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“Magic Town”

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Sections of Cuetzalan

Tales said that the original name of Cuetzalan was Quetzalan, meaning "place where abound the quetzals;" although the meaning of Cuetzalan is “handful of red feathers with precious blue endings on two teeth," term associated with the tribute that the town of Cuetzalan paid to the Empire of Tenochtitlan.

Cuetzalan is located at 174 km to the northwest of the city of Puebla and to 85 km to the east of Zacatlán de las Manzanas. The region where this singular village is situated is the well known Sierra Norte, a zone with a tropical-humid climate that belongs to two morphologic regions: The North Mountain range and the declivity of the Gulf. The first is characterized by the formation of more or less individual, parallel mountain ranges, compressed one against the other, forming usually great or small high plateaus; while, the declivity of the Gulf is characterized by numerous volcanic chimneys and isolate hills. The main characteristic is the long and low mountain range that crosses from the west to the Southern part; the mountain range rises to 1.000 ms over sea level, displaying a series of peaks more or less aligned, which extends until Tlatlauquitepec. From the mountain range towards the south an abrupt declivity of more than 600 ms in only two km appears towards the Apulco River. The plunge from the south to the north is not specially marked as the one from the mountain range towards the south, because it gets to be from 1.200 ms in only nine kilometers.

Cuetzalan belongs to the northern part of the state of Puebla, formed by the different basins of rivers that end at the Gulf of Mexico and which are characterized by their young and impetuous streams, with a great amount of waterfalls. Located in the river basin of the Tecolutla River, Cuetzalan is crossed by the Apulco River, which runs by a great part of the North Mountain range and the rivers Cuichati and Zoquiate, rivers that run from the west to the east until they meet the Apulco River.

Cuetzalan has to be visited on Sundays, the day of its tianguis (market,) when the natives come to town dressed with their traditional suits. The market covers the entire center of the city and operates from 7:00 in the morning until 6:00 in the afternoon. In this market you can find all the agricultural products of the region, flowers, vegetables, meats, decorative items and handmade textiles and crafts.

Of pre-Hispanic origins, Cuetzalan began its life as a town in 1475 when it became tributary of the great Tenochtitlan in the days of the Emperor Axayácatl, who designed Cuetzalan as the center for the collection of tributes, particularly of the desirable feathers of quetzal.

Shortly after the conquest, the region is given to Jacinto Portillo and it is not until the middle of the XVI century that is placed officially within the registries of the Sierra Norte. In 1552 the zone is conquered by the Spaniards and catechized by the Franciscan. In 1555 the city is known as San Francisco, in an area of strong Franciscan influence, along with other sites like Zacapoaxtla, Jonotla and Nauzontla. In the colonial time, the town was known as San Francisco Quetzalan, and in 1863 was named Cuetzalan.

The participation of the natives Zacapoaxtlas and Cuetzaltecas in the battles on the hills of Loreto and Guadalupe in 1862 against the French, gave certain reputation to the area; allowing it to expand as more land was awarded to new colonists for their private usufruct, pushing away and replacing the natives. This situation was propitiated by the promulgation of the Laws of the Reform, signed by the President Benito Juárez.

The area where the town is located has a typical vegetation of the high forests that extends itself to the neighboring mountainous territories of the north and center of Veracruz, constituting a very especial landscape. In 1986 the status of village is changed to city and it is declared as a typical and monumental city. In 2002 the city became part of the program "Pueblos Magicos” (Magic Towns.)

The community sustains its economy with the cultivation of coffee, a product that has been object of continuous recognitions by virtue of its high quality, and at the moment tourism occupies a preponderant place as a source of income.


Speleology and caves:
The municipality of Cuetzalan has like characteristic the existence of an endless number of underground caverns. Although the majority of them are not accessible to the public, these caves have stirred up the interest of national and foreign investigators. Whenever the subject of Mexican Speleology is touched, it becomes necessary to indicate that it has been the “Association for Mexican Cave Studies,” of Austin, Texas, who has introduced to the world the most important caverns in the area of Cuetzalan. It was in the decade of seventies, when their members initiated their activities in Mexican territory and it was in 1973 when they presented to the world the longest cave on the region with 16.287 meters (10 mi) of passages, known later as the “Sumidero of Atepolihui.”

