Usually, memories of my Mexico vacations feature stylish
beachfront resorts and neighboring towns dedicated to tourists or
cloudy recollections of loud music and cervezas. However, my recent
visit to the city of Parras in the Coahuila desert was different. I
was told it was a magical town, and I came away a believer.
The first thing visitors will notice here is that it is
peaceful, with the city largely unchanged and untarnished since its
inception in the late 16th century. And I knew I was in an
authentic city of Mexico when I visited Parras’ most famous
attraction, Casa Madero and its Museum of Wine. I stood in a lush
valley and looked out across acres of sun-drenched grapes hanging
on the vine. This winery is the oldest in the Western Hemisphere,
having first stomped on grapes in 1597. It is an oasis in the
Beyond its vineyard, Parras has many draws. It’s charming and
off the beaten track, its history is built on top of several local
natural springs and it hosts one of the most picturesque hilltop
churches I have ever seen, Iglesia Santo Madero.
Parras offers several accommodation options that are
commissionable for agents. Hostal Del Farol is 350 years old, and
features 20 rooms filled with antique furniture and old-fashioned
pedestal bathtubs, and it has an excellent restaurant just outside
its front doors.
The Rincon Del Montero offers modern accommodations, cabanas or
hotel-style rooms. It also has a golf course.
Both hotels offer agent commissions.
With all this, and only a little more than an hour outside one
of Mexico’s most industrialized cities the denim manufacturing
stronghold of Saltillo I could not help but be impressed and taken
in by Parras’ magic.
The Making of “Magical Towns”
Parras is not the only magical town in Mexico. It is part of a
unique project by Mexico Tourism called Pueblos Magicos. The
Pueblos Magicos (Magical Towns) program seeks to develop awareness
of some of Mexico’s less-traveled destinations through the
renovation and development of unique cities with historical
significance. As Mexico’s Tourism Secretary, Rodolfo Elizondo,
points out, “Mexico is not only sun and beaches.”
So far, Mexico has approved 23 cities countrywide to participate
in this program and share in nearly $27 million for improvements
and upgrades. With tourism up 17 percent from last year’s spring
quarter, Mexico is banking on this new project to broaden its
The money used has gone to the restoration of churches,
convents, museums and art galleries, as well as the rejuvenation of
town squares, plazas and historic downtown areas. The
revitalization of building facades and creation of better access to
these host cities has also been addressed.
Other common upgrades include increased and updated tourist
directional signs; additions and expansions to parking and public
restrooms; welcoming areas; beautification of parks; and financial
support granted to local businesses specializing in tourism. Some
towns are being wired with underground electricity as well, which
upgrades power capability without infringing on the aesthetic
qualities of these centuries-old towns. These changes not only
welcome tourists, but also help boost community attitudes as locals
reap the benefits of these everyday improvements.
The Pueblos Magicos, are located near popular tourist
attractions or big cities, and all have historic or religious
significance and a desire to open up their community to tourism.
The plans for quality roads and modern conveniences to ensure
travel comfort will make them perfect hubs for the exploring FIT,
but it will take several more years to complete this formidable
After all, progress doesn’t happen by magic.
Here are a few destination prospects carrying the “Magical Town”
San Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas
This colonial city, which has strong native influences and good
shopping, offers several local landmarks, including March 31 Plaza
(the central park) and San Cristobal Martir Cathedral. The city is
known for its delicious locally grown coffee and 7,000-foot
altitude. San Cristobal sports a local airport with national
Patzcuaro, in Michoacan
Historically, Patzcuaro translates as “the door to the sky where
the Gods descend and raise,” and not surprising, it is a religious
center with churches and structures dating back to the 16th
century. Patzcuaro is 30 minutes outside Morelia, a UNESCO World
Heritage Site. Founded in 1541, Morelia hosts over 200 historic
buildings many made with pink-colored stone. Buses can reach
Patzcuaro from Mexico City.
Tequila, in Jalisco
The name may say it all. For those living in caves, Tequila is
best known for its production of the alcoholic beverage of the same
name. This city is 34 miles from Guadalajara on highway 15. The
famed Tequila festival is held Nov. 29-Dec. 12 annually.
Santiago, in Nuevo Leon
This town is still waiting for Pueblos Magicos designation due in
part to its charming town square. Tell clients to check out Las
Palomas restaurant and the Hotel Santiago Apostol (group rates and
an 8 percent commission). The town is just 45 minutes from
Monterrey, which the third largest city in Mexico.