The little-known Mexican town of Malinalco is an oasis of peace of peace and history — and perhaps the next San Miguel de Allende
By Laurence Iliff
MALINALCO, Mexico — On my journey through the less-populated mountainous region of the state of Mexico that abuts the nation’s capital, I quickly became aware of leaving 18 million people behind.
Cars were few, the vegetation was thick and green, and the bus was moving quickly through the countryside, stopping only for anybody with a few pesos who needed a ride.
What I couldn’t yet fathom was how this led toward anywhere worth going to, especially since my search was for some corner of tranquillity where walking was the principal means of transportation but there were enough creature comforts for a good night’s sleep and some Internet surfing.
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I was already worried about finding an ATM and at that moment in the careening bus eventually hooking up with a restroom. The bus dropped me in Tenancingo, a gray, middle-size town.
A taxi ride finally got me to where I was bound: Malinalco, dubbed by some as the new San Miguel de Allende. San Miguel was also once a quiet getaway before it was discovered first by American and Canadian retirees and now by weekend hipsters from Mexico City and elsewhere.
There are a number of hotels in Malinalco of varying levels of comfort, but if you can swing $150 a night, stay at the Casa Mora, where the artist owner, Raul Mora, personally cares for guests. He was asleep when I arrived really late, but a gentlemanly caretaker was waiting for me.
Casa Mora can be best appreciated in the daytime, with the wonderful mountain views, garden sitting areas, swimming pool and million small details.
The rooms, such as mine called “Impressionism,” are decorated with Mora’s paintings. I know little about the subject, but I found myself looking at them again and again.
The old hacienda-style home has a homey living room containing the lodging’s only television, but there is Internet service in the rooms, and food and drinks can easily be arranged. A hearty breakfast is included in the price.
Easy as it might be to just hang at the hacienda, there is a very cool town out there with deep Indian cultural roots and sites to explore, including Aztec ruins.
I walked to downtown, which is liveliest on weekends when there’s an outdoor market and the best restaurants are open. The restaurant Las Palomas is the best known for Mexican food and trout, a locally produced specialty.
The Augustinian monastery is a grand sight, with carefully preserved frescoes and a towering grandeur apart from being just a cool place to walk around.
But save some energy. Getting to the Aztec ruins — mostly a temple carved directly into stone — is a good hike, and carrying water is recommended. So is identification.
This has never happened to me during 18 years in Mexico, but the park attendant insisted I sign in and provide identification, which was back in my room. I had to leave without seeing the ruins.
Malinalco is divided into nine barrios (neighborhoods), each with its own church. The streets are rustic, the houses modest and colorful, and the taxis are also cheap once you’ve done enough walking and are ready for a beer downtown.
Malinalco goes to sleep early. Guests planning to enjoy the spacious Casa Mora rooms with a book or a laptop into the night should stock up in advance on refreshments and munchies.
There’s always a debate in these special corners of Mexico on whether to promote tourism or not, since it can change the place forever. But Malinalco doesn’t seem to have to worry about that. It’s still far enough from main tourist routes to keep many visitors away and too quiet for most.
And, depending on your viewpoint, there are towns such as San Miguel de Allende that while now bigger and louder, are also more interesting to a new crowd of people who want to party a little.
For now, Malinalco deserves its reputation as a place to re-energize, far from the madding crowd.