El Oro, Mexico’s little known Pueblo Mágico
- Why visit this hidden gem rich in history
Hidden away in the mountains north-west of Mexico City lies the Pueblo Mágico El Oro de Hidalgo. Maybe because of its location off the beaten track or due to the lack of media coverage, it is little visited. That is a shame, because this village on the edge of Estado de México has much to show for. It once was the centre of the gold mining industry and still conserves much of the charm of its golden era. There is more to visit in El Oro than in most Pueblos Mágicos and you will see a completely different side of Mexico.
Teatro Juárez tells the story of past gold wealth
Its high elevation at about 2740 m (9000 ft) above sea level means that the air is crisp in El Oro. The village has that special feel to it that only remote mountain villages have. The people are very friendly and community oriented. Since not many tourists go there, they are truly happy to see visitors who are interested in their history and proud to show off the local sights.
The first building you will probably notice is the town hall, a shiny white building in colonial style that reminded me of beach towns in northern France. You can visit the representative parts of the building for free or pay for a guided tour. The most interesting part are the murals in the entrance hall depicting the mining industry at work and a gallery of all the village mayors upstairs.
Across the street from the town hall is Teatro Juárez, a beautiful neoclassical theatre from 1907 that shows how rich El Oro once must have been. When we visited on a Saturday, there was an Opera practice going on which we were able to attend for free. The theatre hosts several cultural events.
Get access to the gold mine through Socavón San Juan
The most interesting thing to visit is the gold mine itself. You can access what is currently accessible of the mine through the museum Socavón de San Juan. To get there, you have to leave the centre to the south and walk up the steep hills behind the main church Santa María de Guadalupe. There are hardly any signs, and we got a little lost, so better ask some locals to point you to the Socavón de San Juan.
You can only access the mine with a tour at about 40 Pesos per person. The tour was very informative. You will not only learn about the very mine you are visiting, but also but gold mining techniques in general and the history of El Oro. The museum also supports activities for the local youth and you can make a little donation if you like.
If you still want more information, there is a mining museum, Museo de Minería, a little further up the hill from Socavón San Juan. Another part of the mines you can visit is Tiro Norte, one of the elevator accesses to the mines. It still keeps its original wooden construction, which is quite impressive. Unfortunately, when we visited, Tiro Norte was under construction, so we were not able to go up.
Try the local drink "chiva"
Apart from its history, El Oro has some nice artisanry shops and the local drink chiva is sold on every corner. It is an alcohol-based herb mixture said to cure pretty much anything from stomach problems to anger. Everyone adds a different mix of herbs to their chiva, and you can go around trying the different versions. Just be aware that some home-made mixes might be made of the cheapest alcohol and therefore not be very healthy.
The people of El Oro are also proud of their bread rolls called bolillo. They say the European miners brought them there. Bolillos exist all across central Mexico, so we were not that excited about this “speciality”, but the artisan bolillos we bought at El Oro market really were better than the ones we knew before.
If you fancy a light bite or a coffee break, I can highly recommend a place called Gusano Rojo. It’s a little hidden in a backyard off Avenida Constitución (I believe the google location is incorrect). We were lucky we followed the signs and discovered this little gem with its colourful chairs and beautifully decorated yard. If you like artisanal beers, try the one from the local brewery (I can’t remember the name). It was delicious!
Head to Presa Brockman
Once you’ve explored the village, head south to Presa Brockman, about 4 km outside of El Oro. The lake was originally constructed as a water reserve for the nearby mines, but now is a weekend destination for locals and tourists alike. It offers spectacular view across crystal clear water and incredibly fresh air. You can rent a boat to paddle the lake, or a horse to explore the surrounding woods, or just relax in nature for a while. As usual, there are food stalls on the lake shore where you can get snacks.
Off the beaten track but worth a visit
Although El Oro is a little out of the way – almost 3 hours from Mexico City and 2 hours from Queretaro, it is definitely worth a visit. We ended up there only because we had visited all other sights that were within reach for a day-trip. That’s such a shame because El Oro has more to offer than most other Pueblos Mágicos. Our guide in Socavón San Juan asked us to share our experience in El Oro with our friends and on social media so that more tourists will come and bring a bit of income to this remote place. This is what I’m doing herewith: Go check out El Oro, it’s well worth it! And please come back here and let us know how you liked it!