How to Spend 48 Hours in Saltillo, Mexico

How to Spend 48 Hours in Saltillo, Mexico

According to legend, busloads of foreign tourists frequented Saltillo, Mexico, just three hours south of the Texas border. The proximity to Texas makes it an easy distance for those who want a quick taste of Mexico, but those three hours from the border give the city a more wholesome air than the infamous border towns.

Why does Saltillo now get overlooked? Maybe flights to the beaches are cheaper. Maybe Saltillo’s industrial nature turns people off. However, if you steer clear of the factories, Saltillo is charming. Whatever the reasons, it’s a real shame this Mexican colonial city gets passed over. Being small and also very far north, it has that same self-reliance and cowboy pride that characterizes Texas. To get a feel for Saltillo in just a weekend trip, there are two must-sees: Downtown and the Desert Museum.

Day 1: Downtown Tour

Compadres

Start your tour at Compadres and order a parrillada. It’s a heaping pile of beef typical to northern Mexico, with traditional red sausage thrown in (don’t worry, it’s not spicy). All this meaty goodness is served with handmade flour and corn tortillas. Guacamole is not included, so be sure to order it.

How to Spend 48 Hours in Saltillo, Mexico
Downtown Saltillo

Plaza de Armas

To walk off that feast, turn left out of Compadres and head three blocks to the Plaza de Armas. Elsewhere in Mexico, the main plaza is called the zócalo. In northern Mexico, they prefer the term Plaza de Armas. Regardless of what it’s called, every Mexican city’s main plaza is bordered by a church on one side and a government building on another. Saltillo is no exception, and the state government building and the cathedral sandwich a fountain showcasing Victorian-era frolicking nymphs.

Saltillo’s cathedral concentrated all its over-the-top baroque efforts on the outside of the building. On the inside, the decorations are much more subdued than churches further south, making it an authentically peaceful place.

Crossing the Plaza de Armas, the State Palace flaunts its imposing pink façade over the square. Don’t be afraid of the armed guards at the entrance. Walk through the metal detectors and enjoy a series of murals depicting key moments of Mexican history. Across the courtyard is a small, free museum highlighting Saltillo’s role in Mexican history. And, if you drank too much lemonade at Compadres, they have free, clean bathrooms.

How to Spend 48 Hours in Saltillo, Mexico

Serape Museum

Saltillo’s claim to fame is the serape, that colorful blanket that used to be worn like a poncho and is engraved in most people’s minds as the traditional Mexican costume. Although most Mexicans haven’t worn a serape in over 100 years, Saltillo is still proud of its serape-making heritage. This small, but comprehensive museum showcases the history of the serape, the techniques to make one, complete with a collection of serapes from the colonial era to the present. In the afternoons, an octogenarian weaver works a loom by the entrance, demonstrating his skills. He’s not chatty, but his work is mesmerizing.

To get to the Serape Museum from the Plaza de Armas, walk to the backside of the government palace, and turn left at the stoplight on Allende. It’s half a block up the street, on the right side.

7 Stops: 48 Hours in Saltillo, Mexico
Learning the history of the serape

Juarez Market

Once you’ve had enough serape fun, head back down the Allende, toward the market. Past the stoplight, take a left at the lions on Guadalupe Victoria, and then a right at the newsstand on the pedestrian street, Padre Flores. Follow that street for two blocks, and you’ll face the angel statue at Plaza Acuña. Just behind that is the market.

The bottom floor of the market has everything the tourism industry has to offer visitors to Saltillo. Need a horse saddle, cowboy hat, or whip? You’re in luck. Tacky Saltillo souvenirs? Yep, they’re here, too.

Head upstairs and find yourself in piñata paradise. Browse ceramics and clay dishes galore. However, most of the proprietors on the second floor are butchers. This is not for the faint of heart. Chances are good that you’ll come face-to-face with a severed pig’s head. Stomach lining is displayed for those preparing their weekend tripe soup. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

7 Stops: 48 Hours in Saltillo, Mexico
Need a cowboy hat?

Alameda

Leaving the market, take a right on Guadalupe Victoria. Walk for several blocks, passing more shoe stores than should be possible in a city this size, until you find yourself in a tree-covered park.

