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San Luis Potosí
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
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This chapter covers the tourist part of San Luis Potosí State with its capital, its surroundings and the magic village "REAL de CATORCE".

A little bit of history and geography

San Luis Potosí was first founded by the Huachichilis and was then occupied by the Spanish and later by the Franciscan monks in 1585. Mining extraction was at the core of the economic activity of New Spain and had the approval of the territories. In 1592, huge amounts of gold and silver were discovered and the city was called Real de Minas de San Luis Potosi. Potosi refers to a Bolivian silver city; it means "place of wealth". San Luis is named after French King Saint Louis (Louis IX). It is located on Saint Peter Hill (Cerro de San Pedro). Many Spaniards migrated there and San Luis Potosi became a mining village. The growth of the region was helped by the mining richness when the miners took up residency there.

Access to the city of San Luis through 2.3km (1.5miles) long Ogarrio tunnelLeft picture : Access to the city of San Luis through 2.3km (1.5miles) long Ogarrio tunnel

The mining activity, at the core of the New Spain economy developed a system based on distinct units of production. The mines and the haciendas (farms at this time) combined extractive activities as well as activities of production. This required the support of country kilns, ceniceras, cattle and men.
When the mines sold out, the state converted back to the livestock farming and business. The capital, San Luis Potosi, used to be the most important city in North Mexico but was preempted by Monterrey which is now the industrial leader of North Mexico. San Luis keeps a lot of charm and remains prosper and dynamic.
During the French intervention, it was the headquarters of the government of Benito Juárez, after him being chased away from Mexico City from 1863 to 1867. In 1854, Gonzales Bocanegra composed the Mexican national anthem there.
The "Plan of San Luis", written by Francisco Madero, marked the beginning of the Revolution of 1910 and was issued there.

Trail in the Sierra Madre Right picture : Trail in the Sierra Madre


In this dynamic capital, each of the seven neighborhoods (barrios), demarcated by an orthogonal plan, had its own church and plaza. Since, they merged because of necessary urban modifications engendered by any big industrial metropolis.

The territory occupied by the state is located between two Sierras, the Occidental one in the west and the Oriental one in the east, in a vast semi-arid region favorable to agriculture and livestock farming due to the presence of different rivers. It is surrounded by the states of Zacatecas, Coahuila, Aguascalientes, Nuevo León, Taumaulipas, Querétaro, Hidalgo, Veracruz, Jalisco and Guanajuato. The climate is hot and arid on the eastern part with steppes of cactus (in particular the peyotl), dry in the central plains. The ranges of the Sierra Madre at the west are inaccessible.
The state of San Luis Potosi has an area of 58, 092 km² (24,350.7 sq mi).
The state has 2,410, 000 inhabitants and the city of San Luis Potosi has
1, 075,000 inhabitants (metropolitan area) at the last census.

The Indians Coras and huichols who live in the mountains make a pilgrimage to San Luis Potosi during the dry season. They walk 800 km (500 miles) to pick up the peyotl, cactus with hallucinogens powers linked to their rituals.   

The Capital of San Luis Potosí is located 417 km (260 miles) from the Mexican capital, 351 km (220 miles) from Guadalajara. It is at 1887 m (6070 feet) of altitude. The climate is dry and warm with an average yearly temperature of 20° C (70°F).

San Luis Potosí, Capital

Allow two days to visit San Luis Potosí a well as two extra days for fun and relaxation, depending on your availability, in the national Parks, Real de Catorce and the resorts.

The structure of the historic center is based around four nice easily walking plazas. If you don’t want to walk, take the Tranvía (tramway), in service from Tuesday to Sunday (10 AM/11:30 AM/1:30 PM/4:30 PM/6 PM/8 PM, fee: $60, 90min ride through the historic center).

Start at the Plaza of the Founders (Plaza de los Fundadores) :

On this plaza, the first building called "Puesto de San Luis" was built in 1588. The Jesuits also built there the first temple, the actual Church of the Company, around 1675. This church communicates with the Chapel of Loreto built in 1700. At the north of the Plaza of the Founders, the Jesuit College was built in the early eighteenth century. On the west, there is the Ipiña, a neoclassical building housing nice boutiques under its archways. The construction is the faithful reflect of a new form of expression of the architectonic spaces that gradually modified the urban environment in the early twentieth century.

