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Hiking the Pueblos Mancomunados Villages in MexicoWhen most people think of Mexico they think of dazzling turquoise waters, white sands, tropical weather, delicious food, and ruins hidden in the jungle. That is how I pictured Mexico before I visited. It turned out to be all of those things but also so much more.

Looking through my Lonely Planet at the various excursions you can take while in the beautiful city of Oaxaca, I came across a short passage about hiking the Pueblos Mancomunados villages in the Sierra Norte Mountains (Sierra Norte de Oaxaca) – these are remote Zapotec villages.

I hadn’t associated Mexico with alpine hiking and the idea intrigued me. We decided it would be a worthwhile experience to learn about the Zapotec culture and to change our preconceived notions about Mexico.

And putting money towards eco-tourism in Mexico also seemed like a responsible thing to do.

Hiking in Mexico's Sierra Norte Mountains between the Pueblos Mancomunados Villages

The Pueblos Mancomunados of Oaxaca (Commonwealth of Villages) are unique in their community spirit, as for centuries they have pooled their natural resources and shared the profits from economic pursuits such as forestry.

To help with economic difficulties and a decline in population, six of the eight villages created a fantastic eco-tourism initiative that allows visitors to hike between the participating villages, staying in local accommodation, and using local guides.

It is possible to book a tour through a commercial Oaxaca Tourism provider, but we decided we wanted and do it independently, through the excellent community-run Eco-Tourism office, Expediciones Sierra Norte, who help you plan your trip.

We decided to do a three-day/two-night excursion, hiking between four of the villages.

After picking the trip we wanted to do out of a folder of possible itineraries (in both Spanish and English) we paid the office the total amount that included our meals, accommodation, and local guides.

Although we still needed to pay for our own way on local buses into and out of the Sierra Norte Mountains, the office gave us extensive information about which buses to take, the schedule, and costs.

Beautiful scenery hiking he Pueblos Mancomunados in Mexico's Sierra Norte MountainsColorful flowers in Mexico's Sierra Norte Mountains

Hiking Between the Pueblos Mancomunados Villages

Armed with our small day packs, we were ready to do some Oaxaca hiking!

We caught a local bus early the next morning that took us high into the Sierra Norte Mountains on a winding, narrow road. After a bumpy two-and-a-half-hour drive we arrived at the turn-off to the Pueblos Mancomunados village where we would be beginning our trek: Benito Juárez.

Day One Hiking the Pueblos Mancomunados – Benito Juarez to La Neveria

We had a one-hour walk along a deserted road surrounded by pine trees and aloe plants to reach Benito Juárez, only passing one villager herding cows and a bunch of wild turkeys along the way.

Hiking in Mexico's Sierra Norte MountainsOn arriving in Benito Juárez we quickly found the Eco-tourism office where we handed over our itinerary/receipt to the guy working there.

Only knowing basic Spanish made it difficult to communicate with him but our itinerary pretty much spoke for itself and we didn’t have to wait long for our guide for the day to show up.

We left Benito Juarez via a dirt path, following our local guide who was leading us to the next village, La Neveria, which was a predominantly uphill 8km slog. It was a hot day and I was really struggling with the heat and the altitude.

Beautiful flowers while hiking in Mexico's Sierra Norte Mountains

The highest point of the Sierra Norte mountain range is a whopping 3,300 meters above sea level. It is the highest altitude I had ever been to (at that stage) and the thin air made it hard to catch my breath.

Crossing through farmland and then pine forest, the landscape was lush and green. Farmers were tending to their livestock and our guide stopped to chat and laugh with locals along the path. Everyone we met had a permanent smile on their faces and was very open and friendly.

Beautifully patterned butterflies hovered over us while we were walking and we heard a chorus of birdsong. Fragile, colorful flowers were tucked into the vegetation on either side of the path, including the beautiful Azucena flower.

Hiking between indigenous villages in Mexico's Sierra Norte MountainsHiking with our local guide in Mexico's Sierra Norte Mountains

There are more than 400 species of bird and 350 species of butterfly in the Sierra Norte mountains and it is estimated that there are over 2000 plant species.

