The Land of Silver Mining: Hacienda of Santa María Regla
Hacienda of Santa María Regla was my first visit to a Mexican Hacienda, even though I’d already lived in the country for about ten years. I had seen listings for haciendas in my Lonely Planet guide book. They seemed to be one of the local attractions, but I didn’t understand the draw.
The opportunity came in 2017 on a trip promoted by Aztec Travel and Tours. I was looking for ways to get out and see more of the country and stumbled across them as a group on Meetup.com. I had mostly traveled solo, but with no one to go with I felt a bit stuck in the inertia of not going anywhere, so having a group of fellow explorers was just what I needed.
Aztec Tours had a full listing of weekend excursions. They offered day trips from Mexico City, combining several stops along the way, showing descriptions and pictures of places I didn’t even know existed. I wanted to sign up for them all!
The tour was titled: Huasca, Prismas Basalticas, Santa Maria Regla.
This was my third excursion with the group. We were going to the Mexican state of Hildalgo, in the mountains above Puchuca. I’d never been to any of these sites, but this tour promised old colonial haciendas, waterfalls, and a Magic Town. And their pictures looked fantastic!
Any adventure with Aztec Tours begins with meeting early in the morning in Mexico City, boarding a van or mini-bus and heading out of the city. I live a couple of hours south of the city, so I arrived the night before and stayed at a local hostel, but it still meant getting up at 6:00 am, a quick shower and breakfast and grabbing the metro to meet the group by 7:00. And, in a very unlike Mexico way, they actually left on time (even earlier if everyone was there). I couldn’t be late.
It was a 2-hour ride from Mexico City. Although I would have benefited from a bit more sleep in the van, I was making new friends instead. That was half the fun!
There wasn’t much to see as we headed out of the city and across the plains. But after an hour or so we passed the city of Pachuca and ascended into Sierra Madre Oriental foothills, the mountain range that runs down the eastern side of Mexico. The road started winding up a canyon and for the next hour we meandered up and down, passing small villages, and hillsides covered with open fields and dense jungle forests.
Hacienda de Santa Maria Regla
Our first stop was the Hacienda de Santa Maria Regla, originally the home of Don Pedro Romero de Terreros, Count of Regla. Senor Terreros was a silver miner who wanted to exploit the rich mines of Real de Monte. This hacienda, built in the 18th century, was just the beginning, as Terreros took over more and more of the surrounding country and quickly became one of the richest men in the world in his time.
For us, arriving two centuries later, the mines had long since been abandoned and the hacienda renovated and turned into a hotel. As I’ve learned of many haciendas in Mexico, the grounds here are open for anyone to visit.
We entered through tall gates with towering stone walls on either side, opening out into a courtyard of manicured lawns and a small reservoir. Ducks and swans slid gracefully over the still surface of the water.
The old mill building is now converted into a large hotel. Made of thick stone walls, pitched metal roofs and equipped with a waterwheel, it had the feel of an English estate. I learned that many of the miners had come from England, Cornwall, and Wales and brought with them a decidedly English influence. Even the Cornish Pasties (meat-filled turnovers), that served as a portable and hearty meal for the miners’ long work days, have become quite popular in this part of Mexico.
Across from the hotel we passed by the old chapel with a 3-story bell tower. We were headed into the labyrinths below, to the ovens where the silver smeltering had been done. The ovens are now quiet, but in their day the workers had to keep the fires burning, with the words of God to put the fear into them etched above the alcoves, enforcing on them that they must work.
If that weren’t enough, there were also dungeons to hold an unruly worker. In 1998, these dark cells were used in filming the movie “The Mask of Zorro” to hold Antonio Banderas. As a kid, I’d loved the Zorro television series, though back then I had no idea that zorro meant fox or that I’d come to love the country of Mexico. But I think some part of my younger self must have understood and always believed in the fight for freedom.
Coming back to the small chapel, we ventured in to see an ornamental design and sacred paintings on the walls.
Outside again and back above ground, we made our way to the waterworks. Water tumbled down the steep canyon walls and filled pools covered with water lillies. Everywhere was wet. The water had been important to cool the silver after the smeltering process. I climbed to the upper wall, but that was as far as we could go, the holding vats were flooded over and dangerous for further exploration. I stood entranced, tracing the water as it fell into the pools below and was channeled into reservoirs, ponds, and pools, with the ancient refinery smoke stacks all you could see of the flooded out buildings below.
