Things to Do in Malinalco
Malinalco is a delightful town to simply wander around with cobbled streets, colourful houses and gardens filled with tropical fruit trees and flowers. Officially designated a pueblo magico (magical town), it’s one of a handful of pretty colonial towns within easy weekend distance from Mexico City. The central town square is predictably lively and a market is held at weekends. The following are some activities that we have enjoyed on our trips to Malinalco. One word of warning, the hilly cobbled streets are not kind to strollers or pushchairs! Bring a baby carrier or kiddy backpack instead.
Meet the Local Residents at the Museo Vivo
Undoubtedly the highlight of each of our visits to Malinalco for my kids has been the Museo Vivo: Los Bichos de Malinalco. This “bug zoo” was established to showcase the various local residents that call Malinalco and the surrounding area home. On display are snakes, tarantulas, millipedes and more – most of which you can hold! It’s really well run with visits being led by a knowledgeable and friendly guide (Spanish only). There’s also a garden filled with plants and herbs and your guide will explain how they are used locally. The best bit for my kids, however, is handling the various creepy crawlies. I am definitely happy spectating!
Become a Warrior at the House of Eagles
The archaeological zone is arguably the main attraction of Malinalco (although my kids were more impressed by the tarantulas). When the Aztecs conquered the area in the 1470s they established an area for their military elite, the Eagle and Jaguar warriors and built a complex at the top of the Cerro de los Idolos (Hill of the Idols).
Today the main reason to walk the 358 stairs to the top are for the view and to see the Cuauhcalli, the House of Eagles. This building was carved our of the side of the mountain and it’s believed that this is where religious ceremonies to “ordain” eagle and jaguar warriors took place.
Search for the Animals in the Murals
The Augustine monastery of the Divino Salvador was built between 1540 and 1560 as the centre of evangelisation work in the area. Today, it is well worth stepping inside to see the unique black and white murals. These paintings are centuries old and, upon first glance, seem to depict the Garden of Eden. Look closer, however, and you’ll see subversive symbols; monkeys with men’s faces, strange-looking fish and a variety of cacti. In one corner an Augustine monk is shown facing the grim reaper. My kids played a game of ‘I Spy’ and looked for the various animals hidden among the paintings, which kept them entertained for a while before they ran out into the large church gardens. For adults, the murals are a really interesting and unusual sight and well worth a visit. For more information on Malinalco’s murals, take a look at The Paradise Garden Murals of Malinalco: Utopia and Empire in Sixteenth-Century Mexico.
Where to Eat in Malinalco
Located just off the main square is the tiny but delicious Pizza e Core. The restaurant consists of nothing more than two tables, a bar and a large pizza oven but it remains one of our favourite stops when we visit Malinalco. The owner often gives the kids dough to play with as we’re waiting for our pizzas to arrive.
Los Placeres sits on the main square (there’s a very good ice cream shop next door) and has an innovative and extensive menu. This is Malinalco’s venue for fine dining. Make sure you get a table on the veranda out back. Dishes include crispy trout and cochinita pibil (spicy pulled pork). There’s also a kids’ menu.
We’ve eaten at El Puente de Ma Li a couple of times, once was fantastic and the other not as good. Still, it’s worth trying it out as the setting is lovely with a pretty garden (complete with mini deck chairs for kids) and a mini putting green. There’s also a book store at the front of the restaurant, as well as a handful of kids’ toys. The restaurant is on the road leading towards the Cerro de los Idolos.
For more ideas on where to eat in Malinalco, take a look at these suggestions from TripAdvisor.
Where to Stay in Malinalco
Many of the hotels in Malinalco are adults-only. One exception is Casa Navacoyan, which comes highly recommended by families.
Each time we have been to Malinalco we have rented a property for the weekend. One of our favourites was the Pink House pictured above which no longer seems to be listed on Airbnb unfortunately. However, there are lots of other options. This beautiful villa, for example, also comes with award-winning reviews from friends. We have also stayed at this rustic home with a pool a couple of times. Friends have stayed at this villa before and rated it highly.
One word of warning, as with many pueblitos in Mexico, firecrackers are de rigeur at weekends. It doesn’t matter what time of day or night, expect the whistle and bang of firecrackers to accompany your weekend. Bring earplugs!
Getting to Malinalco
Malinalco is located in Estado de Mexico (the State of Mexico) 110km (65 miles) from Mexico City. Depending on what time of day you leave the capital, you can be in Malinalco in 1.5 to 2 hours. Once you exit the toll road, it is also a very pretty drive.
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