The Sierra Norte constitutes Mexico’s largest natural corridor of well-preserved forests and jungles, considered the most diverse in the world. We only saw a fraction of the flora and fauna over the three days we were there, but what we did see was unique and beautiful.

Exhausted, we arrived at La Neveria and our guide handed us over to the staff at the eco-tourism office before hiking back to his village. He shook our hands and bid us farewell with probably his only word of English ‘Hello’, unfortunately, used in the wrong context. We also bid him farewell with a ‘hello’ so as not to confuse him.

After resting for a while in the sun, we were taken to the comedor, a small local restaurant where we would be eating our lunch and dinner as well as breakfast the next day. There is no menu, the waitress just brings you the meal they have cooked for that day.

We were served a hearty and healthy lunch. One of the interesting facts about Mexican food is that it includes a lot of vegetables.

For our lunch? Vegetable soup, omelet with vegetables, rice and beans, homemade lemonade, and yogurt with a local honey (the dead bee in the jar of honey tipped me off to its local-ness).

After lunch, we were shown to our room which was in fact a gorgeous stand-alone log cabin, a few steps from the comedor.

Hanging out by the fire in our eco cabin in the Pueblos Mancomunados in Mexico's Sierra Norte MountainsView from our eco cabin in the Mexico's Sierra Norte Mountains

It started getting chilly in the afternoon so we spent the hours before dinner sitting by our cozy fireplace, reading. The night was cold but we were given lots of warm blankets and sleep was blissful.

From what we saw of La Neveria, it is a sleepy little place. We didn’t see a soul the whole time we were there except for the Tourism Office and comedor staff. Other than the comedor, there were no other shops or restaurants and only a handful of houses.

It was so peaceful.

Day Two Hiking the Pueblos Mancomunados – La Neveria to Latuvi

The next morning we went to breakfast and were surprised to find the whole restaurant was filled up with adolescents. In fact, there weren’t even any free tables so we sat with the three teachers that were accompanying the pre-adolescent masses.

One of the teachers had lived in London so we chatted with him about life in the UK and life in general. He said that they take the kids into the mountains once a year and that it was the first time he had seen any tourists. What a shame. People are missing out by not coming to this beautiful place.

Beautiful views in the Sierra Norte Mountains of Oaxaca while hiking the Pueblos Mancomunados

The teachers invited us to attend their campfire that evening to roast marshmallows and tell ghost stories but unfortunately, we were moving on to our next village after breakfast.

The new guide that was taking us from sleepy La Neveria to Latuvi arrived on schedule to pick us up. At 13km, it was a longer hike than our first day but overall I found it a lot easier as it was reasonably flat. Also, as we were mainly hiking through dense forest, the path was shaded from the harshness of the high-altitude sun.

Native ferns in the Sierra Norte Mountains in Oaxaca

We meandered past waterfalls, fields of white and yellow daisies as tall as me, wild purple violets, and giant white lilies. There were crimson ferns growing high off the ground out of the trunks of massive trees. Giant green beetles inched slowly across the path.

Hiking the Pueblos Mancomunados villages in Mexico's Sierra Norte MountainsHiking between the Pueblos Mancomunados in the Sierra Norte Mountains of Oaxaca

Our guide was telling us about jaguar in the area – at least we thought he was. I was pleased not to see any. I did see one of my favorite birds, a hummingbird, zipping around in an eternal hurry.

We arrived in Latuvi in the early afternoon. It is larger than La Neveria with a few comedors and a local school. Situated on a ridge between two valleys; the view was panoramic fantastic. There were also more people around than deserted La Neveria.

Views from the village of Latuvi, one of the Pueblos Mancomunados in the Sierra Norte Mountains in OaxacaSchool children were happily playing soccer outside in the midday sun. A young girl was leading a donkey up from the valley, loaded with firewood. A shy kid hid under a table when we said hello.

Everyone greeted us as we wandered around town and there was a smile etched on every friendly face.

