Michael R. Swigart
Jack Harris is spending his year abroad in Zacatecas, Mexico, studying at the local university (UAZ). Here, he gives his top tips and travelling advice to find your feet in the country’s mining capital...
Zacatecas is located in the Bahío of Mexico, about 8 hours away from Mexico City. You can grab a coach at the Terminal del Norte in DF for about £25 one way but unless you want to admire the scenery during the day, your best bet would be to get a ticket for the evening, round midnight, to get there bright and early the next day. If you haven’t got too much luggage or are travelling on the cheap, the number 8 bus will take you straight into the city centre. Taxis cost about £4 to the centre and shouldn’t be more than a tenner outside of the main hubbub. You can find an accommodation notice board at the UAZ (Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas) or by speaking to a few locals. You shouldn’t have to pay more than £80 a month to live in the city centre, though you’ll most probably have to buy your own furniture. You can find furnished rooms for a little more, however make sure you know about what’s included and what’s not: gas and water bills can be a bit of a shock if you weren’t expecting to pay and spent your last few pesos on beer!
Zacatecas, although small, is very pretty. Colonial buildings line the streets of the centro, with some great mansions housing some of the town’s famous monuments and buildings (be sure to check out the Museo de las Máscaras, the Museo Felguérez andTeatro Colón to spot some truely amazing architecture). Visit the minas to get an idea of what this town is famous for. And the cathedral - a remarkable piece of architecture, with its intricate carvings in pink stone. Walking around the city centre takes only a couple of hours and you’ll spot a few good shops, though be warned: fashion here leaves quite a lot to be desired. There are some brilliant places to eat, on the Avenida Hidalgo and towards the centre, if you’re up for some birria, check out the Birriera El Cabrito, which is close to the Plaza Bicentenario. El Marlín is a fishmongers that also doubles up as a fish restaurant with brilliant ceviche. I loved the food at the Argentinian Garufa, next to Jardín Juárez (which is also a lovely spot to have an ice-cream), it wasn’t exactly the cheapest but after months of eating skinny steaks, a proper T-bone was just what I needed! Rumour has it they are trying to open a McDonald’s in the centre...Much to the dismay of the locals. Zacatecas is also famous for its nieves - spot the street sellers ambling around town (you’ll seldom go without seeing one around Catedral) selling home-made ice-cream. Cute cafés include La Bodeguilla (Spanish influenced bar), just on the cusp of the Plaza San Augustín and Café Dalí, only a stone’s throw away from it, is also quite good, especially if you like your coffee on the large side. Of course, if you’re pining for some American flair, Starbucks is next to the theatre, on the Avenida Hidalgo.
Zacatecans tend to be a lot more conservative than their paisanos. A stomping ground for British and Spanish colonizers during the silver boom, it seems social class and etiquette are highly looked upon here. However, don’t think you’ve lost out on real Mexico: the charros (local cowboys) will soon show you the ranchero way! You’ll spot some great outfits: gorgeous white and black cowboy suits, with gold stitching, real cowboy boots and larger than life sombreros on the true aficionados. Should you wish to emulate (or bring home a souvenir), you can as there are loads of shops selling all the goods, from big to small (if a man-sized hat won’t fit in your bag, you can always find its exact copy for children). Apart from the charros, you’ll find people wearing quite modest clothing: no loud colours, jeans and - shock horror - turtlenecks in 35 degree heat. The food is quite tasty, with your usual tacos on offer with an added choice of meat: birria, or otherwise known as goat. You may cringe, but the stuff is really tasty so give it a try! Zacatecas is also famous for its chocolate and sweets, so make sure you delve into one of the touristy shops and take your pick of dulces, cutely wrapped in pink and green packaging. People here tend to drink mezcal, though there are the usual beers on offer. I tried the local wine and found it...A bit gross, really, but you might like it/maybe I didn’t try the real stuff. People tend to be quite friendly so you shouldn’t find it too hard to meet people; an added bonus to Zacatecas is its size, as you’ll bump into acquaintances on a regular basis (in my case, it worked out for the better).
You cannot come to Zacatecas and miss out on the two famous cantinas (sort of old man pubs with folkloric attittude): Las Quince Letras and La Famosa. Both are located in the centre and aim to please: From the music, paraphernalia and people, you’re guaranteed a fun night out. Super Bar, behind Plaza Augustín, is also worth a visit - complete with lucha libre masks (man wrestling that goes on in Mexico), you can opt to be seated in the ring, with a good list of cocktails on offer. My favourite was Léon Rojo, a mixture of chili, salt and beer, with a touch of Worcestershire sauce. Sounds odd, but its a local favourite, and soon turned into mine! La casa del Artista is quite fun, with its old school décor and is a regular meeting point for artists and writers. Santorini’s is a little outside of the centre, a little characterless but with wicked mojitos and decent pizzas, too, if you’re feeling a little peckish. In terms of clubs, you’ll have to follow the crowd: they’ll know best. I went to a few, though I can’t say I thought much of them.