We spent several hours exploring the hacienda and it was time to move on. Loading into the van, we were in for another delight, just 15 minutes up the road we came to the Primas Basalticos.
The basaltic prisms were created by an ancient lava flow that cooled slowly to form tall polygonal columns at least 30-50 meters high (or 98-168 feet). Over the columns flow two waterfalls, the lower of which is called the Cascada de la Rosa, designated as one of the thirteen natural wonders of Mexico.
I followed the path under a grotto and around to the other side, passing by souvenir shops and small cafes, to the area under the falls at the bottom of the canyon. People were hanging out in the mist and spray coming off the canyon wall. I was glad the day had warmed up by then.
There was a shorter alternate path coming back up that took us across a wide suspension bridge, over a hundred feet above the rocks below. It was a modern bridge with sturdy construction, about 8 feet wide, and with sufficient railings on the side, so walking across it was safe. But suspension bridges still tend to sway and I’m prone to motion sickness. About half way across I started feeling dizzy. Still, though wobbly, I got to the other side.
The views, however, were fantastic! We could see down the canyon, the Barranca de Santa María Regla, to the entire hacienda, just below us.
Our last stop of the day was a the Magic Pueblo of Huasa de Ocampo. This is a small, rustic town. The attraction here is it’s proximity to the mining communities and haciendas in the area. Yet, it has a magic of it’s own, with many of the original buildings and a traditional way of living, it’s nestled in a valley at 2,100 m (6,900 ft) within the forested cerros (or hills) of the Sierra de Pachuca.
This town was also established by the same Pedro Romero de Terreros, the Santa Maria de Regla was just one of his four mining haciendas in the area. He owned mines and land all the way from Pachuca to Real del Monte and employed over a thousand workers. But his riches died with him in 1781 and the mines were mostly closed by 1810 and the mines and their buildings were left in ruins.
I happen to like the old stuff. Old and decayed buildings with tunnels and turns that make me wonder what they were used for intrigue me like a mysterious wonderland. Castles of Scotland, England and France have had the same affect for me. So, I was in heaven as I explored the town.
Like many Mexican towns, Huasca has a colonial center with a plaza. On one side is another large hacienda, which we toured briefly. Strolling through town we could see several quaint hotels. Horses were tethered on the side of the main street, either from a parade or maybe horseback was a more common mode of transportation in the area, I wasn’t sure.
We had our lunch in the square, simple tacos, quesadillas and traditional market food, serenaded by a mariachi band.
I’d been peppering Peter, one of our guides, all day for details and info about the places we visited, so as we sat down to lunch I asked him what Huasca meant. He said it was a word for “frog”.
I didn’t learn until later that the this Magical Town has an extensive tradition in terms of the small entities known as goblins, who roam the dark spaces of the haciendas, in the forests and on the trails, patiently waiting to do mischief. What fun!! Always more to explore for another day!
Finding your way …
What to Expect
San Sebastián is a tourist town, but if you go there expecting modern conveniences you might be disappointed.
Bring cash. There are no banks or ATM’s in town.
There are hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and a few stores.
Taxi service is sketchy. You may find taxis without a problem, but the day I went there was a festival in a nearby town and all the taxis were off at the festival.
Getting to San Sebastián del Oeste
From San Sebastián: 2 hrs by bus, probably half that by car.
It is 45 miles from Puerto Vallarta, but to get there you traverse winding, mountain roads.
The local bus from Puerto Vallarta only runs a few scheduled times per day.
Be sure to get off the bus in El Estancia,10 kilometers from the town. You will need to take a taxi the last part. You may also want to arrange the taxi to pick you up, since they are not always available around the plaza.
Local guides provide tours to nearby attractions.
This is one place it could pay off to rent a car in Puerto Vallarta and come up for a day, perhaps even spend a night or two at the local hotel.
Cerro La Bufa
Cerro La Buffa is a beautiful mountain that rises over the town. It has excellent views all the way to Puerto Vallarta and the Bahía de Banderas far below.
You can hire a local guide and transport to take you the additional 45 minutes to the top of the mountain.
It is an old Spanish hacienda outside of town (2.9 kilometers from the town center) that still uses fireplaces and oil lamps, rather than electricity, giving it the feel and charm of the old mining days. It houses a museum of maps, documents and objects of more than 200 years are exhibited. They also offer accommodation.
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