REAL DE CATORCE is an extraordinary place. Silver mines were founded in the surrounding hills in 1772, and at the height of its production in 1898 the town had forty thousand inhabitants. But by the turn of the twentieth century mining operations had slowed, and in 1905 they ceased entirely, leaving the population to drop to virtually zero over the next fifty-odd years. For a period, a few hundred inhabitants hung on in an enclave at the centre, surrounded by derelict, roofless mansions and, further out, crumbling foundations and the odd segment of wall. Legend has it that Real was “discovered” in the 1970s by an Italian hippy searching for peyote (which perhaps explains the town’s curious Italian connection), and particularly since the mid-1990s, an influx of artists, artesanía vendors, wealthy Mexicans and a few foreigners has given the town impetus to begin rebuilding.
The centre has been restored and reoccupied to the extent that the “ghost-town” tag is not entirely appropriate, though Real de Catorce certainly retains an air of desolation, especially in the outskirts; the occasional pick-up shoulders its way through the narrow cobbled streets, but most of the traffic is horses and donkeys. The population now stands at around 1500, the foreign contingent coexisting amiably with locals who increasingly depend on the tourist industry (it was made a Pueblo Mágico in 2001). The town has also become another popular Hollywood location, featuring in movies such as Bandidas (2006) and The Mexican (2001). There’s not much in the way of sights: simply wandering around, kicking up the dust and climbing into the hills are big and worthwhile pastimes here.