This post is long overdue and has been holding up my remaining posts for this leg. We had such an amazing and intense experience in Taxco that I’ve been reluctant to write about it. It seems impossible to capture with words, but I do want to record and share the experience we had.
The unique thing about Semana Santa in Taxco is their series of processions featuring groups of men called penitentes who carry out various types of penance. Rather than try to explain this tradition myself, here is a short but highly informative wikipedia article about it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Week_in_Taxco. I’ll spend the rest of this post sharing our experience with enough detail to help others make the trip in the future.
Arrival by Bus and Christ Statue
I booked our bus tickets on Estrella de Oro about a month in advance knowing that Semana Santa (Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Easter) is a very busy travel time in Mexico. We took an early morning Uber to the south bus station at Taxquena in Mexico City. Taxquena is a huge bus station so I asked at the Estrella counter which exit we’d go through. I’m glad we got there plenty early to figure it all out.
The bus ride was around three hours long, but the bus was comfortable.
When we arrived in Taxco, I figured the best thing to do first would be to take a taxi up to the Christ statue that overlooks the city, since we’d have several hours before we could check into our hotel. One of the things Taxco is famous for is having lots of Volkswagen Beetles, including many of its white taxis. We saw a couple right away at the bus station but the taxi driver we talked to had a normal small sedan, which was fine. He offered a set price of 200 pesos to take us up to the statue, wait 20 minutes for us, and then bring us to the zocalo (city center, which is where our hotel was). The price (200 pesos is about $11) seemed more than fair.
The roads up to the Christ statue are incredibly narrow and we felt lucky our taxi driver seemed so competent (especially on the way down). Much of it was on two-way streets that were about the width of a single car so there was lots of maneuvering when another car was coming the opposite way. We saw very few SUVs or trucks in Taxco, for good reason!
The Christ statue and view over Taxco were both impressive. We took lots of photos and then enjoyed the even-more-treacherous drive down into the city. The zocalo was already pretty crowded before noon but we found a shady bench to eat the picnic I packed for us. After lunch we visited the impressive Santa Prisca cathedral on the square, then enjoyed a sweet cold treat.
Our hotel was just a few minutes’ walk away from the square and when we stopped by to try to drop off our backpacks we were able to check in early. It was a Best Western and worked out great for our one night in Taxco (review below). We rested in the room for a while and then went out in the late afternoon to explore the town and enjoy a mini-bar crawl.
The main event, the evening Semana Santa processional, wouldn’t start until late evening so we knew we had to pace ourselves and reserve our energy. We paused for showers and a brief rest and then had a forgettable meal at a restaurant overlooking the Plazuela San Juan, though it was an opportunity to try pink mole for the first time. After a few drinks we decided to check out the multitude of silver markets that Taxco is also famous for. As an old mining town, silver is ubiquitous and I couldn’t even guess how many silver jewelry dealers there are in town. We visited a couple of markets and Chad bought me a silver globe on a delicate chain to commemorate our trip. We also started our quest to find a silver VW Beetle for Chad’s mom, who is a fan of those cars. You’d think it’d be easy since Taxco is known for silver and Beetles, but we didn’t find what we were looking for.
Wednesday Night Procession
Finally it was time to make our way to Capilla de San Nicolás where the procession would start (I learned this from online research). What I found online said it would begin at 8 p.m. but we learned when we got there that the starting time was actually 9 p.m. So we had quite a lot of time to spend.
There weren’t any obvious bars around but we noticed on Google maps a place marked as a cantina and decided to try it. As we were walking up the stairs, we chatted with a man and confirmed it was a bar. And, he said, it had a “buena vista” (nice view). The place looked to be a pool hall but was practically empty other than a bunch of men in matching shirts neither drinking nor playing pool. The man we walked in with showed us to a counter where we were able to buy a couple cans of beer. We were encouraged to bring chairs over to the railing overlooking the two churches outside where the procession would go by. We were made to feel very welcome but it all felt a little strange.
At 8:30, all the men in matching shirts left together and we speculated they were part of the procession. We knew we were right when we saw them just below, working together to prepare several penitentes by tying the bundles of thorny sticks to their backs, right below us. We were able to watch the whole process and were so impressed by their care and precision. The man who had spoken to us on the stairs seemed to be a leader of the group, which was called (we saw on their shirts) “Hermandad del Señor de la Salvación” (brotherhood of the lord of salvation). I still can’t get over how kind and welcoming they were in the midst of this very big event.
We watched the procession from the cantina, which really was a great view. By the time the procession began, a few other people had come up to watch from the other windows, so we felt less strange. We also learned that the churches across the street were the start of that night’s procession, which takes two hours to make its full round. So we were able to see it much sooner than the people waiting in the zocalo. We took a number of photos and videos, including of the penitentes, but I still don’t know how I feel about sharing them so I’m skipping them for now and will just share some general shots.
The next day we had a morning walk and went to see the Garden of Gethsemane display outside Santa Prisca. We also had the opportunity to go inside the chapel at the Ex-convento de San Bernardino de Siena, where we saw one of the Jesus statues that was carried in the processional. After our walk, we picked up some coffee and Mexican pastries to enjoy in our room before we’d have to check out.
In the afternoon, we went to the zocalo and were surprised to see another procession in progress. This one wasn’t nearly as large as the prior nights, but still featured plenty of penitentes. This time the streets were burning hot from the sun and they were all still barefoot. I imagine carrying the thorn bundles is even more difficult in the heat.
We also took the time to visit the Casa Humboldt Museum of Religious Art, which was very worthwhile. The displays about area church art was interesting and in the basement that had an exhibit about the penitentes. The historic building itself was also interesting and we enjoyed its architecture.
After the museum, we headed down to a restaurant I’d picked out for lunch called 1910 Restaurante. We passed the Santuario de la Santa Veracruz, another beautiful church and procession stop, along the way. There was a lot of activity outside the church so we decided to check it out. Inside, we saw the people were preparing the pasos (the platforms they carry in the processions, primarily with the crucifixion statues). It was a festive scene with people playing music and greeting one another.
As we walked down to the restaurant on the corner, we saw trucks arriving with more materials for the pasos. We were able to watch several of these from the restaurant window, which was fun. The different groups wore different colors, almost like a team. The restaurant also proved to be a great choice because we had some of the best chilaquiles we’ve eaten there.
After lunch, we walked around a little more and did some more silver shopping. We finally succeeded in finding the kind of VW Beetle pendant Chad wanted for his mom (one that looked like a little Monopoly piece) and at the same market found a bird pendant for my mom. That gave us a little head start on our Mother’s Day shopping and felt like worthwhile souvenirs to share.
Finally we picked up our backpacks and walked down to the bus station to return to Mexico City. It was a long walk but mostly downhill. We had plenty of time to relax before getting on the bus and then took another Uber from the bus station back to our apartment.
Our overnight trip to Taxco was a long but great two days and I highly recommend making a Semana Santa visit there. I will never forget our experience.
Review of Best Western Taxco – We stayed one night at this hotel in order to see Taxco’s famous Semana Santa activities. The hotel has a perfect location very close to the center and main cathedral. The room was very clean and spacious with a nice window looking out at the street. It was downstairs from the lobby so nice and cool – we didn’t need the AC most of the time, just right before bed. The front desk staff was very friendly. The next day when we checked out they securely held our luggage for us until it was time to catch our bus. They even gave us a little gift parting gift when we checked out, a Taxco keychain. It was a great stay and we’d recommend this Best Western to anyone.