The pilgrims go by the thousands to make requests of the Virgin of Juquila and to give thanks to her for interceding with their prayers. Sometimes they run (literally) through town with a police escort, other times they pass through in large groups of bicycles slowing the traffic on the highway down to a crawl but mostly they go through by bus.
When my friend Geri Anderson, a teacher of sociology, author of Oh Oaxaca! and numerous magazine articles on Mexico suggested we go to Santa Catarina Juquila and see the Sanctuary of Juquila, I jumped at the chance. With Geri at my side I knew I would be in for a learning experience.
Locals usually refer to Santa Catarina Juquila as Juquila, as I will henceforth. Juquila can be a tricky word to pronounce - who-KEY-la.
The city of Juquila has a population of a little over 6,000 and there is not much to do. Juquila is a place for pilgrims, to give thanks and make requests of the Virgin of Juquila. When in Juquila, you should visit the Sanctuary of Juquila and the market next to it, El Pedimento and, if you can, Santa María Amialtepec. You can see everything you need to see in Juquila in one day.
Seems like a stupid question but not everyone is familiar Christian beliefs, including myself, and I intend to keep the explanation simple. The Virgin of Juquila is the Virgin Mary, who at times appears in Juquila. Most Christians consider the Virgin Mary to have conceived Jesus Christ miraculously through the Holy Spirit or God without her husband's involvement. Some Christians, particularly Catholics believe in the Virgin Mary's capacity to intercede before Jesus on behalf of those who pray to her, kind of like a lawyer before a judge.
The statue of the Virgin of Juquila was brought to Mexico by a Spanish dominican friar, Jordán de Santa Catalina in 1552. The statue soon made its way to Santa María Amialtepec which is 90 minutes away from Juquila. In 1633, a fire destroyed the village of Santa María Amialtepec but the statue of the Virgin Mary miraculously survived untouched by the fire. After the fire the statue of the Virgin Mary was moved to Juquila and in 1719 was officially known as Santísima Virgen a Juquila.
The Sanctuary of Juquila or Santuario de Juquila in Spanish, is the huge Catholic church located right in the center of town. The Sanctuary of Juquila houses the 35 cm (14 inch) tall statue of the Virgin of Juquila. You can see the statue of the Virgin Mary above the altar but you can get much closer to her if go outside the church and to the back. Here there is another door and an escalator that will allow to pass within a few meters of the Virgin of Juquila. When visiting Juquila, I recommend to try to do this first as sometimes there can be huge lines and if there are, if you have a chance to come back later when the lines might be shorter. When we were there, there were no lines.
Inside the church grounds and to the right side of the church is a church operated store selling souvenirs with clearly marked and affordable prices; an area for blessings with holy water and a church operated hostel for pilgrims with some private rooms, all at very low prices. The church store and hostel are part of the town's and church's efforts to keep prices economical and fair for pilgrims.
Next to the church is a market area selling mostly religious souvenirs, definitely worth checking out.
The Sanctuary of Juquila is wheelchair friendly.
El Pedimento is about 45 minutes outside of Juquila. You can drive there (there is plenty of parking) or get a taxi there for 80 pesos (May 2017). The taxis can be found on the first road on the right side of the church. They will stop for other passengers along the way and they will let you out at the entrance of El Pedimento. You need to give yourself one to two hours to see El Pedimento and 45 minutes to get there and 45 minutes to return to Juquila.
The first time I went to el Pedimento, I raced through it like some crazed tourist on meth. That does not work here, you have to slow down and smell the roses. There is more to be noticed and to be seen here then first meets the eye.
When entering el Pedimento the first thing you will see is a small chapel. This is the traditional place to offer thanks to the Virgin Mary or perhaps request a favor. Sometimes there are long lines to enter and if there are, you might just want to walk around it and perhaps return to it later.
Many people write messages on the walls at El Pedimento and others leave posters expressing their gratitude to the Virgin Mary for her assistance. The following image is of a request asking the Virgin Mary to protect the health of his/her family.