The works carried out systematically, during several stages in diverse sites, have allowed the best knowledge of the underground wealth of Cuetzalan. The discoveries in the sportive scale as much in the scientific areas are truly important.

The largest caverns that Mexico has are: The System Purification in Tamaulipas with 36.795 meters (23 mi,) the Huautla System in Oaxaca with 21.300 meters (13.2 mi) and the Cuetzalan System, in Puebla with 21.000 meters (13 mi.)

Even though that during last the twenty years diverse Mexican research groups have been added to the exploration areas, there is still a great amount a land that remains intact, areas that if they would be studied, surely would bring new systems to light. Some of the caverns until now explored in Cuetzalan, are:

The Cavern Alpazat Bivi

The Cavern Tecolo

The Cavern Black Widow

The Cavern Xiliapan

The Cavern Chilita

The Cavern Zoquiapan

The Cavern Cohuatichan

The Caverns of Ateno

The Cavern Coyoxochit

The Caverns of Atepolihuit (the Cavern Atepolihui of Nauzontla and the Cavern Atepolihui of San Andrés Tzicuilan)

The Cavern del Murciélago of Xocoyolo

The Caverns of Cuexalostoc

The Cavern Dragfold

The Caverns of Tenextepec

The Cavern Escalera

The Nacimiento Tepetzala

The Cavern Grotbag

The Sima Bagshaw

The Cavern Karmitas

The Sima Bat in the Face

The Cavern Muchacho

The Sima Castor

The Cavern Muneca

The Sima Cruz Verde

The Cavern Octimaxal Sur

The Sima de los Bueys

The Cavern of Chivostoc

The Sima de los Renegades

The Cavern of la Arena

The Sima Esteban

The Cavern of la Barranca

The Sima Grande

The Cavern of la Flor

The Sima Hacienda

The Cavern of la Milpa

The Sima Tortuga

The Cavern of la Providencia

The Sima Tres Simas

The Cavern of la Víbora

The Sima Zoquita

The Cavern of los Camarones

The Sótano Raya

The Cavern of Olivares

The Sumidero and Caverns of Jonotla

The Cavern of Poncho Sierra

The Sumidero of Cuacteno

The Cavern of Tasololpan

The System Cuetzalan (Chichicaseapan, Resistol, Atischalla north and south and Atepolihuit de San Miguel)

The Cavern Primavera

The System Guayateno

The Cavern Quichat

The System of Chapultepec (the Cavern Chapultepec 1 and the Cavern Chapultepec 2)

The Cavern Scorpio

The System San Andres (Top Sink, Maize Field, Surprise, Ixtahuata and Killer Bee)

The Cavern sin Nombre

The System Santa Lucía

The Cavern Talcomitl

The System Talcomitl (Upper Talcomitl, Sima Vedura and Sima Banana Tree)

The Cavern Tarantula

The System Zoquiapan (Sima Chapultepec and Pilostoc)

Cascada Atepatahua (Waterfall Atepatahua): In order to arrive at this cascade it is necessary to take the route from the city of Cuetzalan towards Junta Auxiliar de San Andrés Tzicuilan, until arriving at the village of Xochicatl and then to take the deviation that brings you to the waterfall. Atepatahua is a small cascade located next to a crystalline water lagoon of two meters of depth.

Cascada Las Brisas (Waterfall the Breezes): This cascade is located approximately 3,5 kilometers from the city of Cuetzalan, taking the route that leads towards Junta Auxiliar de San Andrés Tzicuilan. Las Brisas has a fall of 17 meters of height and it has a small natural pool at the bottom of the waterfall.

Cascada La Encantada (Waterfall the Enchanted): The access to this cascade is very difficult because it is located in the mountains; however, the Enchanted is one of the most beautiful and sumptuous cascades of the region.

Cascada Las Hamacas (Waterfall the Hammocks): In the village of the same name, located on the route that leads from the city of Cuetzalan approximately at ten kilometers, towards Junta Auxiliar de Zacatipan, there are a series of rocky formations that create a set of basins and a majestic cascade. In the Hamacas, the tourists can enjoy whole days of familiar diversion, because besides of their crystalline waters, is possible to camp in the slopes of the Sierra.

Cascada El Salto (Waterfall the Jump): This is a cascade of wide fall that also counts on a small natural piscine. Although it is possible to swim in these waters, sometimes it is dangerous as there are some whirlpools and undercurrents.

