Second in a series
First on our travel agenda for the Magical Mexican Mountain Town Tour was San Luis Potosí. Founded roughly 30 years before Boston in 1592 around the Plaza Fundadores, the city sits at an altitude of 6,070 feet, and boasts a population of 736 thousand, and the entire metro area is just over a million. The old Centro Historico is organized around a series of plazas, public gardens, and pedestrian-only streets and walkways (indicated by the grayed-out streets on the map below). Beautiful colonial and beaux arts buildings abound. In fact, the Centro Historico reminds us a bit of Mérida, minus the sweltering climate. In 2010 the historic center of the city joined the ranks of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. And the city boasts one of the biggest Easter celebrations in Mexico, with festivals, food, free concerts, and the famous Procesión del Silencio. In addition, the city has a thriving economy, with an advantageous location nearly equidistant between Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Mexico City. All of these things made us want to travel to San Luis Potosí, and many of these things could make it an attractive place to live too.
Because we are incapable of planning any trip far in advance, combined with the fact that it was high season, we were able to book the Hotel Panorama for only one or two nights, early in Semana Santa. Fantastically located about a block from the Plaza Fundadores, the hotel was built in the 60’s, is quiet and well-maintained, and has a pool, though strangely it was closed during high season. But we’ve learned not to question such things in Mexico, and just let them be. For some reason, we don’t have a shot of the plaza itself, so we grabbed a view from Google Street View and tarted it up a bit, and airbrushed out the ubiquitous overhead wires. It was around this square that the city was founded. On the north side of the plaza can be found the Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí, which dates from 1652, and was founded by Jesuits, along with the also-Jesuit Chapel of Loreto, dating from the earliest years of the 1700’s. Compared to some of the other plazas with gardens and fountains, Fundadores can seem a bit bare, but it is truly the heart of the city.
SLP’s main area of touristic interest, outlined in red above, is eminently walkable, though it might take you an hour to walk from the Plaza Fundadores to the end of the interesting part of the Calzada de Guadalupe. You certainly wouldn’t be bored along the way. One of the fun ways would be to turn right outside the hotel (indicated by a red dot) on Venustiano Carranza, and head toward the Plaza de las Armas, which is blocked to vehicular traffic.
There you could enjoy one of Mexico’s most magnificent plazas, complete with the Metropolitan Cathedral, which dates from 1710, built in the Churrigueresque style of pink cantera limestone. In the center you’ll find a pink cantera limestone kiosk, where if you’re lucky, a band will be playing. Flanking this are gardens with trees and bushes. You’ll also see the Municipal Palace (essentially the City Hall), and the Government Palace, which houses various state offices. From the Plaza de las Armas, you can catch the double-decker Turibus, which is a good way to get an overview of the Centro Historico. We took the Turibus around in the late afternoon as the sun was setting, and it provided a marvelous view of many of the more interesting parts of the city. I’d recommend doing it early in your trip, as it’s an easy way to scout out things you’d like to see more closely later.
Cutting across the Plaza de las Armas, and then heading east along Francisco Madero, you will soon come to the City’s second large plaza, the Plaza del Carmen. This was the heart of the Easter celebrations, as you can see from the photo below. Not only is there another elegant 18th century church (Church of St. Carmen), but also the Temple of St. Carmen, the Museum of the Viceregency (Virreinato), and the Theatre of Peace. We enjoyed some margaritas on the second-floor balcony of a restaurant directly overlooking the plaza, from which the photo below was taken.
During our trip, the weather was perfect, about 75°. And speaking of weather, SLP has a remarkably pleasant climate, with summer highs in the 80’s, and winter lows in the upper 40’s and lower 50’s. And annual precipitation is about 15″, a bit less than San Francisco, so it’s a pretty dry place.
Directly behind the Plaza del Carmen, lies the Alameda, a large park, which we didn’t find terribly interesting compared to everything else. However next to the Alameda is the Train Museum, which we found highly interesting. Personally, I’m drawn to large machinery of all kinds, and trains fit the bill perfectly. Housed in a wonderful art-deco building that was once a station, the museum has nice displays of the history of railroading in Mexico, with bits of trains, old maps, stories of the rails, and other ephemera. But the museum also has a yard with old trains you can actually board. These date from late 19th century models, to cars that likely were built in the 50’s or 60’s. We had a lot of fun climbing around and taking pictures. Alas, I’m not yet ready to post a “selfie” online, so none of these will be seen in this post.
Walking back from the Museo del Ferrocarril, crossing the Alameda, we encounter the Templo de San Agustín at the corner of José Morelos y Pavón and Avenida Universidad. This church was constructed between 1672 and 1682, with towers added later. I shot this from the second deck of the Turibus as we passed by.
Walking back along Avenida Universidad, against trafic, we come across the Jardín de San Francisco, which has a beautiful fountain, and some life-sized bronze sculptures. It is also home to the Templo de San Francisco, and the National Presbyterian Church, an elegant Gothic-style building constructed in the early twentieth century.
Farther down Avenida Universidad, we come to Plaza de Aranzazu, a lovely plaza in its own right, but also home to the Regional Potosino Museum. We enjoyed the museum, but what really caught our attention was the fact that this little plaza was home to “the scene,” with a lot of young people hanging out, some of whom were juggling flaming torches. Others were merely juggling bowling pins while hula-hooping. We enjoyed hanging out and absorbing the energy of these lively folk.
Even without young people juggling fire, Plaza de Aranzazu is yet another beautiful plaza.
Finally, aside from museums, plazas, and gardens, the city’s streets are just fascinating, and there’s an interesting sight or set of buildings on virtually every block.
A lot of the streets are either original cobblestone, or dyed concrete cast in a cobblestone pattern. The overall effect is quite old world. Unfortunately, there are also some mid-twentieth century buildings mixed in too, but the overall effect is still pretty colonial.
But I personally am enchanted by elegant decay over modern convenience.
Though this post is by no means exhaustive, there are a few more things worth mentioning. First, the Calzada de Guadalupe to the south of the Plaza de las Armas is a grand boulevard with a garden in the center, filled with sculptures and “follies.” It is well worth walking. Second, in the Plaza del Carmen, there is the Museo Nacional de la Máscara, or the National Mask Museum. This is well worth seeing, not only for the collection, but for the building itself, which is an old mansion built in 1892 around a courtyard, and fully renovated on its 90th birthday.
Despite the length of this post, I’ve said nothing about the La Procesión del Silencio, the famous Silent March held to commemorate Good Friday, nor any details about the other festivities. So San Luis Potosí shall receive another post in this series as soon as I can recoup my energies and begin again.
For now, thanks for reading and commenting. Saludos!