Atlas Obscura - Curious and Wondrous Travel Destinations

Real de Catorce

Real de Catorce, Mexico

This former ghost town high in the mountains of northern Mexico is now a pilgrimage site.  

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When the minerals of a mining town have been fully extracted, there is a chance that it will become a ghost town. That is what happened to Real de Catorce in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí when its silver ran dry in the early 20th century. But it was never completely abandoned. 

The land around the town, particularly the desert below, is known as Wirikuta, the sacred land of the Huichol people. Real de Catorce has long been a pilgrimage site for them due to its proximity to Wirikuta. It’s also a place of pilgrimage for Roman Catholics. The Parish of Immaculate Conception Cathedral draws visitors hoping to ask a favor from Saint Frances Assisi.

Today, the town sees pilgrims of a different sort, namely tourists in search of the magic that keeps visitors coming to this out-of-the-way location. When silver mining ended over a century ago, the town’s population dropped down to the hundreds. Today the town has around a thousand permanent residents. The sizable tourist flow keeps its small hotels busy. 

Much of the town is abandoned. Be sure to visit the historic bullfighting ring and its amphitheater. A hike up to the hills will give you a panoramic view of the town and its surroundings. Throughout the town, the Huichol sell their intricate, colorful artwork.

Know Before You Go

The only way in and out of town by car is through the 1.5-mile (2.4 kilometers) Ogarrio Tunnel. Beware of another attraction here: peyote, the cactus known for its psychoactive properties is illegal for all but the indigenous population to possess. 

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July 28, 2023

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