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City & Municipality
Basketball court and kiosk in city center
Basketball court and kiosk in city center
Official seal of Petatlán
Petatlán is located in Mexico
Location in Mexico
Coordinates: 17°32′18″N 101°16′26″W / 17.53833°N 101.27389°W / 17.53833; -101.27389Coordinates: 17°32′18″N 101°16′26″W / 17.53833°N 101.27389°W / 17.53833; -101.27389
Country  Mexico
State Guerrero
Founded 1550
Municipal Status 1870
 • Municipal President Albino Lacunza Santos
 • Municipality 2,071.7 km2 (799.9 sq mi)
Elevation (of seat) 57 m (187 ft)
Population (2005) Municipality
 • Municipality 44,485
 • Seat 20,720
Time zone CST (UTC-6)
Postal code (of seat) 40850

Petatlán is a city and municipality located along the Pacific Coast of the state of Guerrero in Mexico. It is part of the Costa Grande region between Zihuatanejo and Acapulco. The city is known for the Sanctuary of the Padre Jesús de Petatlán, a 17th-century image of Christ that is claimed to have performed religious miracles. The city is the seat of a large municipality, which faces the Pacific Ocean to the south and is bounded by the Sierra Madre del Sur to the north. It contains the La Soledad de Maciel archeological site. The area’s recent history has been marked by violence related to the drug trade and to struggles between business and local farmers and environmental groups.

The city[edit]

The city is located just off Federal Highway 200 east of the tourist attraction of Zihuatanejo. It has a population of about 21,000 people (2005).[1] The center of the city has a traditional plaza which is surrounded by gardens and a basketball court. Around this plaza area are the Casa de Cultura (cultural center) and the municipal palace. It is known for markets and stores selling gold and gold items. A local dish is tamales with goat meat wrapped in banana leaves.[2]

The city is best known as the home of the Sanctuary of the Padre Jesús de Petatlán. The image is of Christ during one of the times he fell while carrying the Cross. The image dates to the 17th century. This image has been accredited with many miracles, with devotees referring to it as “Tata Chuy” or “Papa Chuy.” (Tata means grandfather, and Papa means dad. Chuy is a common diminutive for Jesús.)[2][3][4] The image is housed in a large white church with very large wooden doors, whose official name is Santuario Nacional del Santo Señor de Petatlán. Just outside the atrium, vendors selling gold and religious items congregate.[4] It is a regional pilgrimage site, which is particularly visited during Holy Week, when as many as 30,000 people come into the city.[3] During this week, the city holds a fair, called Fexpo, but the highlight of the week is a Passion Play in which 60 area residents are chosen to play Jesus and the other principal characters. The Play begins at the sanctuary, and then proceeds along a five-kilometer path, reenacting the Stations of the Cross, on the way to a hill in the Colonia Benito Juarez neighborhood, which simulates Calvary.[3][5] However, in 2006, there was a grenade attack during the Fexpo in which two people were killed and about 50 wounded; since then, the crowds during Holy Week and the rest of the year have been much smaller.[4][5]

The municipality[edit]

Geography, climate, nature[edit]

Playa La Barrita

As municipal seat, the city of Petatlán is the local governing authority for over 730 named communities, with a combined territory of 2,071.7 km2 (799.9 sq mi) (inegi).[6] About half of the municipality’s population of 44,485 people live in the city proper.(inegi) Outside the seat, the most populous are San Jeronimito, Coyuquilla (norte), Palos Blancos and El Mameyal. The municipality borders the municipalities of Coyuca de Catalán, Tecpan de Galeana and Teniente José Azueta with the Pacific Ocean on the south side.[6]

The geography of the area consists of rugged mountains, semi-flat areas and flat areas, which are part of the Costa Grande region. Rugged mountains cover about 70% of the surface, mostly in the north and center, formed by the Sierra Madre del Sur and reach a height of 2,500 m (8,200 ft) above sea level. Semi-flat areas cover about 20% of the surface and are mostly located just north of Highway 200 and are mostly rolling hills. Flat areas cover the rest and are concentrated in the west, southeast and the coastline. Major rivers are the Coyuquilla, Petatlán and San Jeronimito, with a number of arroyos such as the Camotal, La Morena, El Comalate and Coyuca. There are small lakes and lagoons such as the Santiago, Estero Valentín, Salina el Cuajo and Tular. The variations in altitude lead to three types of climate: semi-humid, semi-hot and hot. The first is mostly located in the north along the border with Coyuca de Catalán. The second is in the center and the last is along the coast. In all these climates, there is a rainy season, which lasts from June to October. There are also rains in November and December.[6]

Most of the vegetation is low- and medium-altitude rain forest, whose trees often lose their leaves in the late fall. At the highest elevations, there are forests of pine and holm oak. Wildlife include deer, iguanas, rabbits, armadillos, tejon, raccoons, opossums, skunks, wild cats, buzzards, various types of parrots and other birds. The forests contains harvestable species such as black sapote, ceiba, white oak, mahogany and red cedar?. The municipality has a number of beaches including El Mirador, El Cayatal, Valentìn, La Barrita and Juluchuco. El Valentin has a lagoon.[6]

Population and infrastructure[edit]

As of 2005, there were 178 people who spoke an indigenous languages, principally Maya or Nahuatl, down from 300 in 2000. From 1995 to 2000, the municipality had a negative population growth of -.55%. The population decreased again from 2000 to 2005 from 47,630 to 46,328.

