Cuatro Cienegas: A Journey to Mexico’s Untouched Wilderness
Cuatro Cienegas is a Coahuilan Magical Town that stands out for its natural and mysterious water bodies (swamps, lagoons, pools, rivers) and for many other attractions that I want to share with you in this complete guide.
Cuatro Cienegas de Carranza (official name) is Coahuila’s municipal seat located in the central region of the Northern Desert.
Traditionally, the town has lived from agriculture, cattle raising, and gypsum extraction until tourism came to add to its economic activities.
Mainly due to the relevance of its wetlands, one of the most complete ecosystems in the world for the study of life, as well as a beautiful tourist site.
Cuatro Cienagas was incorporated in 2012 into the system of Mexican Magical Towns, also protected by other attractions such as its architectural heritage, spas, wine culture, and gastronomy.
How was Cuatro Cienegas formed?
This territory was initially under the sea, and millions of years ago, it emerged along with the Sierra Madre Oriental.
Qualitecas and Borrados Indians inhabited it, the ethnic groups that received the -not so friendly- Spaniards.
The first mestizo town of Cuatro Cienegas was founded in the middle of the 18th century. Still, it had to be re-founded several times because the Indians decimated it.
The definitive foundation took place in 1800, and then it adopted its official republican name Cuatro Cienegas de Carranza in honor of the best-known local, Venustiano Carranza.
The town’s climate is dry and semi-warm, with an average of 21° C (70° F).
During the winter months, between December and February, temperatures drop to an average of 13° C, while in the hottest months, from June to August, temperatures are around 29° C, with peaks that can exceed 35° C.
The most extreme cold recorded has been -14° C.
It rains very little in Cuatro Cienegas, only 225 mm per year, being August and September as the rainiest months.
Getting to Cuatro Cienegas, Coahuila
The closest major cities to Cuatro Cienegas are Saltillo, Monclova, Torreón, and Monterrey.
- Saltillo, the capital of Coahuila, is 277 Km from Cuatro Cienegas, heading north towards Monclova and then traveling west
- The city of Monclova is 80 Km away from the Magical Town by the Federal Highway Mexico 30
- If you’re coming from Torreon, it is necessary to travel 230 km in the northeast direction
- From Monterrey, the trip is 275 Km
- Mexico City is 1,120 Km distance, the best way is to take a flight to one of the previous cities and finish the trip by land
Cuatro Cienegas 10 main attractions
The main attraction here is its Biosphere Reserve, a wetland and protected area of flora and fauna that is one of the most important in North America.
There are natural formations such as gypsum dunes and several endemic species, as well as beautiful pools and spas.
Several architectural buildings stand out in the town, some of them linked to the life of Venustiano Carranza, a native of the city. Another attraction is its old railroad station.
1. The importance of the wetland
NASA has qualified the Cuatro Cienegas wetland as one of the most complete places on the planet to study the origin of life.
It maintains biodiversity that allows going back 500 million years in the investigations on Evolution and its richness and rarity; it is only compared with the Galapagos Islands.
In Cuatro Cienegas, species that were thought to be extinct have been discovered, and its pools are currently immense open-air laboratories for observation and study.
2. Explore the gypsum dunes
This area of white sands formed by crystallized calcium sulfate (gypsum) is located 18 km from the town and is considered one of the three most important ecosystems of its kind in the Americas.
The white desert landscape is of singular beauty, and the sands form whimsical topographic structures, such as El Castillo.
Several endemic species live in the environment, and the attraction has services for tourists, including guided tours.
3. Admire Cuatro Cienega’s Poza Azul
This beautiful body of water located 9 km from town is a protected area, not available for swimming, but it has an observation platform and trails to walk along its shores and surroundings.
The minerals in suspension in the crystalline water create a beautiful symphony of different shades of blue, from sapphire to turquoise.
The area of Poza Azul also has palapas, tables, and grills to enjoy a family meal in an incomparable atmosphere.
4. Swimming in the Mezquites river
The Mezquites River is 9 km from the municipal capital. The place has clear, blue waters where you can snorkel to observe the fish and aquatic life.
You can also take an unusual kayak tour with the Coahuila desert as a backdrop.
It used to be possible to swim in Las Playitas, an area of blue and transparent pools formed by the Mezquitez River, but it has been closed to preserve them.
16 km from the town is the hot springs resort of La Poza de la Becerra, a place with services where you can camp.
5. Architectural attractions
The main architectural attraction of Cuatro Cienegas is the parish church of San José, the patron saint of the town, a building with Arabic lines and Gothic details.
