Cuetzalan: The Coolest Town in Mexico you’ve Never Heard of

Cuetzalan Mexico Vendor

“Knowing that a place like this exists makes me feel better about the world,” I said while looking out over the main plaza of Cuetzalan as kids played tag in front of the colonial church, indigenous women in traditional dress walked by with armloads of flowers and men in cowboy hats took up space selling fruit. It was a quintessentially beautiful Mexican scene that probably hasn’t changed much since the town’s founding in 1547, with the exception of people on cell phones and a few selfie sticks. 

Magical Cuetzalan, Mexico

When I first saw photos of the beautiful village and the voladores, I knew I had to visit Cuetzalan. What is a volador, you might ask? It translates to “crazy ass Mexican who jumps off a 90 foot poll and flies around with only a rope tied around his waist.” Below is a video that will show it. I’d recommend watching enough to get an idea of how high and dangerous this is, then skipping ahead to the 3:25 mark to see them fly.

Or if your attention span is very short, look at this photo that I didn’t take. Source: wikimedia commons.

Cuetzalan, Voladores

The voladores perform every weekend and we went out of our way to see them. However, on Saturday, instead of seeing the volardores we went with a local family to a fiesta in Veracruz and on Sunday a deluge of Biblical proportions prevented them from performing. Alas, I missed out on the main reason I went to Cuetzalan.

In spite of this, Cuetzalan was one of my favorite places in Mexico. It is a must see for anyone on an extended trip through Mexico and a great escape from the Capital. Cuetzalan is a quint colonial village perched on a steep hillside, with a bustling main square dominated by a cathedral, volador pole and clock tower. The winding, cobblestone streets are filled with native people in colorful clothes. Waterfalls and pre-Columbian ruins are scattered in the surrounding hills. It is a world class destination and yet there were only a smattering of tourists there. This will change someday.

As I mentioned, there was a torrential rain storm on Sunday, and I assumed that the weekend market that fills the main square would shut down. False. Vendors strung up a network of tarps, wrapped themselves in plastic, shielded themselves with umbrellas and bought and sold despite the storm. After being cooped up inside all day, I decided to wade into the streets-cum-rivers to take photos, trying to stay dry. I failed.

When it came time to leave Cuetzalan, I was sad. I felt like I missed out in many ways, but I was comforted by this thought: I’ll be back someday, and it will probably look a lot like it does now, even if there are a few more tourists.

Cuetzalan Photo Gallery


Anyone out there up for jumping off the volador pole? 

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43 Comments on “Cuetzalan: The Coolest Town in Mexico you’ve Never Heard of

  1. its very nice and in fact the point of non changing people and culture is the same as in Egypt. I think that some country simply does not change for a centuries.. actually i m happy for that, it feel so different so special and nice to be there.

    • Where do you live in Egypt? We visited Siwa and many things there seemed to be stuck in time. Very beautiful place. Thank you for commenting.

      • I live in Alexandria but i was in siwa also. My new post will be about siwa actually with mine photos…i think about this place must know all the world 😀 its too beautiful, with huge history and lot of secrets..i hope you enjoyed there as i did

      • We had a great time in Siwa, and in Egypt in general. I spent about 5 weeks there in 2008. Went to all corners – Siwa, Abu Simbel, Alexandria and the Sinai, plus Cairo, Luxor and Aswan of course. It will always be one of my favorite countries. I look forward to seeing your post.

    • Sajda, I really enjoyed my two visits to Egypt. Been to Alexandria twice as I was part of a Discovery Channel documentary on Cleopatra that we filmed there (in part) and I returned to do research for my book on Cleopatra. But, moving up a few centuries, I enjoyed the Egypt of today, especially my time in Cairo. I did a lot of clothes shopping on the Talat Harb and still wear many of the things I bought!

      • Omg, you know i always wanted be egyptologist and this blog could be for me a start…i cant believe that you are on of these people 😀 proud to know you really..but if u need any photo or informations about egypt you can ask me any time …or if you will come to alex again let me know 😀

      • Actually, Sajda, I am not an Egyptologist but a criminal profiler and I used deductive criminal profiling to examine history – both Cleopatra’s life and her death. Good luck in becoming one of those people, Sajda!

  2. So many times, tourists miss these charming towns. My sister and I saw some great “unknown” places in Mexico when we did our bus/walk trips (four of them). We would start at a major city, like Guadalajara, and then walk to the bus station and grab a bus to some small city or town on a circular route (around ten days) that would eventually end back in the original city. Then when we arrived at whatever unknown place, we would get off the bus and walk from the station into town (sometimes a short walk and sometimes muy lejos (like a couple of hours). We would enjoy the day and evening in the town and then walk back to the bus station the next morning and pick another random town to get off at. This way we saw all sorts of nontouristy spots. So many fascinating towns and unadvertised cities.

    • Wow! That is a real adventure. You got to some truly out of the way places doing that. Cuetzalan isn’t that far out of the way. I bet you encountered a lot of interesting people and situations doing that. Can you remember the name of your favorite town you saw at random?

