Exploring the trails of Sierra Norte, Mexico

by Flip Flop Wanderers

Just north of Oaxaca, Mexico, misty mountains adorned with soaring pine forests await in an area known as Sierra Norte. Beginning in 1994, the remote Zapotec villages united to form the Pueblos Mancomunados, an ecotourism collective with the mission of protecting their homeland from developers and deforestation. The locals welcome travellers from all walks of life, with endless generosity, to explore their diverse wildlife, fauna and flora either on foot, bicycle or horseback.

As a result, the scrubland has become a haven for those seeking a rugged hiking holiday in the mountains of Mexico. Let’s discover what’s to be found along the trails of Sierra Norte, Mexico.

© Unsplash – Fotografías con Limón

Incredible wildlife

You’ll want to pack your binoculars for this trip, as the forests are well and truly alive in this rural wonderland. As you climb and trek through the 62-mile network of trails and impressive bridges made by the locals, be sure to keep an eye out for some of the incredible wildlife that calls this region home. The elevation in the mountains reaches almost 9,000 ft in places, so spectacular views are guaranteed. 

However, it’s best to hire a local guide to take you to the best spots, as it not only supports their community but also ensures you don’t get lost or miss out on hidden waterfalls or secret caves. 

The treetop canopy is shared between ancient oaks, pines and red gum trees, whilst the underbrush is colourful with a huge variety of ferns, bromeliads, orchids, magnolias and more. It’s a paradise for birdlife, and thanks to its prime location nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, many major bird species rely on this area as a crucial part of their migration route. From technicolour hummingbirds to the Tamaulipas pygmy owl, a tiny owl endemic to Mexico, bird watching is a definite highlight of exploring the Sierra Norte. Be sure to also keep an eye out for pumas and ocelots stalking through the undergrowth or sleeping in bows of low-lying trees – but don’t panic, they are largely uninterested in humans.

© Unsplash – James Wainscoat

Clifftop cabañas

The Zapotec people invite visitors to stay in purpose-built, rusticly beautiful clifftop cabañas. These cabins are more than comfortable, with hot water, fireplaces for the chilly nights, a cosy bed and hammocks on the balcony. Meals are provided – authentic, hearty Mexican dishes cooked by the locals. Vegetarians and vegans can easily be accommodated, just be sure to let your guide know your preferences.

You should also brave the traditional temazcal, a cleansing ritual based in a super-hot sauna. This shamanic practice dates back to the Mayan and Aztec periods and involves sitting in a steamy hut before laying down and being brushed with special herbs. The locals recommend sitting in the temazcal for around 40 minutes, but listen to your body. Travelling at high altitudes in itself can cause nausea and you don’t want to add dehydration to the mix.

© Unsplash – Tia Vidal

Where to Stay / Hotels

Staying in Sierra Norte means going back to basic. Accommodation mainly consists of cabins and are spread out in the villages of the region. The main village is Benito Juárez and this is the best place to stay. Sometimes there aren’t that many options, in that case, it’s best to stay in Oaxaca and book a guided hiking trip or driver from there.

© Unsplash – Fotografías con Limón

Read all our other blogs about Mexico here!

Ultimately, exploring the trails of Sierra Norte will open your eyes to another way of life and immerse you in unparalleled natural beauty. Nothing here is commercialised, no one is trying to sell you something every moment and the locals are warm and welcoming. As far as tourist destinations go, this is one of the most down-to-earth places to visit and is sure to leave you feeling humbled by its culture and scenery.

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