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City and municipal seat
Catemaco city seen from the lake
Catemaco city seen from the lake
Official seal of Catemaco
Catemaco is located in Mexico
Location in Mexico
Coordinates: 18°25′0″N 95°07′0″W / 18.41667°N 95.11667°W / 18.41667; -95.11667
Country  Mexico
State Veracruz
Municipality Catemaco
Founded 1774
Declared city 1966
 • Municipal President Jorge Alberto Gonzalez Azamar
Elevation 340 m (1,116 ft)
Population (2010)
 • Total 27,615
 • Municipality 48,593
Time zone -6 GMT
Postal code 95870
Area code(s) 294

Catemaco About this sound kate'mako  is a city and municipality location in the south of the Mexican state of Veracruz. The city is located on Lake Catemaco, with the municipality stretching north to the Gulf of Mexico. Catemaco is a tourist destination with its main attractions being the lake, remnants of the region’s rainforest and a tradition of sorcery/witchcraft that has its roots in the pre Hispanic period and mostly practiced by men. This tradition is well known in Mexico and attracts clients from various walks of life, including businessmen and national level politicians. Catemaco holds an annual event in March dedicated to sorcery which can draw up to 5,000 visitors.

The city[edit]

Breakwater/boardwalk along Lake Catemaco

The city of Catemaco is located in southern Veracruz, about 160 km from the port of Veracruz and 220 km from the state capital of Xalapa.[1][2] It is located inland, extending 2.5im along the shore of Lake Catemaco, a large freshwater lake, which is one of the city’s main tourist attractions, along with its cuisine and its tradition of sorcery.[1] Along the lake, the city has a 1.5 km breakwater/boardwalk, which is frequently crowded with both visitors and vendors, especially those selling charms and a local freshwater snail called tegogolo.[1][3] The city’s docks are located in the center of this area, classified as a fishing and tourism port by the federal government. Most of the boat traffic is for tourism, especially during vacation periods.[1]

The other main section of the city is the main plaza, popular with both residents and visitors.[3] The main structure here is the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Veneration of this version of the Virgin Mary, the patroness of the municipality, began in the early colonial period, as a substitute for the local worship of Chalchiuhtlicue, the goddess of water and fishermen.[2][4] This basilica contains an image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which has been credited with miracles.[1] It is rivaled in devotion only by a shrine on an island in Lake Catemaco called El Tegal, where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared.[4] The current structure was begun in 1799 but was not finished until 1961.[1] The church is a combination of Baroque and Neoclassical with a cupola 21 meters high. The surrounding stained glass windows depict the lives of Jesus and Mary.[3] Each year, Our Lady of Mount Carmel is celebrated at this basilica, a launching of boats in procession to Agaltepec Island and traditional music including danzón, Son Jarocho and other tropical music, using guitars, violins, the vihuela and double bass.[2][3]

Other landmarks in the city include the Statue of the Fisherman, the Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower), the Brizuela Absalón House, the Gasca Blanco House and the Herrera García House.[2] The Casa de los Tesoros is a large gift shop, which offers bagels, bizcochos and Mexican handcrafts and folk art.[1]

There is a bus station principally connecting the city with the ports of Veracruz and Coatzacoalcos.[1]

The municipality[edit]

Section of the Barra de Sontecomapan on the Gulf of Mexico

The city of Catemaco is the local government for 258 communities, which cover a territory of 659.2km2.[5] The municipality borders those of Mecayapan, Soteapan, Hueyapan de Ocampo and San Andrés Tuxtla, extending to the Gulf of Mexico in the north. The municipal government consists of a municipal president, a syndic and four representatives called regidors.[2]

The municipality is rural with a population density of 73.7 people per km2, and only the seat considered to be urban.[5] There a small community (297) of indigenous language speakers, mostly of Popoluca.[5] Outside the seat, the main communities are Sontecomapan (pop. 2,413), La Victoria (1,842), Zapoapan de Cabañas (1,382) and San Juan Seco de Valencia (1,237).[5]

The municipality has 166 schools that mostly serve students from the preschool to high school/vocational level with some adult and special education. There are fifteen libraries but a 17.1% illiteracy rate.[5]

The municipality has 204 km of major roadways, mostly state-maintained local highways.[5] The most important road is Federal Highway 180, which connects the municipality primarily to San Andrés Tuxtla. There are no rail lines.[1]

