Mexico’s Magic Town (Pueblo Mágico) designation is given to inland destinations that offer a complementary tourism based on historic and cultural attributes. Between them, Magic Towns welcomed 2.3 million tourists in 2011. Mexico’s federal Tourism Secretariat has announced there will be 52 Magic Towns by 2012, when the promotional program is due to end. Mexico recently added two more towns, bringing the current total to 50 Magic Towns. The latest two additions are:
Magic Town #49: Sombrerete (Zacatecas)
The town of Sombrerete (population about 20,000) is a former mining center, located mid-way between the cities of Durango and Zacatecas. Early explorers in this area in the 1550s are said to have discovered its mineral riches by accident, when they found molten silver congealing in the dying embers of their campfire! Sombrerete, founded in about 1555, was named for a nearby sombrero-shaped hill, whose shape resembled the typical three-cornered Spanish hat worn in the sixteenth century.
Silver mining completely transformed the local landscape. Sombrerete become a wealthy mining town, its opulence transformed into an abundance of fine buildings. As ore deposits became harder to reach, the town fell into a lengthy decline. Its many fine buildings survived to tell their tale and are an important tourist asset today. Sombrerete certainly deserves its designation as one of Mexico’s “Magic Towns”.
Close to Sombrerete is the Sierra de Los Organos National Park, sometimes referred to as Valley of the Giants. This attractive area of meadows, woodland and cacti is overlooked by rocky crags with columnar basalt pillars (resembling organ pipes) and numerous precariously-balanced blocks. Several movies starring John Wayne were shot here, and the actor donated picnic tables and barbecues so that others might also enjoy this fascinating scenery.
Magic Town #50 Mineral de Pozos (Guanajuato)
Mineral de Pozos, in the state of Guanajuato, is another former mining community. Jesuits seeking mineral riches to finance their spiritual campaigns began mining here in 1595 but the mines proved unprofitable. The workings were abandoned until towards the end of the nineteenth century when a new influx of miners arrived, eager to try their luck. In 1895, with a population close to 60,000 and delusions of golden grandeur awaiting their picks and shovels, they temporarily rechristened their small, dusty home Ciudad Porfirio Díaz, in honor of Mexico’s then president. Today, Pozos, originally founded as a military garrison in 1576, is a ghost town, partially revived in recent years as it seeks to become an attractive diversion for “cultural, adventure, religious and family tourism”.
Given the extraordinary number of interesting and historic settlements in Mexico, I find it disappointing that some of the recent choices for inclusion on the Magic Towns list (such as Mineral de Pozos) do not appear to be based on an objective assessment of the cultural, historic, and ecological merits of particular places. Pozos is an interesting place, but hardly in the same league as most other Magic Towns. Perhaps it is just as well that the list is scheduled to end shortly!