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Want the World's Best Weather? Visit Cuernavaca.
A few views from this desireable destinationClick thumbnail to view full-size
This lovely valley has attracted the rich and famous.
Remarkable, 80-mile, scenic drive from Mexico City.
Never hears of Cowhorn? Well, translate it into Spanish and you come up with Cuerna (horn) and Vaca (cow). Put it together and you have Cuernavaca, in fact, Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, the city and environs voted many times as having the world’s best weather, and is known as "The City of Eternal Spring." If you think the current name is a tongue twister, you might consider the Indians had named the place "Cuahnahuak," or "The place near water." This Nahuatl title was too much for the Spanish Conquerers who gave the place its current name.
Cuernavaca is 80 miles south of Mexico City, on a motorway that winds through the Sierras to a height of 10,000 feet, before plunging into the valley below, where Cuernavaca and surrounding villages nestle. Or used to nestle. Unfortunately, and depending on where your priorities lie, Cuerna, as some call it, has grown exponentially since the 1985 earthquake in Mexico which caused 25,000 deaths in the capital, Mexico City, and thousands to panic as they fled to all points to escape the danger. Cuernavaca and its valley caught the bulk of these emigrants, known locally as Chilangos, (and heartily disliked), swelling the population to around 350,000 in the metropolitan area, according to official statistics, and causing mayhem on the already inadequate infrastructure. (The true figure of the population is probably closer to 1.2 million and is certainly more than that if you include outlying areas and close villages). Cuernavaca’s roads are especially badly affected and those feeding into the city centre and Zocolo are choked with taxis and “peseros” mini-buses.
Despite this overwhelming surge in population, Cuernavaca remains one of the world’s beauty spots and it still has this great weather. So much so, that people living there can be forgiven for thinking their barometers have broken as the temperature commonly remains a steady 70 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit year round, with the occasional high to the 90‘s. Not only the temperature, but the valley has more than 300 days of full sunshine a year (cry, UK residents); when the rain does come, mostly at night, it does so with a vengeance, usually accompanied by glorious thunderstorms, which boom and echo off the nearby volcanoes and the surrounding ring of the Sierra Madre Mountains. Then the floods through the city begin as torrents flow through the barrancas (canyons) that cut through Cuernavaca like the fingers on your hand pushing into a pastry. The clouds vanish after a couple of hours; the sun returns, and the place steams like the hot breadbasket it is; the valley grows much of the products used by the whole country. These staples: veggies, fruit, meat and poultry, as well as manufactured goods of all kinds, are represented in one of Mexico’s busiest and atmospheric markets. Trucks come from all over the Republic to ship the produce to other states. Buses from here go to all corners of Morelos, the state of which Cuernavaca is the capital.
And it’s all so cheap, cheap, cheap!
The quality will amaze visitors from the UK where shoppers are restricted to flavourless, often unripe or over-ripe, unattractive fruits and vegetables in the soulless Tescos. et al. But shoppers in this huge market will have to get used to the hubbub and bustle: the aisles are crammed to bursting point with happy Mexican housewives; you can have a “prueva” (taste) of anything you fancy. Avocados, creamy and ripe, are sliced ready to pass a piece to a prospective buyer. Same with oranges, cheese, olives. The vendors are as generous as the rich soil that provides this bounty. Not like Sainsbury’s in the UK where everything is so tightly wrapped and guarded in case a shopper might dare to pinch a bit.
And if you told a Mexican stall owner about “Elf and Safety” here, he would at first frown in disbelief than burst out into hearty laughter at our anal stupidity. No, flies have a good time in Cuernavaca’s market; this food attracts everything! It’s amazing how healthy the people are!
The city has a large immigrant population of Gringos: North Americans and Canadians make up the bulk of the approximately 5.000 retirees, European and other nationals make up the rest. They do organize their own functions under the auspices of the excellent Newcomer’s Club, but a large percentage of Mexicans are included in the membership and most foreigners speak good Spanish as their hosts speak English. This is a fully integrated community, not like in other parts of Mexico, such as Los Cabos in Baja, where foreigners separate themselves from the indigent population and continue to mouth the idiotic prejudices you hear in the United States by many as they denigrate “The Beaners.” (Mexicans). “Gringo,” on the other hand, is no longer a derogatory title and most Gringos refer to themselves as Gringos, too. (as some black people in the USA refer to themselves as “niggers,” and working class Mexicans, primarily in the Capital, refer to themselves as“Nacos.”)
Cuernavaca - the whole valley - sits on a constantly replenished and fast flowing aquifer of torrential water running off the 18,000 foot , active (very!) volcano, Popocatepetl, to the north-east and the other high Sierras. This has given rise to a whole slew of spas: about 40 in all. The best is Las Estacas, which you can find described in glowing terms in another hub article of mine herein.
One barranca remains flowing fast all year round in the city, terminating in the San Anton waterfall, about 30 meters in height. For a small entrance fee, you can walk around and behind these falls and visit the artisans shops and eateries outside. Many people have built houses and flats clinging to the sides of the canyons, among tropical vegetation, and, I must admit, a large percentage of the city’s rubbish during the dry season. This can be unpleasant, but you can’t see it from the street, parks and squares above the rims. When the floods come in the rainy season, this all heads on out towards the mighty and accommodating Pacific some 200 miles distant. As I said, any Elf ‘n’ Safety nannies around here would likely find themselves bobbing around with the old mattresses and 20-year-old Fords.
One of the reasons Cuernavaca’s native population is so accommodating towards foreigners is that they have been coming here for 400 years. The Conquistador, Hernan Cortez, loved the place and built the imposing palace named after him by the Zocolo; he intended to retire here with his new Spanish bride. Unfortunately for the self-involved warrior, he died in Spain of a stomach complaint before he could return. (Perhaps, as many have said, it was a curse put on him by Malinche, the Indian mistress, who had helped him subdue the Aztecs, and whom he cast aside as not being high-bred enough for the Spanish Court).
Before even Cortez, the mighty Moctezuma, king of the Aztecs, had a summer place in this valley. And Cuernavaca was also first choice of the ill-fated Emperor, Maximilian and his tragic wife, Carlotta: their mansion is now a botanical garden. Famous residents have also included The Shah of Iran, Octavio Paz, actressess Marie Feliz and Katy Jurado, Barbara Hutton, the Woolworth’s heiress and US ambassador Dwight Morrow.(see another hub), among many other luminaries.
Cuernavaca is very accommodating to well-heeled visitors, there’s not a lot for the economy class. Some of the top hotels are converted sugar haciendas, others are offshoots of large, international chains, all done with a special touch, as benefit’s the outstanding beauty of the area. This is a town and state well worth a visit - and an even better place to call home.
(The author of this hub lived and worked in Cuernavaca for 5 years from 1997 and has returned regularly each year since)