El Pedimento has an area where one can make clay images of things that you would like the Virgin Mary help you to acquire. Most people seem to make clay cars or houses. The couple in the photo below are hoping for a baby.
Wooden crosses, of which there are thousands throughout El Pedimento, are left behind by the pilgrims.
Behind the chapel there are a large number of stairs (around 160) that lead to a small waterfall and a small area to wade around in. A great area to go if you have kids.
El Pedimento is mostly wheelchair friendly. The entrance has a dirt and gravel road but you should be able to drive up front and unload if needed. You will not be able to see the waterfall.
Santa María Amialtepec was the original home of the statue of the Virgin of Juquila. There is small church there and on the side of the church there is a small waterfall where some people see the Virgin Mary in the back of a small cave.
We tried to visit Santa María Amialtepec but were unable to. We found a truck that would take us for 500 pesos but they did not offer a price to return; 500 pesos was really an excessively high price. However, if you have a car you can drive there.
The town celebrates its saint day on the 8th of November and that would be a good time to go; I am sure there will plenty of transportation. Or maybe not.
Santa Catarina Juquila is a about two and a half hours away from Puerto Escondido. Getting there is easy and the roads are in good condition as of May 2017. Head west on Highway 200 and drive to Río Grande, about 45 minutes. About five minutes outside of Río Grande will be a clearly marked road heading to Juquila; Río Grande to Juquila takes about 90 minutes. Although Juquila is a small town, there is a gas station (Pemex). Because of the city's narrow streets, buses and large vehicles are not allowed into the city center. There are large parking areas for them on the outskirts of town.
The easiest way to get to Juquila from Puerto Escondido is by suburban. First go to Río Grande, suburbans depart every 15 minutes during the day for 40 pesos (5/17). At Río Grande's departure/arrival bus terminal, head to the suburbans that go to Juquila, up (west) the road about 10 meters along the highway. The suburban departs every half hour for 80 pesos (5/17). The ride from Puerto Escondido to Río Grande lasts about one hour and the ride from Río Grande to Juquila takes about 90 minutes.
Suburbans from Oaxaca to Juquila depart hourly during the day and take about five hours, 200 pesos (5/17).
I DO NOT recommend driving in the Río Grande area at night because of security issues (5/17).
There are multitudes of hotels in Juquila. The ones across from the Church look really tempting, certainly they would have a great view of the church. However at 8 p.m., after the doors of the church close, two different stores turn on their poor quality loud speakers and start announcing their bargain prices on toilet paper, tomatoes, etc. And there are those church bells.
We stayed at Hotel Del Carmen, Antonio Valdez s/n. Tel. 01-954-524-0004 or tel. 01-954-524-0056. They have hot water, wifi (next to the lobby) and parking. Best of all, it was quiet, clean and only two blocks from the church. A room with two twin beds was 450 pesos (5/17). This is not an advertisement; I do not know the owners or the people who work there. But I have stayed there and when I go back to Juquila, I'll stay there again.
That said, I am still tempted to stay at one the hotels just in front of the church, just for the view. I just need to count on a poor night of sleep.
The town's saint day is the 8th of December and the town will be packed.
The town has more visitors Thursday through Sunday morning. Sunday evening through Wednesday are much quieter.
There is verbal tradition that if the Virgin of Juquila intercedes successfully on your behalf, that you must return to Juquila to thank her.
We ate at a few restaurants in Juquila in front of the church, the food at best, was average and a little over priced, so eat there for the view. The food sold in the stalls was better.
I thought Juquila who would be a tourist trap, it's not. The city and the Catholic church have gone out of their way to stop it from happening. The city is very clean and secure; it is a nice and interesting place to visit.
With the exception of the photo of the statue of the Virgin of Juquila all photos were taken by Geri Anderson and/or Marc Wilkinson. We, the copyright holders, hereby publish these photos under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0).
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