Our group of 8 just returned from a 7 day hiking adventure in the Sierra Norte mountains outside of Oaxaca that was customized for us by Expediciones Sierra Norte. The communities we visited consisted of 6 small villages of indigenous Zapotec descendants who had banded together to create an eco-tourism experience in their 29,000 hectacres high up in the mountains. It was a wonderful experience at an exceptional price given the current dollar-to-peso exchange rate. Not only did we hike each day, but we signed up for a whole series of other activities offered a la carte on the trip from chocolate making demonstration, a visit to a sustainable farm, description and demonstration by a local healer of medicinal plants and traditional healing techniques, tamale and tortilla making class, a trout farm for dinner, and a not-to-be-missed Temescal (traditional cleansing/massage/sauna-like experience) at the end hike.
The hikes through predominantly pine and oak forests are not terribly long for folks in reasonable shape, but altitudes range from 6000 ft to a high of 11,000 ft (to see the sun rise above the clouds). If you’re not used to those altitudes, just take your time, catch your breath, and continue on. There’s plenty of time to get to the next village. We were completely off the grid for 5 days with no cell phone coverage or wi-fi. It was a delight to relax and wake to the sounds of animals . . no cars, airplanes, or noisy streets.
Each village had a number of cabins for exclusive use of their visitors. The cabins were clean, had electricity, a fireplace, beds with plenty of blankets (needed at the higher elevations) and on-demand water heaters (which mostly worked). Three full meals were provided as part of our package and tasty local dishes were prepared by villagers doing their community service.
The logistics were amazing. Everything worked out on time and our bags were transferred by vehicle from village to village, requiring us to only carry a daypack with snacks, raincoat (just in case), and plenty of water for the day. Each village has several optional activities to choose from that ranged from those I mentioned above, to zip lines, horseback riding, mountain biking, and more. If you’d rather just relax, there are hammocks at most cabins for a quiet afternoon swaying in the breeze.
Each day was more amazing than the previous, and we would look at each other and marvel at how much value we got with our package. We also marveled at how few people seem to know about this amazing experience since we only saw a few other people on the trails.
Although you can hike on your own on the marked trails, we recommend that at a minimum, you hire a local guide. Although they only speak Spanish, they are familiar with local plants and landmarks, and more importantly, can guide you on unmarked trails that are even better than the marked path. We also highly recommend hiring an English speaking translator. We were very fortunate to be assigned a young man named Celestino Mendez who added a whole new dimension of customs, history, biology, and Zapotec culture that we would have completely missed without his insights.
All I can say in conclusion is don’t miss this opportunity when in Oaxaca. Expediciones Sierra Norte is administered by the local Pueblos Mancomunados communal group of villages and all hiking and activity fees go directly back to support those villages. They are more than willing to work on a customized itinerary of hikes and activities for however many of days you’d like. There are other third party tours that provide package tours to the area and many work with the Pueblos Mancomunados to the benefit of the people, but I don’t know if the financial benefits are as great as working with the community directly through that community run organization.
Truly an EXCEPTIONAL experience and one not to be missed.
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