Hiking, biking and yoga are among Sierra Norte activities offered by some tour operators. // © 2014 Great Spirit Adventures
Feature image (above): Amatlan is one of several accessible villages in the Sierra Norte mountain range. // © 2014 Creative Commons user prendio2
Tucked away in the forested region of the Sierra Norte mountain range and just a two-and-a-half hour bus ride from Oaxaca, the Pueblos Mancomunados in Mexico are a haven for ecotourists and adventure travelers. An ecotourism infrastructure was developed in the late 1990s to boost the local economy and preserve the area from heavy reliance on the lumber industry.
The eight villages of Pueblos Mancomunados — encompassing Amatlan, Benito Juarez, Cuajimoloyas, La Neveria, Lachatao, Latuvi, Llano Grande and Yavesia — are connected by a network of hiking and biking trails. Guests stay in cabins, each of which is managed by the village’s local committee.
The accommodations give travelers the chance to experience the daily routines of the Zapotec villagers, eat at “comedores” (village restaurants) and learn about local folklore. The surrounding pines and oaks comprise one of the oldest and most diverse ecosystems in Mexico, making it an ideal destination for hikers, mountain bikers, bird watchers and horseback riders.
“People have heard of Oaxaca, but the Pueblos just outside aren’t well known,” said Jonathan Brunger, general manager of Adventure Life, a tour operator based in Missoula, Mont. “Their remoteness creates opportunities for an authentic and culturally rich experience.”
Here are a few of the experiences travelers can enjoy in the Pueblos Mancomunados:
Expedition through the Pueblos
If you want to see as many Pueblos as possible, the seven-day Getting to Know the Pueblos Mancomunados Expedition offered by Expediciones Sierra Norte is the way to go. Highlights include hiking through a pine forest to Cuajimoloyas, walking from La Neveria to Latuvi on an ancient trade route, enjoying traditional food and learning about a local mining company. It’s important to note that travelers must contact Sierra Norte directly to request an English-speaking guide for the adventure or make arrangements for a guide on their own.
Hike and Bike
Travelers looking to immerse themselves in the flora and fauna of the Sierra Norte mountains (and strengthen their quads along the way) will enjoy the Oaxaca Hike and Bike tour from Adventure Life. This eight-day trip includes a three-day, two-night hike through the Pueblos, from Benito Juarez to Latuvi to Llano Grande and, finally, to Lachatao. Travelers will trek through a lower cloud forest, past farm fields of beans and potatoes and down a pre-Columbian trade route.
Self-Guided Activity Options
Guests traveling on their own also have plenty of activities to choose from. Travelers can stop by the tourist information bureau in the city of Oaxaca to grab brochures describing various programs offered by the Pueblos.
Local guides are knowledgeable about history and wildlife and can be hired to show travelers the hikes, caves, waterfalls and canyons of the region. English-speaking guides can cost extra and should be requested ahead of time. Most villages have their own tourism offices, open daily. Travelers can rent horses and mountain bikes and even go ziplining, at low cost.
“The dollar goes far in this area,” said Ben Gritzewsky, a senior independent travel advisor with Frosch Travel who specializes in selling Mexico. “Travelers can have amazing experiences that combine nature with eco-adventure — in relative comfort.”
Yoga, Hiking and Horseback Riding
Adventure travelers can go on a different type of triathlon with a seven-day tour of Oaxaca from Running Treks Adventure Travel. Guests will enjoy a full day of horseback riding as well as daily hikes and yoga practice. The trip includes a three-day guided trek through Pueblos Mancomunados starting with a hike from the largest Pueblos community, Cuajimoloyas. The tour of the Pueblos also includes lunch at a small trout farm near Latuvi and a stop at Santa Catarina Lachatao, a pre-Hispanic village.