Zacatecas is one of the most overlooked of Mexico's firmament of colonial jewels. If you want to feel the heart of Mexico and her people, spend a few days in Zacatecas. The whole town is wrapped in a baby blanket of pink stone, carved by long gone to Heaven stonemason craftsmen. The city is recognized as a United Nations World Heritage site.
Meander without a care down the ancient dark hewn-stone 16th century streets. Have coffee on the plazas and even participate in the callejoneadas. A callejoneada is a loosely-organized pre-social media "flash mob" meandering around the streets and alleys of town with a band, maybe a humble float or people dressed in costumes and a patient burro carrying mezcal. This troupe wanders its way through a neighborhood just for the joy of it. Oh yeah, there is dancing too. Tourists are most cordially welcomed into this cultural experience. Zacatecanos are the friendliest people in Mexico.
If I may make a recommendation, you could leave Zacatecas city in the morning, stop at (see next page) La Quemada for a few hours and end your day at the hot springs, spa resort Paraiso Caxcam Then you could go on to Guadalajara - providing you are not scared of a little curvy mountain driving. Even RV's and trailers drove this route in the old days.
The other route is through Aguascalientes and is toll, but dull. The worst driving will be on the Aguascalientes "bypass." If you didn't get my roadlog (shame on you), here's a hint - take the outermost ring around the city. The other two suck is inverse order.
High on the western plains (8,005 feet, 2,440 meters), Zacatecas has pleasant dry temperatures most of the year, with highs in the 60's and 70's, Fahrenheit (21-26 Centigrade). Lows are 30's to the 50's. Winter is from late Nov. to February. In winter lows hover around 30-35 degrees (11-5 Centigrade). I was there in December and most would call it invigorating. Oh heck, I found it downright cold by my standards. Bring a heavy coat or at least a jacket.
Though on a high, dry plateau, the Calera Aquifer watershed of Zacatecas is the nacimiento (birthplace) of many of Mexico's rivers that flow eastward. People from Zacatecas call themselves Zacatecanos (fem: Zacatecanas). That is not to be confused with Zacateco, which is the name of the indigenous peoples of the area.
Zacatecas is full of history - some of it mine. It was here that I learned the importance of accent marks in Spanish. and that a woman, no matter her age, should be addressed as señorita, not Señora unless you know her.
I first visited Zacatecas with my first ex-wife on our "getting to know each other" first driving trip to Mexico. We stayed at a budget hotel on a main square on Calle Juárez. After a day of wandering the cobblestone streets of this most walkable city, we were totally lost. I turned in my man-card and asked someone for help. I chose a little old lady wrapped in a black shawl.
Señora, donde esta calle Juarez, I asked. I pronounced Juarez WAR es, as would any good Texan.
She looked puzzled, so I asked again.
She opened her eyes in recognition and gently put her hand on my arm to make sure she had my attention.
Señor, it is Calle Juárez. General Juárez hubo un héroe de la Revolución.
She then gave us directions. In parting, she told me that it was polite to call a woman you don't know señorita. Not bad - I got a language lesson and a cultural lesson just from getting lost. Of course, that is Mexico. Let it be yours.
Zacatecas is capitol of the state with the same name. It is a city built because of the silver mine now inside the city. Silver from here and around the state supplied the Spaniards with great wealth.
Cerro La Bufa is one of the main attractions. It is sometimes accessible by cable car and always by driving or taxi. La Bufa is the tall mountain that dominates the city like a silent sentinel, guarding the city from invasion, visible from almost anywhere in the city.
This was literally true as the battles for Cerro La Bufa and El Grillo were the decisive wins for the Revolutionary Army, led by Pancho Villa and his División del Norte. The Battle of Zacatecas (Toma de Zacatecas) took place June 23, 1914. This defeat of the Federals demoralized the troops (and decimated their ranks - 7,000 Federal soldiers were killed). It was the beginning of the end of the Revolution.
