The colonial city of Alamos, nestled in the Sierra Madre foothills of Southern Sonora, has gone full circle. In its heyday, Alamos counted among Mexico’s wealthiest silver cities, however depletion of the mines, compounded by droughts, Indian uprisings and the 1910 Revolution, reduced the formerly grand city to a ghost town. Alamos’ renaissance began after World War II when American artists and retirees began to arrive.
Today, Alamos’ population includes an active, established expatriate community. New mines have been opened, and the 17th-century jail has been rebuilt as a cultural center, highway improvements are under way and several franchise businesses are coming to Alamos. There are 188 colonial structures that hold National Historic Monument designation. The city hopes to become a United Nations World Heritage Site. It also has a thriving artisan community with developing industries in ceramics, masonry, tile and ironwork.
The heart of Alamos is the Plaza de Armas that holds the city’s most notable landmark, La Parroquia, or parish church, completed in 1803. Family life literally and figuratively revolves around the Parroquia. Sitting in the Plaza de Armas, we observed wedding parties and quinceaneras (a celebration for young women turning 15). We watched schoolchildren in costumes form a colorful parade to welcome spring. One evening, the Plaza held an outdoor barbeque with strolling musicians.
Members of the foreign (American/Canadian) community have purchased and lovingly restored to their original grandeur many of the mansions abandoned by the former silver barons. Each week, volunteers graciously open their homes to the public. These magnificent homes, constructed of adobe around a central patio, are truly living museums. Proceeds from these tours have funded a public library and currently provide continuing education for some 350 of Alamos’ students. This tour, a highlight of our stay, operates Saturdays between mid-October and April.
Alamos boasts 360 days per year of sunshine. At an elevation of 1,700 feet, winters are dry and summers experience heavy rain. During our late March visit the weather was superb everything was in bloom including the ubiquitous cottonwood, which gave Alamos its name.
Alamos is the quintessential Mexican town. It is quiet, clean, safe, laidback, friendly and colorful. It is easy to enjoy doing nothing. However, there are markets, shops, museums and art galleries in town, as well as activities outside of town, including rafting, horseback riding, bird watching and mine visits. For agents, this is a natural destination to combine with a Copper Canyon trip.
For our weeklong stay, we selected the Casa de Maria Felix, a small hotel with self-contained units with kitchen, air-conditioning and Internet. Located 10 minutes by foot from town, the property is homey and comfortable. At the time we went, the rate was a mere $65 per night. I was intrigued by the name.
Maria Felix was Mexico’s leading Diva and the hotel was built on the site of her birthplace. Owner Lynda Barondes began construction in 2000. Many artifacts attributed to Maria Felix were found on the property and incorporated in the small, carefully constructed Maria Felix Museum. Barondes was very helpful, providing us with transportation options and currency policies in Alamos. (Alamos is mostly cash-only, either pesos or dollars, but no credit cards. We found this to be the case in all restaurants, stores and bus stations. There are ATMs that issue either pesos or dollars.)
Alamos has no commercial airport at this time, but there are several options for getting there. Daily TBC buses depart from Phoenix and Tucson, about a 12-hour ride. Ciudad Obregon (CEN), the closest international airport, is a 1½-hour taxi ride from Alamos. We opted to fly Phoenix to Guaymas (GYM) and then take a TBC bus for the four-hour ride to Alamos. For those who choose to drive, Tucson to Alamos is estimated at eight hours.
One caution: while Alamos is meant to be enjoyed on foot, walking is not easy. Streets are cobblestone, sidewalks are elevated to allow rain runoff and are often in need of repair. Well-supported, thick-soled shoes are advised.
Gayle Christensen is a travel consultant with Alamo World Travel in Alamo, Calif.