Heading northeast from Pachuca the road winds uphill, bordered by a scrubby landscape that at the end of the dry season looks parched and barren. Prickly pear and candelabra cactus mingle with mesquite and pepper trees. Little white crosses dot the roadside, shrines to drunk or incautious driving. The altitude goes higher minute by minute; less than an hour out of the capital we arrive at Huasca. At 2,136 meters (7,007 feet) above sea level, it is hemmed between pine forests and a big valley broken by gorges.
Seat of the municipality of the same name, the village of Huasca is sparsely populated. Many of the borough’s inhabitants live in ejidos and individual homesteads outside the town center. Amid rivers and canyons, they eke out a living on small farms and adjacent orchards. In the early days of the colony, the area was administered by an encomienda (an estate given---along with any native people who lived there---to Spanish soldiers, entrepreneurs, and adventurers in exchange for services rendered) based in Atotonilco el Grande.
Huasca was established in 1762, when the Spaniard Pedro Romero de Terreros (the First Count of Regla) established super-productive silver mines that also extracted gold, iron, zinc, and lead. These mines made Romero de Terreros, a shrewd and lucky businessman, purportedly the richest man in the world (or at least, in the New World) in the 17th century.
Serpentine streets wind past colorful homes and shops with tile or red tin roofs. Under the colonial arcade, ladies sell tacos and regional specialties. Behind them, small shops sell red clay kitchenware, obsidian figurines, knit shawls and sweaters, and homemade rompope (a lightweight, egg-based liqueur). Anchoring the village is a fine-looking, single-nave church founded by the Augustinians and dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The interior of whitewashed plaster and native rock is appealing in its simplicity; stone-faced side altars trimmed in gold leaf host a variety of saints.
Named a Pueblo Mágico in 2001, Huasca has since received money from the federal government to be developed for tourism. But it’s still a low-key, very homey destination. Locals tool around on chunky four-wheelers, gossip in the doorway of the hardware store, select fresh fruit from a diminutive, open-air market. Most of the tourists come from Mexico City on the weekends.
Much of Huasca’s appeal lies in area activities. One of the main attractions is the Prismas Basálticos. Just a few kilometers outside town, these polygonal basalt rock shafts were formed millions of years ago by flowing lava that cooled suddenly when exposed to the air. Hugging the canyon, a veritable wall of monolithic, hexagonal rocks stacked one next to the other forms a striking scene. Water flowing over the gorge’s edge adds to the drama, and a long plank-and-rope bridge thrills the kids. Most days there are horses for hire, quads to rent, and the usual stands selling souvenirs and snacks.
Visible from the top of the canyon, the mining hacienda Santa María Regla was built at the bottom of the gorge to take advantage of river water used for processing raw ore. Explore underground vaults and passages as well as the chapel, abandoned kitchens, and dining rooms used by mine managers and other elite staff. Nearby, San Miguel Regla, another working mine and Romero de Terreros’ principal residence during the mining boom, was reconditioned as a hotel in the 1940s. For a small fee visitors can tour the extensive grounds, checking out the installations used to separate silver from raw material. Both haciendas were built of thick walls of rock and rubble, and though they were not luxurious, they did have all the amenities of the day. Hacienda San Miguel Regla even had a swimming pool for the countess and her ladies.
Adjacent to the hacienda, 20-hectare (50-acre) Parque Ecológico San Miguel Regla (AKA el Bosque de las Truchas) offers trout fishing, a few zip lines above the oblong-shaped reservoir, paddle and row boats, horseback riding, and 4-wheelers. At the back of the property, a string of casual restaurants prepare trout: those you catch on-site or from the fish farm. There are also picnic areas, barbecue grills, cabins, and basic camping facilities.
Club Aerostático offers balloon rides for an eagle-eye view of Huasca’s sights, but my BF doesn’t like floating above the world in a non-motorized conveyance, and I don’t like getting up at ODH (oh-dark-hundred), so we skipped the balloon ride over the valley that for many is the highlight of their Huasca trip. For us, just relaxing in a pretty, low-key village surrounded by nature made the day.
See the Huasca Travel Guide for details on the balloon ride and other activities mentioned here, as well as hotel and restaurant recommendations.