You couldn’t find an environment more different from the tropical languor of the Oaxacan coast than the breathtaking vistas of forested peaks among the clouds in the high Southern Sierra. San José del Pacífico is a beautiful town, 8,400 feet above sea level, but only a drive of about three hours from Puerto Escondido. It’s a favorite place to stop overnight on the drive between Oaxaca City and the coast via Pochutla to Miahuatlan. But this town is worth a trip in itself.
The fiesta for its patron saint is centered around the small plaza by the old church and civic buildings perched high above Highway 175, where most of the restaurants and other services are concentrated and all most visitors see of the town.
Be prepared for a totally different climate, especially during the winter. The cold evenings will come as a shock after the balmy nights of Puerto. If you want to go out at night to attend any of the fiesta activities, bundle up, otherwise you’ll be miserable. In fact in winter it doesn’t really warm up until midday.
Among the options for overnight lodging in San José del Pacífico are the the charming rustic cabins perched on the hillside at La Puesta del Sol. They have a private bathroom, lots of hot water, and a fireplace with kindling and logs to survive the night, for about $450. It can make for a romantic overnight stay, if you’ve got someone to cuddle up with.
In summer months, the cool mountain climate offers a welcome respite from the intense swelter of the coast. The hotel has an adequate restaurant and bar. You can make a reservation by calling (01) 951 547-4225 or through their website: www.sanjosedelpacifico.com.
There’s great hiking and birding among the trails through pine forests. But San José del Pacífico is also known for its psilocybin mushrooms and attracts those looking to sample its hallucinogenic effects. That’s why the gift shops offer wooden and ceramic representations of the these fungi, alongside the woollen gloves, hats, sweaters and shawls.
Mushroom season corresponds with the rainy season, roughly July to October, but they are often available year round, preserved in honey. Mushrooms and their healing and visionary properties have long played a role in the culture of the handsome local Zapotec people in this land of the clouds. But you should be aware that they are an illegal, controlled substance under Mexican law.
The drive up to San José del Pacífico is magnificent. As you begin to climb from Pochutla, you’ll pass through Chacalapa, another town which has adopted Saint Joseph as its patron.
At 300 meters in altitude, the landscape is still tropically lush, but it’s somewhat cooler than the coast.