Los Tuxtlas: Mysterious Mexico

Playa de Balzapote San Andres Tuxtla
A view of the Balzapote beach. Photo by Ela G.M.

Travel to Monte Pio

Monte Pio, with perhaps 80 houses, loomed as the closest any settlement came to being a town. Few people frolicked on the three-quarter-mile stretch of beach, and two guys slept off a great fiesta. The air felt cool with the ocean breeze, but I empathized for them knowing the misery the tropical sun would add to their hangovers.

Leaving the village wild, lush, wind-swept pasture-lands roll off low hills abutting the beaches. Thankfully there was no traffic, and I eased along even stopping in the road to admire scenery and take pictures.

I pulled off at a beach near Punta Roca Partida, in sight of the lighthouse, for a shrimp lunch. The meal was served in the side yard of the fisherman’s house under the shade of several banana and coconut trees. A line of small firs separated the small yard from the sandy beach. I struck up a conversation with a couple from San Andres Tuxtla, while their maid and two children enjoyed plates of fish at a table a few feet away.

“Make sure you visit the pirate’s cave hidden over there,” the husband said pointing at a rocky cliff meeting the ocean. “A local fisherman carries people there for a few dollars.”

Because I wasn’t planning to spend the night, I decided to save that adventure for another trip.

Punta Roca Partida

While walking the beach at Punta Roca Partida, two thoughts competed. First, I wished I was 30 years younger. What an opportunity for a young person to purchase a hundred-plus acres of virgin beach land as beautiful as any the big hotel corporation sculptured for tourists.

The second thought was: why ruin this paradise by building or telling anyone where it is? It’ll get discovered eventually. Hopefully, people will be wise enough to visit now or purchase land in a manner to keep it pristine.

Finishing my meal and saying good-by to the hospitable family, I continued my journey. Charming beach settlements dotted the coastal blacktop until the road curved south returning to Catemaco. The return route can go through either Santiago Tuxtla or Tres Zapotes. Either choice is a winner.

Tres Zapotes, on the western edge of Los Tuxtlas, is both a town and an archeological site. The first of the 17 known colossal Olmec heads was unearthed in 1862. A second has since been discovered in the immediate area. Each of the Tres Zapotes basalt heads measures a little less than four-and-one-half feet tall.

Colossal heads from the Olmec civilization.
These colossal heads are a distinct feature of the Olmec civilization in Mesoamerica. Flickr/ Arian Zwegers

The Olmec civilization may date as early as 1500 B.C. and continued until 100 A.D. Olmec traditions at Tres Zapote carried further into the Mayan period than at any other known Olmec settlement. Perhaps the most important archeological find is Stela C, carved from basalt. On one side are Olmec-style engravings, while the other side boasts the second oldest Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Local rumors persist Jesus Christ spent time in the area after he arose from the dead. It sounds like a stretch, but I’ve seen a pottery head that resembles Christ.

One can only wonder what mysteries, secrets and ancient rites are tied into the lifestyle of the region, even today. Somehow ancient mysteries bubble forth to make Catemaco internationally famous with witches, warlocks and other practitioners of the occult. Knowing our own Christmas tree and Maypole traditions reach back to prehistoric eras, I hope anthropologists and ethnologists delve into modern village practices to discover what survives from three thousand years past.

Leaving Tres Zapote, the highway skirts both Santiago Tuxtla and the area’s largest city, San Andres Tuxtla, known for its hand-rolled cigars. Having driven through the maze of streets and marveled at their ancient edifices, both cities warrant a revisit. However, my time was running short so I headed for the town of Sihuapan, the home of Te-Amo, the most famous Mexican cigar brand to end a perfect day enjoying a deluxe smoke.

I first motorcycled through Los Tuxtlas in 1971 and hurried through many other times to reach another destination. After finally slowing up to enter the first low mountains of Los Tuxtlas for a true look, I realized this was enchanted rainforest.

On my first visit about 12 years ago, I pulled onto the lakeside in Catemaco for a five minute stop. I ended up staying 17 days before revisiting a second and third time for a week each. My next seven visits exceeded month-long stops as I re-explored what I’d discovered and sought other delights hidden in the region.

If you visit Mexico and can escape the famous tourist enclaves, you will be well rewarded by Los Tuxtlas.

If You Travel to Los Tuxtlas

There are a number of hotels around the region.  The few hotels and cabanas near the beach areas are more typical of an older Mexico, this style and may have a claustrophobic sensation. There are a few newer hotels being built too.

Santiago Tuxtla & San Andres Tuxtla provide good hotels but the main town for accommodations is Catemaco. Inns range from basic rooms for next to nothing, to five star hotels. I am recommending four I have used and been satisfied with. Do not let my recommendations limit you in your search, especially if you are not on a budget. There are many other fine hotels in Catemaco.

Hotel Los Arcos
Hotel Los Arcos straddles the block between the lake and the central plaza, next to the town market. It is a block up from the lake and two short blocks from the plaza. Normally costing about forty to fifty dollars a night. The hotel is well-run with an older and more modern side.

La Casa Rosa
La Casa Rosa is located two blocks from the plaza. It is a wonderful B&B run by a German immigrant. Prices often run in the mid-twenties.

Hotel Posaa Konneapan
Posada Konneapan resembles an American beach motel from the 1960s. It is located next to one of the bus stations and is across the street from Laguna Catemaco. Look for costs to be about thirty-five dollars.

Posada Bugambilias
This too is more a B&B than a hotel. The drawback for some is the fact it is located on the edge of town. The cost should be about twenty dollars.

All these places have excellent, friendly owners. They will bend over backward to aid their guests with information to find various locations. Your ability to bargain may get you better rates than listed.

Author Bio: William B. “Bill” Kaliher has traveled Mexico at every opportunity since the 1960s by car, bus, train and motorcycle. He has written for the Mexican Ministry of Tourism. Although known for his Mexican travel articles he’s written for over 600 publications including The World & IThe Pragmatist and Down Memory Lane.  His book, Mexico by Motorcycle: An Adventure Story and Guide, has garnered five star reviews, been covered in several magazines and recommended by expats who have resided in Mexico for years. Perhaps, the top compliment was by a review who wrote, “This reads like a novel.”