Geography and environment[edit]

Looking towards Lake Catemaco from the Xococapan Tourist Ranch
Lake island filled with herons
Spider monkey on island in Lake Catemaco
A hut on the lake

The municipality is located in the Los Tuxtlas mountain region in the south of Veracruz, a rugged area of recent volcanic origin.[2][4] It is located in a valley between the San Martín Volcano and the Santa Marta mountain ranges, extending from Lake Catemaco to the Gulf of Mexico shore, with an average altitude of 340 meters above sea level.[2][3]

Most of the wild vegetation has been destroyed, with 391.6km2 used as pasture for animals, 50.8 km used for agriculture and 39.4km2 with secondary vegetation. Only 84.8km2 remains as rainforest and 81.2km2 is covered by water.[5] The soil is poor in nutrients and highly susceptible to erosion.[2] The remaining natural vegetation is high tropical perennial rainforest, giving way to wetland vegetation and mangroves near and on the Gulf coast.[1][2] Native tree species include cedar, royal palm, palo de agua, ojite (Brosimum alicastrum), ojueta, marayo and rabo lagarto (Equisetum arvense). The Nanciyaga Ecological Reserve preserve most of what is left of the rainforest that enveloped Lake Catemaco.[4] Wildlife include small mammals such as squirrels, armadillos, rabbits, weasels and raccoons.[2] Many bird species inhabit the lake area including herons, owls, cardinals and more. Numbers are highest in December with the arrival of migratory species.[2][4] Spider monkeys were extinct but have been reintroduced in the Lake Catemaco area.[6]

For most of the year, the climate is warm and humid. The average temperature ranges from 20 to 26C, with the coolest months from November to January and the warmest in the summer.[1] It rains all year because of warm humid winds from the Gulf of Mexico, but annual totals vary from 1900mm to 4600mm.[4][5] The quantity of rainfall also varies by season, with a relatively dry season from March to June, when totals are half that of the rest of the year. Winds are predominantly from the north. From February to October, most winds are from the northeast, which are warmer. From November to January cooler winds from the north dominate due to cold fronts from the north called “nortes.”[1][4]

Most of the municipality’s surface water is found in Lake Catemaco and the Sontecomapan Lagoon. The area is filled with rivers and streams including the San Juan Michapan, Comoapan, San Andrés and Río Grande. Because of the area’s relative ruggedness, waterfalls can be found, such as the Tepepa Falls on the San Andrés River.[2]

The most important body of water in the municipality is Lake Catemaco. The lake basin was formed by volcanic eruptions of the Santa Martha and San Martín Volcanos. The lake is elliptical, with a maximum length of eleven km and a maximum width of eight km.[1][2] It contains 553 million cubic meters of water and covers and area of 73km2, but is shallow, with an average depth of eight meters. The deepest part is twenty two meters, located between the city and Agaltepec Island.[1] Various rivers and streams empty into the lake including Río Grande, Yohualtajapan and Cuetzalapan. The Rio Grande, also known as the San Andrés River, empties the lake and forms the Eyipantla Falls on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.[1][2]

The lake and its twelve islands have been designation as a federal natural park.[3] The largest of these islands is Agaltepec, 750 meters long and 150 at its widest, covering 8.5 hectares. This name is from Pipil and Nahuatl and means “stone canoe” or “canoe hill.” It is also called Crocodile or Dragon Island in reference to is shape which resembles the animal when seen from certain perspectives. Its vegetation remains intact with over 1,600 trees of 63 species. In 1988 and 1989, two groups of howler monkeys, which are in danger of extinction, were brought to the Agaltepec Island as an attempt to preserve the species. Since then the animals have multiplied with over 100 and their cries can be heard in the nearby city. The island is federal property and is maintained by the Universidad Veracruzana.[1] The is also an archeological site on the island.[3] Tanaxpillo, better known as the “Island of the Monkeys.” This name and fame comes from a colony of stump-tailed macaques that live there, introduced as part of a research project in the 1970s. They are maintained by the university although they are also fed by local boat operators.[1][2] One other popular island for visitors is the Heron Island (Isla de las Garzas), a sanctuary of the species, which cover the trees and have painted them white from their excrement.[2][3]

