A Traveler’s Guide on Things to Do in Aguascalientes
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November 29, 2023
6 min read
Nestled in the heart of the Bajio region in Mexico, Aguascalientes is a charming and vibrant city known for its rich cultural heritage and friendly locals. Despite being one of Mexico's smallest states, Aguascalientes packs a big punch when it comes to things to do and see.
Founded in 1575 as a small outpost to secure the silver trade between Zacatecas and Mexico City, this city has grown into a bustling metropolis. The name 'Aguascalientes' literally translates to 'hot waters', which refers to the natural hot springs that once flowed throughout the area. 1
While many of these springs have been dammed or diverted over time, their legacy lives on through the city's name. You can still go to Aguascalientes and bathe in thermal waters at various spas around town. Which is highly relaxing!
Is Aguascalientes Worth Visiting?
There are plenty of reasons why Aguascalientes should be on your travel list. For starters, the city boasts some of Mexico's most beautiful colonial architecture and is home to several historic sites that are definitely worth exploring. It’s home to two important festivals, the San Marcos National Fair (largest in Mexico) and the Skull Parade (festival de calaveras).
Additionally, you can enjoy an array of cultural events throughout the year - from festivals celebrating rural culture and Day of the Dead festivities to art exhibits showcasing local talent.
The city has plenty of parks and outdoor spaces where you can hike or relax surrounded by lush greenery. It’s also home to a growing wine industry and has its own wine route (similar to Queretaro).
And if you're a foodie looking for authentic Mexican dishes like cabrito al horno (pork suckling) or guava mole dish, you'll find no shortage of options here. In short: Whether you're visiting Aguascalientes for its history, culture or natural beauty, this charming city is sure to leave an impression on you.
Aguascalientes' historic center is full of charm and color. Starting from the Plaza de la Patria, with its impressive bronze statue of Miguel Hidalgo, you can explore the pedestrian streets lined with colonial-era buildings and ornate churches.
Visit the San Marcos Fairgrounds (home to Mexico's largest fair)
The yearly Feria Nacional de San Marcos (FNSM) takes place in the city, but even when there isn't a festival going on, there's plenty to see. Around the fairgrounds they have everything from rides and food stands to bull fights and horse races. Another must-do activity is visiting La Isla San Marcos, an artificial island in the middle of a lake that's home to restaurants and bars with live music.
Check out the Museum of Death (yes, it's a real thing)
This museum might not be for everyone, but those interested in Mexican culture will find it fascinating. The Museo Nacional de la Muerte has exhibits on death rituals across different regions of Mexico, as well as artwork related to death themes. This was one of the coolest experiences I had there.
The exhibit is winding and multiple stories but very much worth it. They have many items on display regarding death from centuries past. It might sound macabre at first, but you will leave with an appreciation for how Mexicans celebrate death as part of life.
Venture to the Vineyards
The wine route in Aguascalientes happens at the end of August and into September, which is when they harvest the grapes. So, you can see the whole process of making wine from picking the grapes to bottling it. It's a really unique and awesome experience.
Grape harvest season
Grapes Galore: Late August and September are the prime months for grape harvesting, also called the vendimia. It's a bustling time in the vineyards as workers meticulously pluck the juicy grapes from the vines. If you're on a wine tour, you'll get to see this essential part of winemaking in action.
Hands-On Experience: Some wineries offer visitors the chance to participate in the grape harvesting process. This hands-on experience allows you to join local harvesters in the fields, pick grapes, and gain a deeper understanding of the meticulous work that goes into producing quality grapes for winemaking.
Vineyard tours and activities
Grape Processing: Guided tours during this period often include a comprehensive explanation of how freshly harvested grapes are processed. You'll learn about the sorting, crushing, and fermentation stages that transform grapes into wine.
Fermentation: You might witness the fermentation process firsthand as winemakers work with the freshly crushed grapes. The intoxicating aroma of fermenting grape juice fills the air, providing a sensory experience that connects you to the heart of winemaking.
Landscape and atmosphere
Changing Landscape: The end of August and September marks a transition from summer to early autumn. The landscape is often characterized by warm days and cooler evenings, creating a pleasant climate for exploring vineyards and enjoying outdoor activities.
Vineyard Views: The vineyards are at their most picturesque during the harvest season. The lush green vines contrast with the colorful grape clusters, creating a visual feast for visitors.
Hike up Cerro del Muerto for panoramic views of the city
If you're looking for an outdoor adventure with breathtaking views, hiking up Cerro del Muerto should definitely be on your itinerary. The mountain, whose name translates to "Hill of the Dead," stands at over 8,000 feet tall and offers stunning views of Aguascalientes and its surrounding landscape. The hike itself is challenging but rewarding.
You'll start by ascending a steep trail that winds through the rugged terrain. As you climb higher, you'll see how the city below gets smaller and smaller until it's just a tiny cluster of buildings in the distance.
Along the way, keep an eye out for wildlife such as rabbits and coyotes. Once you reach the summit, take a moment to catch your breath and enjoy the incredible view.
