Near Catemaco, Veracruz, along the misty shores of mystical Lago Catemaco, the ecological reserve of Nanciyaga is tucked away, but not entirely unknown to the outside world. Catemaco is noted for its volcanic lake and the annual brujo (witch or sorcerer) convention the first week in March. Some say that this convention is only for show and that if you want to find real brujas or curanderas, you should go to Santiago Tuxtla, just up the road (see description below).
Nanciyaga has caught the attention of the upscale visitors and is more expensive and written up in high-end travel magazines and web sites these days. To me, the character is changed, but it is still worth a visit.
Hollywood had something to do with it. In 2006. Mel Gibson filmed Apocalypto here. In 1992 Medicine Man with Sean Connery was shot here. Since I used to work as a location scout for MTV, I know how a film crew can ruin a location. So the Nanciyaga of today is no longer the unpretentious retreat it was when the story was written, but life moves on, not always in the direction we want.
Nanciyaga ecological reserve is only seven kilometers east of town on the road to Coyame. There are signs. Nanciyaga is like a set in a movie. In fact, it was a set in the movie, Medicine Man, which was supposed to have taken place in the Amazon. I paddled a dugout canoe in the Amazon and there is little similarity, but the area does have a jungle-like atmosphere. Make the effort to get there. The area is sacred to the Native Peoples who originally populated the area. Some will consider it a place of spiritual renewal.
Nanciyaga of today is relatively expensive for an overnight stay in an UN-airconditioned hut. But it does have atmosphere and those who appreciate such New-Age environments will feel it is well-worth it. Look before you leap or commit.
At the park, you can take a Temazcal, or ritual steam bath in an earthen dome. You can also take baths of mud and aromatic plants in the mineral spring. You can drink the naturally pure water from the stream (upstream from the bathing area). I did. A swim in the waters is refreshing and it feels like they tone your skin. They are not hot, which is a blessing. Farther away, the mineral water, Coyame, is bottled.
If you so desire, visit the resident shaman or medicine man. He is supposed to be able to diagnose your ailments and prescribe herbal treatments. The prehistoric planetarium is certainly worth seeing. For naturalists, the extensive vegetation and the opportunity to view animals in their natural habitat will be rewarding.
The hotel itself has only ten simple cabins on stilts in the jungle. They will appeal to those who want to get back to nature, but might be a little rough for most. They are set on stilts at the edge of the mysterious Lake Catemaco. Next door is La Jungla, a jungle like restaurant where you can eat under camouflage covers. They have a very nice swimming hole with the same mineral waters. The food is good and the bar is hopping. Nanciyaga Web site.
From Veracruz, keep going southeast on Hwy. #180 for 109 miles. At second entrance to Catemaco (by lake), turn left. Follow this lakeside road for a few miles. You'll see sign on right.
The waterfalls of Eyipantla are most well worth a visit. These falls comprise several branches that flow into each other to from a several meter-wide multiple-drop fall that rushes over the edge thunderously for a hundred feet or more. The spray at the bottom is drenching and the road deafening. There are something like 300 steps from the top to the bottom. Fortunately, there are several benches for old folks to stop and tarry awhile while their breath catches up with them.
Four miles west, on Hwy. # 180 in San Andres Tuxtla are the factories where most of the cigars in Mexico are rolled by hand.
Nine miles west in Santiago Tuxtla, where a giant Olmec head, weighing an estimated forty tons, sits in the middle of the plaza. A friend of mine who is a true curandera (healer) tells me that the town is a center for healers. She said that whenever a new person comes to town, the true healers will walk by and decide if they want to help them.