A Variety of Attractions in Santa Catarina Lachatao, Mexico

Santa Catarina Lachatao is a municipality in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, that has recognized the economic and environmental benefits of its location in the lush Sierra Norte mountain range (also known as Sierra Juárez).

A Variety of Attractions in Santa Catarina Lachatao, Mexico
Experience a thrilling adventure by walking across the suspension bridge at Santa Catarina Lachatao in Oaxaca. Credit: Te Invito a Oaxaca

Convinced that the exploitation of its natural resources is not the solution to the sustainability of the region, this pre-Hispanic town near the sacred Cerro del Jaguar reactivates its economy with national and foreign visitors eager to experience rural tourism.

Of Zapotec origin and proud of having rejected the Mexican domination, Santa Catarina Lachatao is a town located in the green mountains of the Sierra Norte in the state of Oaxaca, also known as Sierra Juárez, which decided to exploit its ecotourism potential and not its valuable natural resources.

They opted to protect their water, air, soil, forest, and population health four years ago by opposing the exploitation of two mines due to the pollution problems they cause.

Despite its 1,059 inhabitants, the name of this millenary community gives a sense of identity and belonging to the Zapotec groups of the Sierra Juárez, says Óscar Martínez Galindo, advisor for the aesthetic part of the Santa Catarina Lachatao Tourism Project.

Located at 2100 meters above sea level, Lachatao is an area considered sacred by the ancient Zapotecs, who called it Danibetzé or Cerro del Jaguar, whose descendants come on pilgrimage to this place to make petitions to their ancient deities, and is the only community in the sierra to which the Mexica conquerors, around the year 1300 of our era, respected the original Zapotec name.

Lachatao has two possible meanings: latchi, the original word meaning plain, and tao, which translates as sacred. It could also mean sacred space, although Zapotec cannot be translated literally because it expresses concepts, explains Martínez Galindo, adding that another meaning would be: Latchi, heart, and Tao, the intangible, the immeasurable, the sacred.

When the Spaniards arrived in the area, the Cerro del Jaguar was known by the native population as Xiayetza, or Cerro del Rayo, because Cosijo is the God of Lightning for the Zapotecs.

The Cerro del Jaguar contains a pre-Hispanic monumental structure destined for astronomical observation, strategically to watch over all the trails, consisting of a pyramid, three patios, and terraces, in whose construction some fifteen thousand people would have worked.

A variety of attractions in Santa Catarina Lachatao

An agricultural community with crops of beans, peas, wheat, and corn, a grain catalogued as one of the best in Mexico and one of the oldest in the country. An old irrigation system in the shape of a snail let water flow in a balanced way, making the areas where crops were grown moist.

Lachatao is located 55 kilometers from the center of the city of Oaxaca, which can be reached by bus, private vehicle, or bicycle, a popular activity among adventure tourism lovers who arrive at the atrium of the church of Santa Catarina Mártir de Alejandría.

The church of the late XVI century, built by Dominicans and Franciscans, is one of the attractions for the population that celebrates its Patron Saint on November 25, although they start on the 23rd and during three days they attend to more than a thousand visitors, during which time they also hold a basketball tournament, a marimba contest, and the participation of four music bands from different towns, in addition to various cultural activities.

Lachatao has a small but very well-mounted museum room that is worth visiting for the pieces on display, such as the pre-Hispanic urns found in Cerro del Jaguar, baroque style paintings, altarpiece ornaments, and mining carts, among others, since, after the Conquest, the Spaniards exploited 300 gold and silver mines in this area.

The tourism project is committed to spreading the town's history through concerts, thematic tours of flora, fauna, and mountains with archaeological remains, ecotourism in general, rappel in a mine, and a visit to the former hacienda of Cinco Seores, where Margarita Maza, wife of President Benito Juarez, stayed.

Other activities include camping, horseback riding, and bird watching, of which 150 species have been recorded. There are also ten duplex cabins with fireplaces that are built into the side of a mountain and have amazing views of the town.

Many of the ancient stone fences in the area have a specific design in some rocks with Olmec iconography; traces that refer to the famous Nasca Lines of Peru. "The grandparents traced the roads, leaving us dog heads, jaguar heads, human faces, with symbolism," assures the consultant.