Our guide showed us the comedor where we would be eating our meals while in Latuvi, then took us the ten minutes walk to the other side of town to where we would be staying.

It was a beautiful log cabin, similar to our first night’s accommodation, but larger, with two sets of bunks and a double bed.

There was a fireplace but we couldn’t find firewood so after having lunch back at the comedor, we layered ourselves with all of the blankets we could find and spent the rest of the afternoon reading and studying Spanish in bed.

Our eco cabin in the village of Latuvi, one of the Pueblo Mancomunados in the Sierra Norte Mountains of OaxacaIt was dark when we walked into town for dinner. With no street lights and only a small torch, it was quite an adventure. Because there was no light pollution, the stars were incredibly bright and numerous. We could even see the swirly soup of the Milky Way.

Day Three Hiking the Pueblos Mancomunados – Latuvi to Amatlan

Our new guide met us after breakfast in the morning. Walking through town we saw cute goats with bows tied around their necks and a hawk hovering above the land, scanning for prey.

Cute local goat in Latuvi, one of the Pueblso Mancomunados villages in the Sierra Norte Mountains in Oaxaca

As well as pine forest, there were a lot of cacti around Latuvi including an unusual droopy-armed variety and multi-armed cacti heavy with ripe, red fruit.

It was unusual to see cacti and pine trees together, a mismatch that aptly represents the unique climatic zones of the Sierra Norte Mountains.

Local birds in Latuvi, one of the Pueblo Mancomunados villages in the Sierra Norte Mountains in OaxacaDay three was our longest; 15km to Amatlan where we would be catching transport back to Oaxaca.

We followed a river through a canyon for the first few hours. Silvery moss hung from trees like giant spiderwebs. Small cacti, the kind of which you would keep in tiny pots on your windowsill, dotted the steep hillside beside the path.

Hiking in the Sierra Norte Mountains in Oaxaca, Mexico between the Pueblos Mancomunados villagesHiking in the Sierra Norte Mountains in Oaxaca, Mexico between the Pueblos Mancomunados villages

Because of the long distance, we had a different guide for the second half of the hike. Unfortunately, they didn’t time it quite right and we had to wait for over an hour at the changeover point and were then rushing to get to Amatlan on time.

We passed through the beautiful village of Lachatao, which has its own separate Eco-tourism initiative.

Beautiful views over a lush green valley, a historic church, and crumbling stone walls encasing tidy stone houses constituted this magical place. It was a shame we didn’t have time to explore more thoroughly.

Hiking in the Sierra Norte Mountains in Oaxaca, Mexico between the Pueblos Mancomunados villagesHiking through Lachatao, a Pueblos Mancomunados village in the Sierra Norte Mountains in Oaxaca, Mexico

Amatlan is only a couple of kilometers past Lachatao and it was the largest town yet, but very quiet. We hurried down the steep cobbled streets, brightly colored prayer flags fluttering in the wind above us.

Hiking through Amatlan, one of the Pueblos Mancomunados villages in the Sierra Norte Mountains in Oaxaca, MexicoHiking through Amatlan, one of the Pueblos Mancomunados villages in the Sierra Norte Mountains in Oaxaca, Mexico

Our guide dropped us at the Tourism office in Amatlan before bidding us farewell. We were whisked away on the back of a ute, bound for a nearby town where the bus departs back to Oaxaca.

It was a dusty but scenic ride, hurtling along the windy mountain roads, hanging on for dear life.

The bus for Oaxaca arrived within 20 minutes of being dropped off and we gladly rested our weary bodies on padded seats, while we slowly journeyed back to the hustle and bustle of the city.

Hiking through Amatlan, one of the Pueblos Mancomunados villages in the Sierra Norte Mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico

Overall, our sojourn into Mexico’s pristine wilderness was an uplifting experience and so much easier than we thought it would be thanks to Expediciones Sierra Norte.

The food was simple but bountiful and tasty, everything ran to schedule almost all of the time, the accommodation was comfortable and fit in with the natural environment, and the landscape was stunning and so diverse.

