Real de Catorce
Real de Catorce is a small and compact mountain town nestled between the dramatic and austere mountains of the Sierra de Catorce range. Formally a prosperous silver mining town, the area became deserted after a crash in the price of silver at the end of the 19th century. A hundred years later, the town is gradually being restored and is reinventing itself as a tourist destination. The area has long attracted pilgrims, those of catholic and indigenous persausions alike, and has now caught the attention of not only Mexican tourists, but European new agers too, who travel here for the reported spiritual energy. Whatever your beliefs, the region definitely has a unique atmosphere which requires several days to soak up.
Matehuala, around eight hours from the D.F. and around four from Monterrey, is the nearest transport hub. Real de Catorce is under two hours (approx M$77.00 single) from there. To enter the town, you must pass through a tunnel. In high seasons (Oct. and Apr.), expect long delays as the tunnel can only accommodate one-way traffic.
The town is compact and despite some steep roads, is easy to explore by foot. For the surrounding area, horse rides are easy to arrange in town. You can also hike the surrounding hills by foot if you are reasonably fit. Keep to the paths and leave enough time to find your way back to town, as the temperature drops dramatically at night.
In October, the town fills up with Catholic pilgrims. In spring time, there is a festival called Santa Semanas (The Week of the Saints). During in this time, expect accommodation options to be fewer and more expensive. The towns usual quiet ambiance is also transformed into something quite different. Aside from this, just explore the town and soak up the atmosphere or take to the hills, either by foot, horse or mountain bike (you can rent bikes near the main square).
There are plenty of shops and street vendors selling homemade arts and crafts.
You can find street restaurants in the town centre that serve up cheap and tasty gorditas.
Houses can be rented in the surrounding small ghost towns (without electricity or running water) for about $100 USD monthly, it is a popular option for artists and craftsmen. There are plenty of accommodation options in town. For budget travelers, you can rent (very) basic private rooms for as little as M$50.00 per days. Otherwise, the going rate for a budget room in a posada is around M$100.00 per day and upwards.
There are several ruined ghost towns surrounding Real, you can explore these by foot, or hire horses and a guide in town. From near the town square, you can catch vintage jeeps (Willys) that ply the bumpy route down to the small peublo of Estación de Catorce (approx 1h, M$40.00). From there you can catch onward transport to Zacatecas.