During our stay in Oaxaca City, the arrival of my irregular colposcopy results meant we were Oaxaca-bound for more than two weeks, rather than the planned four days. This put a slight spanner in the works since not only were we only on the road for two weeks, but we also had much to do and see in Mexico, it set us back a bit, budget-wise.
As strange as it sounds, if I didn’t have to visit the doctor, I don’t think we would have made it to the wonder that is San Jose Del Pacífico, or as we call it, San José Del Magnífico. And maybe it was a good thing I had to return to Oaxaca, as we probably wouldn’t have left! I’d also like to point out that I don’t mean to sound in any way ungrateful as there are plenty of worse places to be “stuck” but let’s just say that I never knew you could suffer from cabin fever while in a city.
The problem was that we had ticked all the ‘Oaxaca City’ boxes and since we had to stay close to the doctor, I began looking at other potential places to visit outside the city. It’s usual for travellers who visit Oaxaca to detour towards the “untouched” coastline. We hear it’s astoundingly beautiful. I wanted in.
But the 7-hour bus journey, the unpredictable doctor visits, the travel costs involved and the fact I had to steer clear of swimming meant it wasn’t feasible to just take off to live life by the beach. Despite what my heart wanted.
It wasn’t until a friend’s recommendation jolted my brain that I had the ultimate light bulb moment. Hannah’s echoed words of “town in the clouds”, “the best hot chocolate you will ever taste” and “chilled vibes” tormented me, so I tormented Luke as per usual and before we knew it we were online searching about San José Del Pacífico. (THANK YOU HANNAH!)
Our curiosity grew even hungrier as we found very little information online about how to get there, how much it would cost, and the fact that we couldn’t find any website or links to accommodation. Even Booking.com kept quiet and we realised the only thing to do was to pack our bags, and head to the local tourist office to find the nearest bus.
Now, when you mention the town’s name you are somewhat judged, although we had no idea at the time. We soon discovered San Jose Del Pacífico was “the mushroom capital of Mexico.” And we’re not talking the sautéed-with-your-steak kind. Don’t fret; you aren’t walking into a scene from Trainspotting here.
What you are arriving at is a tiny indigenous hillside town, beautifully located, 8000 ft high up on the mountains. So high, you sit in the clouds. Literally.
The reason mushrooms are quite popular here is due to the local ceremonies. It is typical for a Shaman to use this as part of their healing ritual, a way of connecting with their God. Sure, aren’t they grown from Pacha Mama (Mother Nature) herself, so they are seen as sacred here and, unlike where your mind goes, they are not abused? It’s also the reason why you will see bright-coloured mushrooms painted across the local stores and why you can purchase them easily.
But that wasn’t for us. All we wanted was to leave the city buzz for a few nights on Cloud 9. To live in a world that floats in the sky, without hallucinogens. We got more than we bargained for. We’re lucky like that.
My first and foremost piece of advice before you head for this hidden beauty is to pack a jacket or prepare to wear layers upon layers of clothes. The minute the day disappears, it gets cold up there. Honestly, be prepared.
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From Oaxaca to San José Del Pacífico
So, with our bags packed and an excited spring in our step, we headed towards the tourist information booth located in the Zócalo to find out how and when we could go. We were told the next collectivo (shared mini-van) was leaving within the hour. Fate.
As mentioned above, there is little information available on how to get the bus to San José Del Pacífico from Oaxaca City, so let us make this as simple as we can for you:
- Head for the bus company called Eclipse which is located on Armenta y López 504, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca. You won’t miss the small group of drivers hanging outside, nor the large bus timetable and signs plastered on the doorframe.
- The collectivo leaves for San José Del Pacífico every 45 minutes and costs 95 MXN (€4.75) each way. There is no need to pre-book, show up and pay at arrival.
San José Del Pacífico Bus Timetable
Strap up your bag! If you have yet to use a collectivo, you might be surprised to learn that your backpack will be strapped to the top of the van. So tuck in all handles, remove anything loose and be sure to bring any items you might need in the vehicle with you. Don’t worry, your bag is perfectly safe, strapped in nice and tight and worst case, might get a little dusty.
The drive itself takes about 3-3.5 hours and it is such an enjoyable journey. The air-conditioned minivan is extremely comfortable and the views alone will make those hours fly by. After two hours, there is a pit stop in a local town called Mihuacan, where you can stock up on water, and some snacks. There is also a bathroom available for 3MXN.
Collectivo from Oaxaca to San Jose del Pacifico
Once off the highway, you will find yourself catching flies as the mountainous twists and turns of San José Del Pacífico approach and the collectivo climbs its way into heaven. Upon arrival, the van stops outside at a local restaurant located on the one (small) main road that runs through the town. We’re talking tiny here. This is where you can catch the collective back to Oaxaca City, or onwards to the coast.
Accommodation in San José Del Pacífico
Where the bus drops you off, facing the main road, take the left and walk towards the hill. You can ask a local to direct you or just look up, and walk towards the number of houses situated on the mountain. You will pass a small corner shop on your left, and a small restaurant on your right.
