Beating at the centre of the nation lives Aguascalientes, known as the corazón, or heart, of Mexico. Named for the warm springs that are scattered across the state, the town that literally means ‘hot waters’ is one of the country’s fastest growing tourist destinations. From exploring the pristine wilderness of pine forest uplands to admiring the superb colonial architecture of the city, Aguascalientes is full of surprises. Hidrocálidos are viewed in a positive light by their fellow Mexicans as their state is known as ‘the land of the good people’. Check out my top ten reasons to visit below.
Top Ten Reasons to Go
- The colonial centre of Aguascalientes City is a must-see. Skirting the grand stone facades of buildings bordering the Plaza de la Patria, you can visit architect Refugio Reyes’ architecturally eclectic Templo de San Antonio replete with ornate gilding, the restored eighteenth century cathedral and even the Templo del Cristo Negro del Encino in which resides a rare example of a crucifix statue with a black Christ.
- Visiting this city in April and May will mean you could take part in the San Marcos fair, considered ‘the fair of fairs’ by Mexicans. Celebrating centuries-old traditions, you will be spolied for choice in activities: from watching bullfights and charreadas (similar to rodeo) to imbibing local wines and delicacies. Spend the evenings watching a free show at the Nuevo Teatro del Pueblo and head to La Zona de Antros for clubbing till dawn. To see what people got up to this year check out this video.
- Home to a stunning array of flora and fauna including the majestic golden eagle and mysterious puma, the Sierra Fría natural park comprises over 112,000 hectares of unspoiled, upland countryside. On brisk, pine-air hikes and bike rides, you should be able to spot families of white-tailed deer in among the conifer-studded hillsides. If camping isn’t your thing (it can get quite chilly up there being the only part of the state that sees snowfall in the winter), then book an ecotourism cabin from Antiguo México or Puente del Trigo for extra comfort.
- Despite the odd interruption from Spanish bureaucrat busybodies, wine has been lovingly produced here for more than 300 years. With its dry climate and high altitudes (2,500-3,000ft), Aguascalientes, as well as other states like Queretaro and Coahuila, are perfect for growing grapes. Founded in 1854, the Hacienda de Letras allows you to witness the production process up close and taste some of the finest tempranillo, syrah and cabernet sauvignon in the area. For more info on Mexico’s burgeoning wine industry check out this fantastic blog entry from Wine Folly.
- Fed by thermal waters deep below the surface, the hot springs and baths from which the state takes its name are ubiquitous. Constructed in 1831 in the neoclassical style, the oldest private baths can be found at Antiguos Baños in Ojocaliente where the temperatures can reach a soothing 38 degrees Celsius. If you prefer something a little more modern (with a wave pool for the kids or an Olympic-sized one for the adults) then head on to Vallodolid Aquatic Centre.
- Mexico is a country famed for its beautiful vistas and the view of Cerro El Muerto (literally the ‘dead man’s hill’) has got to be one of the most magnificent. A local legend speaks of a battle that took place between the indigenous Chichimecs and other rival tribes which was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a priest who was promptly caught in the crossfire. Dying, his body formed the stunning landscape that can now be best enjoyed at sunset. Perfect for a romantic getaway – although, maybe don’t mention the origin story!
- For those fascinated by Mexico’s colonial past, a visit to former mining outpost Real de Asientos will tick all the boxes. No longer a ghost city, this is a thriving ‘pueblo magico’, or magic town, famed for its architectural authenticity and historical value. Take tours through a warren of underground tunnels before heading out to explore the pink arches of the ex-convent of Tepozán and the old miners’ route of El Galerón de los Esclavos.
- One of Aguascalientes’ most famous sons was revolutionary cartoonist José Guadalupe de Posada and there is an excellent museum dedicated to his life and works in the centre of the city. Best known for his macabre depictions of everyday Mexican life and political figures, Posada used the image of the skeleton, particularly La Catrina (pictured), to criticise the repressive Porfirio Díaz regime. From intricate broadsheet line drawings and engraving to life-size cutouts of his most renowned creations, Posada’s work was a direct influence on the Mexican muralists and on the people swept up in the Revolution itself.
- Aguascalientes’ Day of the Dead celebrations go one step further than the rest of the country by celebrating ten days of la Fiesta de Calaveras (‘festival of the skeletons’). Watch the colourful parade of Posada-inspired skeletons shuffling down Avenida Madero or try the candied skulls for sale in the marketplace. If you weren’t scared before by the bonemen, you’ll be left shaking after taking a ride on Tsunami!, Mexico’s tallest roller coaster.