What really made this Pueblos Mancomunados trip so incredible though was the people. Their constant smiles and laughter made the trek an absolute joy.

As the guides are knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna, it would have been beneficial to speak more than our rudimentary Spanish, but the most important thing is to smile back at these amazing people and just go with the flow.

Hiking the Pueblos Mancomunados in Oaxaca was even more special than we could have imagined.

How to Plan Your Pueblos Mancomunados Trip

Choose Your Pueblos Mancomunados Adventure

There are numerous Pueblos Mancomunados adventures to choose from including day trips from Oaxaca up to seven-day journeys. The one that most resembles what we did is this 3 day/2 night package that visits Amatlan, Latuvi, Benito Juarez, and Capulalpam.

Getting to the Pueblos Mancomunados

We booked a package where transport wasn’t included so we caught a local bus from the second class bus station to Benito Juarez where we began our Pueblos Mancomunados hike. Enquire about the times at the bus station or at the Expediciones Sierra Norte office. I believe all the packages these days include transport.

Colorful flowers while hiking the Pueblos Mancomunados villages in Mexico's Sierra Norte Mountains

Where To Stay in Oaxaca Before and After Your Trip

There are a number of gorgeous boutique hotels in Oaxaca to choose from.

If you are looking for something friendly and affordable, you can’t go past the clean and airy dorms at Hostal Central, which is an easy walk from the UNESCO-listed city center. 

For a hostel with more of a party atmosphere, Casa Angel definitely delivers, with nightly events organized and a happening bar onsite.

For hotels, stay at the eclectic and colorful City Centro Oaxaca which has a rooftop pool, or the luxury historic Quinta Real Hotel. Both are located in the historic city center. 

The Best Gear for Your Pueblos Mancomunados Trip

I highly recommend the Osprey Fairview 40L Backpack or Farpoint packs – they are the perfect size for a multi-day hiking trip, are comfortable and durable, and have lots of pockets to organize your gear. Use packing cubes for further organization.

Consider taking some trekking poles to help with the downhill – your knees will thank you! – and waterproof hiking boots rather than regular trainers.

Hiking through Amatlan, one of the Pueblos Mancomunados villages in the Sierra Norte Mountains in Oaxaca, Mexico

Pack the GRAYL Geopress Water Purifier to filter water from streams and taps at your accommodation, this saves you having to carry lots of water and is better for the environment. Also, pack a CamelBak to make it easier to hydrate while you are hiking and to store more water in a lightweight way.

It can get cold at night so make sure to pack thermal base layer top, as well as a rain jacket in case it rains.

The Best Insurance for Your Pueblos Mancomunados Trip

Make sure you get travel and health insurance before your trip. Safety Wing is my go-to and they are cheap and easy to claim with.

Safety Wing also allows you to sign up when you are already traveling, unlike a lot of other travel insurance providers.

If you enjoyed this post, check out my other multi-day hiking and Mexico posts:


How To Hike the Pueblos Mancomunados in Mexico Hiking the Pueblos Mancomunados in Mexico

15 Comments on How To Hike Between the Pueblos Mancomunados Villages in Mexico

  1. Thank you for wonderful, descriptive travelog of your hike in the Sierra Norte. My husband and I just read about the Pueblos Mancomunados in an old Lonely Planet, and we found your blog soon after. The mixture of wild nature and local cultures reminds me of a “Hill Tribes” trek I did in Northern Thailand decades ago. We will definitely book a guided hike in Sierra Norte for our trip to Mexico in March, but I think we will opt for a four or five-day hike with fewer miles per day than you accomplished.
    By the way, we live in Washington State too!

  2. Pingback: Hiking between Indigenous villages in Mexico’s Sierra Norte | carolines2014
  3. When someone writes an piece of writing he/she maintains the idea of a user in his/her mind that how a user can be aware of it.
    So that’s why this post is perfect. Thanks!

  4. I’d never heard of the Sierra Norte before but it looks like some awesome hiking! I love places where you can get a mix of outdoor scenery and local cultures. Thanks for sharing this area!

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