Few backpackers make it up to this region of Mexico. For those that do, they are rewarded with one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico. The city of Zacatecas, capital of Zacatecas State, is one of the most uniquely gorgeous places I visited in Mexico. The architecture often made me forget that I was in Mexico entirely. Combined with a walkable city center, a bustling nightlife scene, and a more low-key international tourist presence, Zacatecas is a great off-the-beaten-path destination for backpackers.
Is Zacatecas Worth Visiting?
Yes. Absolutely. It may be more out of the way than the usual stops on the Mexico backpacking trail, but I loved my visit to Zacatecas. Since I was already planning on visiting friends in Aguascalientes, I figured I could make the extra two hour trip up to Zacatecas. I only stayed for a few days, but wish I could have stayed much longer. I loved the laid-back vibe, stunning architecture, and uniquely Mexican culture of Zacatecas. Its history as a silver mining town can still be seen in modern day Zacatecas, making it one of the most intriguing destinations in Mexico. You can explore the city underground through its old silver mines, or take to the city from the skies on its cable cars.
Is Zacatecas Safe To Visit?
I never felt in any danger when I was in Zacatecas. The people of Zacatecas were some of the friendliest and most welcoming that I had the pleasure of meeting in Mexico. They never hesitated to help me out if I ever got lost. However, since Zacatecas doesn’t see too many international travelers, it definitely makes you stick out a bit more. Quite a few Mexican tourists visit Zacatecas, but it doesn’t seem like too many European or American travelers do. That being said, keep your wits about you, like you would in any other foreign country.
How To Get To Zacatecas
Zacatecas City is about four hours away by bus from Guadalajara, and a similar distance from other popular tourist stops like Guanajuato. It’s in the bajio (lowlands) region of central Mexico. I got to Zacatecas from Aguascalientes City, where buses left very frequently. Zacatecas is a pretty big city, so you won’t have any trouble finding buses getting to and from there. If you want to check bus schedules ahead of time, you can check websites like Rome2Rio, Busbud, Reservamos, and Checkmybus. It helps to get an idea of departures before you just roll up to the bus station.
You can also fly to Zacatecas directly from most major Mexican airports. There are even some direct flights from the United States. However, bus is the best way to go if you’re already within a few hours from Zacatecas. My bus from Aguascalientes was only $10. From the bus station, it was about $3 to take a taxi to my hostel in the center of town.
Where To Stay in Zacatecas
As a backpacker, there are a few hostels to choose from in Zacatecas. The one I stayed in was Hostal Cielito de Maria. It had a perfect location just a block away from the main plaza. The bed was also one of the comfiest hostel beds that I’ve ever slept in. I found Zacatecas to be a very walkable city, so a central location isn’t too crucial. As long as you’re staying within the historic city center, your location should be just fine.
You can tell Zacatecas is pretty off the backpacker trail considering the city doesn’t even show up on Hostelworld. However, if you check on Booking, you’ll be able to find some hostels there. Zacatecas is also a city where you can just roll up and find cheap accommodation pretty easily. If you’re visiting during a holiday, like Semana Santa, book your accommodation in advance to make sure you have a place to sleep within your budget.
The Best Things To Do in Zacatecas
Zacatecas is a wanderer’s paradise. Most of my days were spent just roaming around the city, finding beautiful churches and quaint alleyways. It is one of the most breathtaking cities in Mexico, especially because of the pink limestone used for many of its buildings.
Hike up to Cerro de la Bufa
If there is a big hill or mountain, I will climb it. Zacatecas is no different. Upon checking into my hostel, I went for a wander around the city. Inevitably, I ended up at the peak of Cerro de la Bufa not long after. Up here, you can get a stunning view of the city of Zacatecas. The scene up here is always very lively, especially around sunset. Here, you can find street vendors and a number of little shops to go with the beautiful architecture and statues up here.
Take the Teleferico Over the City
If you don’t feel like hiking up to Cerro de la Bufa, there’s also the option to take the Teleferico. It gives you a unique aerial perspective overlooking the city of Zacatecas. Along with the epic views from the Teleferico, it also was the first of its kind in all of Mexico. It’s 160 pesos ($8 US) roundtrip for an adult ticket, or 100 pesos ($5 US) for a one-way ticket.