Dome of the cathedralLeft picture : Dome of the cathedral

Visit the Loreto Chapel (Capilla de Loreto), a truly stone lace with animal and floral designs. Notice the baroque gate, elaborate with care. Inside, there is one of the rare Jesuit altar pieces known in Mexico. Admire the elliptic cupola and the altar.
The old Jesuit monastery, dating from the eighteenth century, houses the Autonomous University. You find it on the right after the Church of the Company. Note the neoclassical altar surmounted with a Christ dating from the eighteenth century.

On the east side of the Plaza of the Founders, there is the Palacio de Gobierno (open 9 AM-2 PM, Mon-Fri). The interest is more historic than esthetic. It is where Benito Juárez rejected the mercy to defeated Emperor Maximilian. The Palace of Government is a nice example of the civilian architecture of New Spain dating from the eighteenth century. And so is the Municipal Palace (open 9 AM-2 PM, Mon-Fri) : this neoclassical monument is a former Episcopal residence. Visit the reception salon and the Juárez room in the Palace of Government and admire the stain glass window representing the coats of arms of the city in the Municipal Palace. The stairs vault is decorated with Italian style mosaics.

The Plaza of Armas, also called Hidalgo Garden, surrounds the Palace of Government and the Municipal Palace. At the center, the elegant octagonal pink stone (cantera) kiosk displays names of famous musicians. You can regularly attend music practices. On Friday and Saturday evenings, you will enjoy strolling while listening to popular arias.

different domes in the city At the north of Plaza of armas, you can go to the Casa de la Virreina (Vice-Queen’s House). It is one of the oldest houses in the city, built in 1736. The facade is plain, the balconies and the gate are made of carved wood. It was the residence of Dona Francisca de la Gándara, one of the two vice-queens in Mexico. This edifice is a nice example of the architecture of the eighteenth century. Nowadays, it has been converted into a restaurant.


      Right picture : different domes in the city

The Cathedral is perfectly integrated in the Plaza de Armas. It was built in pink stone from 1690 to 1737. It is one of the nicest Baroque churches in the region. Its hexagonal porch has niches housing the statues of the twelve apostles. The interior is a rag-bag of decorations of mixed styles. The Cathedral (open daily, 8 AM-2 PM & 4-8 PM) offers an eclectic mix of baroque, byzantine, Doric and gothic styles. Look at the nice cupola above the chancel and the paintings of the sacristy by Nicolás Rodriguez and Patricio Morlete.

     Picture below : cathedral of San Luis Potosi

At the east of the Cathedral, Nuestra Señora del Carmen (1749-1764) - (open daily 8 AM-2 PM & 4-8 PM) - is on a small plaza with the same name. The church has a magnificent Churrigueresque style façade and domes covered with blue, yellow, green and white tiles. At the bottom of the façade, two salomonique columns, adorned with pendentives evoking scapulars, frame the central row and its gate. Between the columns, you can see the prophets Saint Elias and Saint Elijah, legendary founders of the Carmelite Order. The interior contains a very interesting altar, a carved pulpit and paintings by Vallejo. The architect Eduardo Tresguerras, famous for his work in the region of Querétaro, signed the inside decoration of this church. Look at the wonderful Camarin de la Virgen, a baroque chapel with a very beautiful golden altar piece crowned with a giant scallop shell. Look also at the portico of the sacristy, the Portada de la Madre de Dios y de las Carmelitas, carved in pink cantera. La Plaza del Carmen, inaugurated in 1973, decorated with a nice central fountain, is very busy on evenings with the Potosinos strolling, talking or eating an ice-cream.

A few steps from there, on the plaza, there is the neoclassical style Teatro de La Paz, built in the early twentieth century. Cross "Villerias" to go to the Museo Nacional de la Máscara (open 10 AM-6 PM, Tue-Sun, $11). The museum has a nice collection of more than 2500 Mexican traditional masks (the most complete in Mexico) dating from Pre-Hispanic time to present time and a few ritual clothes from different regions of the country.

