There are aliens in the hills above Tepoztlan. At least, that’s what they told me.
A short hop over the mountain range that borders Mexico City to the south, Tepoztlan lies in the shadow of the Tepozteco peak, the birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of the wind. Its origins are shrouded in mystery, as are those of the small temple that sits precariously on top of the Tepozteco peak, at the end of a long, devastatingly steep scramble almost straight up from the town.
Tepoztlan has a fabulously relaxed, laid-back, almost bohemian vibe, and has a long history of being a cultural and artistic haven. A wide variety of painters, sculptors, musicians, and poets have called this charming little town home over the years, from Conor Oberst to Wolfgang Paalen. This artistic atmosphere, coupled with the various myths and legends of the surrounding mountains (plus the aforementioned aliens) have made Tepoztlan a delightfully hippy hideaway, its cobbled streets lined with healing centers, holistic massage spas, and most importantly of all, temazcales.
A visit to Tepoztlan is not complete without experiencing a temazcal ceremony. These traditional sweat lodges are halfway between a session in a serious steam room and a Nahuatl prayer ceremony, although the more spiritual aspects of the experience are benign and manageable even for the more cynical traveler. Originally designed as a curative purification after serious exertion or exercise, the concept is simple. You enter a domed hut constructed from volcanic rock, which is heated with red-hot stones to an almost unbeatable heat. Then, you sweat. There is some chanting, some thanks given, and a number of herbs thrown onto the fire, but mostly you sweat. Leaving the temazcal, you feel drained, empty, but refreshed and reinvigorated as well, and cleansed in a way that is hard to describe.
Oddly enough, Tepoztlan combines its hippy, alternative, spa vibe with a reputation of being a bit of a party town. As one of the prettiest pueblos within easy reach of Mexico City, it attracts loads of chilango daytrippers on weekends who come to get away from the traffic and smog of DF, grab a bite to eat in the market, and refresh themselves with micheladas and ubiquitous mojitos at the bars along the main cobbled street. The mojitos are actually surprisingly excellent, as is the pre-hispanic food served in the covered market that takes up most of the central plaza. And of course, no visit to Tepoztlan would be complete without a taste of the artisanal ice cream, the tepoznieves, that the town is famous for. Flavours run from the ordinary (vanilla, mango, mint) to the exotic (cranberry, fig, tamarind) to the downright bizarre (cheese, burned milk, sweetcorn!), and it is well worth trying as much of the range as you can manage!
Tepoztlan is a delightful, picturesque little town a short drive from Mexico City that is well worth visiting just to soak up the wonderfully chilled-out atmosphere. There’s plenty to do, with mountain hiking, an Aztec temple, and some excellent places to eat, but trying a temazcal ceremony while you are there is the icing on the cake.