A Weekend in Pachuca

“We should go to Pachuca for the weekend,” Pamela suggested, perhaps in an effort to distract me from the fact that I had been staring at her chest for five minutes straight. “Huh?” I asked, perplexed. “Where is that?” Pamela explained that Pachuca was the capital of Hidalgo State, just 90 minutes by bus from Mexico City, and that it was in Pachuca that an exhibit of controversial Fernando Botero paintings was on display through mid-June. Having been floored by the Botero Museum in Bogotá, my interest was immediately piqued.

The above conversation occurred a few weeks ago, Loyal Reader. I normally pride myself on my geek-level knowledge of geography and places of interest, so color me perplexed that I knew little-to-nothing about Pachuca. Pamela suggested leaving there on a Saturday morning, arriving midday, and spending the remainder of the day (and an overnight) in the city and visiting the Prismas Basalticos that Sunday. The name suggested that los prismas would be similar to the basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, or at least to the Devil’s Postpile near Mammoth Lakes, California. Still, how is it that I had never heard of these basalt “prisms,” either? Quick research revealed that there weren’t any hostels in Pachuca, but when I discovered that I had enough hotel points for a free night’s lodging in the city center, the deal was sealed.

Pachuca is a mid-sized city with a small town feel and surprisingly little traffic – at least by Mexican standards. Our hotel sat directly on one side of Pachuca’s main square, Plaza de la Independencia, although our room overlooked the ugly rooftops of the other side of the city. That being said, it was the nicest hotel in town, and having to pay just the tax, I’d say the price was right.

A short walk took us to El Cuartel del Arte, a convent-turned-museum of temporary exhibits. Every room of the museum was dedicated to Botero’s “Testimonies of Barbarism,” an impressive series of oils in which the artist applied his “chubby” style to paintings of Colombia’s gritty side – drug-related shootings, poverty, grieving mothers, tortured prisoners, etc. Brilliant stuff, and topically quite different than what’s on display in Bogotá’s galleries. It was a sunny afternoon as Pamela and I continued our walk through lovely Pachuca. We even stumbled upon a Uruguayan book fair, but the day peaked early as nothing compared to the Botero exhibition. Then the rain came, and the temperature dropped twenty degrees in as many seconds.

It was dry the next morning as we left for los prismas, but still a bit cold from the day before. Our bus to the prisms took us past a mirador (scenic overlook) of Pachuca’s mountainous back half, where coal mining was (and, to a lesser extent, still is) big business. It is through these mining operations that soccer was introduced to Mexico, by British miners who also imported pastes to this region of Mexico. “Pastes” translates as “meat pies,” but from the look of them, they’re quite similar to empanadas. Not really my thing. 🙂

The bus passed below Cristo Rey, one of several large statues of Jesus scattered throughout central Mexico, but we didn’t stop. As it was a cloudy day – and sure to rain again later – there wouldn’t have much of a view anyway. We were dropped off in Huasca de Ocampo, one of Mexico’s “pueblos mágicos.” These “magical villages” are sprinkled throughout central Mexico, and there are several within an hour’s drive of Pachuca. Think of a small town with a main square, usually featuring a fountain surrounded by park benches and fronted on one side by a church. Charming!

We explored the small town by foot for an hour or so (you can see the entire town in as much time), and I spotted a restaurant serving trucha (trout, another local specialty), making a mental note for later. A taxi took us the last few kilometers to los prismas, passing a recreational lake just before reaching the park entrance. Kayaks for hire plied the otherwise still waters, and I immediately knew that a single weekend in this area was not enough by half.

Los Prismas Basalticos are, like the aforementioned Giants’ Causeway and Devils’s Postpile, a formidable series of hexagonal columns formed by cooling lava millions of years ago (or something like that). A few waterfalls flow over the side, and you can span the gorge by footbridge or descend to its base by stairs. The site is a bit overdeveloped – dual ziplines also cross the gorge, and the gift shops are a touch much – but it impresses nonetheless. Although nearby Huasca had an actual hostel, I didn’t spot any other gringos in the area, and my enjoyment increased considerably.

After seeing all that there was to see, Pamela and I walked along the edge of the gorge, and through the chain-link fence we saw what looked like ruins down below, several hundred meters downstream from the main waterfall. Closer inspection revealed these to be the remains of a once-grand hacienda, and its new owners have beautified the site and turned it into a popular destination for weddings and quinceañeras.

Thunder clapped overhead and alongside that came the realization that there were only a few hours of daylight remaining. We returned to Huasca, where I got my trout fix before we continued back to Pachuca and from there, back to Mexico City. All in all, it was a nice weekend and I hope to return to the area soon. Pachuca has some mining-related attractions that could be interesting, and there are other pueblos mágicos to visit. Whenever that is, however, I doubt I’ll have any pastes; I tried a couple different flavors on my way out of town. Again, not really my thing. 🙂

Prismas Basalticos 37

Above pic: Los Prismas Basalticos from below.
Below pic: Los Prismas Basalticos from above.

Prismas Basalticos 12

Prismas Basalticos 51

Above pic: Close-up of a waterfall, one of several at the prismas.
Below pic: Pamela, mercifully patient as I attempted some portraiture shots. What do you think?

Prismas Basalticos 24

Prismas Basalticos 43

Above pic: This frog was roughly the size of my big toe. Photo by Pamela.
Below pic: Garlic trout. Good eating – if you don’t mind the fish staring back at you. 🙂

Huasca de Ocampo 25 - garlic trout

Plaza de la Independencia 3 - Sepia tone

Above pic: Pachuca’s Plaza de la Independencia, or Zócalo.
Below pic: El Cuartel del Arte, Pachuca’s monastery-turned-art museum.

 El Quartel del Arte 45

Author: gringopotpourri

Gringo - aka Scott - was born outside of Chicago and has lived most of his life in or around big cities. He spent two years of his adult life in Mexico City (talk about big cities!) and fell in love with Mexican food, history, and women, all while weathering the culture shock. Life's journey has since brought him to rural Tennessee, perhaps the biggest culture shock of them all. Scott also enjoys movies, hiking, and travel in general.

7 thoughts on “A Weekend in Pachuca”

  1. Your travel writing is getting better and better. Good article and perfect length. Long enough to have plenty of substance, not long enough to glaze people’s eyes over. I’ve never heard of Pachuca either. Sounds like there’s all kinds of hidden gems in central Mex. How was the trout? Do they season fish in Mexico? I tended to find meats a bit bland when I was down there. Like they didn’t actually put any seasoning on the meat or chicken itself, maybe it’s the same with fish? Or may have just been the places I visited.

    1. Thanks Chris! You are too kind.

      The trout was delicious, and seasoned with cloves of garlic. Chicken is generally unseasoned but there’s usually a variety of salsas to add your desired level of hotness.

      1. Hey, where exactly do you live in Mexico?
        Did you feel safe in Pachuca?
        Did you feel really cold when the sunset?

      2. The reason asking is I’m moving down there next month to Pachuca and wanted to know of a person’s firsthand account. Was there anything to do at night there? Does it have a rich feel to it in terms of culture?

  2. Pachuca is pretty small when compared to your average Mexican city. Didn’t seem like there was much to do after dark, but then again, we only spent a single weekend there. Culture-wise, there are a couple of museums, nice squares, and an opera house-style theater, but that’s about it. There is tons to do on weekends, however – maybe not in Pachuca itself but within 90 minutes in any direction. I’m talking colonial towns, waterfalls, mining villages, pyramids, and even Mexico City itself. I guess it depends on what you’re into.

    Hope that helps Ryan!

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