The municipality has 54 preschools, 186 primary schools, 15 middle schools and three high schools. It has one public library. The municipality has over 10,000 homes, almost all of which are single family structures. There are 34 km of paved road and 119,3 km of dirt road.[6]


Main article: La Soledad de Maciel
Entrance to La Soledad de Maciel site

The municipality is home to the La Soledad de Maciel archeological site. This site has had pieces recovered from it since the first half of the 20th century, but formal excavation has only occurred in the past decade. The excavated portion is a large ceremonial center with a very large Mesoamerican ball court and a large pyramidal platform. The site may extend much farther than the currently excavated area. Archeological work has found a link between this area and the Teotihuacan civilization. A site museum was opened in 2010.[7][8]


Traditionally, Petatlan has been noted for its cattle, production of copra and gold sales.[4] Agriculture and livestock constitutes about 36% of the economy. Mining, petroleum and industry account for about 14.5%. Commerce and services, mostly through small and medium-size enterprises, constitute about half of the economy. Principle crops include corn, beans and chili peppers. Livestock include, in order of importance, cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, horses and domestic fowl. Industry is limited to a soap factory in San Jeronimito and small establishments which dry coconut kernels (copra). Other crafts include wood items, hats made with palm fronds and hammocks.[6]

The municipality has about 60 km (37 mi) of coastline, two lagoons[which?] and three rivers from which a wide variety of fish and other seafood is extracted. There are two main fishing cooperatives called El Cayacal and Coyuquilla. Seafood figures prominently in the local diet, especially crab, fish and preparations of ceviche. Another local specialty is tamales with goat meat wrapped in banana leaves. Iguana meat is used either with chili pepper or in a tomato sauce.[6]


The name derives from two Nahuatl words “petatl” (straw mat) and “tlan” (next to), meaning next to the straw mat.[6]

By the 11th century, the Petatlán area was inhabited by three ethnic groups: the Cuitlatecos, the Chumbias and the Pantecas. First Aztec presence in the Costa Grande region came in 1497. In 1504, Moctezuma Xocoyotzin established the tribute province of Cihuatlán, with included the Petatlán area.[6]

After the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, Petatlán was part of an encomienda belonging to Ginés de Pinzón. Evangelization was carried out under Augustinian Juan Bautista Moya. This same friar gathered the dispersed peoples to found the modern town in 1550. This town became a dependency of the subdelegation of Zacatuna in 1786.[6]

During the Mexican War of Independence, Petatlán was made part of the Tecpan province, which was created by José María Morelos y Pavón in 1811. During the reign of Agustín de Iturbide, it became part of the Capitanía General del Sur. When Mexico became a republic, it became part of the district of Acapulco, in the State of Mexico. When Guerrero was made an independent state, Petatlán became part of the district of Galeana.[6]

It became an independent municipality for the first time in 1870, combining territory from the municipality of De la Union and some communities from Tecpan. It was for a short time in 1871 and then reconstituted. In 1913, the town was besieged by the Zapatistas. In 1953, some of its western territory was lost in the formation of the José Azueta (Zihuatanejo) municipality.[6]

The city’s and municipality’s recent history has centered on violence related to drugs and the environment. Drug-related violence of the past several decades has taken its toll as tourism is down, fewer come to shop in the city and many residents stay indoors for fear of a stray bullet. The violence and threats of violence have left streets empty after 7 pm. Pickups and SUVs with darkened windows are a common sight. These vehicles are associated with the many shootings and even grenade attacks that have taken place in and around the city in recent years.[4] The violence is not limited to the city of Petatlán; it also occurs in its small rural communities such as La Morena, El Camalote and Las Humedades. A number of these have been partly or fully abandoned as drug-related violence grows. The violence is among local drug lords over turf.[9]

Other disputes are centered more in the rural areas over protected wildlife and natural resource rights. In 2004, there were problems with the illegal hunting of sea turtles and the collection of their eggs on beaches such as Playa San Valentin.[10] In 2010, residents of Juluchuca and other nearby communities staged a sit-in near an arroyo where their rights to extract water were revoked to allow for drilling for petroleum.[11]