There are a number of things to see at the Alameda, but at the top of the list is to buy an ice cream and eat it on a bench by the frog fountain. The benches and the fountain are colorfully tiled talavera, traditional Mexican tiles. Four copper frogs spit water into the shallow fountain. Students and families relax on the benches, whiling away the afternoon. Seems to me, they’ve stumbled onto something spectacular.

Day Two: The Desert Museum

The Desert Museum does its best to pack the essence of the whole region under one roof. The first few rooms are rather scientific, defining what is a desert, as well as the flora and fauna that exists in the Chihuahuan Desert. This state is home to some great dinosaur digs, and they have paleontology labs on display, followed by a gallery of huge dinosaur skeletons.

The second section of the museum explores human history in the state of Coahuila–prehistory through the present age. At the end, they have a collection of reptiles, and outside, prairie dogs frolic, black bears roam (cubs rescued from forest fires), and big-horned sheep graze.

Bonus: El Principal

Before you leave northern Mexico, be sure to try the regional specialty of roasted goat. The restaurant chain, El Principal, has a number of branches throughout the city. They boast an upscale atmosphere, great service, and a passion for northern Mexican food.

Where to Stay

Hotel Colonial San Miguel is right downtown, down the street from Compadre´s, and within walking distance of the more interesting places to see in Saltillo, good restaurants and bars. They also have an outdoor swimming pool for when the weather is warm.

How to Spend 48 Hours in Saltillo, Mexico
Saltillo Cathedral; photo by Aaron Ortiz (Creative Commons)

Top photo by Aaron Ortiz (Creative Commons)

About Jill Douglas

Jill DouglasOriginally from Indiana, Jill Douglas has spent the last 10 years in Mexico with plans to stay indefinitely, thanks to her Mexican husband and children. Her current online hobby aims to help foreigners transition to life in northern Mexico, at SaltilloExpats.com.

8 thoughts on “How to Spend 48 Hours in Saltillo, Mexico

  1. AMY LASSILA
    August 1, 2017
    Reply

    Hi Jill,

    We are looking for vintage and new serapes for a house we are working on. Do you think Saltillo would be a good place to pick some up? I wasn’t sure how many stores/workrooms were available to shop from or if most of them were exported. Thanks in advance for any info you can provide!

  2. AMY LASSILA
    August 1, 2017
    Reply

    Hi Jill,

    We are looking for vintage and new serapes for a house we are working on. Do you think Saltillo would be a good place to pick some up? I wasn’t sure how many shops actually sell them vs. exporting them.

    Many thanks!

  3. Drew Petro
    July 26, 2017
    Reply

    Thanks for this article Jill! My wife and I made a day trip to Saltillo last weekend and followed your advice. The museum was great and the Parrillada with guac even better! Thanks for the great article and advice.

  4. Brooks Anderson
    February 13, 2017
    Reply

    I came to Saltillo 54 years ago as a young geology student, met a pretty senorita in the Alameda, married her, left and returned a couple of times with the ebb and flow of the economy and availability of teaching jobs. I finally “retired” here to teach people how to cope with recurring drought. Because of its 1 mi. altitude it has a moderate climate, seldom going below freezing or above 90F. Because of the outside-of-town clean industry factories, Saltillo is clearner, and more prosperous, than most Mexican cities, It has been ranked as the second best (Veracruze was 1st.) city in Mexico to live in. Its 3 to 4 hour super highway distance to Laredo, Texas makes it convenient to bank, have a mail box, and shop for that left hand widget not available here. I love it! (old gringo)

    • Jill
      February 22, 2017
      Reply

      Brooks! So glad to “meet” you here! Saltillo has a larger retiree population then I ever would have thought! (To be honest, you´re about the third retiree I´ve come across.) But every few months, I get messages from others considering moving here.

      With your teaching, did you work with the Narro?

      If you get a chance, I´ve got a website (saltilloexpats.com) which aims to form community among the foreign population here in Saltillo. If you´d like to contribute, you´d be more than welcome! Feel free to email me at [email protected] or [email protected]

  5. tonya
    November 23, 2016
    Reply

    Hi! I’m trying to find info on purchasing the famous Saltillo Tiles in Saltillo. I thought to order them from an importer, but now thinking the road trip to go buy them would be fun. Do have any info that could assist in this mission?

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