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Introducing Pueblos Mancomunados

The Pueblos Mancomunados (Commonwealth of Villages) are eight remote villages (Amatlán, Benito Juárez, Cuajimoloyas, La Nevería, Lachatao, Latuvi, Llano Grande and Yavesía) in the thickly forested highlands north of the Valle de Tlacolula. The villages offer highly recommended wilderness escapes and an up-close communion with Zapotec village life. It’s well worth the time and effort to spend at least one night here, and you can easily enjoy several days walking, mountain biking or horseback riding between villages and exploring around them. Elevations in these hills range from 2200m to over 3200m, and the landscapes, with canyons, caves, waterfalls and panoramic lookouts, are spectacular.

For centuries, these villages have pooled the natural resources of their 290-sq-km territory, sharing the profits from forestry and other enterprises. Connected by more than 100km of scenic tracks and trails, and surrounded by trails to local beauty spots and places of interest, the villages have turned to ecotourism to help stave off economic difficulties and population decline. All offer simple but comfortable, good-value cabaña lodging (mostly with hot-water bathrooms and fireplaces), meals, and mountain bikes for rent. Most also have horses.

Although several Oaxaca active-tourism agencies offer trips to the Pueblos Mancomunados, it’s not difficult to visit independently. Six of the villages (the exceptions being Lachatao and Yavesía) cooperate in an excellent combined ecotourism program, Expediciones Sierra Norte, which has a helpful office in Oaxaca city. Each participating village also has an information and services office open from 9am to 9pm daily. It’s possible just to roll up in a village and organize what you need on the spot, but reservations are a good idea at vacation times and weekends. Horses must be reserved at least one day ahead.

Local guides, knowledgeable about the wildlife, ecology, folklore and history of these sierras, are available for excursions. You don’t generally need one to follow the main routes between villages, but for smaller trails a guide is recommended. English-speaking guides cost a little extra and should be requested two or three days ahead.

Each village has a camping area as well as cabañas, and at least one comedor serving good local meals from 8am to 8pm. Prices in the Expediciones Sierra Norte villages are as follows:

Lachatao village runs a well-organized, separate ecotourism program, Lachatao Expediciones, with similar services and prices. One of the most attractive and interesting villages, with exceptionally good cabañas, Lachatao lies on routes between some of the Expediciones Sierra Norte villages, but any reservations here have to be made separately.