Although the small town of El Quelite (population 2800) lies only about 20 miles north of the bustling Mexican resort city of Mazatlán, it might as well be in another world. Humble, brightly painted houses with red-tiled roofs replace glitzy highrise hotels, and horses and burros rather than speeding taxis are still the preferred forms of transportation.
There isn't a great deal to do in El Quelite, which is of course part of its charm. Most visitors just wander through the town's tranquil streets soaking up the bucolic ambience. Stopping by the local bakery or panadería to sample freshly baked treats is a must, as is checking out the pretty 19th-century village church. El Quelite's well-kept cemetery, with its colorful mausoleums adorned with flowers, is also well worth exploring.
For shoppers, there are outdoor stands and boutiques selling local handicrafts and foodstuffs scattered about town. One of El Quelite's more unusual sights is a hillside farm that is home to hundreds of roosters being raised for cockfighting, which is legal in Mexico. The roosters are tethered to individual triangle-shaped shelters that look a bit like tiny Swiss chalets.
Perhaps El Quelite's biggest claim to fame is that it is one of the few places in the state of Sinaloa where the pre-Hispanic game of Ulama is still played. Participants in this grueling contest must get a seven-pound rubber ball through a hoop without using their hands. Ulama matches are normally held on weekends and last about two hours, though they can go on for much longer.
No trip to El Quelite would be complete without stopping for lunch at the El Mesón de Los Laureanos, which was named after a gang of bandits who used to rob stagecoaches in the early 1800's. This attractive courtyard restaurant in the center of town is run by Dr. Marcos Osuna, a physician who has been instrumental in promoting rural tourism in his hometown. Dr. Osuna is a gregarious man who possesses a wealth of knowledge about El Quelite's traditions and history. His restaurant serves a variety local dishes made from fresh ingredients produced in this primarily agricultural region.
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El Quelite, Sinaloa, Mexico - Images by John Mitchell
The easiest way to visit El Quelite is on one of the day trips offered by tour operators in Mazatlán. Two other atmospheric towns worth exploring in the foothills of the Sierra Madre are Concordia and Copala, former silver mining communities that date back to Spanish colonial days.