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Santos Reyes Nopala

A Day Trip


When I think of a traditional Mexican small town, I think of Santos Reyes Nopala. The people of Nopala are welcoming and friendly to outsiders. It is a pleasant, clean and safe place to visit. Sometimes I think I just might retire there.

The Chatino community of Santos Reyes Nopala, population of 5,201,[1] 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.

History of Nopala

The original name of city of Nopala is Byá, which in the Chatino language means "where there is an abundance of nopala".[2] 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."[3]

Tres Reyes

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.

Getting There

Nopala map

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. There are a lot pot holes Highway 131 near San Gabriel, other than that, the road was in ok condition (11/18). The road from San Gabriel to Santos Reyes Nopala was in good condition (11/18).

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 50 pesos per person (1/17). The colectivos stop just below the City Hall in Nopala. Pay the 250 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.

What to do?

Not much. But for a town of a population of 5,201, there is a lot 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 old church and the Devil's Pool.

City Hall

Agenia Municipal de Nopala

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.[4] 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.

Stelae de Nopala Stelae de Nopala

You can see and learn more about the stelae of Nopala here: Stelae of Santos Reyes Nopala.

The Churches

nopala church

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 left tower collapsed in the earthquake of 1997.

The Market

nopala church

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.[5]

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.

Hondura del Diablo

Hondura del Diablo

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.

Last thoughts

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.[6]

Recommended Links

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.

Photo Credits

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).

Footnotes and Notes

  1. 1. 2010. General Information of the Municipality of Santos Reyes Nopala. SEDESOL (Sectretaía de Desarrollo Social). Spanish. Retrieved Feb. 2017.
  2. 2. Pérez Sánchez, Javier Gerardo. 2010. Buscando el Origen de los Chatinos de Nopala, Third Edition. Spanish. Carteles editores. p 39.
  3. 3. Ibid.
  4. 4. Ibid. p 58.
  5. 5. This not an advertisement. I do not know the owners or people who work there. But I have eaten there and food is good and the prices are normal.
  6. 6. Ibid.
  7. More information in Spanish: 2010. Santos Reyes Nopala. INAFED (Instituto Nacional para el Federalismo y el Desarrollo Municipal). Spanish. Retrieved 21 May 2017.