Go south, then west on Universidad Avenue to reach Plaza de San Francisco, or Guerrero Garden, and the Templo de San Francisco, built in 1590 in pink stone. The baroque facade dating from the late seventeenth century, displays the emblems and the Franciscan Saints. The dome is recognizable to its blue and white azulejos. In the sacristy, there are magnificent stone altar pieces guilded with gold leaf and some paintings by Francisco Vallejo as well as a bas-relief representing an episode of Saint Francisco’s life.
Three churches stand on this wonderful plaza with a nice big fountain in the center and many trees offer shade to the beautiful colonial edifices.

Chapel Aranzazú Behind the church, the Franciscan ex-monastery was converted into the Museo Regional Potosino (open 10 AM-6 PM, Tue-Sat & 10 AM-5 PM, Sun, $37). It displays archaeological collections about the Pre-Hispanic civilizations of the region and nice craft from the Mayas, Aztecs, Zapotecs ... Admire, on the first floor, the superb Chapel (Capilla de Aranzazú), dating from the seventeenth century. It is a remarkable example of the churrigueresque architecture of New Spain. The gates are made of carved wood. This baroque church was declared national monument in 1936.The facade is made of carved stone. There are nice exuberant altar pieces and a statue of the Virgin de Aranzazú above the altar. The location is surprising !

     Right picture : Chapel Aranzazú

Further south, in Juárez neighborhood, there is the Sanctuary of the Guadelupe dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is built on a Latin cross plan mixing baroque and neoclassical styles.

Visit Hidalgo Market, located on Hidalgo, south of Reforma.

Not to be missed by night, the plaza del Mariachi where you can listen to the mariachis bands. If you have time, stroll in Hidalgo market (by Plaza de Armas) and stop for a drink at Caja de Agua (former water reservoir built in 1832), the meeting place for the Potosinos.


Extract of the site of UNESCO : San Luis Potosí on the silver Route. Inscription on the Tentative List in June, 2007
(A Tentative List is an inventory of those properties which each State Party intends to consider for nomination during the following years).

"The significance of the role played by San Luis Potosí on the Intercontinental Mercury and Silver Route, on which its outstanding universal value is based, was considered in defining the specific type of site proposed for the World Heritage List. For this reason the proposed site must be analysed as a fundamental component of a cultural itinerary.

The Camino Real (royal road) embraces the entire geographical network which united three continents during all of the Middle Ages. Europe, America and part of southeast Asia were very closely linked, comprising a structure which linked ports and cities, towns and travel routes for the purpose of guaranteeing the stability of the economic model based on trade monopoly and other cultural values of a more spiritual vein under the Spanish Monarchy. The same route regulating the flow of commodities and products also sparked human, cultural and religious exchanges giving rise to the concept of the "New World". Its true geographical dimension is expressed in terms of the radius of its scope affecting three continents, several archipelagos, two oceans, seas, rivers, lakes, historic roads and paths with their respective sections and scales.

Historically speaking, the Mercury and Silver Route included the extraction sites and destination points of that material and the roads and procedures established for its sea-land transport, as well as the methods discovered and employed for the optimisation of its use in the amalgamation of precious metals in America, the resulting distribution routes and its impact on the world economy at the time, together with other social and cultural implications.

The historical urban-mining set of San Luis Potosí as significant element in the mercury and silver route of intercontinental Camino Real. Present a many buildings from different periods ranging from 16th to 20th century. In the core zone are the administrative, religious and trade buildings and also long squares and installations from differents periods.

San Luis Potosí is surrounded by five indian quarter and the landscape is deserted. The principal mine, genesis of this city is Cerro de San Pedro, located around 24 km.

The area proposed for inscription is inclusive of the following sites :

1. The Casa Reales (the principal mayor house and administrative house) and the Governor palace.

2. The Real Cuja (18th century) and the administrative and domestic buildings of historical and typological value.

3. Identifiable mercury and silver royal road from the Real Caja in San Luis Potosí city to Mexico city into the proposed core zone. San Agustin church and remains of the agustinian monastery

4. The Cathedral (1718); the San Francisco church and remains of the franciscan monastery (17th c.); the San Agustín church and remains of the agustinian monastery (17th c.); the Compañía jesuit college (17th c.); the Beaterio (18th c.); the San Juan de Dios church (18th c.) and the Carmen church and remains of the monastery (18th c.).

