For years Tepoztlán, a bustling village 50 miles south of Mexico City, has been recognized as one of Mexico’s official pueblos mágicos, or magical towns, a designation aimed primarily at tourists. While it offers a splendid array of attractions, its real magic lies just below the surface, in the proud history and traditions of an indigenous village whose roots go back thousands of years. Restoration at the Ex-Convent of Tepoztlán, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has recently uncovered images suggesting that indigenous artists incorporated their own religious symbols into the Catholic iconography they were forced to paint.
As recently as half a century ago most tepoztecos, as its inhabitants are called, spoke Náhuatl, a gentle, sibilant language that survives today mainly in the abundance of x’s in local place names, although it is still spoken elsewhere in the state. Five-hundred years after their village was overrun by Cortes’s conquering army and their ancestors were forced convert to Catholicism on pain of death, tepoztecos still venerate the lord of the mountain that towers over them, which has one of only two pyramids in Mexico built atop a mountain.
Food & Dance
Village children learn from an early age that they are descended from the Tlahuica and Totonaca peoples and proudly celebrate the astonishing array of holidays that result from their allegiance to overlapping indigenous, Catholic and Mexican national traditions. The town is known for its fiestas and for the costumed dance of the chinelos, figures in elaborate beaded gowns and bearded masks said to represent Spaniards—their mesh faces are pink, like Europeans’, and their eyebrows and beards are mostly black, though redheaded versions are also popular.
The village is justly famous for its food, especially the quesadillas, sopes, tlacoyos and moles sold 365 days a year in the outdoor market on the zocalo, or square. On a typical weekend, dozens of families from Mexico City throng the food stalls, eager to experience the authentic Mexican food they can no longer find in the capital.