      • I wish I could! We did four trips together; one starting in Mexico City, another from Monteray, the fourth from Guadalajara, and..hmm…I can’t even remember where we started the fourth (been a decade). But, I just remember really enjoying visiting the smaller places that way. Heading back to Mexico in October…looking forward to the Day of the Dead.

      • Hi Jeff, for some reason, there was no reply button below your question about where I am going for the Day of the Dead. But, I will answer here. I have chosen Mixquic because it fits my schedule and looks like a great celebration takes place there.

      • That should be a cool place to go. I considered that spot also. I’ll be interested to see your photos and hear about it.

  3. Wow, Jeff. This looks like my kind of place! How did you find out about Cuetzalan and the voladores? And how was the homestay with the local family (assuming that’s what you did)? It’s awesome that you are taking us to all sorts of hidden towns and villages around Mexico – I’ll have to put this on my wish list for when I go.

    • Cuetzalan and a little blurb about the voladores was in the lonely planet but it didn’t have much info on it. It did peak my interest and so I looked around online and found out more info. We did see a volador performance in Mexico City but they jumped off a steel pole and it was at a museum so it wasn’t quite “authentic.”

      The family was a the owners of a small guesthouse, but it did feel like a homestay. They were super friendly people. I’ll be writing more about them soon.

      Yeah, you’d love Mexico. There is a huge variety of things to see and do. I’d have to say that Mexico and Indonesia are two of my top 4 favorite countries.

    • It is well worth a weekend trip from Mexico City. Go on a weekend to see the market and voladores for sure. They have a big festival every year on Oct 1-4 also that looks incredible.

    • Cuando gusten venir, yo soy un nativo de cuetzalan, la verdad que en los ultimos años nos hemos dado cuenta que atravez del turismo estamos adquiriendo mas ingresos economicos al pueblo y por ellos tambien trae beneficios a las personas que habitamos aqui, ya sea directa o indirectamente, es un lugar con las tradiciones muy arraigadas, zonas arqueologicas, grandes rutas de grutas, la vestimenta tipica del lugar, los rios las cascadas, ademas estamos situados entre valle y montañas los que hace de una vista espectacular 2331225065 yo acutalmente me dedico a realizar tours en el pueblo, los esperamos con los brazos abiertos ¡ No queran irse !

  4. I love how I always learn something new from you and your travels! I had to google Voladores up some more because it seemed to me like an ancient bungee jumping tradition ritual of some sort. Too bad you didn’t get to see them that time. I’m sure the local fiesta was as fun and as colorful as that.

    • They are sort of the original bungee jumpers and no one knows for sure why they still do it. I’ll write about the other fiesta soon, which was way cool, but I am sad to have missed out. Next time!

  5. Wow, those men have no fear at all! This is such a nice discovery, Jeff, even without the voladores. There will be another time, and when it comes I hope the weather will be much nicer.

    • You are right – those guys have no fear. They aren’t in a harness or anything. There is a big festival every year the first week of October so someday I’d like to return for that. Thanks for reading.

  6. Jeff, we too have read all about the voladores and were dying to see them, but never made it to Cuetzalan. Now it must go back on the list.

    On another note, your new theme looks great and really showcases your excellent photos. 🙂 ~Terri

    • We did get lucky to see voladores outside the Anthropology museum in Mexico City, but it wasn’t like being there for the real thing 😦 If you can make it work, there is a big festival the first week of Oct each year with lots of Volador flying and stuff.

      I like the new theme too. Thank you for noticing and for the feedback.

  7. Certainly it sounds a cool town to visit – the volador pole looks impressive! I will skip it but don’t mind to take its video someday – maybe we should use drone for that 😀

    • I need a drone, but I am sure I would crash it into something, like me jumping off a pole and end up in a jail. Cuetzalan is a really great town just waiting for tourists with open arms.

  8. What a great introduction to Cuetzalan, and yes a city I’d never heard of before. I think one of the best compliments I’ve heard is your opening line” “Knowing that a place like this exists makes me feel better about the world,”

  9. Ooooooooo, I wanna see those Voladores. And Cuetzalan. It looks lovely. Must have a look how far it is from SMA! The photo of the main square at night is fabulous, also the one of the man in brown plastic.
    Alison

    • I’d say you are only about 6 – 7 hour away by car, but probably a little farther if you take a bus because you’d have to transit through Mexico City. It is well worth a visit though.

      The square at night was really pretty. Everyone was wrapped in plastic during the storm. It was funny to see.

  10. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of those guys!! And just watching the flute player…gives me a weird feeling, like falling. I’m a wus with heights.

    • It is pretty cool that they still wear traditional clothes and do these insane rituals like jumping off a pole! I should note that there were plenty of young people in western, modern clothes. I wonder what the clothes will look like in a generation? I suspect they will be jumping off the volador pole for years to come though. Thanks for commenting.

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