Before even getting to Real del Monte, the Western Sierra Madre had already seduced us from the highway with its cactuses and conifers all nestled among soaring canyons and peaks. The town itself brings us colors from another era: 18th-century buildings, old mines, archways, fountains, red-tile roofs, and displays where silver artisanry shines. In the culinary realm, the aromas of pulque (an alcoholic drink made from maguey sap) bread, nata (Mexican-style cream) bread, cocoles (another traditional bread), sweet tamales, and of course, pastes (Mexican-style empanadas), all overwhelm the senses.
Visit Real del Monte early in the year and enjoy the “Fiesta del Dulce” (Confectionary Festival) in honor of the patron of the town’s miners: the Lord of Zelontla. During this holiday, a religious procession takes place together with artistic and cultural events. Put your savings together and visit on June 11 for the “Festival de la Plata” (Silver Festival), when traders and artisans offer the very best of their production. And we couldn’t possibly leave out the celebration of the region’s pride and glory: the “Paste”, in an annual festival that takes place in October.
Wherever you go in Real de Monte, you won’t be able to avoid eating “pastes” and all kinds of sweet bread and rolls. Immerse yourself in its history and discover the best places to eat their salted refried beans, potato and meat fillings. Discover how the town’s miners used to eat with their hands stained from their work, and find out what part of the paste they would throw away. Try the local products that are made daily, among which you can taste fresh cream, tortillas, “curados de pulque”, bread, “puerquitos de piloncillo” (little pig cookies) and “pulque” bread.
Arriving by road, you will be able to make out the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range, with its cactus, conifers, canyons and hills, and smell the freshly baked “pastes”. The streets of Real del Monte twist and wind due to the uneven terrain that accommodates its 18th Century buildings, mines, arcades, fountains and silver. Discover this destination’s mining past at the Museo de Sitio Mina de Acosta (Site Museum of the Acosta Mine), which contains an organized museum of its different phases: colonialism, the British invasion and the arrival of electricity.
Sample Itinerary, Real del Monte, Hidalgo
11:30 a.m. The first magical encounter
We got to Real de Asientos as the Nuestra Señora de Belen (Our Lady of Bethlehem) Parish Church’s bells rung out in front of the Juarez Plaza. Once we entered its atrium it was the rectory that got our attention: built into the church’s facade it has a patio and its upper windows look like doors floating in the air.
Inside, the nave’s colors are characteristic of all of the state’s churches: light pinks, blues, greens, and purples. There we saw a surprising articulated Christ effigy that, as it would seem, has a human skull, ribs, and teeth; for decades it has also had real hair. They told us it was brought from Spain 500 years ago and – as if that weren’t enough – it follows visitors with its gaze.
Next to the church you’ll find the entrance to the Pinacoteca, where they have a collection of colonial paintings that would seem a bit outsized for such a small town: one is by the famous Miguel Cabrera; another by Osorio and features strange optical illusions.
12:30 p.m. Underground
Back at the plaza we met up with Erik, a kind blue-eyed mestizo (like many in the region) who would serve as our guide for Real de Asientos’s main attraction. We walked along with him for a couple of blocks and entered a store. There, in the back, we went down a set of stairs and were suddenly in a subterranean tunnel with wet walls: the town’s hidden aqueduct.
It is said that the aqueduct was built at the end of the 18th century for trapping water, transporting it to the river, and thus preventing floods. The strange part is that no one knew of its existence until 2001 when it was discovered during church repairs. Along its tunnels we saw niches featuring effigies and numerous springs of water. After a half-hour the tour was over: to our surprise, we were once again in the church atrium!
1:30 p.m. On the bridge
Having returned to the plaza we found a truck loaded up with tunas (prickly pear fruit). They were being sold already peeled: the vendors touted them as the country’s juiciest so we couldn’t resist. They were delicious and whet our appetite… After taking a look at the Casa del Minero (‘The Miner’s House’) and its pretty ironwork we went to eat at Cocina Economica Lupita, a modest establishment that is famous for its home cooking and spicy salsas. For dessert we had guava rolls. As the Aguascalientes region has Mexico’s sweetest guavas they were simply delectable.