Left picture : San Agustin church and remains of the agustinian monastery

5. The historical urban-mining set of San Luis Potosí, contains six squares : the Plaza de Armas; Plaza de los Fundadores; Plaza de San Juan de Dios; Plaza de San Francisco; Plaza de Aranzazú and Plaza del Carmen.

6. Near the Plaza de Armas are some trade buildings (19th and 20th centuries) by eclectic style.

San Luis Potosí is considered one of the most important cities in New Spain, for the population, dynamic trade development, industry, comunications and cultural influences from the United States and Europe was the pincipal reason for to continued economic and architectural development across the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century."
End of the extract.

Map of the city :

  The surroundings and Beyond

weaving loom The beautiful village of Santa Maria del Rio, located 45 km (28 miles) south of San Luis Potosi (road to Querétaro) , is known for its typical "rebozos", the best ones in the state. The rebozo is a traditional shawl worn by Mexican women like a stole or on the head.

Visit the rebozo school (during the week). Nowadays, the rebozo is made in silk from China.

The resorts of Gogorrón, Balneario de Lourdes and Ojo Caliente are close by. If you have children, you can bring them to Tangamanga Park, at the south-west of the city. There are lakes, playgrounds, swimming pools, a planetarium, a library, an open theater and the Museum of the Popular Culture (open10 AM-6 PM, Tue-Sun, $22). This museum displays local folklore art, ceremony masks, music instruments and the famous rebozos (shawls made in silk) typical of the region.

Left picture : weaving loom

We advise you to visit the National Park El Gogorrón (south of SLP), where you can enjoy hiking and mountain biking.

You also can go to the north-east valley of "Sierra Madre-East", one of the mountain ranges in Mexico. It is called "Huasteca Potosina". You can observe the fauna and flora in El Potosi National Park (road 70, Rio Verde), go rafting and kayaking into the turquoise waters of the beautiful rivers, go camping, go to the swallows’ cave (el sótano de las golondrinas y las guaguas) and observe beautiful parrots : At dawn, the birds nesting inside the cave fly in spiral, offering a wonderful show. At dusk, the swallows go back into their nests.

The humid tropical forest is predominant in the Biosphere Reserve Abra-Tanchipa at the north of Ciudad Valles (the second city in the state of SLP). The abundant rains give very nice forests and supply nice waterfalls such as Tamul, El Salto and Tamasopa. Small cities such as Tancahuitz and Tamuzunchale are worth the visit on market day (Sunday). You can approach the Huaxtec Indians and listen to the local music played on jarana, violins, flutes, harp and rhythmic instruments.

Church in the small village of San Elias (north-east of SLP)Map of the City Ciudad Valles :

Contact the Tourist Office in San Luis Potosí (444) 812 6769, 812 9906 for this visit.

There is cattle-breeding in this region.

     Right picture : Church in the small village of San Elias (north-east of SLP)

Real de Catorce (257 km or 155 miles north of San Luis)

It is a city or more exactly, a ghost town of 1,500 inhabitants, located at 2756 m (9041 feet) of altitude, which, from the late eighteenth to the late twentieth century, enjoyed many hours of glory during the height of the mining exploitation. At that time it had 40,000 to 50,000 inhabitants. Founded in 1778, Real de Catorce was one of the most productive mining towns in New Spain because of the many silver and gold ore deposits. However, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the politic instability and the fall in the value of silver put an end to the bright days of Real de Catorce. The village was quickly deserted. The place has been forgotten for hundred years and became a ghost town.
Since the last decade, Real de Catorce, with about 1,500 inhabitants, has been beginning to attract the tourists fascinated by the vestiges. The tourist guides advise not to go on weekends because the place is really crowded.

view on Real de CatorceIn addition, the charm of the small hotels rapidly seduces the visitors. The restaurants offer diverse menus that allow discovering several Mexican specialties. There are also small Internet cafes.
You can pace the streets to admire the Church of the "Purisima Concepción" and the Zócalo and you also can visit another small ghost town located on a hill 30 minutes walking from Real de Catorce. It is also possible to ride horses. The inhabitants of the village approach the tourists to propose horse rides.
And if you want more exercise, you can hike El Quemado Mountain. The summit, where the Huichols go for their sacred rituals, offers a guaranteed unobstructed view on the desert.

