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Pachuca Hidalgo

Pachuca, Hidalgo

Hmmm, what to say about Pachuca? It’s a perfectly ordinary Mexican city. Its official population is a quarter of a million people, give or take a few thousand. Just 95 kilometers (57 miles) north of Mexico City, it’s a good base for visiting the charismatic mining towns of the Sierra Madre Oriental (Eastern Sierra Madre) as well as a jumping off place for out-of-the-way towns boasting Franciscan and Augustinian monasteries, mineral springs, and water parks. Outdoor enthusiasts will find they’re just a hop, skip, and a jump from Mexico’s first national park, Parque Nacional El Chico: a good place for rock climbing, rappelling, horseback riding, and hiking.

Mining-oriented Hidalgo State was founded in 1869, with Pachuca de Soto (its official name) as the capital. Many of Pachuca’s most impressive buildings are late 19th- or early 20th-century neoclassic. Interspersed with these are a few older, baroque facades as well as a majority of pedestrian buildings of modern vintage. Within strolling distance of the main plaza, the former Bank of Hidalgo, el Foro Cultural Efrén Rebolledo (cultural center, with changing exhibitions), and Casa Rule (now housing City Hall) are some choice 18th- to early-20th-century buildings worth admiring. Mosaic-lovers should not miss the 80x400-meter (262x1312-foot) floor mural at the Ben Gurión Cultural Park, at the city’s south side. Created in 2005, it is constructed of seven million tiles of 45 different hues.

Built about five centuries earlier, the baroque monastery church dedicated to San Francisco de Asis (St. Francis of Assisi) was closed when we arrived. Highlights of the colonial-era edifice, modified several times over the centuries, include a unique churrigueresque altarpiece. The adjacent former monastery, however, was open, and we visited the excellent photography museum, housing archetypal Mexican images by artists such as Javier Hinojosa, Martí Llorens, and Nacho López. The exhibit is organized stylistically, not chronologically, and enormous vintage cameras are set on pedestals throughout the rooms.

A good way to get a feeling for la Bella Airosa---as Pachuca is called due to its sometimes windy climate---is on the inexpensive Tranvía Turística based cater-corner from the main plaza. Departure times vary depending on the day of the week and number of passengers ready to ride, so stop by early in the day and ask for the itinerary. The tram visits some of the above-mentioned sites as well as other important churches, markets, and museums.

In the heart of Pachuca is Plaza Independencia, bordered on three sides by busy streets. Although impersonal and plain, the town square in nonetheless filled in the evenings with locals chatting and relaxing. Its main attraction is the 40-meter (131-foot), white limestone Torre del Reloj Monumental, a four-sided, neoclassic clock tower. The clockworks, still precise after 100 years, were crafted by the makers of London’s Big Ben.

The clockworks aren’t the area’s only British import. One of Pachuca’s most passionate pastimes, soccer was first introduced to Mexico by homesick Cornish miners who immigrated in the 19th century. The miner’s staple lunch, the pasty, is another popular import. Again, it was the miners from Cornwall who introduced the savory turnover to the mining town of Real del Monte, just 11 kilometers from Pachuca. In Real del Monte (AKA Mineral del Monte), visit the British miners’ graveyard, where all of the tombs point toward the ancestral home. Ask the locals to recount leftover myths of mischievous leprechauns (called duendes in Spanish) said to create havoc in the adjacent pine-oak forests.

Mining is what put Hidalgo on the map, though today the state’s main economic activity is light industry, followed by fishing and fish farming, agriculture, and some mineral extraction. During its heyday in the 1930s, Hidalgo was one of the world’s most important sources of silver, with some 200 mines in operation. These were operated by the Spanish, and later taken over by the British (after interruption of the mining industry during the Mexican War of Independence), and then the Mexicans, Americans, and finally the Mexicans again.

You can visit the bowels of a typical silver mine, Mina de Acosta, in Real del Monte. Before the Spanish conquest, the Aztecs mined obsidian here; centuries before, the Toltecs may have been the first to extract this naturally occurring volcanic glass: for tools, weapons, utilitarian items, and jewelry.

My BF and I visited Real del Monte as part of a Pachuca tour (you can also drive up yourself or take a city bus). Unfortunately we didn’t last long in the mine because, at the tail end of an enormous group of visiting school kids, we couldn’t hear a thing and quickly bolted back to the light of day. Instead our guide drove a short distance to visit the interesting Medical Museum, where beginning in the early 20th-century, miners got state-of-the-art treatment. Returning to Pachuca, we got a good foundation in the area’s mining history by visiting the excellent (and free) Museo de Minería (Mining Museum), including an English-language tour.

Although Pachuca is a pleasant and friendly city, it’s the picturesque mining towns above town as well as El Chico National Park, market towns with abundant produce and crumbling old monasteries, and Hidalgo’s many aquatic parks and hot springs that really grab the travelers’ attention. But Pachuca is a fine place to start the adventure.

For more detailed information about museums, hotels, restaurants, and things to do in Pachuca, see our Pachuca Travel Guide.

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