Visit the Old Silver Mine (Mina El Eden)
Zacatecas is a mining town after all, renowned for once being the world’s leading exporter of silver. These days, the mines are no longer in use. Tourists can visit the mines and see Zacatecas from below ground.
Eat Local Zacatecan Food
One of my favorite things about Mexico is that each state has its own unique cuisine. From Oaxaca to Michoacan to the Yucatan, Mexican food can be split up into hundreds of different subsets. Zacatecano food is no different, with their own unique dishes and twists on traditional Mexican cuisine.
Go Through the Churches and Museums
The architectural highlight of Zacatecas is definitely the cathedral in the main plaza. You can’t miss it. It is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Mexico.
Zacatecas is also home to some interesting museums. These include the the Museo Rafael Coronel (boasting a collection of over 2,000 masks), Museo Francisco Goita (featuring work from famous Mexican artists), and Museo de Pedro Coronel (renowned as one of Mexico’s best art museums, and boasting the full collection of Zacatecan artist Pedro Coronel).
Buy Some Silver Souvenirs
At one point, Zacatecas used to be the world’s leading exporter of silver. Pretty crazy to think about. Although those years are long gone, Zacatecas is still a popular spot for people to buy silver. Like other mining towns like Taxco de Alarcon and Guanajuato, you’ll find local vendors selling jewelry at great prices.
Take a day trip to the Pueblo Magico of Jerez
There are 132 pueblos magicos in Mexico, and Zacatecas state is home to a handful of them. Perhaps the most famous is the quaint village of Jerez de Garcia Salinas.
Visit the Ruins of La Quemada Archaeological Site
About an hour away from Zacatecas City is the archaeological site of La Quemada, or Chicomoztoc. Unlike other major archaeological sites uncovered in Mexico, La Quemada still holds quite a bit of mystery to it. Due to its location, historians aren’t exactly sure which civilization these ruins belonged to. For the casual traveler, it is cool to roam around in, and one of the best day trips from Zacatecas.
Nightlife in Zacatecas
Like most cities in Mexico, Zacatecas gets even livelier in the nighttime. While I wouldn’t consider Zacatecas to be one of the premier party destinations of Mexico, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time. I found Zacatecas to have a much more traditional nightlife scene compared to Mexico’s more modern destinations. That means that local cantinas and saloons are still your best bet at having a fun night out. If you’re into electronic or house music, I’m not sure how much luck you’ll have in Zacatecas. If salsa, cumbia, reggaeton, or banda is your vibe, you’ll have no problem finding a good party around here.
Here are a few suggestions for where to experience the best nightlife in Zacatecas.
Miscellaneous Tips for Zacatecas
The high altitude of Zacatecas is definitely something to note. At 2,500 meters above sea level, Zacatecas is pretty high up. I decided to hike up Cerro de la Bufa shortly after arriving in Zacatecas. I definitely felt the altitude during that hike up. If you start to feel a little lightheaded or dizzy due to the altitude, take it easy. Give yourself some time to acclimatize before pushing yourself. Thankfully, outside of the hikes, the historic center of Zacatecas is mostly flat. You won’t feel strained too much by the altitude just walking around.
Another concern some people have is safety. Although I found Mexico to be pretty safe overall, it’s always good to keep your wits about you. With Zacatecas being lesser-visited than most tourist hot spots, you’ll definitely stand out a bit more as an international traveler. From what I’ve heard, Zacatecas has been spared the cartel activity that plagues other parts of Mexico, like the nearby states of Jalisco, Michoacan, and Guanajuato. Exercise your usual caution, but don’t let any safety fears deter you from visiting this beautiful city.
All in all, Zacatecas is a great budget-friendly destination for backpackers looking to go off the typical tourist trail. Its proximity to other major travel hubs means you don’t have to go too far out of the way for this authentic Mexican destination.
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Also, be sure to check out my complete backpacking itinerary for magical Mexico, a jam-packed 60-page guide covering 25 of my favorite destinations in Mexico.
My Complete Mexico Backpacking Itinerary
By popular demand… Here is the complete itinerary for one of my favorite countries in the world, Mexico. In this 68-page guidebook, I cover 30 of my favorite Mexican destinations, including how to get to each city, where to stay, and the best things to do in each city. I also include tidbits of useful information like things to know before going to Mexico, as well as my favorite party destina…