Left picture : view on Real de Catorce

The few monuments to visit are :
La Parroquía de la Purisima Concepción, an imposing church with a unique bell tower and a dome covered with talaveras. Every year, on October, 4th, which is Saint François de Asis’ Day, thousands pilgrims come to celebrate the founder of the Order of the Franciscans. Chichimec Dances and processions are scheduled.
The Palenque de gallos, an arena for cockfights.
And La Casa de la Moneda, a former hotel of Money. It fell into ruin for lack of maintenance. It is now restored and converted into the Cultural Center of Real de Catorce in order to make it a cultural and artistic space.
The tunnel of Ogarrio, which is more than two kilometers (1.5 mile) long, was the last important work realized in Real before its decline. The tunnel is named after the native province of its builder, Vicente Irízar.

On Saturdays and Sundays, there is a market on the main plaza. You can buy local craft, including accessories made of chaquiras by the Huichols.

Parroquía de la Purisima ConcepciónAn interesting site is the Wirikuta, the sacred place of the Huichols. It is a natural Reserve in the lower part of the cordillera, inhabited by autochthones communities.
The Indians pick the peyote here. They use it for the sacred rituals on the Quemado Mountain. From there, the view is wonderful.

     Right picture : Parroquía de la Purisima Concepción

You can practice many eco-tourist activities in this region : Photo safaris, horse rides, paragliding, bike rides and jeep tours. Information at the Tourist Office in San Luis or Real.

Real de Catorce has been part of the magic villages ("pueblo mágico") since 2001, date when a new politic of promotion of small towns and villages called "magic villages" has been put in place by the Mexican Tourist Department.

City map :

A little bit of history :

Video on Real de Catorce
Many movies were shot in Real de Catorce and the efforts made by the city contribute to attract tourists. The city is in the middle of nowhere between arid mountains and the high desert of the Oriental Sierra Madre. The access to the city is through the 2.3km (1.5 mile) long, pierced in the rock "Tunel de Ogarrio". Trough extraordinary and clever work, this tunnel (which is lighted by yellow lights) has exits that allow you to reach the former wells. From San Luis, follow the direction Matehuala (road # 57) and take the detour to Cedral. A few kilometers after Cedral, take the dirt road to Real. You will cross desert villages and you will see thousands cacti along the road.

     Map of the state of SLP :

Celebrations & Traditions

January, 20th – Saint Sebastian’s Day joyfully celebrated in San Luis Potosí (every year).
Holy Friday : Silent Procession : Highlight of the week before Easter, with thousands figurants wearing long macabre black robes (See Taxco about the same kind of event). In 2014, Easter is April, 20th.
August, 25th : Feria Nacional Potosina (FENAPO) - Saint Louis’s Day - Procesión Festival (procession of giant puppets) –It starts around August, 15th and lasts for three weeks (every year).
September, 29th : San Miguel Archangel’ day in San Luis Potosí
Beginning of october (each year) - XXVIIIème Lila Lopez International Contemporary dance in San Luis Potosí (SLP) - Contact : cultura@slp.gob.mx

October, 4th : processions and Chichimec dances in Real de Catorce to pay tribute to Saint François de Asis.
October, 31st - November, 4th : Celebration of Day of the Dead (every year)
November, 3rd-9th, 2012 : Festival of baroque music in San Luis Potosí (it always starts the day of the foundation of SLP : November, 3rd 1592).

Este es un video de la semana santa en la ciudad de San luis potosi mexico, es acerca de la procesion del silencio que se realiza cada viernes santo a las 8 de la noche en el centro de la ciudad.

Wonderful pictures about the silent procession in San Luis Potosí (photos taken on Good Friday by night).


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