The central corridor between Mexico City, the Bajío and the US border is one of the most well-travelled and well-served routes in the country, with fast highways and numerous bus services all the way. It’s worth a diversion into Durango, certainly the most attractive city on route, or historic Hidalgo del Parral. History lovers will also enjoy Chihuahua, the home of Pancho Villa and a relatively affluent city that has invested a lot in its heritage, museums and art. If you have time, an excursion to the ruins at Paquimé, near Nuevo Casas Grandes, is worth the four-hour ride from Chihuahua – and if you have a car, there are several other enticing destinations nearby.
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La Tierra del Cine
La Tierra del Cine
The region around Durango is heavily marketed to domestic tourists as the La Tierra del Cine, the “land of cinema”, in honour of the vast number of film units that once came to the area to take advantage of its remarkably constant, clear, high-altitude light, its desert and mountain scenery. Westerns were the speciality, and although only half a dozen movies have been shot here over the last decade (Luc Besson’s Bandidas in 2004 was the last major one), you can still see the permanent sets at Villa del Oeste and Chupaderos.
Villa del Oeste
Villa del Oeste, 12km north of Durango, is a kind of small theme park comprising the hundred-metre-long street of “Bandido”, which looks straight out of the Wild West until you realize the saloons and shops have been refashioned into a themed restaurant, music hall and a bar and grill. During the week it’s fairly quiet, but on weekends there’s a kitschy but enjoyable show featuring gun-slinging cowboys and cabaret girls.
Set Cinematográfico de Chupaderos
The original Durango movie set – where films were shot starting in 1954 with Robert Wagner’s White Feather – lies 2km north of Villa del Oeste in the dusty village of CHUPADEROS, preserved since 2012 as the Set Cinematográfico de Chupaderos. Villagers had pretty much taken over the faux Wild West main street, but thanks to government funds it now offers elaborate cowboy shows by professional actors.
PaquiméThe intriguing ruins of PAQUIMÉ are the most significant, and certainly the most thought-provoking, remains of a sophisticated civilization in northern Mexico. Originally home to an agricultural community and comprising simple adobe houses (similar to those found in Arizona and New Mexico), it became heavily influenced by Mesoamerican, probably Toltec, culture. Whether this was the result of conquest or, more likely, trade, is uncertain, but from around 1000 to 1200 AD, Paquimé flourished. Pyramids and ball-courts were constructed, and the surrounding land was irrigated by an advanced system of canals. At the same time local craftsmen were trading with points both south and north, producing a wide variety of elaborate ornaments and pottery. Among the finds at the site (many of them are now in the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City) have been cages that held exotic imported birds, whose feathers were used in making ornaments; necklaces made from turquoise, semiprecious stones and shells obtained from the Sea of Cortez; and other objects of copper, bone, jade and mother-of-pearl.
Much must have been destroyed when the site was attacked, burned and abandoned around 1340 – either by a marauding nomadic tribe, such as the Apache, or in the course of a more local rebellion. Either way, Paquimé was not inhabited again, its people leaving their already depleted trade for the greater safety of the sierras. When excavation began in the late 1950s, there were only a few low hills and banks where walls had been, but by piecing together evidence archeologists have partly reconstructed the adobe houses – the largest of which have as many as fifty interconnecting rooms around an open courtyard or ceremonial centre. The foundations of the houses, which were originally two or three storeys high, have been reconstructed to waist height, with an occasional standing wall giving some idea of scale.
Museo de las Culturas del Norte
To fully appreciate the sophistication of this civilization, first visit the Museo de las Culturas del Norte, a beautifully laid-out, if thinly stocked museum, architecturally designed to mimic the ruins of the defence towers that once stood on the site. Inside you’ll find a large model of how Paquimé must have looked, interactive touch-screen consoles with commentary in Spanish and English and intelligent displays of artefacts. Modern examples of finds from the surrounding area – drums, dolls in native costume, ceramics and ceremonial masks – compete with Paquimé objects, notably striking pottery, often anthropomorphic vessels decorated in geometric patterns of red, black and brown on a white or cream background.
- Ciudad Juárez
No one really knows why the tradition started, but Parral is lauded all over Mexico for its old-fashioned milk sweets, addictive dulces de leche made with coconut, apricots, pecans, peanuts, hazelnuts and pineapples. Sample the wicked treats at Dulcería La Gota de Miel, 20 de Noviembre 51 (daily 10am–7pm;
627 522 1217), the shop founded in 1932 by Don Pablito, the acknowledged godfather of Parral’s modern sweet industry.