3:00 p.m. A strange cemetery
After lunch we headed to the Guadalupe Church, built in the mid-18th century. At around that time there was a major epidemic and the town had to build a new cemetery behind the church. The structures there were astonishing: they make use of meter-high foundations to accommodate the niches. Those individuals of ‘highest rank’ were interred there, including priests and the rich, while the remains of the poor were entombed in the upper area. These remains have since been transferred to an ossuary and in their place cacti have been sewn, giving the place a nice touch. We were also surprised by the paintings on the church’s walls: they depict the final judgment in dark colors and practically nothing is known about the artist.
5:00 p.m. Desert grandeur
In the afternoon it came time to visit the Cactus Museum and so we walked over from downtown Real de Asientos. Careful here: you’ll have to make an appointment in advance because it isn’t always open. You can find it at the base of the hill leading up to the Cerrito (‘Little Hill’) Chapel in front of the Cultural Center. The museum has been organized with great care and its guides know a great deal about the 60 species of cacti exhibited there, some of them giving flowers of an overwhelming beauty. Time flew while admiring the plants and so by the time we left the sun was already about to set. Thus we headed up to the Cerrito Chapel to enjoy the show from up high. Normally visitors head back to the city of Aguascalientes to stay the night but we decided to try our luck at the town’s only hotel, which was modest but clean and agreeable.
11:00 a.m. El Piojito
By the time it was 11 o’clock we were already in the plaza waiting for a guided tour in the El Piojito (‘The Little Louse’) to begin: the vehicle is made up of small wagons pulled along by a tractor. Although it brought us by a couple of attractions that we had already visited, we also got to know other new ones such as the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the route that connected Mexico City to the north during colonial times, which is now a World Heritage Site. Another was El Tiro de Coyote, one of the area’s first mines. Lastly we saw evidence of the African slaves that were brought to Real de Asientos to work in the mines at the end of the 16th century.
1:00 p.m. Among the ghosts of monks and slaves
Although we had already passed by El Tepozan (a 17th-century Franciscan monastery) on the train we decided to give it some more time. The church has a pretty wooden door and high-quality frescos; the convent features interesting architecture and is now a museum. There they exhibit paintings, altarpieces, and regional instruments and have a room on the history of slavery.
3:00 p.m. Wine and carnitas
By mid-afternoon it came time to head back to the city of Aguascalientes. Leaving Real de Asientos we stopped by La Hacienda de Letras, which has produced the state’s most famous wines for over 40 years. We had reserved a tasting (www.vinoshaciendadeletras.com.mx) and that’s how, in its enormous cellar, they proved to us that the region produces excellent wines indeed.
A couple of kilometers past the hacienda you’ll find San Francisco de los Romo, better known as ‘San Pancho de las Carnitas.’ There we finished off the trip with some delicious carnitas (spicy shredded pork)…
- The town’s subterranean aqueduct is an interesting example of a colonial-era water project.
- Eating pastes! Try them all over and don’t forget to bring some home.
- Strolling about the Portal del Comercio. There you’ll find the works of celebrated caricaturist Constantino Escalante.
- Visiting at least one old mine and taking photos with your helmet and mining overalls on.
- Walking over to the Señor de Zelontla Church and heading over to the atrium to view the details of the ‘Miner Christ’s’ dress.
- The religious procession for El Señor de Zelontla and the Sweets Festival both in December.
- The Silver Festival in July.
- The International Paste Festival in October.
- The New Year’s Fiestas for Our Lady of the Rosary.
Useful Information for Real del Monte, Hidalgo
Where to Eat
Restaurante Real de la Plata
(Regional specialties and pastes)
Vicente Guerrero 35
Tel. (771) 797 1279
Restaurante El Minero
(Mexican cooking and regional specialties)
Tel. (771) 797 0220
Restaurante El Serranillo
(Regional specialties and pastes)
Juarez 7 B, Centro
Tel. (771) 797 0781
Restaurante Real del Monte
(Regional specialties and pastes)
Hidalgo 55, Centro
Tel. (771) 797 0996
Where to Stay
Real del Monte ***
Iturbide 5 esq. Centro
Tel. (771) 797 1202 o 03 / 01 800 822 6111
Spa Holistico Real Hotel ***
Vicente Guerrero s/n, Barrio de Escobar
Cel. 771 119 1462
Tel. (55) 5534 9748
Office of Tourist Information
Direccion de Turismo Municipal de Real del Monte
Lic. Ruben Licona Ruiz 2, Centro
Tels. (771) 797 1216 / 01 800 718 2600