Tourism beyond the historic center
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
San Miguel de Allende is not just a colonial city with art galleries and night life. Its historical past includes not only the historic center but also the rural areas surrounding it, which with their natural beauty and reminders of the past offer other options for tourism.
The Route of Indian Chapels was a tourism package launched in 2011 to expand the tourist attractions beyond the historic center. Six chapels were opened, but two of them closed in 2012. Guillermo García Bedoy, who developed the tour, said that the chapels closed because “there was a lack of support by sanmiguelenses.” Recently, a new tour, La Ruta de Cañadas (Route of Ravines), was launched. Through this tour, residents of the rural communities, the developer and the last administration had expectations of showing visitors that San Miguel is more than the urban area and that beyond the city there is a rural culture waiting to be explored. At the same time, an organic farming and viniculture tour was started, which finishes with a visit to a cave where “God and Evil are harmonized.” These new attractions will be successful, commented Bedoy, because a marketing firm will be in charge of promotion.
Ruta de Cañadas
The Ruta de Cañadas tour involves three rural communities: La Huerta, Boca de la Cañada and El Xotolar. The Río Laja passes through La Huerta, which has about 1,000 inhabitants. Kangaroo, Prince, Bitter and Little Bean are just 4 of the 30 horses from the three communities that visitors can ride on the tour. Before riders meander through La Huerta, Juan Jiménez offers a riding lesson. He talks about how to ride in the “Mexican style, and how to gain the horse’s friendship.” After the instruction, visitors start the tour through wide or narrow roads; as they ride they can ask any kind of questions of the locals who accompany them. During this tour, they visit a chapel that according to the locals was built before the founding of San Miguel. To return to La Huerta, riders ford the crystalline currents of the Laja River.
A stroll on foot includes a visit to the Sabino tree, which “is older than 700 years,” said don Miguel Martínez, one of the guides. The tree is so large that it would take more than 20 people with arms outstretched to embrace its circumference. A tea made with leaves from the tree can cure a stomach ache, said don Miguel.
The stroll continues through Leonila Luna’s half-acre orchard, where she grows avocado, pomegranate, mandarins, pears, quinces and figs. Some of these products are sold at the farmers’ market. Luna commented that she opened her orchard to the general public and tourists in order to support the economy of the community.
In La Huerta the main economic activities consist of the production of vases, napkin rings, bags, tortilla holders and lamps made of reed. “At least 80 percent of the inhabitants make these products,” said don Héctor Morales, who can be seen near the river working in the reeds next to his wife, Elvira Ramírez, under the shadow of a huge tree. “I started working with reeds 14 years ago. I learned by watching other people,” said don Morales. If the products are bought directly from the manufacturers the price is more reasonable.
This tour ends next to the river, where the locals offer a variety of stews and fresh, handmade tortillas. In this same place, señoras from Boca de la Cañada sell organic products such as liqueur made of prickly pears, lime or pomegranate, as well as marmalade or cajeta candy made of milk. Ana María Flores, a member of the cooperative, said, “We have not yet started larger-scale production because we need more promotion of the product, but we are producing and locally selling small quantities. Everything is organic.”
Boca de la Cañada
“Boca de la Cañada is located on the road to Guanajuato and has about 300 inhabitants,” said Jorge Amador Tovar, one of the guides in that community, who also said that if tourists want to visit his community he and other locals will take them on a prepared route with amazing views. While they are heading to the chosen places, Amador and other guides tell legends about the caves that they pass, such as the cave of the Holy Cross, which “was like Robin Hood; the Cross used to get down from its altar and steal from the rich to give to the poor,” commented Amador. The natives also tell the story of their community and talk about their traditions and even give advice about how to heal illnesses with herbal remedies. “We have very much to offer; it will be an unforgettable experience. Our tour finishes with a luncheon of food cooked with products from the community. We have queso ranchero, beans and salsa de molcajete,” said Amador.
ElXotolar is a community located near the archeological zone Cañada de la Virgen. It is inhabited by six families and operated by don Tomás Morín, who started organizing rural tours 14 years ago. “In this community,” said don Tomás, “we will share our experience of living in el campo.” He also will be in charge of selling products from the three rural communities to tourists. For contacting him call 415-115-2622.
San Miguel’s wine
In Rancho Toyán the magic begins at the entrance, where the trees are decorated with faces. Toyán is a Náhuatl word that means “place where the knowledge emerges,” said Marta Molina, marketing manager. This ranch started because the owners “wanted to do something good for people; they wanted to go back to the past and acknowledge what our ancestors used to do. We have lost the path thanks to technology, but here we do not use technology in order to harmonize the human being with the planet,” said Molina.
According to Molina, tourists started coming on their own to el Toyán. “They were the reason we opened the ranch to the general public,” she said. On this property there are two small tours, an organic tour, which consists of a stroll through the land where visitors learn about planting, cultivating, harvesting and selling organic products. On the wine tour, visitors start in an auditorium built behind the façade of a chapel; here they receive an introduction to Rancho Toyán. Later the visitors stroll through the vineyards, led by Molina, who explains how they care for the grapes and the plants and how they harvest the fruit to make its magic. Then tourists are taken to the production area, where they can sample the wine in progress. The tour concludes 14 meters underground, after passing through a 100-meter tunnel. “La cava is the place where God and Evil are harmonized,” said Molina. This cava is underground because “the wine must go back to the earth and must finish its process there,” she said. The tours are offered by the SEDETUR and Cuna Verde. For more information, call Miguel Muñoz 415 101 0061 .
The Tour of Indian Chapels consists of visiting small religious centers dating from the 17th century, constructed by Catholic evangelists to convert the native Chichimecas. These chapels were restored and opened to the general public in July 2011. In 2012, two of them closed because of lack of tourists. Guillermo García Bedoy, who developed the tour, said that the chapels of Oaxaca and San Isidro de Bandita are still open and receive some tourists, but “we need a commercial reactivation. In this three projects we have already invested in the most important things, which are equipment, infrastructure, training, organization and creation of the tour.” Concerning the Route of Cañadas, he said that “the natives know their land and traditions; they also know how to treat visitors. For that reason efforts must be aimed at promotion and commercialization.”