The Five – Memories from the Sierra Norte in Oaxaca, Mexico

Mexico continues to offer such diversity in travel experiences to all its visors. The state of Oaxaca, often relatively low on most traveler’s radar, remains a place you can discover some of its best.

I recommend the exploring the colonial city of Oaxaca a UNESCO site or to surf the bays of Huatulco or the beaches of Puerto Escondido. One must take a visit to archaeology site of Monte Alban, discover the local textiles art, explore the many mezcal routes and appreciate its culture through its incredible cuisine. Plus a visit to Oaxaca for Dia de Los Muertos, (Day of the Dead) is a must too.

 Put Sierra Norte on Your Oaxaca Itinerary

hiking the trainls and bridges of the Sierra Norte, Oaxaca, Mexico

When planning your trip make sure you take time to trek the Sierra Norte.

In these mountains, a community focused tourism approach exists with thirty years of experience called with Pan Mancomunadas. This allows visitors to experience a certain shared experience across all the towns as the communities work in unison to provide a travel product to tourists visiting the region instead of extracting minerals from the land.  The mountain villages decided to also create hikes between all the villages to create a route for the traveler to take along with each village providing adventure travel experiences for the travelers too.

Just two hours from Oaxaca City, here are five of my most memorable moments from my time in the Sierra Norte.

Hiking – Trekking through the Sierra Norte

the beautiful sierra norte mountains of Oaxaca, MexicoThere is a richness of adventure travel in this part of Mexico and I recently learned to add the Sierra Norte to your Oaxaca travel itinerary.

The hiking between pueblos is a must. It is essentially the crux of the trip. Some hikes are basic and others prove challenging and can be rated difficult because of terrain and elevation climbs, but hikes for all levels are available for those wanted to experience the natural beauty of this region.

On these hikes you must hire a local guide to take you through the hike. These guides carry walkie-talkies since iPhones solely become camera in this part of Oaxaca. They need it for communication since you will not have any signal.

My personal recommendation is to hike for the sunrise above the clouds at Mirador de Calaveras, and also I’d recommend you start your adventure here only after you are accustomed to the altitude. I definitely recommend a few days exploring the streets of Oaxaca City to acclimate before heading up to 10,000 feet of elevation and exerting on this morning hike to the second highest peak in the region.

Appreciating Medicinal Plants

learning aobut the medicinal plants and herbs in the Sierra Norte, Oaxaca, MexicoWhen visiting these communities you are in small villages at high altitudes. There isn’t a doctor’s office or a hospital nearby besides heading down to Oaxaca City. A few days is fine, but when you live a life so far from modern medical facilities you learn how to heal differently.  In the Sierra a certain diet exists of fresh organic foods along with a healthcare “system” using wisdom and the practices through herbal medicines.

On a rainy day, we visited such an herbalist healer who also serves as a guide to listen in to understand how the local plants they’d gather from the forest along with others they planted in their garden are harvested and used to help heal the community of ailments.

They also discussed many creams and ointments they sell to the community members (and us tourists too) for common items. Remember there is no CVS or pharmacy in these parts. They do it naturally and it’s great opportunity to learn about all the “magic” just in our backyards.

Cooking up Tamales

cooking class working together to make Tamales in the Sierra Norte, Oaxaca, MexicoThe cuisine in Oaxaca is fresh delicious and often farm to table, especially in the Sierra Norte where we even ate a farm one afternoon. Plus, not only will you enjoy a hearty breakfast every single morning and you’ll see a few images on my Instagram @stayadventurous of use #Stay_SierraNorte, but you will also have the chance to make food in a class setting.  We made tamales.

Tamales are different here, they are made thinner, not sure I can attribute that to the altitude like the air, but I suspect it just means you get to enjoy more of them post strenuous hike. So, when visiting you can join a cooking class to create your own meal and have fun working together.

We made plenty and also ate plenty. Sometimes the food tastes better when you help in the kitchen. It did this night. Yum.

Appreciating Local Spirits – the Magic of Mezcal  

serving mezcal for breakfast in the sierra norte with a smile. Mezcal starts your day in these parts. Yes, for breakfast they offer coffee, tea, or the local hot chocolate plus a shot of Mezcal to warm the body, mind and spirit. A chance to start your day differently adding in the spirit of mezcal.

Also, typically offered post-hike, this Mezcal is not just for vacationing tourists and travelers, but I discovered is a way of life. It provides medicinal properties too. Of course everything in moderation, since most likely you will be hiking the next morning and don’t need a hang-over, but that last night of celebration – well that’s up to you. I know my choice.

Crossing the Bridge

walking across the suspension birdge at benito juarez in sierra norte, oaxaca, mexico

You don’t need stamina to partake in this simple walk, but perhaps you do need to be brave as this suspension bridge does test those who have certain fears. Yet, the reward for this mostly mental challenge showcases incredible panoramic views of the valley from the town of Benito Juarez.

In the Sierra, certain cabins offer great views from hammocks or even its restaurant, but the best view is reached by this adventurous walk.   In fact, the bridge seemed to serve as a metaphor for the adventures we faced in the Sierra Norte. You need to conquer your fear whether this narrow bridge across a gorge or a 16 km him through challenging at times steep uphill terrain at 10,000 feet. In the end, we all discover it is worth it. Well worth it. And a trip to Sierra Norte is certainly well worth it too.

Final Thoughts on Sierra Norte

mezcal drinks, sierra norte oaxaca, MexicoBesides these activities, I learned in my few days in the Sierra Norte, there plenty more to do and discover. My time was too brief, but next trip, I will certainly look to take on a trail via mountain biking, order a massage treatment (the prices were beyond reasonable) and take the spiritual journey of a temazcal where medicinal plant based steam heat will create a guided healing journey for my mind, body, and soul.

The opportunity here is for a deep connection, not the connectivity to the material world, but to reconnection to the world we all once knew.  In a place where communities decided NOT to exploit their resources for money, but rather create a place for travelers to appreciate the natural world and the natural way of life we find another Mexico Must visit. We find a place, encompassing great food, great adventures and a great appreciation for our mother earth. We find the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca.

stay adventurous, Craig

Ps – I was a guest on Expediciones Sierra Norte as part of a FAM from my travels working with ATMEX.



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