Photo: David Hoekman
|The best way to explore Alamos is on foot, by strolling down the cobblestone streets and admiring the Spanish colonial architecture and the arches it’s known for.
June 22, 2012
By David Hoekman
Alamos owes its existence to silver.
The town of about 16,000 is located in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains in the far southern reaches of the Mexican state of Sonora.
The Spanish discovered major silver deposits nearby in 1683, leading to the establishment of Alamos two years later. Over the the next 250 years, Alamos became the center of government, commerce and culture in this part of Mexico.
Travelers are still discovering treasures in Alamos.
The Spanish colonial architecture, the easy-going nature of the people and the many events and activities, such as the arts festival for Dr. Alfonso Ortiz Tirado and bird watching, combine to draw people to the town at the end of Sonoran Highway 162.
Alamos is known as the City of Arches, and a huge three-arch sign stands over the highway leading to the town.
Jim Swickard, general manager and co-owner of Hacienda de los Santos Resort and Spa in Alamos, said the arches that grace his property and other buildings in town are the legacy of an Andalucían architect who was one of Alamos’ founding fathers.
“That’s who came here from Spain, people from Andalucía,” Swickard said. “They marched to the beat of a different drummer, and to some extent, the people still do.”
The best way to explore this Spanish colonial gem is on foot, by strolling down the cobblestone streets.
You will see arches, of course, dozens of them.
You will also understand why the Mexico Tourism Board designated Alamos a Pueblo Mágico or magical town. The idea is to identify small towns and villages like Alamos that safeguard the essence of Mexico, protected by the warmth of its people.
The church in Alamos, Parroquia de la Purisima Concepcion, was built in the 1780s on the site of an existing church. Renovation began in 2009, and the dome and roof structure work was completed in 2010.
City Hall, which dates from 1899 and has 48 iron columns, sports expansive windows and a tower.
In January, city hall is the major venue for the nine-day Cultural Festival Alfonso Ortiz Tirado.
“Tirado was the Caruso of Mexico,” Swickard said. “The festival was founded in his honor. He was born in Alamos.”
Tirado, who died in 1960, was also a physician.
“The festival has not only become a huge event but also a quality event,” Swickard said.
Festival director Poly Coronel Gandara said she likes to bring in new artists every season to attract new people and increase festival attendance.
The festival offers live music in all genres: opera, chamber music, rock, tango, country, zarzuela, salsa, Mexican music and Afro-Latin rhythms.
Some big concerts are held right on a blocked-off street.
This year was the festival’s 28th edition. It drew more than 400 artists from 13 countries.
Area amateur musicians also arrive and stroll through the village’s streets, playing indigenous music.
Cinema, children’s shows, street entertainment, an art route and artistic workshops are part of the festival.
Alamos is full of excitement, especially during the festival.
But it was not always so.
When the mines closed early in the 20th century, Alamos nearly became a ghost town.
After World War II, Americans and Canadians discovered Alamos and started restoring the adobe mansions.
A new silver mine and a copper mine opened in 2007, the first new mines in nearly a century.
Photo: David Hoekman
|Delfinario Sonora between San Carlos and Guaymas offers dolphin shows.
In 1683, silver was found in Aduana, about 6 miles west of Alamos, said Juan Vidal Castillo, a local guide and historian. The pollution generated from silver production pushed settlers to establish Alamos in 1685.
“They wanted to live away from the smog of the silver processing,” Castillo said.
As silver production increased, mule trains would transport the silver from Alamos to Mexico City to Veracruz. Galleons would then take the silver to Spain.
Typically, each train would have about 1,000 mules, each carrying 180 pounds of pure silver. Two heavily guarded mule trains would set out each year, Swickard said.
Today, nature is alive and well in the region. Bird watching is especially popular in the protected areas of the Alamos Sierra and Cuchujaqui Creek.
Solipaso, a tour company owned by transplanted Americans Jennifer and David MacKay, specializes in leading small group trips to Mexico’s avian-rich regions.
The Alamos residents research and conduct all tours, offering scheduled tours and custom trips for groups of two to 20.
Maria Felix, Mexico’s most famous movie actress, was born in Alamos, and her birthplace is now a hotel and small museum.
Felix, who appeared in 47 movies, died in 2002.
Her museum is full of photos and articles about Felix and artifacts from her family’s home.
Joaquin Navarro, mayor of Alamos and a medical doctor, pointed out he travels around the city without a bodyguard.
“You can walk in Alamos,” he said. “There is no violence.
“All of Mexico is not like the newspaper (stories about Mexico), just like the U.S. is not all what you see in the movies.”
Sonora is Mexico’s second largest state, said Javier Tapia Camou, coordinator of the Sonora Tourism Office.
“We have many things,” he said. “Sonora is very big.”
Tourism options range from visiting missions established by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino in the 16th century to hunting ranches and medical tourism.
“It depends on what you want to do,” he said. “We have many, many things.”
On the coast
San Carlos and Guaymas, located on the Sea of Cortez coast, boast top hotels, golf courses and nightclubs in addition to outdoor recreation opportunities in mountaineering, cycling, horseback riding, scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, whale watching and sport fishing.
Delfinario Sonora is an aquarium offering dolphin and sea lion shows. Animal encounters allow participants to swim with and learn the secrets of the intelligent marine mammals.
The facility, located between San Carlos and Guaymas, also offers dolphin-assisted therapy for people with autism, cerebral palsy or depression. The sessions help participants develop self-esteem, attention and commitment.
Groups can get a one-hour guided tour of the first commercial cultured saltwater pearl farm in the Americas at Sea of Cortez Pearls in Guaymas.
About 200,000 oysters are growing at the pearl farm.
Pearl culture specialist Douglas McLaurin said if young pearl oysters don’t attach to coral and sink to the bottom of the sea, they become food for bottom predators.
Sea of Cortez Pearls invented an artificial coral material that attracts baby oysters.
“They attach here by the thousands,” McLaurin said.
The baby oysters are hand picked from the material and put inside special cages inside the pearl farm that protect the oysters from predators and allow them to continue feeding from microscopic algae.
After 1½ years, the oysters are ready to be seeded to grow a cultured pearl. An operation and 1½ to two years later, the pearls are harvested.
Sea of Cortez Pearls grows two kinds of pearls. The black-lipped pearl oyster produces naturally dark-colored pearls. The rainbow-lipped pearl oyster, found only in the Sea of Cortez, produces pearls of every kind of color: purple, green blue, gray, golden and bronze. Colors are due to the genes of the oyster, and some trace elements found in the seawater.
Naturally, a gift shop offers pearl jewelry.
One of San Carlos’ newest honors is being listed as No. 1 in a list of top 10 ocean views in the National Geographic book Secret Journeys of a Lifetime.
Mirador Escenico offers a “peerless view” of the Gulf of California (or Sea of Cortez), Tetakawi (a volcanic hill jutting out of the sea) and the secluded coves of the Piedras Pintas beach, according to Secret Journeys.•
Sonora Tourism Office
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