In southern Mexico, nestled between ranges of volcanic mountains, the town of Catemaco springs to life every March with a spectacle of witchcraft, sorcery and merriment. The Noche de Brujas—“Night of the witches”—dates back to the precolonial era, drawing traditional healers, shamans, prophets and fortune-tellers from all over Mexico to gather for a legendary all-night festival, during which participants invoke a mass cleansing to alleviate the previous year’s negative energies. Adventurous tourists join in on the fun of Noche de Brujas, some just to witness the spectacle, others daring to get involved.
The adorable avenues and landscapes of pristine Catemaco are supercharged with mysticism on a regular day, but during Noche de Brujas the sense is nearly palpable. Streets are crowded year-round with vendors selling trinkets, magical potions and healings. Tourists encounter spiritualists and sorcerers in every nook and cranny, advertising traditional remedies for just about any malady you can think of. The culebreros (snake bite healers) are renowned due to the region’s abundance of venomous snakes, but unless you’ve recently come across an asp or a cobra, consider hiring a yorbatero (massage healer) instead for a soothing massage. Follow the signs to dwellings of prominent witches. Hire a witch for a limpia—a spiritual cleaning; better yet, unless your soul is afflicted with a curse, have the bruja cast one on someone else in your party!
When the Noche de Brujas is over, stay a few extra days to catch a ferry to the Monkey Islands, where abandoned research monkeys from Thailand run free. Take a morning stroll down the Malecon and witness the 600 species of birds come to life as the sun breaks on the volcanic horizon. Unless you're a risk taker who craves confrontation, avoid taking snapshots of the brujos; they hate photographs.
Noche de Brujas festival kicks off the first Thursday night of every March and lasts well into Friday. Arrive a few days early and stay through the weekend to enjoy all the region has to offer. The best way to get there is to fly into Veracruz City and catch the bus to Catemaco, which is about 100 miles to the south.
Odds n' Ends
Portions of the films Apocalypto (2006) and Medicine Man (1992) were filmed in the Catemaco vicinity. Don’t miss the opportunity to dine on rabbit on the Catemaco carretera. Or if you’re even more daring, hit up one of the curbside vendors for a Tegogolo cocktail. According to legend, the freshwater snail concoction is more effective than Viagra, and the sauce is said to be lethal to insects.
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