One of the curiosities of this early 19th-century temple is that part of its construction was made with stromatolites.
These are natural calcareous structures formed by the fixation and accumulation of carbonate particles by cyanobacteria.
One of the few places in the world where they are generated is here, in Cuatro Cienegas.
6. Cave paintings
25 Km from the town is the Ejido Nueva Atalaya; there are multiple caves where it is possible to admire several cave paintings made by the indigenous civilizations that inhabited the place, including the Chichimeca.
One of the traditions and livelihoods of the people of Nueva Atalaya is the production of candelilla wax.
The natural wax extracted from the stems of the plant of the same name is highly appreciated by various industries such as cosmetology, pharmaceuticals, and electronics.
7. Visit the Cuatro Cienegas railroad station
Near the Pueblo Magico, with access through a dirt road, is the old railroad station of Cuatro Cienegas.
It’s a complete stamp of the classic stations of the XIX century, whose main attraction is perhaps the ghostly and cinematographic vibe that gives it the fact of being abandoned.
Along the same road to the station is an old cemetery; if you dare to go on a full moon, you will be able to see the angel of a mausoleum shining spectrally.
8. Visit the Plaza and Municipal Palace
The Plaza de Armas (main square) is presided over by a picturesque kiosk whose ironwork details stand out.
It has beautiful gardens and is the ideal place to sit and watch the temple of San José when it is illuminated at night.
The Municipal Presidency is a mansion of neoclassic style, of a single floor, located next to the church of San José.
Its main staircase is flanked by the images of two lions and has a cozy interior patio from which the tower of the temple and the clock can be seen.
In the entrance of the palace is the mural Homage to the Founders, presided over by the figure of Carranza.
9. Practice outdoor sports in Cuatro Cienegas
In many of the town’s pools, you can practice scuba diving, appreciating the rich biodiversity through the blue and transparent waters.
You can also go hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking, and there are places for rappelling.
Near Cuatro Cienegas are El Cerro del Muerto and Mina de Mármol, two places frequented by climbers from Coahuila and other Mexican states.
10. Try the Cuatro Cienegas Wine
Cuatro Cienegas has a wine tradition that is more than 150 years old. It began in 1860 when Don Miguel Ferriño Lander started distilling grape brandy.
Bodegas Ferriño, managed by Don Miguel’s heirs, is still operating in its original location.
Its leading brand is Sangre de Cristo, a fruity and sweet red wine that feels very pleasant.
Bodegas Ferriño is located at Presidente Carranza 601 North and offers tastings and sales, but no tours.
The Cuatro Cienegas Grape Festival occurs in July, with dances and other cultural shows, tastings, and rich local gastronomy samplings.
Venustiano Carranza, head of the Constitutionalist Army during the second stage of the Mexican Revolution, was born in Cuatro Cienegas on December 29, 1859.
The birthplace of the revolutionary leader and former president of the republic is currently the Venustiano Carranza Museum, where objects of the time and family photographs are exhibited.
In an immense one-story mansion that was the residence of the Carranza family is the Casa de la Cultura, which has a display of fossils, archeological objects, and paintings.
Cuatro Cienegas Gastronomy
This is the perfect place to enjoy the delicious Coahuilan cuisine.
The Cabrito (kid goat) is very good in Coahuila’s territory, and the locals prepare it exquisitely roasted and sauced.
The area also produces some of the best beef in the country, so it is possible to enjoy a juicy cut accompanied by a wine from Cuatro Cienegas or Parras de la Fuente.
If you feel like having a drink in the traditional style, go into one of the old “cantinas” in town, which makes them another attraction, and order one of the tasty pulques of the region.
Cuatro Cienegas hotels
Cuatro Cienegas has a small hotel offer in which three establishments stand out.
- The Hotel Plaza, at Hidalgo 202, is a clean and central lodging that operates in a beautiful building
- The Quinta Santa Cecilia, located downtown, has bungalow-style rooms and a cozy swimming pool with several palapas
- Hotel Misión Marielena, near the Plaza de Armas, is a nice hotel with well-kept gardens and a restaurant that is praised for its tasty food
Many people, however, go to Cuatro Cienegas, settling in Monclova, where the lodging offer is bigger.
- El Doc is a regional food restaurant located in Zaragoza 103 South, in front of the Plaza Hotel. They have excellent reviews about their breakfast and the arrachera tips
- Restaurant La Misión is a spacious and pleasant place, with tasty cuisine
- La Casona Restaurant is mentioned for its chiles rellenos
- If you are in the mood for seafood, you can go to La Esquina del Marisco
- El Rodeo specializes in charcoal-grilled steaks and cheeses