From here, you can see all of Aguascalientes as well as nearby towns like San Francisco de los Romo and Rincon de Romos. Don't forget to snap plenty of photos to remember this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Visit El Ocote Natural Park for a peaceful escape from city life
If you're in need of some peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Aguascalientes, El Ocote Natural Park is just what you're looking for. This stunning natural area covers over 20 hectares and features hiking trails, picnic areas, and natural swimming pools.
One popular trail takes you through lush vegetation to a waterfall where they can take a refreshing swim or simply relax on the rocks nearby. Along the way, keep an eye out for native birds like woodpeckers and jays as well as colorful butterflies flitting about.
Another highlight of outdoor activities is La Sierra Fria National Park (just 1.5 hours away from the city) which has over 1 million acres of preserved land and numerous hiking trails. Whether you're an experienced hiker or just looking for a leisurely walk in nature, El Ocote and Sierra Fria have something to offer every nature and outdoor lover.
Indulge in Local Cuisine and Drinks
Try traditional dishes
When you're in Aguascalientes, it's worth taking the time to indulge in some of the local cuisine. It is so flavorful! And even though the state is small, it punches well above its weight when it comes to cuisine.
One popular dish you won't want to miss is cabrito al horno, a savory goat meat that is a stand alone dish and usually accompanied by beans and tortillas.
It's prepared by roasting the meat with aromatic herbs, spices, and wine. If you want to taste this dish in its place of origin, visit during the months of April and May at the San Marcos Fair.
Another must-try dish is lechón al horno. This can come in a couple of different variations. You can have it as a stand alone dish or also with tacos. There will be street vendors with these and they are delicious.
Here, the dish is prepared in a unique way, even though it is eaten throughout the country. It is cooked in its own juices during the cooking process, which is its distinguishing feature. The dish is typically cooked in a sealed pot or pan with a small amount of water or oil. The steam from the liquid cooks the food evenly, resulting in a moist and flavorful dish.
Sip on locally made mezcal
Of course, no trip to Mexico would be complete without sampling some of the delicious drinks on offer! When it comes to spirits, there are a couple mezcal distilleries in Aguascalientes. Mezcal is often referred to as 'tequila's smokier cousin' due to its smoky flavor profile resulting from roasting the agave plant before distillation.
Tequila, the beloved spirit of Mexico, is crafted with precision in specific regions such as Jalisco and a handful of other states: Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. In contrast, tequila tends to have more citrusy notes but can come in many varieties depending on how long it's been aged.
To preserve its true essence and superior quality, the Mexican government and the esteemed Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT) have established strict guidelines for its production.
Whether you prefer your liquor neat or as part of a cocktail such as a margarita, you'll find plenty of options to try in bars and restaurants across Aguascalientes.
Discover the Best of Aguascalientes' Cuisine and Drinks
Aguascalientes has a rich culinary culture that's well worth exploring during your visit. Along with cabrito al horno, lechón al horno, there are plenty of other dishes to try. Local specialties include barbacoa (slow-cooked meat), chiles en nogadas, and guava mole dishes.
To get the most out of your gastronomic experience in Aguascalientes, consider taking a food tour or visiting local markets such as Mercado Juarez. And don't forget to wash it all down with some locally made mezcal or tequila – you won't be disappointed!
Experience Cultural Events and Festivals
Attend the Festival Nacional de la Cultura Rural (National Festival of Rural Culture)
If you're lucky enough to be in Aguascalientes during the last week of November, make sure you attend the Festival Nacional de la Cultura Rural. This event celebrates the cultural heritage of rural communities throughout Mexico with food, music, dance, and art. The festival takes place at the beautiful Jardin de San Marcos and features over 500 exhibitors from all over Mexico.
You can sample traditional regional foods like guava or grape mole and lechón or purchase handmade crafts like woven baskets and pottery. One of the highlights of the festival is the horse show where skilled riders perform intricate maneuvers on horseback.
The show features charros (Mexican cowboys) who display their horsemanship skills in a dazzling performance that includes roping cattle and other impressive feats. The festival also includes concerts with live music ranging from mariachi to rock bands.
Celebrate Day of the Dead with altars, parades, and food offerings
If you're interested in Mexican culture, you've probably heard about Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). This holiday is celebrated throughout Mexico on November 1st and 2nd to honor deceased loved ones.
Aguascalientes has its own unique way of celebrating this holiday with colorful altars, parades, and food offerings. You can take a walking tour through downtown Aguascalientes to see some impressive altars created by local families and businesses.
These altars are decorated with marigold flowers (the traditional flower for Day of the Dead), candles, incense, sugar skulls, photos of deceased loved ones, and their favorite foods. On November 2nd, there's a parade that starts in downtown Aguascalientes that goes all night long!
People wear costumes or paint their faces to resemble skeletons (calacas) and dance through the streets to live music. I highly suggest trying traditional foods like pan de muerto (bread of the dead) and atole (a warm, sweet corn drink). They are worth the trip alone!
Conclusion of Things to do in Aguascalientes
Attending cultural events and festivals is a great way to learn about the local culture and traditions. Aguascalientes offers unique events like the Festival Nacional de la Cultura Rural and Dia de los Muertos celebrations that are worth experiencing. Make sure you plan your trip accordingly so you don't miss out on these memorable experiences.