It is not down in any map; true places never are.
~ Herman Melville
The Magic of Mazamitla
MAZAMITLA, MEXICO - Driving up into the Sierra del Tigre (Tiger Mountains) in Jalisco, Mexico we noticed the environment change to forests of pine, oak and mesquite that are home to deer, wild cats, rabbits and eagles and more. Our destination was the pueblo majico (magic town) of Mazamitla that sits in the mountains south of Lake Chapala. Many of the wealthy from Guadalajara have vacation homes in this area and many visit on the weekends. There are nearby haciendas, hiking, and stunning waterfalls.
Pueblo Majico is a designation given to certain cities, towns and villages throughout Mexico with symbolic features, legends and history. This is basically a designation that is applied for promoting tourism to the location which brings economic benefit. Besides the increase in tourism, the towns also receive federal money to spend on maintenance, rebuilding historic centers and developing tourism products among other projects.
Mazamitla has received that designation and we were not disappointed. When we arrived our first impression was that the town was reminiscent of a European alpine village. The buildings are low with red tile roofs. It has a pristine, small town feel with quiet streets and traditional architecture. The buildings had painted white plaster exterior walls, wooden doors and window framing, and many had flower planters displayed on balconies with wooden or wrought iron railings.
We drove down the cobble stone streets and found parking not far from the main square. This was a charming and pristine little town, with a population of about 12,000, where on occasion you may see men on horseback making their way down the cobblestone streets.
As in all cities, towns and villages in Mexico, there is a church sitting on the main plaza. In Mazamitla the Church of San Cristobal sat on one end of the plaza and had a footprint of almost one square block. The original ornate church on this location was lost and this one was rebuilt in 1957. Painted white with red accents the church has beautiful woodwork on the exterior, balconies and steeples. Inside, on the main level, is a lovely church with sheer tied back draperies on the outer aisle next to the pews. It added a lovely and inviting softness to the interior.
A gentlemen at the side door motioned for us to come and told us that if we went down the stairs to the lower level there was more to see. We headed down the exterior winding stair to a small chapel below. There were a few faithful sitting quietly in prayer in the pews, as we wandered quietly throughout. To the back there was a memorial and tomb for a past church leader with photos, robes and other items on display.
Exiting the church we headed toward the main square with a bandstand, called quioscos (kiosks) in Mexico, that was surrounded by a lovely garden and benches to sit on. Under the trees a mother sat watching her children run up and down the stairs filled with laughter.
Off to the side of the plaza were large, brightly painted three dimensional letters spelling out MAZAMITLA. This seems to be a standard across Mexico, or at least in the state of Jalisco, as I had seen the same in the many cities, towns and villages that I had visited. I liked the bright, bold representation of Mexico in the design and a sense of local pride that it expressed.
We stopped in a little store on the corner and noted it was a sweet shop by the small wooden sign hanging from the balcony above. Inside there were wooden shelves stacked with treats of all kinds, jars filled with canned pears and others filled with a deep, rich, sweet caramel sauce.
I was struck by rustic, rounded and elongated wooden boxes stacked and tied by a thin red string in bundles of five. I bought some. I had no idea what it was, but I was intriqued by the packaging. Later I found out it was dulce de leche (sweet milk), a wonderful sticky, sweet treat which would be delicious spread on crackers or just taken off the end of the knife after digging in for more. If I had known just what a treat to the palate this sugary treat was, I would have purchased more!
Arturo, our driver for the week while we were in the Lake Chapala area, was busy shopping too. He bought caramel sauce and the bottled pears before we headed outside and down the street.
There aren’t a lot of signs on the outside of the buildings and no neon signs are allowed, so finding shops required walking up and down the streets and looking in open doorways to see what was inside.
The first street we walked down seemed to be the street of flower and garden shops. What a lovely surprise to enter a doorway to the scent of flowers and plants, and the organic smell of freshly watered soil.
After a few more shops including a caramel maker, and a furniture shop, we headed for lunch at a restaurant on the edge of town. We all had Sopa Azteca, a wonderful tomato based soup with white cheese, sliced avocado, and fried tortilla strips, with optional chicken. I went vegetarian and skipped the chicken. It was so delicious that for next days that I was in Mexico it comprised one of meals each day. But I must say the Aztec soup I had in Mazamitla was the best!