Santos Reyes Nopala is a laid back town in the hill country of the Oaxacan Pacific coast. The people of Nopala, most of which are indigenous Chatinos, are friendly and welcoming. I have thought a lot about retiring there.
Santos Reyes Nopala, population of 5,201, is 90 minutes away from Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca. Locals usually refer to Santos Reyes Nopala as Nopala as I will henceforth. Nopala is known for its old church, the stelae cemented into its City Hall and for the Chatino community that lives there. The city's name refers to a type of cactus, nopal, that grows in the area.
The original name of city of Nopala is Byá, which in the Chatino language means "where there is an abundance of nopala". This name of the city is still used by Chatino speakers. Between 1000-1100 CE, the Mixtecs conquered Nopala and controlled Nopala until the arrival of the Mexica (Aztecs) in 1500. The Mexica renamed the city to Nopatlán which in Nahuatl means "where there is an abundance of Nopala."
When the Spaniards conquered Nopala in 1522 the city was renamed Santos Reyes Nopatlán, the Santos Reyes refers to the Christian traditional accounts of Three Kings or Wise Men who brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the newly born Jesus in Bethlehem. In the town's main intersection, a statue of the Three Kings has been erected. Over time, Santos Reyes Nopatlán's name was shorten to Santos Reyes Nopala.
The city of Nopala has had three different locations since its founding. The first city Cerro Iglesía was built about 5 kilometers outside of the current Nopala. It was established around 800 BCE and abandoned for unknown reasons around 700 CE. Around 700 CE the population moved to Arroyo de Piedra. After the Spanish conquest, the population moved to its current population.
Not much. But for a town of a population of 5,201, there is plenty to do. The town is the biggest city in the valley of 15,000 so on market day the town is busy. If you go to Nopala, you should go on a Sunday which is market day or when there is a fiesta. The town's saint day is the 6th of January.
The places you should see include the city hall with its stelae, the Cultural Center (and museum), the old church and the Devil's Pool.
When you arrive at Nopala, you will probably want to stretch your legs, so go to City Hall or as they say in Spanish the Agencia Municipal. The people of Nopala moved the stelae from the near by ruins in the 1960's and cemented them into their newly built City Hall in 1974. I have a heard number of reasons for this including to stop people from stealing them and to stop Mexico City from taking them to put into their museums.
To go on the second floor, you may be required to wear long pants if you are male or a skirt or slacks if you are a female. The second floor is sometimes closed off on Saturday afternoons and Sundays.
Clean public bathrooms can be hard to find in small towns, the Agencia Municipal has clean bathrooms on the first floor to the far left of the entrance.
You can see and learn more about the stelae of Nopala here: Stelae of Santos Reyes Nopala.
Directly across the street from the Agencia Municipal is the new Museum and Culture Center (Museo Comunitarío de Arqueologia, Arte y Cultura Chatino) of Santos Reyes Nopala. The Culture Center teaches music, art and has a small museum. The music center teaches both modern and traditional music. The art center is currently teaching students to make monos de calendas which are large dancing dolls used in Mexican parades and celebrations. You can learn more about monos de calendas HERE.
The small museum has a display of farming equipment from the colonial era and a nice but small collection of artifacts and steleas dating prior to the conquest. There is a small box for donations (suggested to me was 100 pesos).
There many churches in Nopala of a variety of Christian sects. The two churches I recommend seeing are the old and newer Catholic Church near City Hall. The older church was probably built in the 1800's. On the outside of the church on the right side is a stelae built into the wall of the church and inside the church on the right side there another stela or lintel behind one of the saint statues. In 1931, an earthquake caused the left tower to collapse.
The new church was built in the late 1980's.
The market or mercado is located directly in front of the two churches and if you are there on a Sunday the market overflows onto the nearby streets. Nopala is known for its coffee, chile tusta (a type of spicy chile), honey and the fine sewing of its women. Their are various places for eating street foods. If you prefer a restaurant, there is one inside the Hotel Palacio Chatino, which just to the left of the entrance of the Agencia Municipal. As an added bonus, they have clean restrooms.
There is new market that has been built on the outside of town. As of January 2017 it was still not in use nor does it have electricity installed. Hopefully it will open soon.
The Devil's Pool or Hondura del Diablo is place where sulfur fumes sometimes rises to the surface. Often offerings such as sweet breads, chocolate and candles are left there to keep evil away. Just to the right of the cross and up the stairs is small interesting chapel which also offers a nice view of the city. You can get to the Hondura del Diablo using one of the mototaxis (a three wheeled motorcycle with two passenger seats) for five pesos (11/18). You can walk back to the City Hall from there.
Nopala is 90 minutes away from Puerto Escondido. Take Highway 131 until you get into San Gabriel. At San Gabriel you will need to turn left on Reforma and two or three blocks afterwards take another left on 20 de Noviembre; that will take you to Nopala. The highway is in good condition except for the highway between San Pedro and San Gabriel which is full of pot holes (9/19).
The easiest way to get there from Puerto Escondido is to drive there or use colectivos (a shared taxi) which can be found at the bus terminal behind the market. The colectivos leaves when there are five passengers and costs 60 pesos per person (09/19). The colectivos stop just below the City Hall in Nopala. Pay the 300 and you got your own taxi. I recommend that if there are few people waiting for the colectivos, that you allow those people waiting to pay and that you pay for the remainder of the seats, otherwise you will be waiting for other passengers to arrive, which mean you might wait 5 minutes or an hour.
The best times to visit Nopala are on Sundays and on Fiestas. You may find the town too quiet otherwise.
The 6th of January is the town's Saint's Day. On the evening of the 5th Nopala has a huge party. It is a blast and I highly recommend visiting the town during this time. There is a rodeo (jaripeo) and that night in front of the church there is a guelaguetza followed by a castillo, a type of firework show. The guelaguetza is the best I have seen for a small town; Santos Reyes Nopala knows how to throw a party. In November there is a city fair dedicated to the Sweet Potato (Feria del Camote) and a rodeo (jaripeo).
When visiting Nopala I stay at Hotel Palacio Chatino, which is to the left side of the Agencia Municipal. The hotel also has a very good restaurant with clean bathrooms. (This not an advertisement. I do not know the owners or the people who work there.)
If you are interested in learning more about Santos Reyes Nopala, you might want to visit: Stelae of Santos Reyes Nopala and Santa Lucía Teotepec, Nopala. This year while visiting Nopala on Three Kings Day, Libros Para Pueblos, was donating books to the local library. Read more about Libros Para Pueblos here: Libros Para Pueblos.
Photos taken by Marc Wilkinson. I, the copyright holder, hereby publish these photos under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0).