The other major body of water within the municipality is the Sontecomapan Lagoon. It is a large, shallow estuary which opens to the sea, covering 900 hectares in a very irregular shape. Its average depth is only two meters with the deepest part at five meters.[1] The lagoon is fed by various rivers and streams with the salinity of the water increasing the closer one is to the Gulf of Mexico. It is mostly separated from the Gulf by the Barra de Sontecomapan, a stretch of beach and offshore reefs.[2][3] Canals also stretch from the main body of water, and both these canals and the edges of the lagoon contain mangroves.[2][3] The town of Sontecomapan, which the lake is named after, has docks for fishing and tours to see the area’s vegetation, especially its mangroves.[2]

Lake Nixtamalpan is located in a crater filled from underground. Its depth is unknown but estimated at fifty meters, and covers and area of about twenty hectares.[1]

The municipality has a coastline on the Gulf of Mexico. The most visited beaches here are Peña Hermosa in Tatahuicapan de Juárez, La Perla del Golfo in Mecayapan and Playa Escondida, most popular with foreign tourists.[2][3]


Man fishing on Lake Catemaco
Man with mud facial drinking mineral water from leaf cup at Nanciyaga Ecological Reserve

The municipality is classified as having a medium level of socioeconomic marginalization, with 64.5% living in poverty and 13.1% living in extreme poverty. 26.9% are employed in agriculture, fishing and forestry, 15.5% in manufacturing (mostly handcrafts) and 56.9% in commerce and tourism.[5] However, the municipality’s main income is from ranching, fishing and agriculture.[2]

The most widespread activity is ranching, mostly raising cattle, followed by pigs and domestic fowl.[1][5] Next is fishing. Lake Catemaco is one of the most productive in Mexico, but large net fishing is prohibited in order avoid overfishing. However, over 2,000 fishermen earn a subsistence living capturing about 2,000 tons each year. Main catches include tilapia (an introduced species), a sardine called topote and a fresh water snail called tegogolo.[1] The most important crops are corn, followed by coffee and green chili peppers,[5] but beans, rice, watermelons, oranges, mangos and coconuts are also grown.[1][4]

The local gastronomy is characterized by its ranching and fishing activities (both fresh and salt water) .[6] Common ingredients include tegogolos, a fresh water snail said to be an aphrodisiac,[2][4] freshwater eels, tochogobi (a type of mojarra) and pork, especially a preparation called “carne de chango” because it takes like monkey meat.[2][4][7]

Hotel del Brujo in Catemaco

The area holds deposits of gold, silver, zinc and other materials,[2] but here is no mining and no major industry.[1] Handcrafts are made, mostly guitars called jarana jarochas (often decorated with snail and seashells) and decorative items for the tourist trade.[2]

The most important commercial activity is tourism, mostly centered in the city of Catemaco. The area attracts mostly Mexican visitors, with the busiest times being traditional vacation periods such as Holy Week, some parts of summer and long weekends.[1] Most come to see the lake, including boat tours to the various islands, and visit the sorcerers.[4] The area has also attracted the film industry, with films such as Medicine Man with Sean Connery and Apocalypto, filmed by Mel Gibson .[8]

Ecological tourism has grown in the municipality, allowing rural communities such as Ejido Lopez Mateos and Ejido Miguel Hidalgo to offer cabins and access to attractions such as rainforest, rivers and waterfalls, such as Cola de Caballo and Poza Reina. There are also archeological sites such as Las Margaritas and a pyramid on El Cerrito just outside of Catemaco city.[3][6]

The most popular attraction of this type is the Nanciyaga Ecologial Reserve, a private tourist attraction which offers tours, mud facials, cabins, ritual cleansings, temazcals, a dock on Lake Catemaco and a mineral spring.[1][2][9] The site cover four hectares just outside the city of Catemaco and was created in 1983. The water from the mineral spring is drinkable and made available to visitors using cups made from large green leaves.[3]

The “witches” of Catemaco[edit]

Grounds where the annual "brujo" reunion is held in Catemaco

Catemaco is known in Mexico for its community of “brujos,” which can be translated as 'witches' or 'sorcerers', as most are men.[2][7] The history of magical practices here extends back to the pre-Hispanic period and may have survived because of its relative isolation,[3][10] but Lake Catemaco is said to emit a kind of energy, along with the Mono Blanco Mountain that rises above it.[7]

