The capital of the largest state in the republic, CHIHUAHUA was the favourite home of Mexican folk hero Pancho Villa. It’s also been the scene of some crucial episodes in Mexico’s history, not least the execution of Miguel Hidalgo in 1811. Today it’s a sprawling, workaday city of 900,000, but the colonial centre boasts several fine museums and is sprinkled with grandiose nineteenth-century mansions, built when silver brought wealth to the region’s landowning class. This is also vaquero heartland, and one of the best places in the country to look for cowboy boots: you’re spoilt for choice in the centre, especially in the blocks bounded by Calle 4, Juárez, Victoria and Ocampo. Incidentally, you’re unlikely to see many of the little bug-eyed dogs here, said to have been discovered in the state in the 1850s – though in the summer months you will see over thirty multicoloured chihuahua sculptures scattered around town as part of the annual “Dog Parade”.
Chihuahua’s premier sight, the Museo Casa de Villa, is 2km east of the centre. This enormous mansion was built by Pancho Villa in the early twentieth century (though he only spent time here in 1914, when governor of the state) and inhabited, until her death in 1981, by Villa’s “official” widow Doña Luz Corral (there were allegedly many others); it has now been taken over by the Mexican army. The collection is a fascinating mix of weapons, war plans and personal mementos, including the bullet-riddled Dodge in which Villa was assassinated in 1923. Look out for Villa’s incredibly elaborate saddles and a grimly comical recruitment poster of 1915, urging “gringos” to head south and ride with Villa for “gold and glory”. Quite apart from the campaign memories, the superbly preserved old bedrooms and bathrooms, richly decorated with florid murals and Spanish floor tiles, give an interesting insight into wealthy Mexican life in the early 1900s.