Mineral de Pozos

I’ve written many times before about Mexico’s “Pueblos Magicos” program which translates to “Magic Towns.” This program established by Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism (SECTUR) is a way to recognize certain towns for their historic or cultural ambiance that lends itself to a “magical experience.” I think of it as the urban version of the National Park Service. Just as you can be assured when a park has achieved official “National Park” status, there will be something there worthy of a visit, the same can be said for Mexico’s Magic Towns. There will, in all likelihood, be something compelling there to pique ones interest.

Coming in to Mineral de Pozos, the first thing I notice is that the buildings are all pastel.

Lots of old buildings around the streets of Pozos.

Mineral de Pozos traffic jam

Some Magic Towns are more “magic” than others, however. There are those towns like San Cristobal de las Casas that are worthy of repeat visits, time and time again offering up some new scenic or cultural discovery. And then there are those smaller villages like Mineral de Pozos where I am grateful for the opportunity to have visited, but I am not sure I’d make a second trip. This is owed in part to my admittedly self-limiting attitude, “You’ve seen one mining town, you’ve seen ‘em all.” But not necessarily the case where the mines are over 400 years old.

Christmas decorations still prominent no matter how small the town.

San Pedro church all decked out for the virgin birth.

I like how this man has used the peelings from the watermelon and pineapple to decorate his display. Excellent use of recycling.

The town of Mineral de Pozos (which translates to “Mineral Wells”) is located in the state of Guanajuato about a 45 minute drive northeast of San Miguel de Allende. It’s one of the newer Pueblos Magicos, only being inducted into the program in 2012. It’s a sleepy little town…until that is, you reach the main square. Then be prepared to be accosted by touts and tour guides, each trying to convince you that their tour is better than the next guy. This may have been in part because we visited on the Sunday between Christmas and New Years, prime season not only for us foreign tourists, but Mexican tourists as well. No doubt if we had the opportunity to visit during a less busy time, there would have been fewer touts lying in wait.

The small little square has at least four different stands booking tours.

This is the “Trac-Tour.”

Some small sidewalk cafes around the square.

Roasting corn on the cob for sale beneath the arco.

But the gimmicks seem disproportionate to the attractions. For example, when we first rolled in to the small square in town, we pulled in behind the rustic open air trailer filled with tourists. We assumed it to be the local “tramvia,” the typical version of public transport often found in Mexican towns offering an affordable overview of the town. However, further review revealed it to be the “Trac-Tour,” a gimmicky tour company offering an adventure ride pulled behind a tractor. Then there is the “Green Bus” tour. And two big fancy Sprinter vans. Even the local parking attendant has a tour he wants to sell you…

Hacienda Santa Brigida, founded by the Jesuits in 1576.

The Hacienda is on the grounds of a large, abandoned mining area. Unfortunately the house itself is closed to the public.

In the end, we decide to go it on our own, but finding a map, or even list of attractions is no easy task. Finally, we locate the modern Museo de Historia de Mineral de Pozos, or local history museum, where we are able to obtain a town map and directions. The helpful museum attendant directs us to Santa Brigida Hacienda, oldest of the mines, along with Los Hornos, its three cone shaped smelting ovens whose image graces the Mineral de Pozos tourism brochure. These stone ovens were where gold and silver-bearing ore was ground, heated, and leached extracting the minerals.

These three ovens are where the silver was extracted from the ore. We were short on time, so opted to tour without a guide, but overheard words “lead” and “mercury.” No wonder life expectancy was so short back then!

The iconic brick ovens grace the front of the map and Pozos tourism brochure.

I thought the town of Mineral de Pozos itself was the “ghost town” until we saw the complex at Santa Brigida.

It would be interesting to know what these old structures were, but given the pop dwindled down to 200 at one time, I suspect no one really knows…

I think the structure on the left must have been part of an aqueduct.

While most towns in Mexico are riotous with color, the storefronts and walls of Mineral de Pozos appear faded in muted pastels of buff, beige, and pale, dusty pink, lending to its sleepy vibe. The town was founded in the 1500’s following the discovery of gold and silver veins. In the height of the mining days in the late 19th century, the population was believed to have reached 70,000. With the decline of the mining industry, that dropped to as low as 200 people by the 1950’s, earning the town its designation as a “Ghost Town.”

There are collapsed tunnels, caves, and pits all over the complex, leftover from the days of open-pit mining. One must tread with caution.

One of the many cisterns on the property.

Some say Mineral de Pozos is on the verge of resurgence as an artist community. Expats are moving in opening art galleries, while a couple of small Inns and even a spa and nearby lavender farm have opened up. Some compare it to what San Miguel de Allende was eighty years ago. But tourism appears to be the only game in town, so hopefully, the Pueblo Magico status will help lead to slower organic growth of quaint charm rather than be overtaken by the desperation and aggression of the touts in the town square.

