These cities all lie north-west of Mexico City. Each has its own unique character, features and atmosphere – but together they make up some of Mexico’s most authentic inland travel experiences. These cities are friendly places; the areas are not overwhelmed with tourists as some of the coastal areas can be.
It’s in the country’s colonial cities that the real Mexico begins to emerge. You’ll see real people living real lives; experience magnificent scenery; stay at wonderful colonial hotels that offer terrific value for money; savor local foods and flavors as colorful and diverse as the cultures that created them.
The road network in this region is well developed, and traveling through it is fast and efficient in most places. These cities are safe: crime is low and it’s a great region to consider if you want to treat your family to a real cultural experience in Mexico.
Zacatecas, like Guanajuato, built its wealth in the hey-days of the region’s mining boom. Geographically, it’s on the edge of the quintet of central mining cities, and if you take the cable car to the top of the mountain (see Key Attractions), you’ll be able to look out across the desert and see just how much of a frontier-city Zacatecas was at the height of its industrial prosperity.
The architecture here is immensely attractive—the pink limestone used in its buildings gave the city the nickname Ciudad Rosada (the Pink City). Take time to look at the intricately-designed stone and iron works which has been invested into the colonial buildings. Many of the major buildings here took years to complete, because their sponsors and creators were determined to craft and leave something special behind them—and they succeeded in doing so.
Like some of the other colonial gems in Mexico, Zacatecas is not well known among the mass of tourist and traveling communities that visit the country. You won’t find much English spoken here, although local people, restaurants, and hotels will be obliging, helpful, and friendly with any needs you may have.
There are lots of attractions worth seeing in Zacatecas; some historical, some cultural, and some scenic. What you’ll experience in Zacatecas is a genuine city with warm and friendly people amidst a community that is proud of its history and heritage.
Choosing to explore Zacatecas you’ll enjoy a real Mexican experience; there is no tourist make-up here: what you’ll witness is a wonderful colonial city, exhibiting its old-world charms and elegance alongside modern-day Mexican culture.
This is a great place to spend a day—or a long weekend. Stay for the evenings as the temperature cools, the city lights up, and the atmosphere changes. Whether you’re traveling independently or with a family, you’ll find Zacatecas is well worth the few extra miles of road it takes to arrive here.
The Plaza de Armas (main square) is also host to the city’s cathedral, with its magnificent stone facade. You’ll also find the Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace) building here, as well as the Residencia de Gobernadores (Governor’s Residence) and Palacio de la Mala Noche (Palace of the Bad Night), also known as the Palacio de Justicia (Palace of Justice).
The Mercado Gonzalez Ortega, previously the main marketplace in Zacatecas, has now been renovated into a modern up-market shopping center. You can also eat here at one of the several restaurants integrated within the building.
There’s an old Silver mine, called Mina El Eden, which is located inside the Cerro del Grillo, a major attraction of the city and an important historical landmark. There were originally seven levels in this mine; level four is open to visitors, and a train ride will take you deep into the hill which hosted it. The train stops inside, and you are guided down walkways deep into the mines, where you’ll begin to see the conditions that mind workers of the day endured to get gold, silver, iron, copper and zinc out of these rocks.
Cerro de La Bufa is the imposing mountain on the northeast side of the city. It’s up here that you’ll see magnificent views across the city, and further north, the vast expanse of arid desert that streams out from this ‘frontier capital’. To get to the top, you can drive there, but it’s best to take the Cable Car (Teleferico) which will transport you across a magnificent view of the city to the top of the mountain in just a few minutes. The Teleferico station is near the mine, so both are within easy access of each other.
Museums and Art in Zacatecas
There are various museums to visit in Zacatecas.
Museo Rafael Coronel hosts what is probably the largest display of traditional masks in Mexico (over 2,000 of them).
Museo Francisco Goita gives you the opportunity to view the works of six major artists of the 20th century who were from Zacatecas, including works of Francisco Goita himself.
Museo de Pedro Colonel is regarded as one of Mexico’s best art museums outside of Mexico City. Pedro Colonel, an affluent artist in Zacatecas, left his entire works and collection of art from around the world to his native city. Besides his own work, art from places as far away as Africa and New Guinea may be enjoyed here.
By Air – You can fly to Zacatecas from the US and and other points in Mexico including Mexico City, Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Tijuana. The airport is about 18 miles outside the city on the north side; ground transportation into the city is available; buy your tickets from the airport’s terminal building. You can choose between a private taxi (most expensive) and a shared suburban van which carries about 10 passengers and their luggage comfortably. For detailed information about flights and flying, see the Mexperience guide to Air Travel in Mexico.
By Bus – You can travel to Zacatecas on a luxury bus from Mexico City – as well as Queretaro, Aguascalientes, Guadalajara, and other places in the region too. For detailed information about bus transportation read the Mexperience guide to Bus Travel in Mexico.
By Car – Driving to Zacatecas is very fast and efficient with high-speed and safe toll roads connecting to the city. From the south, you’ll need Highway 45D, and from the Northeast you’ll need Highway 54. See additional information about Driving in Mexico and Mexico’s Toll Roads on Mexperience.