Maybe mentally prepare yourself for this one. While it doesn’t look too daunting, the small hill turns sneakily steep and you soon realise how thin the air feels. Gasping for my breath, it was like gravity just turned on me. So much so, that it felt like someone was pulling on my backpack, making every progressive step pointless.
After what feels like an eternity but is all of five minutes, you will arrive at a divide in the road with two signs, Take the left. I’m not going to lie, it gets a little worse here but it’s so worth it. I promise!
You will be delighted at the sight of the first hostel called El Atrapado Sueño. It’s located on the corner to your right; the bad news is if you keep walking there are much cheaper hostels up ahead. Yes, I did say up. There is more “up”.
Here we were quoted 90 MXN (€4.50) per person per bed in a dorm room. Trust me when I say €9 is too expensive for a bed. They’re taking advantage of how unfit we are and how heavy our bag is, keep going. If I can do it, so can you. And remember, down is much easier so you only have to do this once. Kinda.
Pass the overly priced hostel and keep walking up the hill until you see steep steps to your left. Of course, I groaned at the thought. Steps? Are you insane? I was barely surviving flat ground here. Keep bloody going, you can do it!
Up the steps on your left-hand side is the La Cumbre Hostel fronted with a sign. You won’t miss it.
First impressions say it doesn’t look the best, but it was perfect at the price of 100 MXN (€5) for a private double room plus shared bathroom. You could fork out 300MXN (€15) to have a private bathroom but honestly, there is no need for it.
Either way, La Cumbre’s drug-den-looking graffiti bedrooms all look the same. Once you realise you somewhat have your own balcony with unbelievable mountain views and hammocks, you won’t be spending too much time in your room anyway.
The shared bathroom is spotlessly clean, with about 8 toilet cubicles and very little light at night. So bring a torch or your phone. There are showers and for a decent hot shower you will need to give a little notice and pay 20 MXN (€1). Oh, and there is no WiFi here, which is normal. Switch off and enjoy that little perk. I know I did!
The rooftop restaurant is such a nice touch. Climb up a ladder-style staircase and pinch yourself. What you have here is breakfast, lunch and dinner – all with an unforgettable view. The food itself is home-cooked and drool-worthy.
From the biggest and most stuffed Tlayudas we’ve seen, to the tastiest omelettes and chicken soup; don’t even get me started on the hot chocolate! Whatever way they make it, it’s a sweet yet slightly spicy dance party in your mouth.
I lived on these. I miss them dearly. I’ve now sworn off hot chocolate as I now know I’ll never taste any better than that. I’m pretty certain I’d walk up that tedious hill barefoot and butt naked just for a dip of the tongue.
Just a little out of town, about a 5-10 minute walk, you will find luxury accommodation in the form of cabins. We did hear the wooden beauties of Hotel Cabañas La Puesta del Sol, with a large open fire included, starting at 400MXN (€20) per night.
You can find these guys online with a simple search and they’ve cleverly taken ownership of the only website linked with this town. So don’t be fooled into thinking they’re the only accommodation available.
Casa de Catalina:
From some of the blogs we read online, the majority of travellers had discovered and stayed at Casa de Catalina. A home owned and run by one of San Jose del Pacifico’s most loved, and all for 70 MXN per night, with meals included.
Reading all the homely tales, the first thing we did upon arrival was ask for directions to this casa. Unfortunately, we were told that Casa de Catalina no longer runs as a hostel. We’re sad to say we don’t have further information than that but while rambling we did come across the house, gates locked and little life around it.
If like us you had your hopes set on staying with the famous Catalina, by all means, do ask the locals. Let us know if you have any luck!
Things To Do in San José Del Pacífico
That’s our first recommendation. We took a day and did absolutely nothing. We lazed in hammocks, stared into the landscape and enjoyed the company of fellow travellers. Some off their nut on mushrooms which was highly entertaining (but not at all uncomfortable, worrying or annoying). It was an experience in itself just to chat with them.
Chilling on the balcony, watching the sun disappear and the moon take over, we lit candles, enjoyed a sing-a-long and wowed as the clouds fell from the sky forming this thick blanket around the once clear view. As the clouds set, the black skies shine allowing the stars to sparkle. The best part was when the moon started to set amongst the clouds and we then too watched it disappear. Lads, you couldn’t write it, as ironic as that sounds.
I remember thinking to myself, how the hell will I ever explain this? How will I put this into words for the blog? How can I capture this insane natural beauty on an LCD screen? I can’t and I won’t even, though I tried. Nothing will ever do it justice. You have to see it to understand just how special this place is and exactly the reason why it will forever be the most unforgettable trip.
Laughingly, I remember patting my lower stomach, thanking that irregular colposcopy. As said it earlier and I’ll say it again, what was once a minor panic and worry became a blessing. I found my silver lining in the form of a beautiful black space hugged by the clouds.
Take a Hike:
It’ll cost you nothing yet will leave you rich. It’s also a must-do and you will be asked numerous times if you have been up “there” yet. If you think you are high above sea level now, wait until you take a trek.
