Below Chihuahua sprawls a vast plain, mostly agricultural, largely uninteresting and broken only occasionally by an outstretched leg of the Sierra Madre Occidental. At Jiménez the road divides; Hwy-49 heads straight down through Gómez Palacio and Torreón, while Hwy-45 curves westwards to Durango.
On the longer route, Durango is the first of the Spanish colonial towns that distinguish Mexico’s heartland, and it’s certainly the most attractive city between here and the US border. That said, it’s a good eight to ten hours on the bus from Chihuahua, so you might consider breaking the journey in Hidalgo del Parral.
Although the Sierra Madre still looms on the western horizon, the country around Durango itself is flat. Just two low hills mark out the city from the plain: the Cerro del Mercado, a giant lump of iron ore that testifies to the area’s mineral wealth, rises squat and black to the north, while to the west a climb up the Cerro de los Remedios provides a wonderful panorama over the whole city. Officially named Victoria de Durango, the city, with its nearly 550,000 inhabitants, sits between these two hills in the Valle del Guadiana. Highways 45 and 40 intersect here, making it an important transport junction between the coast and the interior cities of Torréon, Saltillo and Monterrey, but the town is worth a visit of a day or two in its own right, with beautiful colonial architecture and evocative film sets where the likes of John Wayne made movies in the 1960s. The people, too, are a charismatic and gregarious bunch whose hospitality comes as a charming respite from the north.
Durango’s fiesta, on July 8, celebrates the city’s foundation on that day in 1563 by Francisco de Ibarra. Festivities commence several days before and run right through till the fiesta of the Virgen del Refugio on July 22 – well worth going out of your way for, though rooms are booked solid.
Almost all the monuments in downtown Durango are clustered in a few streets around the Plaza de Armas and the huge covered market nearby. On the plaza itself is the Catedral Basílica Menor its two robust domed towers dwarfing the narrow facade. It’s a typical Mexican church in every way: externally imposing, weighty and Baroque, with a magnificent setting overlooking the plaza, but the interior is ultimately disappointing – dim and uninspired by comparison. Much better is the opulent collection of religious art and historical artefacts within the cathedral’s Museo de Art Sacro; enter on Negrete, behind the cathedral.