Car Rental – To explore Mexico’s colonial towns and cities, consider renting a car for your visit. Having your own car will give you more flexibility than using public transport options and, in some cases, offer you access to places which are otherwise difficult to visit without the use of a car. Read our guide to Car Rental in Mexico to learn what you need to know about car rental in Mexico.
Taxis – Taxis in most of Mexico’s colonial towns and cities are not metered, so agree your price before you get in. Taxi travel is very affordable in Mexico, in comparison to the USA, Canada and Europe, and so provides a viable means of public transportation in Mexico. Your hotel can arrange taxis for you; some post their rates on a board in the lobby; taxi hotel rates are usually higher than cabs you hail off the street. If you speak Spanish, you will have a distinct advantage and be able to negotiate a price with the driver. For detailed information, read the Mexperience guide to Taxi Travel in Mexico.
La Feria de Cultura Internacional. On the week Before Easter Sunday, during the Holy Week, Zacatecas celebrates its International Culture Festival. Music, good food, street performances, dancing and parties feature all week long.
Feria de Zacatecas. Friday before September 8th thru September 24th. This is Zacatecas’ main fair, which incorporates the “Fiestas Patrias” (Patriotic Parties) around September 16th – Mexico’s Independence Day. Independence Day parties are very big in all of Mexico, and especially so in the colonial cities. Expect to see street performers, open air concerts, bull and cock fights, big sports events and much, much more during this huge festival in Zacatecas.
Telephone: Connect to the guide about Communications in Mexico on Mexperience for detailed information about keeping in touch and the latest table of national dialing codes.
Exchanging Currency: Banks with ATM machines are found throughout the downtown area of Zacatecas, especially around the main plaza. During business hours, they and the local Casas de Cambio will buy travelers checks and cash from you as well. For detailed information about exchanging and managing your money, read the Mexperience guide to Money in Mexico.
Travel Insurance: We recommend that you are adequately covered with travel medical insurance and/or travel assistance insurance when you are visiting Mexico. Read the Mexperience guide to Travel Insurance in Mexico for full details and links to specialist insurance suppliers.
Internet Access: Internet cafes can be easily found in towns and cities across Mexico and WiFi is increasingly commonplace—from cafes, shops, hotels, and some cities even offer free WiFi in defined public spaces.
Easter Week and September: If your travel plans involve staying in Zacatecas during the festival dates (see Local Events Calendar, above), then be sure to book early. Hotel rooms become scarce or unobtainable during these times, and many travelers who make an 11th-hour decision to attend the celebrations, often find themselves having to stay at hotels in towns and cities away from Zacatecas, which means they have to drive in and out each day.
Cafe y Neveria Acropolis. A Mexican diner, serving local and regional specialties, such as enchiladas zacatecanas. This place has an artsy feel due to paintings and sketches gifted to the owner. Av. Hidalgo at Plazuela Candelario, in Mercado Gonzalez Ortega. Tel: (492) 922 1284.
Gorditas Dona Julia. A local favorite, serving regional specialties, including gorditas. Av. 5 de Mayo in Col. Guadalupe y Hidalgo, Centro. Tel: (492) 923 7955.
Zacatecas has a selection of good night spots to suit those looking for culture and those looking for a party! A famous Saturday night ritual in Zacatecas is the “Callejonada Zacateca“, which involves a walk around the city’s alleys, passageways and plazas, singing, playing instruments, dancing, drinking Mezcal (& Tequila) and having a enjoyable time. The ‘walk’ begins at around 9 p.m. Ask your local hotel for details on how to get involved in one of these.
Locally Hosted Parties – Check with yours and other local hotels about public parties they may be hosting during your stay. Traditional Mexican theme night parties are popular with the locals, and there’s a chance you could join a really special night out the real Mexican way—and certainly on the eve of September 16th, Mexico’s Independence Day. Hosted parties usually include dinner, dancing, a show and/or live music (usually authentic Mexican Mariachis) plus all drinks for a fixed fee and are always excellent value for money. Ask at your hotel to find out what is happening locally.
There are several good places in Zacatecas where you can buy a selection of authentic Mexican arts and crafts. Silver jewelry and silver craft-ware is also a major feature of a shopping experience in Zacatecas. The silverware is crafted locally and you’ll find silver items here are extremely good value for money.
Zacatecas enjoys year-round, generally warm and dry weather during the daytime. The climate is ideal for taking part in a variety of outdoor sports and activities and for taking in the local culture, architecture and scenery. The rain season runs from May thru October: summer storms tend to be fierce and brief in the late afternoon. Remember that you are out in the desert here: the combination of its remoteness and altitude means that mornings and evenings can be cold, especially in the winter months, so pack warm clothing layers in addition to lighter clothes for warmer daytime temperatures.
Weather & Climates in Mexico
Learn more about the weather and climates through the seasons and regions by connecting to the Mexperience guide about Weather and Climates in Mexico