It’s that time of year to celebrate the scary, the creepy, and the eerie. And there is no better ghost town in North, Central, or South America than Real de Catorce in Mexico.
Located high up in the Sierra de Catorce mountains, Real de Catorce had a grisly start: Always considered the home of sacred spirits by the Chichimeca and Huichol people, it was named after the 14 Spanish soldiers killed trying to establish the town by local Chichimeca warriors in the 18th century. Despite indigenous opposition, the town was finally settled and for 100 years thrived in the silver mining industry. But in the late 19th century, the bottom dropped out of the silver market and Real de Catorce was all but abandoned.
Oh, hello, creepy ghost town.
But despite only several people living in the town year round, the lure still continues, and twice a year, the town swells with religious pilgrims. On Oct. 4, Catholics converge on the Church of Immaculate Conception to ask for miracles because, apparently, the ghosts in the town can also help.
Inside the “church of miracles,” which is surprisingly well maintained for a ghost town.
Months later, in the spring, Huichol shamans walk through miles of desert and mountains to leave religious offerings at the “Cerro Quemado,” located near the town, which is, according to their ancestral beliefs, the birthplace of their “Tatewari” (Grandfather Fire).
It is during these Huichol ceremonies that the harvest of peyote — the psychedelic cactus — takes place.
The magical buttons of peyote, hunted almost to extinction in the area.
According to my guide, Antonio del Rosal, “The desert below Real de Catorce is known for having the best peyote. The shamans will come and take the peyote, have their visions, and then go home. But now hippies come and take the peyote too, and it has become almost extinct because they take so much. Unless you are a shaman, it is illegal to take or use peyote, but people do it anyway.”
Locals say the use of peyote without proper guidance can be deadly and cite several hippies (they truly seem to hate hippies in this part of the world) who have had bad trips and ended up shipped home in a box.
But the other main visitors in the area are the ghost hunters.
Real de Catorce is said to be haunted by the ghosts of Spanish warriors, Chichimeca fighters, the (many) people who died in the mines — and the spirits of the Huichol people.
The entry tunnel to the town.
Even getting there is creepy: You enter through a long mountain tunnel and are confronted by the crumbling 18th century town. Adding to the atmosphere of deserted buildings and decay is the fog that rolls up usually at dusk and stays throughout the night.
The fog rolled up early one evening…
“There are spirits everywhere here,” one local, Juan, said. “You can feel them.”
It’s true, you can. I lasted about 20 hours before rolling out, relieved.
My ghost-hunting truck. Fun fact: When the fog rolls in, it gets freezing really fast. They say the cold and the fog are spirits entering the town.
During the day, Real de Catorce is palatable. But at night, it is unbearably creepy.
Adding to the creepiness: Statues honoring the mineworkers are placed at the entrance to the town.
On the road to the peyote fields — and my escape route.
For any ghost hunters or creep addicts, Real de Catorce is a must-go destination.
Thank you to the Muddy Boot for arranging this trip and scaring the heck out of me.
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