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Puerto Vallarta: Go Back In Time With The Huichol

Dec 9, 2007
Deep in the rainforest of the Sierra Madre Mountains, one of the world's last remaining indigenous cultures continues to practice their unique customs. For centuries, the Huichol Indians have resided in isolation, resisting the influences of the modern world. As home to many famous Huichol artists and just a short flight from the ancient villages, Puerto Vallarta has long been the best destination to experience Huichol culture. Each year, adventurous tourists visit the Huichol not only in the streets of Puerto Vallarta, but in their mountain villages for a chance to observe a truly distinctive civilization.

Calling themselves "Wixáritari" ("the people") in their native language, the Huichol claim to have migrated west to the Sierra Madre Mountains from the area known as San Luis Potosi. As a result, many of the Huichol living in these mountains make a yearly pilgrimage to San Luis Potosi to celebrate their ancestors. Some evidence also suggests that the Huichol may be direct descendents of the great Aztec culture. Today, approximately 7,000 Huichol continue to reside in their mountainous villages, while another 13,000 have relocated throughout Mexico. When visiting the Huichol civilization on a tour from Puerto Vallarta, there are three settlements that tourists will have a chance to experience: San Sebastián Teponohuastlan (Wautüa), Santa María Cuexcomatitlán (Tuapuri) and San Andrés Cohamiata (Tatei Kié).

Besides the Huichol's ability to retain their native culture, the civilization is also known for its unique artwork. For centuries, the Huichol created images known as nieli'ka for use in everyday ritual. Placed prominently in homes and any place of spiritual significance, these icons were created by coating a small tablet with beeswax and pine resin and pressing yarn through the surface. Using only products developed from nature, the resulting pieces of artwork are known for their vibrant colors, spiritualistic imagery and sharp depictions of local wildlife.

In the past few decades, Huichol artisans living throughout Mexico have put a modern touch on the traditional nieli'ka. After some of these native people came to reside in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City and other populous locations, Huichol artwork quickly gained exposure and popularity among art lovers and collectors.

Eventually, a handful of Huichol artists began creating larger yarn paintings incorporating the same traditional motifs. First displayed in Guadalajara in 1962, these large yarn paintings have since found collectors and been exhibited worldwide. Recently, Huichol artists have also begun creating pieces by pressing wooden and metal beads onto wooden forms, creating complex images similar to the now-famous yarn paintings.

When collectors and art lovers seek out Huichol artwork, the first place they visit is Puerto Vallarta. As you walk the streets of Puerto Vallarta, you can find plenty of Huichol artisans selling their work directly to the public. The Huichol won't be hard to spot either; nearly all of these artists will be dressed in traditional white garments embroidered with the colorful designs found in their artwork. Huichol artwork also features prominently in the art galleries of Puerto Vallarta. When in search of beaded work or yarn paintings, one of the best places to start is the Huichol Collection gallery located on the Malecon - the city's famed boardwalk. Regardless of where you shop for Huichol artwork, you will always be able to find pieces for any budget.

If you want to get even closer to the Huichol civilization, there are now several tours that visit the people's mountainous homeland. Out of respect for the Huichol, only small tour groups - typically 8-15 people - visit their villages. Most tours depart from private air hangers near the Puerto Vallarta Airport, making the short flight over the Sierra Madre Mountains and the rainforest. These affordably priced tours depart early in the morning during the tourism season (generally early December until April) and spend several hours amongst the Huichol and their pristine environment.

Nowhere else in the world can you experience the culturally unique and artistically enlightening pleasures of the Huichol's indigenous society. When in Puerto Vallarta, spend some time with the Huichol and discover a world that has existed only in your wildest imagination.
About the Author
This article was written by Justin Burch. Justin writes select pieces about vacationing in the Caribbean and travel in Puerto Vallarta for the Marriott Resorts.
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