Despite the US State Department’s warning ‘Do Not Travel to Guerrero’ – due to widespread crime and violence – of course we went there, being the intrepid ‘silver surfer’ travellers that we (like to think we) are. How could we not see the colonial mountain-top town of Taxco? And we were assured that the centre of town would be fine, just don’t stray out of town, especially not after dark, or drive there solo as bandit roadblocks are common. We went by bus, safety in numbers.
The early morning Costa Line Bus from Cuernavaca takes around an hour and a half, crossing the state border into Guerrero on the Mexico City to Acapulco road and climbing into the dry jagged Sierra Madre mountain range to Taxco, 1,778m above sea level. As the bus climbs the narrow twisting road you turn a bend and suddenly Taxco is before you, stark white buildings piled on top of each other to cover the steep valley and hillside, with the twin belfries of the its famed baroque church glinting in the mid-morning sunshine.
The Nahuatl name for this place is Tlachco meaning ‘place of the ballgame’ and the seat of an Aztec governor who presided over the surrounding districts, where natives extracted semi-precious stones for decorative and ritual purposes. It wasn’t until Hernán Cortés and his marauding Conquistadors arrived that mining began, when huge deposits of silver were discovered around 1532, changing this place forever. Cut to the mid 18th Century and José de la Borda (the very same man who established the Jardín Borda in Cuernavaca) arrived in Taxco and instigated more modern mining operations.
The first thing that strikes you about Taxco is how incredibly steep, narrow, irregular and rugged the dark stone cobbled streets are. I mean they’re picturesque for sure, but alarmingly dangerous, with no side walk, so you share the narrow roads with a constant flow of speeding traffic, mainly cute old weathered VW beetle taxis – so Herbie does indeed ride again, here in Taxco. Where the narrow streets converge, the traffic snarls and the Herbies need to re-arrange themselves through complicated three-point-turns, whilst the nimbler motor cycles run rings – leaving us, the walkers, squeezed against a wall. But onwards and upwards we went – it’s so steep in parts that you’d think grappling hooks and ropes should be installed – but as you’d imagine, the views across this sprawling mountain town are spectacular.
The main plaza or Zócalo is officially known as Plaza Borda, after the aforementioned silver mining baron, and is completely dominated by the impressive Baroque and completely over the top Santa Prisca Church, built between 1751 and 1758 by the richest man in town, you guessed it, José de la Borda. He made his considerable fortune in the silver mines surrounding the town, but despite his wealth, the opulence of the church nearly bankrupted him, and when you’re inside, you can see why. It’s covered in the most ornate decoration imaginable, dripping, and I mean dripping, in gold.
The exquisitely-decorated church is made of pink limestone and is flanked by two ornate bell towers, one of which you can climb, as I did to the very top which reveals further spectacular views across the town. I have to say, getting up the narrow bell tower on the tightly twisting stone steps does get the knees a-wobbling, but still scarier, once at the top, you realise you’re precariously perched with just a single metal bar to prevent you from toppling out or back down the stairwell void for that matter. There’s no Health & Safety here, or anyone to prevent too many people climbing to the top and crowding the tiny space amongst the bells, so I’m thankful that on the day I went up, there were just a few of us (one guy sitting crazily on the edge, legs over the side, taking photos). But if the knees had gone going up, they were practically useless going down, so I was somewhat relieved to reach terra firma to the joyful cacophony of the oddly named Los Tóxicos blasting out local tunes on the church steps which, hardly surprisingly, could be heard all over town.
A fantastic lunch was had at Mi Fondita on their roof top terrace right in front of the Santa Prisca Church. An ice cold Modelo, Guacamole and a tasty bowl of Pozole, a traditional Guerrero dish – a spiced broth with either chicken or pork.
I had the Verde – El auténtico sabor guerrerense, hecho con seminal de pipián con pollo y queso, whilst Ants chose the equally mouth-watering Pozole Rojo – Elaborado con chile guajillo al estilo Jalisco con carne de cerdo, both served with dos Tostadas Sencillas. All as complex and delicious as it sounds. Mezcal on the house served in cute terracotta jugs came with the bill and made the bus-ride back to Cuernavaca that little bit more pleasurable.
This was our first time eating pozole (highly recommended by the waiters in our hotel) and, I can concur, an absolute must when visiting this part of Mexico.
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I love the photo of the local version of Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass. Such cheeky, colourful musos. How fabulously your adventure continues 😍
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