Atop La Bufa is a museum of interest to historians, statues of Pancho Villa who is revered in Zacatecas for liberating the area during the Revolution and other prominent general of the Revolution.
There is also a zip-line, which is long enough and scenic enough to be worth trying. I did and am glad of it. You will have to climb back up to the start, so consider that before blithely flying off into the wild blue yonder. It is a long hike.
Mina El Edén is a very popular attraction. El Edén is an old silver mine that produced the wealth for the Spanish crown and later the Republic. t was an active mine until 1960 when mining was stopped due to fears of undermining the encroaching city. The mine has tours on a regular basis and the passageways are wide and tall so most people would not feel claustrophobic. The history of the mine is demonstrated by exhibits & mannequins that are explained by both English and Spanish-speaking guides. The exhibits show indigenous (Chichimeca) as well as Mexican workers.
Museo del Arte Abstracto Manuel Felguérez is a world-famous gallery devoted to abstract or "modern" art. It is in the historic district.
Museo Rafael Coronel is an amazing collection of folk art including 3,000 masks. Rafael was the son-in-law of Diego Rivera and the brother of Pedro Coronel. Some of Rivera's sketches are also on display.
Catedral Basilica de la Asunción de Maria de Zacatecas is quite a mouthful. Local simply refer to this stately on church as the Basilica. Here's a little church-naming history. A church is the lowest designation. The next step is to become a cathedral. Your house of worship has really made the big-time when it is officially designated a basilica by the Pope. So the name of this church shows its evolution.
The Catedral is downtown and impossible to miss. If you are a fan of churrigueresque, baroque architecture, you will worship at this altar of churrigueresque-ness.
The Cathedral is difficult to photograph. You need a very wide-angle or super-wide-angle lens to get a front shot from the street. If you can, get a room at any of the hotels facing the cathedral. I stayed at the Misión Argento and rented the Presidential Suite (yeah, I know it is out of character for me, but it had a private Jacuzzi and what a view!). What sold me on the suite was that it offered a decent side view of the church. My feeling is that a hotel on Av. Hidalgo closer would have been better, though the cost would double.
Inside, there is plenty to photograph. If you are respectful and use a fast lens without flash, you can photograph to your heart's content. My own cameras & lenses were damaged when they smashed into the sidewalk and a mine shaft in a couple of falls I took, so the photos are not my best. But I used f2.8 or even f4. There was enough ambient light in the middle of the day that f1.8 was overkill.
A photo tip - churches with lots of golf reflect way more light than you expect. So meter between the gold items and the rest of the wall or ceiling to get a true reading.
There are hotels in all price ranges in Zacatecas. The downtown hotels will have underground parking - which will present a challenge if, like me, you drive a full-sized truck. The hotels outside the center have easier parking. There is an RV park at the NE side of town, the Hotel / Spa / RV Park Baruk. It is on my detailed map in my roadlog.
For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, spend a couple of nights at the Quinta Real. This super-luxury hotel chain builds unique hotels across Mexico. In this case, they built around an old bullring that was slated for demolition. I've stayed here several times, back when I was on Sanborn's expense account. Even if you pay full freight it is worth it for the experience. Or, you could just go to the hotel, walk around, enjoy and maybe have a meal or a drink. At least do that, no matter what your financial situation. It is so worth it.
If you like Modelo brand beer, you've probably drunk some bottled nearby. The world's largest beer brewery is north of town. It bottles more than 21 million bottles a day. Additionally, the machine there produces cans for other Modelo breweries - 6,000,000 cans a day. Modelo brews 12 brands, among them Pacifico, Modelo Negra, Corona, Modelo Especial. Interestingly, the same plant makes cans for purified water and Jumex fruit nectar. Anheuser-Busch InBev is the world's largest brewer and bought out Modelo. It is all a vast beer-wing conspiracy. Beware the black beer-can helicopters!