By matter of luck I learned about Tepoztlán via a couple of chilangos, or residents of Mexico City. I later learned it is a local favorite “Pueblo Mágico,” a designated town part of a rather smart strategy created by the Mexican government to attract tourists.

Typically appealing to travelers based on historical importance, cultural experiences, and/or natural beauty, each one is unique. Still, many share basic similarities…historic churches, colonial plazas, and the like. Tepoztlán was something else… and landed the #1 spot on my list of Mexico’s “Magic Towns.”

Just an hour south of Mexico City, Tepoztlán offers travelers an inviting contrast to the modern big city. An ancient town in a sacred valley, Tepoztlán is believed to be the birthplace of one of the most important Gods in Mesoamerica, Quetzalcoatl, or the plumed serpent.

As such, the town has long been visited by weary travelers on pilgrimage from as far as Chiapas and Guatemala in pre-Hispanic times. Now, with the conveniences of modern travel this town has become a favorite destination for those looking to connect with nature and ancient wisdom. It is now a unique embodiment of both pre-Hispanic traditions and new age mysticism.

With drastic scenery, distinctive archaeological history, and deep preservation of pre-Hispanic traditions, Tepoztlán is a must-visit destination for inquiring minds, persons in need of rejuvenation, and those interested in reversing time for a glimpse into ancient life.

While there are numerous ways to enjoy a day in Tepoztlán a well-rounded experience includes a visit to El Tepozteco, the market, and the local eateries.

El Tepozteco

El Tepozteco is the main attraction that has brought pilgrims to this sacred valley for centuries. This archaeological site is home to the temple of Tepoztécatl, the Aztec god of pulque, an alcoholic beverage made of fermented agave sap. Its rare position at the top of the valley cliffs creates a unique challenge for visitors who must make the steep, but invigorating, hike through the oak forest to reach it.

While the beauty of the hike was impressive, the elevation gain is what really left me breathless. Many locals of various ages can be seen scaling this hike in record time… some still make the hike daily.

However, if you’re new to this hike, pace yourself shamelessly. You’ll need to climb numerous sets of stairs and navigate large portions of rocks and rubble. At the top, a set of industrial stairs allows you to scale the small canyon between cliffs where you will make your final ascent to the summit.

At the temple, occasional free, unscheduled talks are given on its construction, carvings, representation of duality, and importance as a site of cosmic energy and vibrations. It is here I was found the answer to my question of “Why would anyone build a temple that required such a treacherous hike?” In a purposeful plan, the exertion required to visit the temple provokes a state of body and mind ready for deep reflection. It all makes sense once you’re there.

Somewhere along the way, you’ll likely encounter the resident coatimundi, or coati. These are essentially the native racoon and, at least at Tepozteco, seem to be quite friendly. Highly motivated by food, the coati guard the temple and surrounding grounds waiting for opportunities to snag snacks from unassuming tourists. Do watch your belongings closely and avoid feeding these wild animals to prevent reliance on humans for food.

Though the total round trip hike is only about 2 miles, plan at least an hour each way for the journey. Starting at the far end of town closest to the cliffs, visitors can access the trail at street level.

You can visit Tepozteco from 10 am to 6 pm. Admission to climb the temple is roughly $3, paid to the park rangers stationed at the top.

The Market

Like most Mexican towns, a regular daily market offers typical wares. But on Wednesdays and Sundays, this central market transforms into one of the largest regional artisanal markets outside of Mexico City.

Wednesdays, the market is similar to a farmer’s market with a delicious array of produce and regional specialities. Typical of this town, a vast selection of gems, ceremonial herbs, and other spiritual or mystic items are also sold here. One of my favorite merchants was a woman selling a large variety of copal, a sweet resin made of tree sap used as incense in traditional pre-Hispanic ceremonies. On Sundays, local handicrafts, such as baskets, musical instruments, and textiles are plentiful.

It’s best to visit the market between 11 am and 4 pm when most stalls are in operation. On the weekends, it is recommended to shop before 2 and expect crowds as visitors from all over the region bus in to shop at this market.

Local Eateries

While a few upscale, trendy eateries and rooftop bars have sprung up in Tepoztlán, many of the restaurants are family-run eateries highlighting some of the region’s favorite comida típica. As a town geared towards preservation of cultural traditions, it’s also a great destination for trying pre-Hispanic foods.

Breakfast is a treat here as you can enjoy a variety of tamales, enchiladas and quesadillas made alongside cafe de olla, a traditional Mexican coffee beverage prepared in a special clay pot. And if you’re seeking an actual sweet treat, Tepoztlán is renown for its specialty homemade ice creams, with over 130 flavors found in town featuring various regional and exotic flavors.

But if you eat only once in Tepoztlán, do it at the market’s Pre-Hispanic food stall. Here you’ll find plant-based delicacies created from traditional herbs, seeds, fruit, and vegetables. Though I didn’t expect much in the way of flavor, I was blown away by the intricacies created with such simple foods. Of all the food stalls I have eaten at in Mexico, this is one I have made a priority to visit again.

For an extended stay

Tepoztlán is a wonderful place to kick back and relax. In town and the surrounding communities, several small inns and wellness resorts have sprung up catering to a range of travelers.

Staying overnight, you may have the opportunity to enjoy a traditional temazcal ceremony. The temazcal is a pre-Hispanic sweat lodge used in a curative ritual to treat various ailments and support overall wellness and restoration. Given Tepoztlán’s spiritual importance in Mexico, this unique opportunity is available through various local venues with shamanic healers.

Tepoztlán travel tips

Getting to Tepoztlán: this is convenient and cheap via public bus leaving Mexico City’s Taxqueña station. Once in Tepoztlán, it is best to take a taxi to the center of town, as the walk navigates many twists and turns that could be dangerous for pedestrians.

Money: Bring pesos. Few restaurants accept cards and you will need cash at the market. One ATM is available next to the restaurant, El Chile Gallo, but may not be reliable.

Safety: With increasing reports of violence in the surrounding areas of Morelos state, many people advise against travel in the state. However, Tepoztlán is frequently visited by tourists. I found the town to be friendly and welcoming and the journey from Mexico City was easily made.