Heading out of Pozos, we stop at a lavender farm. These bunches are hanging from the ceiling. You can’t imagine how good this room smells!

Sifting out the lavender buds by hand

14 thoughts on “Mineral de Pozos

  1. As I sit here in my living room while outside it’s blowing a gale and 29* (even if we have one of our rare sunny days) I am jealous of your traveling. We are really enjoying your stories from Mexico and being tempted to come explore with you someday.

    • Come on down! You’ll have to switch from bourbon to mescal, though. I had some 5 year aged today that was really smoky and smooth…

  2. Interesting history in some of those towns. I am especially interested in towns that were once booming and have since died. What were they like in their prime? What caused them to fail? When I see the oil boom towns in ND I wonder what they will be like in 50-100 years once all the oil companies pull out…..

  3. I’m feeling a bit of a panic to get back to Mexico. It won’t happen this year (expensive trip to Africa in July!!!) but maybe next? I’d love to meet you down there sometime! Are you in your View? “Tram-Tour” made me laugh but I think I have to agree with your “self-limiting attitude” about mining towns. But, as always, your posts are so compelling!

    • Thanks, Kat. How exciting about your Africa trip! Such a vastly beautiful continent! I will be eager to hear what countries you decide to visit.

      The View is tucked away for her long winter’s nap. I do not drive in Mexico…too many obstacles and distractions for my nerves. While my brother does so with ease, I think it would be too difficult for me personally as a solo navigator with limited Spanish (though he has offered many times to be the lead in our caravan.) This is my time to get out of the rig and enjoy a change of venue. Hotels are cheap in Mexico (I am paying $25 a night for a lovely spot in Oaxaca for a quiet room with 2 clean double beds, wifi, and a steamy hot shower.) I find it fun and rewarding traveling through Mexico on their first class buses, hopping from town to town, finding accommodation, tours and experiences as I go. It’s a nice break from the RV crowds descending on the great Southwest at this time of year…

      • The Africa trip is arranged through an art instructor at the Desert Museum here., Guy Combes. His father, now deceased, was also a very talented artist, lived in Africa and was very involved in wildlife conservation. He started some preserves in Kenya and we are traveling to them. It’s going to be quite a bit more luxurious (relatively speaking) than the overland trip I did in the 1980’s!

        • Oh, how I would love to see some of your artwork from that trip, Kat! I still remember your lovely drawings(particularly the pale green nopales) from your notebook. You are a very talented artist, and I trust you will find a lot of inspiration in Africa. My most prized possession from my 2002 stay there is a pen and ink sketch of a cheetah…so simple, yet so impressionable.

  4. Unfortunately the boom and bust economics of capitalism will continue to create ghost towns all over the world. It is fun for those of us with a history bent to explore, but as a survivor of the passage of electronics manufacturing through the American I not only empathize, but sympathize with the residence of those residents of not only the 400 year old mines, but the future towns of shale oil recovery in our north west. My employment consisted of 40 years of Sperry Univac, Digital Equipment Corporation, a mini-supercomputer, start up, a PCB vendor, and a designer of rotating shaft test equipment all non existing companies now. Here in New England we keep re-creating our economy, but it is still tough on the people involved.
    I loved this blog for its story, thanks again for all.

    • Allen, as one of life’s small coincidences, back in the late 80’s, I was a corporate travel consultant for American Express Business Travel. I was assigned to the VIP desk, and one of my key accounts was Digital Equipment Corp. I can’t remember my key contacts name, but I want to say it was Dorothy, who was admin to the head honcho whose name also escapes me. Name aside, I will otherwise remember her, because she wrote a letter of commendation, something that carried a lot of weight with my superiors back then, and not something easy to come by. Thanks as always for the comment.

      • Suzanne, I left DEC in 86 when I realized that when I had joined them in 77 as a senior engineer I was six levels below Ken Olsen the CEO and when I left I was 11 levels below him as a senior engineering manager. The org chart no longer resembled a triangle, but the copula of a Russian Orthodox church. 37K personnel in 77 and 126K in 86. I no longer knew the names of my fellow employees if they were not in my group. Most people today have no memory of that company. As always, peace we enjoy your blog.

  5. I had to laugh when reading this post. I’ve been going to Mineral de Pozas for 18 years and for that length of time, those there have said it will be the NEXT San Miguel. I’ve had several friends move over there but they don’t lasat longer then three or four years. One would REALLY have to be a hermit to live there as there are no grocery stores or other services. PLUS it is a higher elevation then San Miguel and gets really cold most of the time. I never went on the weekends, so to see more then five people in all of the town was a rarity. There used to be a lovely Mexican woman who made and dressed exquisite dolls there. Wonder if she is still around.

  6. I worked as a miner in my misspent youth, so I always have a curiosity about old mining districts. They have a different vibe than, say, farming districts that I think reflects on the attitudes of people who built them. Or maybe it reflects on the fact that farming is generally done in more hospitable places than mining.

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