The town of Malinalco is a wonderful escape from Mexico City. Set within an lush green valley, the town is picture-perfect with cobbled streets, colourful houses and gardens rich with tropical fruit trees and flowers.
Officially designated a pueblo magico (magical town), this is one of a handful of pretty colonial towns within easy reach of Mexico City. If you’re planning a visit to Malinalco then read on for some of the best things to do .
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Despite being such an easy weekend escape from Mexico City it’s still relatively unknown to visitors coming to Mexico. It won’t be long until the secret’s out, however, as Malinalco boasts the perfect ingredients for a good break.
Many of the hotels and holiday rentals have swimming pools and the town’s compact nature means it’s easy to get around. If you’re visiting with kids, in particular little children, be aware that the cobbled streets are not kind to strollers.
1. The Malinalco Ruins are 100s of years old
The archaeological zone is arguably the main attraction of Malinalco. 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.
2. It’s very pretty with a fascinating history
Mexico is something of an expert when it comes to ‘pretty towns’ but Malinalco still shines. Tucked away within an emerald green valley, the town is only 125km from Mexico City but feels a world apart with it’s brightly painted houses lining sloping cobblestone streets.
It’s name is thought to mean “where they worship Malinalxóchitl”, a reference to the Aztec belief the the sorceress Malinalxóchitl was left here by Huitzilopochtlli, her brother and the leader of the Mexica. Malinalco featured in notes by Hernan Cortes after one of his armies capture the town and built the Monastery of the Divino Salvador. This monastery is home to the Malinalco murals, which are unlike any murals you’ll have seen before.
3. There’s a brilliant bug museum
Whether you’re visiting Malinalco with kids or without, you must stop by 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 for medicinal purposes.
4. To visit the lively market
The main market day is on Wednesday when vendors come to Malinalco from neighbouring villages. On sale are traditional food and crafts. There are vendors in the central plaza throughout the week, however, selling clothes, fruit and vegetables, bric-a-brac and more.
5. The Malinalco murals are completely unique (and subversive)
The Augustine monastery of the Divino Salvador was built between 1540 and 1560.
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.
The murals are incredibly well preserved and completely unique. If you’re visiting with kids, try playing a game of ‘I Spy’ and get them to spot animals within the designs.
6. To drink Mezcal
Until recently, strict laws have dictated who could legally call their agave distillates mezcal, based partly on geography. Although you’ll find producers of mezcal throughout Mexico, for years the DOC (denomination of origin) for the popular spirit was confined to just nine states.
Two years ago the DOC was extended to include 12 municipalities in Mexico State. This included Malinalco. This means that producers who have long been creating distillates of agave can now legally name them mezcal. You’ll find lots of places selling mezcal in Malinalco – from established restaurants to hole-in-the-wall producers.
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.
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.
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 don’t accept kids but you’ll find an exception with Casa Navacoyan. This hotel is rated highly by families.
We like to rent a holiday home when we go to Malinalco 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. 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 – earplugs are a good idea!
Getting to Malinalco
Malinalco is located in Estado de Mexico (the State of Mexico) 110km (65 miles) from Mexico City. For visitors coming from the United States, the closest airport is in 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.