Cascada Velo de Novia (Waterfall Veil of Fiancée): This cascade is in Junta Auxiliar de San Andrés Tzicuilan. Besides being one of the most beautiful, the Cascade Veil of Fiancée is ideal for swimming and it is located very close to Cuetzalan.

Cavern of Atepolihui: This is one of the safest and most accessible grottos for the general public. In order to arrive at the cave it is necessary to take the route that leads from the city of Cuetzalan to Junta Auxiliar de San Miguel Tzinacapan and approximately after 4,5 kilometers of route one finds the deviation to the grotto. Atepolihui measures 80 meters in length and this formed by three halls. The first hall is a natural viewpoint, from which one has the opportunity to observe a wonderful landscape of the Sierra Norte. In the second hall, is the figure of an elephant, formed by the union of the stalactites and the stalagmites. The third hall is known as “the Oil lamp.”

Cave of Chapultepec: This grotto is located at few minutes from the city of Cuetzalan, nevertheless, is difficult to access due to the excess of existing humidity inside the same, which creates a muddy and slippery floor.

Cavern of Chivostoc: Like the cavern of Atepolihui, to arrive at this grotto is necessary to take the route that leads of Cuetzalan to Junta Auxiliar de San Andrés Tzicuilan. There is an interesting myth relating this cavern. According to the natives of the community, this grotto is very feared because it is believed that the spirit of the persons who enter this cavern will remain inside, reason why, once at the exit of the cavern the person must pronounce the sentence “ya vámonos” (now we leave,) so that his spirit does not separate from his body and stays for always inside the grotto.

San Andres Tzicuilan: This village is located five km from Cuetzalan. In this area there are numerous waterfalls and the best known are the Brisas, Las Hamacas and Atapatahua, that forms a small cascade and a lagoon. Here we also find the waterfalls of Atlepetl and the Salto (jump.)

San Miguel Tzinacapan: A beautiful village located five km from Cuetzalan, here traditions and customs are very ingrained.

This site is located approximately at 180 km of the city of Puebla in the Sierra Norte zone and at seven km to the east of Cuetzalan. The site is of particular interest because the vestiges verify the dominant presence of groups of the coast in this region of the mountain range. These coastal groups must have left Yohualichan forced by the advance of warrior groups from the center of Mexico. The site was a ceremonial center that surely had influenced others and it was consolidated to carry out some type of cult, still after it was abandoned.

The part better known of this zone with influence of the Tajín is the area where we can see a similar monumental architecture to the one encountered in the metropolis. There is a ceremonial center that was built on a series of natural platforms that point towards the north. In the environs of this pre-Hispanic site there is a residential area, constructions that until today have not been studied. The constructions of Yohualichan present very special characteristic such as the alignments of niches that finish off the different buildings from the pyramidal structures. Also it is possible to notice that some of the niches are double, meaning, that some of them contain another niche in their interior. Some of these elements still conserve some of the original stucco that covered them. The niches were covered with a flat rock, characteristic that confers a very singular aspect to them.

One of the ritual activities of greater importance conducted periodically in the site was the ball game, for which they have parallel and extended constructions on the south side of the site.

With a big baggage of history, a climate that harmonizes the ebullient vegetation with the cold weather of the mountain, Cuetzalan is a place to stay some time. This is a city to see and to walk its streets and its corners and discover all the mysteries that the city has to offer. These are some of the most important sites:

Church of San Francisco: The original structure of this building is from the beginnings of the XVII century, although it was constantly restored between 1790 and 1942. At the beginning of the XIX century a clock tower of an eclectic style was added. The parish has a form of a basilica with the central nave decorated with caissons of plaster.

Chapel of the Purísima Concepción or Church of the Conchita: This chapel is an annexed dependency to the Parish of San Francisco, which was finished in 1913.

Sanctuary of Guadalupe: This church of neogothic style and this nineteenth-century building is also known as the “Church of the Jarritos" (church of the small jugs,) due to the fact that its tower is decorated with hundreds of small clay jugs. Its architecture is inspired by the Basilica of Lourdes in France.

Municipal Palace: Reflecting a rustic neoclassic style, this building was constructed based on the design of the Basilica of San Juan de Letrán in Rome. The construction work started in 1939 and it was finished in 1941.