The most serious conflict has been between the “campesinos” (peasant farmers) and local caciques (bosses) over logging and drug crop growing/transport in the mountain areas of the municipality and other parts of the Costa Grande of Guerrero. In the 1990s, the logging company Boise Cascade Corp. made efforts to establish itself in this part of Guerrero state, making arrangements with national and local leaders to log forests located on ejido land in the area.[12] The logging quickly began to exceed legal limits and began seriously damaging the ecology of the area, such as causing rivers and streams like the Coyuquilla River to dry up.[13] Local farmers depend on these resources and, in the late 1990s, banded together to form the Campesino Environmentalist Organization of Petatlan and Coyuca de Catalan (OCEP).[14] The group is best known for blocking logging roads, which had an effect on the industry. In 1998, two of the movement’s leaders, Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrerea, confessed to charges. With the support of Amnesty International, Greenpeace and others, the two were released in 2001.[12][13][15] Since then, there has been continued sporadic violence, including killings, leading to human rights condemnations.[15] Another activist, Felipe Arriaga Sanchez, was detained on charges of murder and criminal association in 2004. Amnesty International believes that it is politically motivated.[12] The OCEP continues to exist and fight deforestation mostly through legal channels, although some are still accused by authorities of drug trafficking and membership in a guerrilla group. The group states the charges come from local caciques when the group pushes for new legal actions. The group has had more success in the Petatlan Valley than in Coyuquilla Valley, but in both areas there continues to be large-scale illegal cutting, with cleared areas then being used for pasture or to grow drugs. The environment destruction forces many local farmers to become part of the drug production to survive.[16]


  1. ^ "Principales resultados por localidad 2005 (ITER)". INEGI. Retrieved February 1, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "En la Costa diversión en Grande" [On the coast big fun] (in Spanish). Mexico: Government of Guerrero. April 5, 2007. Retrieved January 13, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c "Violencia ahuyenta a turistas que visitan el santuario del Santo Señor de Petatlán". La Jornada de Guerrero (in Violence keeps tourists who visit the Sanctuary of Santo Señor de Petatlan away) (Mexico). April 6, 2007. Retrieved January 13, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Petatlán tiene pérdidas económcias a causa de la inseguridad" [Petatlan has económic losses due to crime]. El Informador (in Spanish) (Guadalajara, Mexico). November 30, 2008. Retrieved January 13, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "Conmemoran la pasión de Cristo más de mil feligreses en Petatlán". La Jornada de Guerrero (in More than a thousand parishoners commemorate the passion of Christ in Petatlan) (Mexico). April 7, 2007. Retrieved January 13, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Estado de Guerrero - Petatlán". Enciclopedia de los Municipios de México (in Spanish). Mexico: Instituto Nacional para el Federalismo y el Desarrollo Municipal. 2009. Retrieved January 13, 2011. 
  7. ^ Noe Dominguez Mariano (December 3, 2007). "Ruinas de La Soledad de Maciel, tan importantes como Teotihuacán" [Ruins of La Soledad de Maciel, as important as Teotihuacan]. La Jornada de Guerrero (in Spanish) (Chilpancingo). Retrieved January 9, 2011. 
  8. ^ Francisco Meza (August 1, 2010). "Sitio arqueológico La Soledad de Maciel será abierto en noviembre" [Archeological site of La Soledad de Maciel will be open in November.]. La Jornada de Guerrero (in Spanish) (Chilpancingo). Retrieved January 9, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Cacique "compra" tierras a sangre y fuego en la sierra de Petatlán". La Jornada de Guerrero (in Local boss “buys” lands with blood and fire in the Sierra de Petatlan) (Mexico). March 14, 2007. Retrieved January 13, 2011. 
  10. ^ Sergio Flores (January 13, 2004). "Piden apoyo de Ejercito en Petatlan". Reforma (in Army asks for help in Petatlan) (Mexico City). p. 18. 
  11. ^ Francisca Meza Carranza (November 25, 2010). "Inician plantón 100 ejidatarios de Petatlán en el arroyo de Juluchuca" [100 Petatlan ejido members begin sit in the arroyoa de Juluchuca]. La Jornada de Guerrero (in Spanish) (Mexico). Retrieved January 13, 2011. 
  12. ^ a b c Talli Nauman (November 22, 2004). "Opinion-Peasant ecologist must face charges against him". NoticiasFinancieras. (Miami). p. 1. 
  13. ^ a b John Ross (July–August 2000). "Defending the forest and other crimes". Sierra (San Francisco) 85 (4): 66. 
  14. ^ Emilio Godoy (December 23, 2010). "Mexico: Justice at last for peasant environmentalists in Mexico". Global Information Network (New York). p. 1. 
  15. ^ a b "Exigen proteger a familia de ecologista". El Norte (in Demand to protect family of a ecologist) (Monterrery, Mexico). May 26, 2005. p. 15. 
  16. ^ Jordi Pius Llopart (September–October 2002). "Guerrero ecologists promote drug crop alternatives". NACLA Report on the Americas (New York) 36 (2): 20. (subscription required)