This blog post is all about the Pueblos Mancomunados of Oaxaca. It explains what these villages are, and describes our two night stay in Cuajimoloyas. For travel directions just scroll to the bottom of this page. You can easily go from Oaxaca city independently, without paying the high fees of a tourist agency.
What are the Pueblos Mancomunados?
The Pueblos Mancomunados consists of eight villages in the Sierra Norte, which sits within the Oaxaca state of Mexico. Over twenty years ago these mountain villages came together to create an ecotourism project that was of value to both visitors and their communities. Today, a well established network of hiking trails exist, as well as opportunities for horse riding and even zip-lining for the more adventurous.
The eight villages are Amatlán, Benito Juárez, Cuajimoloyas, La Nevería, Lachatao, Latuvi, Llano Grande and Yavesí.
Why should you go?
If you enjoy off the grid mountain escapes, and want to make sure your tourism has a positive effect, you should definitely check out the Pueblos Mancomunados. A stay in any of the villages will allow you to witness authentic Zapotec mountain life, and you will be gifted with a warm welcome from these wonderful people.
Our stay in Cuajimoloyas
Arriving in Cuajimoloyas
We spent two nights in the Pueblos Mancomunados, and based ourselves in Cuajimoloyas. Our primary reason for choosing this particular village was that it’s one of the easiest of the pueblos to get to from the city of Oaxaca (travel directions at the bottom of this page). It turned out to be a great decision for many more reasons.
We arrived in Cuajimoloyas on Saturday at around 1pm. Luckily our collectivo (shared taxi) driver dropped us off right outside the tourism office and from there we found it easy to organise a place to stay and to reserve an English-speaking guide for our hikes.
By 2pm, we had checked into our cosy cabana, eaten lunch at the closest comedor – this means ‘dining room’ and was really just a small room in a family’s home – and were ready for our first hike.
Ester, our private guide, met us at our cabana and spent the next two days hiking with us. She was born and grew up in Cuajimoloyas, and as well as helping us to explore the forest trials, she introduced us to her village and taught us a lot about the community’s way of life.
Hike 1: Canyon del Coyote, 3 hours
We had limited time in the mountains and didn’t want to waste a moment, so we booked ourselves on to a three hour hike to make the most of our first afternoon.
The hike was really interesting. Ester introduced us to a whole host of different plants that the villagers use for medicinal purposes. There seemed to be something for everything… cysts, cold sores, cancer, coughs, high fevers, wounds etc.
As we walked we came across lots of little ranches. These are owned by village families and they come here during the day to work. Some of the ranches were for trout farming, growing crops of potatoes or corn, or grazing livestock such as sheep or cows.
The hike was was the perfect length for an afternoon adventure, but it wasn’t easy. A lot of it was uphill through the forest, and there were points where we had to scramble over rocks or through caves. When we arrived at the viewpoint however, it made the dirty clothes more than worth it. Just look at that view!
Hike 2: Mirador Xi-Nudaa, 7 hours
On our second day in the Sierra Norte we decided to push ourselves and went for the longest route on the list. Apparently, it’s not often that the guides do this walk, usually people opt for the 3 or 5 hour walks. Trust us to be different!
The highlight of this walk was the viewpoint from which you could see for miles and miles, including a look at some of the other Pueblos Mancomunados. This hike was more advanced than the day before, there was a lot of scrambling over and under rocks, and to get to the viewpoint we had to to climb up a little way.
We got to eat our lunch (we’d requested a packed lunch from the comedor by our cabana the night before) by the waterfalls. As we were visiting during the dry season they were unfortunately really small… but it did mean we didn’t have to take a rain jacket with us!
Apart from the stunning panoramic from the viewpoint , this hike wasn’t quite as interesting as the day before. We didn’t come across as many villagers or ranches, and the forest that we saw did become quite repetitive in places.
Despite warm days, the evenings drop very cold in Cuajimoloyas, and we were very grateful for the open fireplace in our cabana to ward off the chill. We didn’t pay extra for access to WiFi, choosing to immerse ourselves in the experience. After lots of hiking, it was so cosy to sit in front of the fireplace, having nothing more to do than relax and watch the flames lick across the logs.
We had all of our meals at the closest comedor. The family were really sweet and their food, although simple, was delicious, traditional Oaxacan fayre. Our guide told us that the other comedors in the village were cheaper. For us however, the prices were really reasonable; per person, breakfast cost 50 pesos (£2), lunch cost 60 pesos (about £2.40) and dinner cost 50-60 pesos. We were always absolutely stuffed, and the prices included a hot drink. We couldn’t face more walking up and down hills and were happy to pay these ‘inflated’ prices.
Taking a breath
We really enjoyed our stay in the Sierra Norte, and would highly recommend getting off the beaten track to explore the Pueblos Mancomunados. Our stay gave us the opportunity to take a breath and just enjoy the beautiful nature around us.
While we would usually opt to hike independently, our guide was really knowledgeable and we were happy to know our money was going towards supporting the community. If you are in two minds, please be aware that the trails around Cuajimoloyas are not well signposted and in our opinion it would be quite easy to get lost.
How to organise your visit to the Pueblos Mancomunados
There are tourist agencies in Oaxaca who will organise your trip for you. For the privilege, they will charge you a lot of money and the villages will receive less compared to if you book directly through them.
We were travelling in a quieter period for the pueblos and so it was easy for us to just arrive in town and be able to get accommodation and a guide. If you travel in the high season, especially in July when they have their mushroom festival, you will need to check in advance. You can get in touch directly with the Pueblos Mancomunados by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our time was limited so we stuck to one place, but it is easy to walk between the different villages and spend time exploring each one. You could easily spend a week or more here!
In total, including accomodation, guide fees, food and transport, we spent around £25 each a day. We thought this was fantastic value!
Oaxaca to Cuajimoloyas – Travel Directions
Step 1 – Oaxaca to Tlacolula
We got a collectivo, or shared taxi, from Oaxaca to Tlacolula, on the corner where Eduardo Vasconcelos intersects with Brazil (map). You can take any car going to Mitla and just let them know you want to get out early in Tlacolula. The journey costs 25 pesos (£1) per person and takes around 30-40 minutes.
Step 2 – Tlacolula to Cuajimoloyas
There are two transport terminals in Tlacolula, you want the white building across from the green PEMEX gas station on Juarez, not the main bus terminal (map). Walk to the back of the terminal yard and you will see a sign that says ‘Cuajimoloyas’.
From here, there doesn’t seems to be a timetable for departures, just sit on the bench and wait until the driver arrives. We waited for around one hour before the vehicle left at 12.15pm. The journey took around 50 minutes and cost 30 pesos per person. Our driver dropped us off outside the tourist information office in Cuajimoloyas from where we were easily able to organise our accommodation and hikes.
To return to Oaxaca from Cuajimoloyas, we pretty much did the above journey in reverse. It was a little confusing, several people told us there was a direct collectivo/bus to Oaxaca, but they always told us different details and we never saw any evidence of this. If you have better luck with this, please leave a comment so that we can let others know. We decided to change in Tlacolula as we knew this worked. We waited for the collectivo to Tlacolula across the street from the yellow public toilets, and next to Comedor Los Portales (map).
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