Zacatlán de las Manzanas: The ‘Symbol of Sin’ City
“Welcome to Zacatlán de la Manzanas, a paradise on earth where the ‘symbol of sin’ (the apple) makes for a pleasurable experience,” a tourism portal tells prospective visitors in Spanish. Perched high in the state’s northeastern sierra, Zacatlán—one of Mexico’s largest apple-growing regions—is well known for its sparkling cider, sodas, marmalade, and other apple products. The townsfolk celebrate the pomaceous fruit during a weeklong festival every August, but Zacatlán and the surrounding pine forest make for a lovely day trip or weekend getaway from Puebla’s capital year-round.
The name Zacatlán combines the Nahuatl words zacatl (straw or grass) and tlan (place) to mean “place where the grass is plentiful.” The area, frequently blanketed by fog and rain, is undeniably lush. One of the most breathtaking views can be had just a few blocks from the center of town, where El Mirador restaurant looks over the Barranca de los Jilgueros (Goldfinch Gorge). Visitors don’t need to dine there to enjoy the view outside, but those who do stay for a meal can enjoy both the scenery and the regional dishes. We sank our teeth into the tlacoyos rellenos de alberjón—pillows of corn dough filled with white beans and topped with tomatillo salsa, chopped onions, and cheese. The restaurant also has a small store that sells the wares of local chefs and artisans.
The Two-Faced Clock
Foodies will also want to check out the open-air market, which takes place on Saturdays near the town’s main square. We spied some amazing dried fish and purchased a bag of dried beans called vaquitas (named for their black-and-white spotted husk), which were delicious but I’ve only been able to find since used as jewelry beads. Other attractions downtown include the floral clock—believed to be the only one in the world with two faces (each 16 feet in diameter) run by one mechanism—and the recently restored parish of St. Peter and St. Paul, whose Baroque-indigenous façade and main altar feature the craftsmanship of the townspeople themselves.
Mysterious Rock Formations
A short drive away, the 1.5-square-mile valley of Piedras Encimadas (Stacked Rocks) is home to an impressive array of gigantic rock formations, some of which seem to defy gravity. Although local legends abound, mineralogical studies indicate that the stones’ phenomenon is a natural one: The formations occurred during the Tertiary period up to 65 million years ago and were shaped over time by volcanic activity and environmental conditions (rain, wind, and humidity). Visitors may tour the park on foot, bicycle or horseback. If you speak Spanish, you can hire a guide at the entrance, who will lead you around the park and explain how certain piedras look like human figures, animals, and assorted other objects. The day we visited, the fog rolled in about halfway through our tour, giving the site a beautifully ethereal atmosphere.
Zacatlán is located about 75 miles north of Puebla’s capital city. To get there by car, take federal highway 121 toward Apiazco, then 119 toward Chignahuapan and Zacatlán. It’s about a 2.5-hour drive, depending on traffic. We stayed overnight in Atexca at a wonderful family-run eco-lodge, El Refugio, which recently changed owners. For other options, click here.