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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Off the beaten path, Tekax is more than just another new Magical Town

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Tekax and its largest church. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

As of late June, the town of Tekax (along with Espita and Motul) has been named one of Yucatán’s three newest Pueblos Magicos, or Magical Towns

The road connecting Tekax with Oxkutzcab is lovely, with plentiful vegetation offering much-needed shade. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The hope, at least in theory, is that this designation will attract more tourists to Tekax and southern Yucatán in general, which is far from being a tourist hotspot of the likes of Mérida, Valladolid, or Chichén Itzá.

But upon arrival in Tekak during a recent trip, no “Pueblo Magico” signs were visible, and tourist services were nowhere to be found.

Tekax’s colorful streets surround its Centro. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

It’s not like Tekax has nothing to offer. On the contrary, this tiny community of around 25,000 is charming and full of interesting spots to check out, to say nothing of the surrounding area. 

San Luis Rey Chapel on the outskirts of Tekax, in the tiny community of Tixcuytún, is said by locals to be the oldest colonial construction in the area. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Despite the lack of any “Pueblo Magico” imagery, it’s evident that Tekax has made considerable efforts to beautify itself and keep its streets very clean.

A colorful mural decorates the back of a section of city hall and leads down a walking street full of more murals. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
The scenes depicted in Tekax’s murals reference its Mayan heritage, wildlife, and the production of honey and other goods. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Like practically all towns in Yucatán, Tekax’s center serves as the community’s primary hub, flanked by its church, market, and municipal hall. 

The heart-shaped wicker ornament with Tekax’s main church in the background is perfect for selfies. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Like the nearby city of Oxkutzcab (try saying that fast three times), Tekax is known for producing large amounts of fruit, including pineapples, watermelons, avocadoes, pitaya, and the exotic-looking saramuyo, known in English for some reason as sugar apple. Though, of course, the region also produces an extraordinary amount of citrus, especially limes and oranges. 

Native to the Yucatán, the saramuyo, or sugar apple, is very sweet and has high levels of Vitamin C and iron. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The facade of Tekax’s city hall is not particularly ostentatious, but if you look closely, right below the clock at its top, it says H. Ayuntamiento Socialista de 1926. This is a decade in which Socialist fervor peaked in Yucatán and across México. 

The city’s main church and former convent, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, was first erected way back in 1564, though its current configuration dates closer to the 1700s. Like virtually all large constructions dating to this period, it was erected using materials from far more ancient Maya structures. 

Saint John the Baptist in Tekax was built by the Franciscan order, a fact that is well attested to by architectural features such as its large exposed stone entrance and decorative crests. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

More interesting still is the temple chapel of La Ermita de San Diego de Alcalá, built atop a large hill, which makes it resemble a miniature version of Cholula

The hike uphill to the chapel is quite steep, so make sure to bring some good shoes and tread carefully. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

According to local legend, the temple was built after an image of Saint Diego of Alcalá, which is usually housed inside the town’s main church, suddenly appeared atop a steep hill, only to miraculously disappear and reappear in its original location moments later. 

The Chapel of San Diego offers some gorgeous panoramic views of the city and even has a nice little lookout that serves as a picnic area. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

During antiquity, Tekax belonged to the lands controlled by the Tutul Xiu dynasty, who built a great many cities, including Uxmal and Kabah. However, by the time of the arrival of the Spanish, the main center of power in the region was Maní, as even Mayapan appears to have been mostly abandoned by this point. 

Ruins atop a hill in the nearby Maya city of Chacmultún, one of the most underrated in the entire state. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

As was the custom of the Spanish, members of the ruling dynasty were allowed to oversee governorship over their old domains as long as they took Spanish names, converted to Catholicism, and collected enough tributes from the locals. 

A 16th-century Illustration of the burning of Maya idols and texts in Southern Yucatán by members of the Franciscan order. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yuctán Magazine

During our visit, the main city market was closed due to a renovation project, so most merchants were offering to sell their wares and produce out of the back of trucks. It will certainly be interesting to see how this new market evolves.

Delicious pineapples and watermelons seem to be for sale everywhere you turn in Tekax. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Just a mile or so out of town lay the Grutas Chocantes, a network of particularly interesting caves featuring unique crystal formations. Other activities, such as rappelling and deep cave spelunking, are offered but require a degree of experience to be enjoyed safely. 

Basic tours inside the caves descend over 200 feet and take nearly hours to complete, while the “extreme tour” goes much deeper and takes about seven hours to complete. Photo: Courtesy

Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism leads the Pueblos Mágicos initiative with other federal and state agencies. To be on their list indicates a “magical” experience for visitors and qualifies local governments for federal funds. Locals also get training and guidance in welcoming tourists. 

A statue depicts one of Tekax’s favorite sons, the trovador Ricardo Palmerín. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

But in recent years, the program has come under fire, with locals accusing the government of not following through on their promises and leaving the communities high and dry.

The beachfront town of Sisal, which was named a Pueblo Magico in 2020, now says it wants nothing to do with the program, as it has only increased real estate speculation, taxes, and the cost of living. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Pueblo Magico or not, Tekax is worth a visit, especially for anyone looking for a taste of authentic Yucatán off the beaten path. 

A globe showing only the Yucatán Peninsula, which, if accurate, would make Tekax the center of the world, or at least extremely near it. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

For reasons that are not entirely clear, Tekax is known in Yucatán as “La Sultana de la Sierra,” which translates as “The Sultan of the Mountains,” which is a bit odd for several reasons.

The entrance to Tekax proudly welcomes you to  “La Sultana de la Sierra.” Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine 

If you go

Public transportation from Mérida to Tekax is available, but going by car is much preferable as it is much closer and will allow you to explore other surrounding communities and attractions. 

Map of Tekax and the surrounding region, featuring Chacmultún and the Grutas Chocantes. Map: Google

As Tekax is just over two hours away from Mérida by car and there is quite a bit to see in the region, so spending the night is a good idea. The town has several little hotels, many of which have amenities like pools and air conditioning, a real necessity from April to October when temperatures soar.

Booking a hotel with a pool and air conditioning is rarely regretted in Yucatán. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy, and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway.
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