Catorce’s sights are soon exhausted, but you could spend days exploring the surrounding mountains, visiting ruins, or heading downhill to the altiplano (high plain) of the desert below. If you don’t fancy the exercise, you’ll see plenty of ageing US army jeeps, known here as “jeeps Willys”, shuttling around the area. Negotiate the price before setting off.
One of the most relaxing ways to go is on horseback: horses are usually available around Plaza Hidalgo and in front of the Mesón de la Abundancia, from where guides will take you out across the hills, perhaps visiting the Huichol ceremonial site of Cerro Quemado, though this can seem unpleasantly voyeuristic if any Huichol are around.
For short hikes, the best nearby destination is the Pueblo Fantasmo “Ghost Town,” extensive mine ruins reached in an hour or so by following the winding track uphill, just to the left of the Ogarrio tunnel entrance as you face it.
The most rewarding unguided longer hike (12km one way; 3hr down, 4hr return; 850m ascent on the way back) leads downhill on Allende from Plaza Hidalgo (with the stables on your left), then forks right after 50m and follows a 4WD track towards the trackside town of Estación Catorce. You’ll soon find yourself walking among mine ruins – you’ll pass a dam built to provide water and power for the mines, and the Socavón de Purísima, a tall chimney from one of the smelters. After about an hour you get to the small village of Los Catorces, and beyond its cemetery, a second settlement known as Santa Cruz de Carretas (about 2hr from Real).
At this point, you’ve already experienced the best of the hike, but it is possible to continue to Estación Catorce, an hour further on. If the idea of hiking back seems too daunting, try flagging down the occasional vehicle, and be prepared to pay for your ride. Estación Catorce itself is not a place to linger, though if you get stuck, there are a couple of fleapit hotels and places to eat, located where buses depart, on the scruffy square by the rail tracks. Apart from local services to Wadley (at 10.30am, 4pm and perhaps a couple of others; 20min), most buses head to San Tiburcio where you can change for Saltillo and Zacatecas.