicos: Mexican villages where you can go back in time

Maysie Dee

Contributing writer

You don’t need standing stones, antiquitech, or a secret incantation to time travel in Mexico. If you’re intrigued by this alluring notion, all you have to do is visit one of the magical villages in the country. Beginning in 2001, the Mexican Tourism Board began designating small Mexican towns and villages as magic villages, or Pueblos Magicos.

To be included in the directory, these locales must be outstanding in Mexican legends, history, culture and/or natural wonders. Some are more off the beaten track than others, but each has unique, transcendental aspects. Most are romantically charming places to enjoy a slower pace of life. Today, there are 132 Pueblos Magicos.

The list contains something for everyone. There are magical villages near the beaches, in the highlands, in hot desert areas and in lush, tropical jungles. Their buildings, cobbled streets, and natural enchantments retain the very essence of times long past.

A street lined with murals in Tepoztlan, Mexico

In addition to Pueblos Magicos, there are some Mexican villages that are so traditional they don’t even want the publicity of becoming a titled Pueblo Magico.

To get you started on your time traveling journey, I’ve made a list of my favourite Mexican villages that are perfect for traveling back in time, I’ve included both official Pueblos Magicos and other magical villages which aren't on the list.

My suggestions are just a starting point for finding more of the hidden, magical places that the country harbours. To be sure, Mexico is modernizing quickly these days, and may, one day, resemble countries north of the border. But for as long as possible, I’ll prefer the Mexico that offers a chance to wind back the clock to a gentler, slower time.

A colourful street in Tepoztlan, Morelos

1. Tepoztlan, Morelos

A place brimming with mysticism and folklore, Tepoztlan is a perfect town for time travel in Mexico. Just a short drive from Mexico City, this little Pueblo Magico has a near-perfect year round climate, and an inviting mix of indigenous and colonial population.

Steeped in spiritualism, the sacred valley, said to be the birthplace of Quetzecoatal, (ancient Aztec feathered serpent god), is also home to an esoteric archaeological temple site, Piramide del Tepozteco. Numerous spas and natural health centers have sprung up in the area, due to the healing energy that attracts those who resonate.

You can experience a traditional Temezcal, (Aztec steam bath) and there is always the opportunity to participate in the serene and harmonious local culture, if you stay a while.

The ghost town of Mineral de Pozos, Guanajuato

2. Mineral de Pozos, Guanajuato

Mineral de Pozos is a tiny Pueblo Magico locatedfar from main travel circuits, in the semidesert of Guanajuato. It can be found (if you know to look for it) about 2 hours from the popular, touristic art community of San Miguel de Allende. With its mining history steeped in myth and mystery, Mineral de Pozos was abandoned more than once, becoming an enigmatic ghost town.

Ghost towns are always atmospheric areas that are exceptional for going back in time, because they hold subtle, yet tangible memories of the past.

Today, Mineral de Pozos is revitalizing, but retains its colonial buildings that are gradually being refurbished. The town has beautiful churches and temples, lonely forgotten mining complexes, and vast lavender gardens on an old ranching estate.

If you live there like a local, you’ll have the chance to participate in the cultural customs that make Mineral de Pozos such an eerily magical place.

View from the Fort of San Felipe to Bacalar Lagoon

3. Bacalar, Quintana Roo

Bacalar is a modest village situated in one of the most stunningly beautiful regions of Mexico, in the state of Quintana Roo. It’s part of the “Mayan Riviera,” on the Yucatan Peninsula. Bacalar is located on the famous Lake Bacalar or the Lake of Seven Colors (Lago de Siete Colores), whose brilliant shades of turquoise, aqua, and deep marine blue are simply dazzling.

The area is home to white sand beaches and unique water features, such as cenotes. Cenotes are naturally-formed sinkholes, with deep, natural fresh water pools. They’re set in exquisite cave-like environments, connected by a subterranean river network. Cenotes developed thousands of years ago, and were sacred to the ancient Maya, who considered them gateways to the underworld. (Perfect for time travel, I’d think…)

With only 12,00 inhabitants, Bacalar, although listed as a Pueblo Magico, has magically resisted over-modernization and raucous tourism. It remains a traditional, laid-back town where the ancient Mayan influence is still alive, and the local population is intent on maintaining a simpler way of life.

The facade of the Unfinished Temple of the Precious Blood in Mascota, Mexico

4. Mascota, Jalisco

A small town of 8,200, Mascota is located in the state of Jalisco, about 60 miles from the popular beach city of Puerta Vallarta, on Mexico’s west coast.

This beautiful Pueblo Magico is nestled in a plateau of the Western Sierra Mountains, and is filled with lagoons, forests, archaeological features, mountains for hiking, and its own (long inactive) volcano.

But Mascota is best known for its hospitable and kindly residents, who adore their established colonial pueblo and cherish its timeless qualities of peace and harmony. With a mild, pleasant climate, Mascota is an ideal place to enjoy the leisurely tempo of an authentic, secluded village while sipping a cafe de olla, away from the stress and tensions of modern life.

Boat docked near the beach at Puerto Morelos

5. Puerto Morelos, Yucatan

If going back in time and experiencing life in a sleepy coastal fishing town sounds good, Puerto Morelos could be the place for you, even though it's not on the official list.

Even though this little village of around 15,000 sits halfway between the popular vacation hot-spots of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, its superpowers have somehow kept it sheltered from over-tourism and modernization. To be sure, expats and tourists know about Puerto Morelos, but when they describe it as “too small” or “not enough nightlife” that means one thing: you can certainly live a simpler life in this little pueblo.

With spectacular Caribbean Sea beaches, gorgeous cenotes, and a huge coral barrier reef, Puerto Morelos is a dream come true for time travellers who prefer an eco-conscious coastal life in Mexico. In grateful appreciation of the wide natural mangrove swamp that thwarted over-colonisation of Puerto Morelos in the past, the local government and community actively protect the area’s natural resources. You can join the local conservation efforts and participate in holding time at bay.

The inhabitants of Puerto Morelos, especially those who live in the historical town centre - the “Antiguo (old) Puerto Morelos” - are kind, friendly, and welcoming, while mindful of their Mayan heritage.

Palm trees line a street in San Pancho, Nayarit

6. San Pancho, Nayarit

On the opposite side of the country lies another small, friendly beach village. San Pancho, formally known as San Francisco, is located about an hour from Puerto Vallarta, on the Pacific coast of Mexico in Nayarit state.

This enchanting pueblito (little pueblo) has only about 3,000 inhabitants and isn't an official peublos magicos, however it's still an excellent choice for experiencing a walk back in Mexican history. With so few residents, everyone knows everyone, so it’s easy to make friends and join the peaceful, laid-back community.

You can meander through the colour-washed town, or walk through some jungle and end up at a lovely smooth-sand beach on the coast, for sunbathing and relaxation. San Pancho is eco-minded also – through continual conservation efforts, they protect sea turtle eggs and have proudly overseen the return of nearly a million turtle hatchlings into the sea.

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Maysie Dee

Author - Maysie Dee

Maysie Dee is a freelance writer, content editor, and recipe creator. She and her husband have travelled across the world for decades as natural product consultants, collecting stories along the way.

Last Updated 28 February 2024

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