The crafts that Cholula offers are based on an artistic blacksmith, fireworks and sculptured marble.
Cuetzalan counts with a great variety of artisan products, within which we emphasize:

Textiles: Articles done mainly by hand on back-strap looms: Huipiles (traditional dresses,) rebozos, sashes, blouses, backpacks and other articles as the silk rebozos, table cloths, napkins and an enormous variety of articles with woven designs done by hand.

Basketry: Working with natural fibers as the jonote and the twig the craftsmen make ornamental huacales, baskets, covers for flowerpots and other objects.

Wood carving: These can be: Masks of different sizes, flutes, cages, dolls, emphasizing the figurines in miniature that have deserved national and international recognition.

Candles: Still the craftsmen fabricate beeswax candles for domestic consumption, besides this they make luxury candles, splendidly worked for the different celebrations. These candles of wax and paraffin that can be of great size decorated with flowers, leaves and different figures and there are always offered by the “Mayordomo” (religious figure) the day of the celebration to each one of the saints who they celebrate.

Traditional clothing: For the visitor it will always be a pleasant experience to see the indigenous groups dressed up with their colorful ad extraordinary traditional attires that characterizes the municipality. The woman’s dress of the region of Cuetzalan is very attractive and therefore one of the most beautiful of Mexico. The skirt for daily use is an entangled linen cloth made or white poplin or of a very black tweed, weaved with a red edge in one of the ends, this one is a clear symbol of social status of the person; that it is used in holidays and, sometimes, on Sundays; besides of a red wool skirt that maintains the bottom part of the dress in its place. At the top the indigenous women use a shirt decorated with embroidering of drawings of birds, flowers and geometric figures in the edge of the neck and the small sleeves. On the shirt they take quechquemitl of woven gauze, until recently, this has been knitted in back-strap looms by themselves.

Furthermore, the daily skirt is simple and its color differentiates the region from where the woman comes from. However, the one that they use with their gala dresses (black petticoat) is, generally, red and it is adorned with small strips of color made of worsted cotton, with a strip made of commercial embroidery in the middle of it and colorful spangles.

In the Sierra Norte of Puebla already before the conquest the women used the quechquemitl, this is a piece of cloth that covers the shoulders and it is done of two rectangular parts, where the short side of one of the parts is sewn together to the long side of the other.

The most eye-catching part of the clothing is, without a doubt, the maxtahual. This hairdo consists more or less of twenty wool cords coiled in the hair and extended throughout the head, over the ears, until the forehead, where it is tied up with a double knot at the end of the hair dress. The earrings made from metal complement the attire. Around the neck they wear a necklace with beats of colors, and they can use from three to twenty necklaces; and each one is tied up on the back of the neck with a ribbon; and the multicolored ribbons fall like a fan on the quechquemitl, in the back. It is only in Cuetzalan that they call huipil the piece that the woman wears around the shoulders, when this in reality is called quechquemitl.

Another feminine article is the “mamal,” the piece of cloth that they use to carry their babies. Formerly, the mamal was woven in the house with white cotton that was cultivated by the natives in their own land in the zone of Zacatipan.

The men generally use a white shirt and trousers of commercial poplin, “cotton” that can vary depending in their social status, a straw hat and huaraches (sandals.)


To enjoy Cuetzalan, is to enjoy its people, its celebrations, their crafts and their food.

Without a doubt one of the more known traditions of Cuetzalan is the Dance of the Quetzals, a local representation of indigenous cosmology and its bond with the life of the collectors of feathers, activity where they prayed to the Gods to be protected. The clothing, the instruments and the dance movements are important keys in the interpretation of the symbolism of this practice that lasts to present times. Another important rite is the Dance of the Voladores (flying men,) from which exist variants of this dance in areas of the Gulf of Mexico where were the Totonacas and the Huastecas tribes, places where the dance originated. Not in vain it is considered that the archeological city of Yohualichan, located near Cuetzalan, is the twin city of Tajín, located in the Totonaca zone of Veracruz.

Among the most important celebrations of Cuetzalan, we find the celebration of San Francisco de Assisi, the 4th of October, when also the Fair of the Huipil is taking place, and where the queen of the fair is chosen among the most skillful and charismatic young girls of the region. This fair began in 1963, with the intention of rescuing the traditional values of the indigenous community. As a culminating point of this event they present the well known Dance of the Voladores, inaugurating this way the celebrations to San Francisco with one long day of music and dances, which also include the famous Dance of the Quetzals, that distinguishes itself from the other dances thanks to the magnificent hair dresses, made of feathers, carried by the dancers.

