El Fuerte

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After a late night arrival on the Mexican mainland, we were slow to get started on the first day of the New Year. It took a quiet New Year’s Day in Los Mochis before we were ready to start thinking about the next stage in our journey. 

We hadn’t actually planned on being in this area at all, so we had no idea what there was to do and see. We had spontaneously opted for the ferry journey from La Paz to Topolobampo (rather than the alternate port of Mazatlán) for a couple of reasons:

  • It was cheap, and
  • It involved significantly less time on a boat.

We googled the state of Sinaloa to see what touristy things there were nearby and what would make a good first stop on our travels. But Google wasn’t initially a lot of help. A lot of the articles about what to do in the state of Sinaloa revolved around how soon you would be killed horribly if you left the comfort of your Mazatlán hotel and/or drove on something that wasn’t a toll road. Not a very encouraging start to a road trip around the state of Sinaloa.

After talking to some locals, it sounded like these warnings were both greatly exaggerated and out of date, but it still left us unsure of what we wanted to do in the area.

Luckily, en route to Topolobambo a couple on a motorcycle trip down from Arizona over their Christmas holiday had mentioned El Fuerte and told us about the list of Pueblos Mágicos

Pueblos Mágicos (Magical towns) are given that designation by the Mexican tourism board and it basically provides a cheat sheet of towns to visit that will each be awesome in their own unique way.

El Fuerte is one such town. 

Upon arrival we immediately realised that taking the motorcyclists’ advice and driving to El Fuerte had been the right choice.

The centre of town was a web of cobblestone streets, all leading one way or another to a verdant central plaza.

El Fuerte's central plaza
El Fuerte’s central plaza

With immaculately kept, brightly painted buildings it looked like it would be an expensive tourist trap.

Oh dear, it looks like we've parked somewhere we can't afford…
Oh dear, it looks like we’ve parked somewhere we can’t afford…

But it wasn’t.

El Fuerte. Turns out it is pretty awesome.
El Fuerte. Turns out it is pretty awesome.

There were several posh hotels and swanky looking restaurants, but there were also street vendors, ice-cream parlours and small family run businesses. It was a real town, where ordinary people lived, doing ordinary things. It just happened to also be strikingly beautiful. Convenient.

It was only a short walk down the road from the plaza into the bustling main street of town, lined with vendors selling all kinds of tasty snacks. However, in the evenings we waited in the busy plaza for an old man to roll past with his cart full of 10 peso elote coctel, then chased that down with a spicy bacon-wrapped hot dog. Not a nutritious meal, but incredibly tasty and well priced, at less than $5 for a filling meal for two people.

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The best part was, there was no one trying to sell touristy things. No one stood outside the restaurants waving the menu, no one shouted at you to buy their tour. There was a gift shop full of knick-knacks just off the central plaza, but there wasn’t anybody standing outside trying to pressure you to buy. We had found an amazing town that you could just walk around and enjoy. 

Walk around we did, the town itself wasn’t large, so it was perfect for exploring on foot. We spent hours just wandering around looking at all the different colonial buildings and taking quite a number of photos.

The streets of El Fuerte were just as magical after dark. The vibrant colours of the buildings were muted by the glow of yellow street lamps but the cobbled streets became a magical and atmospheric place to be after the sun dipped below the horizon.

Even better, to start the New Year off in the right way, we were celebrating with a stay in a hotel. (Sorry to ruin anyone’s illusions that we are rugged outdoorsy types that camp all the time, we love hot showers, internet and walls from time to time). It was not just any hotel, we had found a cute little family owned place that appeared as if it had grown organically out of the hillside. They were working away at extending it further while we were there.

Each room was unique—in the obvious way, in that they were all different to one another, different sizes, shapes and layouts. But also in that each one had a different bird mural painted on one of the walls. This might not be ideal for an ornithophobe, but we thought it was pretty cute. (Far less unsettling than a certain Clown Motel) Also the rooms were pretty luxurious.

Another great thing about the town of El Fuerte was that most people spoke Spanish. Unlike on the Baja Peninsula, where it had been all-too-tempting to resort to ordering food and making accommodation arrangements in English. Here we were immediately finding ourselves pushing the limits of our Spanish-speaking abilities and we were improving in leaps and bounds.

(Our Spanish was and still is, terrible, just measurably less terrible than it was initially.)

Warm by day, El Fuerte cooled off quite dramatically on a few of the first nights we were there. We were glad to be tucked up our cozy hotel room. Even more so when we had sunset views like this from our balcony.

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Sunset from the balcony.
Sunset from the balcony.

And sunrise views like this.

Sunrise from the balcony.
Sunrise from the balcony.

There was also a friendly cat handing around, which never fails to improve our opinion of where we are staying.

This is friendly cat's "I hope you plan on sharing your breakfast with me" face.
This is friendly cat’s “I hope you plan on sharing your breakfast with me” face.

Aside from friendly cats, the town of El Fuerte has a few tourist attractions.

View over the river.
View over the river.

The Rio Fuerte flows right by the town and is apparently perfect for a spot of fishing or bird watching—although we did neither. We did however, enjoy the local ceviche and eyeball one or two interesting birds near the river. Also a cow.

Aquatic cow.
Aquatic cow.

There is the fort for which the town is named:

The rebuilt fort.
The rebuilt fort.

Not actually the original historical fort, but a modern reproduction.

Inside the old-new fort/museum.
Inside the old-new fort/museum.

The fort now contains a museum and we found it to be worth its modest 20 Peso entry fee for the two of us. Although some of the museum artifacts were of questionable historical interest to us. Specifically the VCR, which just made us feel really old.

Way to make us feel old El Fuerte!
Way to make us feel old El Fuerte!

There was also El Chepito, the little brother to the famous train—El Chepe which brings tourists to the Copper Canyon from Los Mochis, via El Fuerte to Creel.

El Chepito doing the rounds.
El Chepito doing the rounds.

El Chepito however, just drives around town tooting loudly. We were very close to going for a ride on El Chepito, when Ben managed to dodge the embarrassing “ride the small children’s train” bullet by distracting Emma with flan. This always works.

Just out of town are some stone petroglyphs carved into the rocks. The depict all sorts of different animals, people, concepts and possibly an alien or two.

Standing outside our hotel with our guide for the day, Alejo. Look at us being real tourists, hotels, tour guides, group photos. Classic.
Standing outside our hotel with our guide for the day, Alejo. Look at us being real tourists, hotels, tour guides, group photos. Classic.

Alejo was our guide for the day and he took us around to look at all the petroglyphs and pointed out plenty that we wouldn’t have spotted on our own. Including this clear depiction of ET.

ET, or a strong man wearing glasses, you decide.
ET, or a strong man wearing glasses, you decide.

Or a strange looking person… However, this was much closer than we got to encountering alien life forms than we did in all our time in Nevada, so we insist on telling everyone that we saw an alien carved into the rocks at El Fuerte.

But there were plenty of other non-alien based petroglyphs to see as well:

IMG_4017

IMG_4033

However, for us the real attractions of the town were the architecture and the people. The buildings were brightly coloured and interesting, the people were welcoming and friendly, from the hotel owners, to shop-keepers, street vendors to people just passing by in the street, everyone made you feel welcome and relaxed. El Fuerte was another place that we felt at ease and it didn’t take long to feel very much at home.

We had enjoyed such a relaxing time in El Fuerte, that we felt completely refreshed and ready to explore the Copper Canyon. What could go wrong with that plan? Well, aside from our embarrassingly near complete lack of useful maps…


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