- Looking for something intriguing to round off your trip to Aguascalientes? Get down to the National Museum of Death. The country has always had a somewhat bizarre relationship with death based far more on humour than melancholy. Celebrating ten successful years this year, the museum explores this relationship through a combination of anthropological exhibits and art displays including a dazzling collection of ornamental skulls.
Meaning: ‘hot waters’
State motto: Bona terra, nona gens, aqua clara, clarum coelum (Good land, good people, clear water, clear sky)
Main city: Aguascalientes City
Size: 2,169 square miles (29th) – just a bit smaller than Brunei
Population: 1,312,544 (27) – just below Estonia
Economy: Car manufacturing, wine, guavas and tourism
Best time to go: January to May and October to December to avoid the rainy season; April/May for Feria de San Marcos; October/November for Fiesta de Calaveras.
Getting out and in: Plane: Flights between Lic. Jesús Terán Peredo airport to Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston as well as domestic airports in Mexico City, Cancún, Tijuana, and Puerto Vallarta.
Bus: Seven leave daily from Guadalajara from 7.15 am, latest leaves at 10pm with a journey taking around 3 hours, costing around 300 pesos (£15).
Hire car: Driving there should take 2 and a half hours.
Places to stay: Airbnb single rooms range from 150 to 300 pesos (£8 to £15) a night (I saw a nine-bed house in the centre for £105!). Hotels range from 300 to 1600 pesos (£15 to £80) per night.
Restaurants: Tripadvisor recommends Rincon Maya for Yucatecan Mayan food and Las Costillas de Sancho for a steakhouse beefout, but for the best local eats you need to try the local picadillo (shredded beef or pig in tomato sauce), anything with carnitas (flavoured pork chunks) and, for the less carnivorous, guayaba (a sweet fruit ideally suited to the micro-climate).
Streetfood: The sopes, thick maize tortillas with a range of fillings and salsas, are also famously delicious here and filling!
Booze: Glass of local red wine, preferably tempranillo.
Bars: Check out super-cheap (with student-y vibes) Pulquería Posada where you can get a traditional pulque made from fermented agave for 18 pesos a half-litre. You’ll also be spoiled for choice with the sheer variety of mezcal on offer.
Entertainment: If you’re feeling lucky, head to Mexico’s only legal casino at Casino de la Feria. If not, check out a concert or theatre production at the Teatro Aguascalientes or Teatro Morelos. If there are any traditional dances being performed, look out for the danza de ferrocarilleros (dance of the railwaymen). Devised by choreographer José Luis Sustaita, it celebrates Aguascalientes’ forgotten links to the railways and how important they were in helping the city develop where the dancers actually create the image of a moving train out of their bodies.
Sport: Go watch a bullfight during the Feria de San Marcos. Alternatively, you could support local football team Necaxa FC who are enjoying their first season of top flight Mexican football for five years.
Evidence of permanent human settlement in Sierra del Laurel and Las Negritas.
Lawyer Juan de Montero founded Aguascalientes in response to Spanish King Philip II’s call for a rich man to found a settlement and secure it from the Chichimecs. Becomes a major crossingpoint between westerly Guadalajara, the mines of Zacatecas, the North, and Mexico City to the East.
Inauguration of the San Marcos fair.
Lost its identity as a separate entity first to Nueva Galicia (northern Mexico) and then to Zacatecas (her larger neighbour to the northeast).
Following Mexican independence and the wars between the liberals and Mexican general Santa Anna, loyal Aguascalientes was granted separation from liberal Zacatecas in an imperial decree, but statehood was not mooted.
Federalism was reintroduced by General José Mariano Salas, leading to a war between Zacatecas and Aguascalientes, resulting in the annexation of the latter.
Aguascalientes becomes a state after the passing of the new liberal constitution of Benito Juarez.
Central Mexican Railway is built, making Aguascalientes a major crossing point and important industrial centre. Agriculture also begins to modernise.
Following the defeat of arch-conservative Victoriano Huerta, the other leaders of rival factions in the Mexican Revolution, Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, Venustiano Carranza and Álvaro Obregón, arranged to meet to discuss a peace treaty in Teatro Morelos. Talks broke down, however, and the fighting would continue for another five years with all of the leaders murdered before the tenth anniversary of those talks.
1990s to today
Since NAFTA came into its own, Aguascalientes has benefited, particularly from the investment of Nissan, Texas Instruments and Xerox, which together make up a third of the state’s economy. Aguascalientes is now one of the fastest growing urban centres in Mexico and receives 8% of all foreign investment into Mexico even though it only has 1% of the total population.