Other three important dances that are carried out in Cuetzalan are: The dance of the Santiagos, a dance that represents the battle between Moors and Christians, applied to the Spanish conquest; the dance of the Negritos, a dance of colonial origin based on a local tradition that integrates African and Totonacas elements, this dance is accompanied with a very loud tap dancing and music; and finally the Dance of the Toreros, a dance that includes a series of movements and reverences in relation to the works that are carried out in the field. In 1949 it took place the first great celebration in Cuetzalan, the Fair of the Coffee, which commemorated the traditional cultivation of this grain and what has given the city an unquestionable importance in the coffee business and that at present reunites the best producers of coffee of the region.


In Cuetzalan there is an ample variety of dishes that have their origin in the combination of Spanish and the indigenous elements, making of its kitchen, as well as of all the gastronomy Poblana, a delicious syncretism of scents and traditional flavors. Thus, whoever visits Cuetzalan will be able to enjoy a good plate of cured smoked meat smoked with tlayoyos and mushrooms, accompanied with a wine made of maracuyá (passion fruit) or yolixpan (herbal wine,) followed by a good cup of coffee and for dessert a great variety of traditional sweets, the pan de rodeo or a rich fruit like the macadamias or the maracuyás.


Ethnographic Museum Calmahuistic: In this museum there are exhibited a series of typical objects of the inhabitants of the region, collections that include their traditional cloths, crafts and looms as well as archaeological pieces from the site of Yohualichan, besides of photographies and documents.

House of Culture: Located in the old house used in the past to keep the machines to process coffee and that since 2002 lodges the Local Museum, the Library and the Municipal Archives.


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Cholula Cuetzalan
Ç Puebla, Cuetzalan, Church of San Francisco - Photo by SECTUR Puebla
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Church of San Francisco
Ç Puebla, Cuetzalan, Artisan women - Photo by 0407
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Artisan women
Ç Puebla, Cuetzalan, Streets - Photo by SECTUR Cuetzalan
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Streets
Ç Puebla, Cuetzalan, Market 3 - Photo by 0407
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Market
Ç Puebla, Cuetzalan, Hotel La Casa de Piedra, Patio, view of the Church of San Francisco - Photo by 0407
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Hotel La Casa de Piedra, Patio
view of the Church of San Francisco
Ç Puebla, Cuetzalan, Cavern Atepolihui - Photo by SECTUR Cuetzalan
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Cavern Atepolihui
Ç Puebla, Cuetzalan, Waterfall Veil of Fiance - Photo by SECTUR Puebla
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Waterfall Veil of Fiancé
Ç Puebla, Cuetzalan, Waterfall the Jump - Photo by SECTUR Puebla
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Waterfall the Jump
Ç Puebla, Yohualichan, Archeological Zone, Building West 1 - Photo by 0407
  Puebla, Yohualichan, Archeological Zone, Building West
Ç Puebla, Cuetzalan, Church of San Francisco 1 - Photo by 0407
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Church of San Francisco
Ç Puebla, Cuetzalan, Church Santuario de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe-Iglesia de los Jarritos - Photo by 0407
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Church Santuario de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe-Church of the Jarritos
Ç Puebla, Cuetzalan, Streets 12 - Photo by 0407
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Streets
Ç Puebla, Cuetzalan, Market, Food vendor 2 - Photo by 0407
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Market, Food vendor
Ç Puebla, Cuetzalan, Municipal Palace, Detail - Photo by 0407
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Municipal Palace, Detail
Ç Puebla, Cuetzalan, Market, Crafts seller - Photo by SECTUR Cuetzalan
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Market, Crafts seller
Ç Puebla, Cuetzalan, Market, Food vendor 1 - Photo by 0407
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Market, Food vendors
Ç Puebla, Cuetzalan, Streets 13 - Photo by 0407
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Streets
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Danza de los Santiagos, Dancers - Photo by Casa de Piedra
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Dancers
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Street Life - Photo by 0407
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Streets
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Market, Flowers stand - Photo by 0407
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Market, Flowers stand
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Market, Clothes vendor 1 - Photo by 0407
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Market, Clothes vendor
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Market, Grains stand - Photo by 0407
  Puebla, Cuetzalan, Market, Grains stand

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