These magical practices are an uneasy mix of Catholic rite, especially the invocation of saints and pre-Hispanic beliefs and rituals.[10] Though many tourists are simply amused by the kitschy t-shirts of witches or other souvenirs or attractions, some do take the practice seriously. There are practitioners of both “white” and “black” magic, with the white version being more acceptable. Those who practice the black version charge more.[7]

Sorcery is one of the main attractions of Catemaco. The belief in magical practices has attracted people from all walks of life, from waiters and taxi drivers to national-level politicians. Veracruz governor Fidel Herrera Beltrán even pushed for a national school for sorcery in Catemaco, without success and is a regular at the annual event. Visitors usually seek limpias (ritual cleansings), healing or something to give them an edge in business.[7][10] These magical practices have also migrated out of the Catemaco area as residents move to other places such as Ciudad Juárez to work.[11]

Although the sorcery is a main attraction, it is not promoted as part of Halloween or Day of the Dead .[7] The main event for practitioners is the annual Congreso Nacional de Brujos de Catemaco (officially called the Ritos, Ceremonias y Artesanías Mágica because of objections from the Catholic Church) .[2][10] The main event is the opening, on the first Friday of March. This begins with a “black mass” on the edge of Lake Catemaco bby the “brujo mayor” (loosely translated as “high witch or sorcerer”), which attracts up to 5,000 people. The event was founded in the 1970s by former brujo mayor Gonzalo Aguirre and today attracts around 200 shamans, healers (curanderos), herbalists, psychics and fortune tellers. It also brings in as much as three million pesos to the local economy.[10]

The popularity of the brujos and the event has created problems as well. Many con artists have taken advantage of the situation, making the finding of genuine practitioners difficult.[10][12] There have been disputes among the practitioners over clients, tourism, and who leads the rites at the annual gathering. There has also been controversy related to those who sacrifice animals or petition Santa Muerte the Devil.[12]


In the early pre Hispanic period, the area was dominated by the Olmecs,[4] but the name is derived from Nahuatl, meaning “place of the burned houses.” This name is probably in reference to an eruption of the San Martin Volcano.[2]

From the 16th century, the area was part of the province of Santiago Tuxtla, which became a municipality after Independence. The city itself was founded in 1774. In 1881, it officially became a town and in 1966 declared a city.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y "Catemaco, Veracruz" (PDF). SEMAR. Retrieved May 3, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad "Catemaco". Enciclopedia de Los Municipios y Delegaciones de México Estado de Veracruz-Llave (in Spanish). Mexico: INAFED. Retrieved May 3, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Veracruz: Guía para descubrir los encantos del estado. Mexico City: Editorial Océano de México. 2010. pp. 73–74. ISBN 978-607-400-323-9. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Edgar Anaya (August 12, 2001). "Catemaco: El embrujo de un lago". El Norte. p. 1. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Catemaco" (PDF). Sistema de Información Municipal, Cuadernillos Municipales, 2014. Secretaría de Finanzas y Planeación del Estado de Veracruz. Retrieved May 3, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c Harry Mller (October 12, 2003). "Mexico Channel / Las cosas nuevas de Catemaco". Mural (Guadalajara). p. 9. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Jim Budd (October 27, 2002). "Viajando Ligero/ El misterioso Catemaco". Reforma (Mexico City). p. 5. 
  8. ^ Cesar Huerta (December 22, 2005). "Deja Mel dinero en Catemaco". Reforma (Mexico City). p. 16. 
  9. ^ Alessandro Triacca (December 8, 2013). "Tradición prehispánica". Mural (Guadalajara). p. 7. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f Diodora Bucur (March 3, 2010). "Catemaco: Mexico's cradle of sorcery and witchcraft: Veracruz town hosts the annual National Congress of Sorcerers". Mexconnect newsletter. ISSN 1028-9089. Retrieved May 3, 2014. 
  11. ^ Horacio Nájera (March 28, 2007). "Tiene Catemaco 'sucursal' en Ciudad Juárez". El Norte (Monterrey). p. 13. 
  12. ^ a b Lev Garcia (March 14, 2004). "Hacen de Catemaco un campo de batalla". Reforma (Mexico City). p. 22. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 18°25′N 95°07′W / 18.417°N 95.117°W / 18.417; -95.117