As you walk out of La Cumbre take an immediate left and follow the pathway straight up. The usual applies; good walking shoes, bring lots of water and give yourself enough time to get up and back before it gets dark. There isn’t a perfectly laid trail waiting for you. While it seems like that at the start, you will find yourself pushing through the forest and guessing what way to go next.
I remember one of the guys we met at the hostel said “It’s like something from a Dr. Seuss book.” At first, we assumed he had eaten a few too many but after about 2-3 hours, we understood exactly what he meant. What starts off as a dry, beige-coloured forest becomes a thick green and colourful wonderland. When you reach the top, and you will out of pure stubbornness, you’ll enjoy a new world. Who needs mushrooms to get high when you’re already up there eh?!
Dr Suess Land in San Jose del Pacifico
On our way back down, we did get lost. Really lost. At first sight of a road, we had to awkwardly ask a local man if we could walk through his land to reach it. Of course, it was no problem. The only problem was when we realised we had a long walk back into San José Del Pacífico. How did we venture so far and why didn’t we bring sweets to leave a trail back the way we came? Have we learned nothing from fairytales?!
Get Your Shamon on With a Shaman:
OK so we didn’t get to do this one and it is a major regret. If you can, be sure to experience a Temazcal. All the guys in the hostel were raving about it and it seemed to be a once-off experience. DAMMIT!
The problem for us was, well, we did nothing on day one, and got lost up the bloody mountain on day two. So we didn’t get to pre-book one for the following and final day there. By the time we sussed it, it was too late as the majority of them take place from 10 am-12 pm. DAMMIT!
I’d recommend Googling a Temazcal as you will get first-hand experiences but basically, it’s a traditional healing method in a stone-walled sauna. A very, very, very hot, enclosed, darkened sauna with little ventilation, lots of chanting, drums and herbal tea.
We hear it’s so hot it isn’t strange to do this completely naked. Oh, and it lasts up to two hours. Be sure this is for you before you opt-in. It’s a spiritual and body cleansing ceremony, known to have many health benefits and encourage inner peace. It’s the mother of all detoxes!
Prices range from 100-150 MXN (€5-€7.50) and as mentioned, start from 10 am. You can either ask at the hostel or pop into any of the locals. You won’t miss the signs up around the town. Don’t make the mistake we did and leave this to the last minute. Book it on arrival. Lock it in and prepare to get your sweat on.
You may be offered the “real Temazcal” experience and if so, don’t think the Shaman is being a dodgy drug dealer. For an extra cost, you will get the full effects of the healing ritual, bearing in mind that even the elderly take part in this. It’s totally normal here.
Starting with the 2/3 hour Temazcal sauna experience, afterwards, you will be given mushroom tea. You can find a peaceful place in the forest or head back to your hostel wherever you prefer. The Shaman uses the mushrooms to advance the experience, assist you with finding inner peace and get in touch with your spiritual self.
For some people, this might all sound quite naff but I’ll say it again, this is a religious ceremony. We don’t think it’s weird to see people swallow a circle of dried wheat and utter “the body of Christ” every Sunday, do we?
Of course, you don’t have to take the mushrooms. It’s a choice, so don’t worry and don’t feel uncomfortable or under pressure. We met plenty of people who didn’t yet still thoroughly enjoyed their cleansing and hey, they were glowing! Personally, we wouldn’t!
Take a Stroll Around Town:
It will take all of 10 minutes to visit the tiny town, but this was a favourite of mine. You can count on one hand the bars, cafes and restaurants as you walk down the only main road. You feel so lost, it’s a newfound experience. And if you feel like checking in with the world, the main café does have WiFi so grab yourself a cuppa and log on. I’d advise otherwise. Enjoy the break!
It’s easy to chat with locals and make friends there. At one stage the local kids came up to us and asked if they could practise their English, which we loved! Such a sweet bunch of people, I hope this town is never bombarded with tourism or commercialism. Although, I doubt the locals would ever allow that!
Practising English with A San Jose del Pacifico Student
Reading this, it may seem like there is not that much to do but you will find the days fly by. We had only booked two nights yet ended up staying for three. If I didn’t have to be back at the doctor’s waiting room, I would have stayed for five! I really did love it that much here and I’ve now added Temazcal in San José Del Pacífico to my bucket list. So I have to go back and I am now counting the days until I can.
Once again, and in case you have yet to pack; San José Del Pacífico is sunny during the day; in fact, it is surprisingly hot! But as the clouds form and dusk arrives, you will feel an instant cold settle. It is also home to a beautiful sunset, moonset (never seen this before) and black skies. But it is baltic folks. Wrap up, you will even sleep in layers.
I really could write a book on this place, but what’s the point? As I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, no words will ever do it justice. Just enjoy!
Dear lovely reader…
A cheeky little note to mention that while our blog is our baby, we do this for sheer passion, and love and want to help others to travel the routes we do and in ways that we do it – the scabbiest way possible! We don’t make an income from blogging, there is no sponsored content or #ad going on with us – instead, we work to earn a very small but helpful income by providing low-cost websites, teaching English online and, being scabby!
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