Oaxaca's Tourist Guide
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Sierra Jurez: Natural Riches

In the Zapotec language, Schiaa Ruavia, means the "Hill where the cloud is born".

Inhabited by age-old cultures and tucked away in the northern part of the state of Oaxaca, Sierra Jurez is noted for being one of the three richest areas in terms of animal and plant species, as well one of the best conserved, at the national level. This region has eco-systemic diversity without precedent, as it displays 7 of the 9 kinds of terrestrial vegetation found in the country, providing a home to 6,000 species of plants. In no other part of Mexico is it possible to find pristine rain forest which ranges from 200 to more than 300 metres above sea level. Since its formation more than some 65 million years ago, the area has served as a bridge between the North and South American Subcontinents (Neoarctic and Neotropical Kingdoms). This has made possible the exchange of plants and animals between both regions, combining the geological history and the variation of environments - permitting a richness which is unique in the world. In a trip lasting one hour, it is possible to move from the hot, dry climate of the Rio Grande valley to the cold and damp mountain summit at more than 300 metres above sea level, where ice is found for the greater part of the year and snow occasionally falls.

The presence of places which have functioned as Pleistocene refuges has favored very peculiar and unique flora and fauna which are now endemic to the area. One third of the vegetable species which populate the lower deciduous forests live exclusively in a very small area situated between the Sierra and the state of Puebla. The impressive "mesofile" forests (Oreomunnea Mexicana) is considered one of the oldest forests in the world because of its similarity to the fossil remains of forests which date to more than 22 million years ago. The "mesofile" forests (or cloud forests) are also rich in plant species at a national level and form part of the largest cloud forest in Central and North America (including the Caribbean). In contact with these forests are the richest coniferous and broad-leafed forests anywhere, resources which are considered a priority at an international level by experts in different parts of the world.

The variety of animal life found in the area is unusually high, to the point that it is considered one of the two richest areas in the world in relation to the quantity of salamander species from the Plethodontidae family. Here, butterflies demonstrate such a richness of color and shape that it is considered one of the three richest zones, in terms of species, at a national level. Many of the species identified are very rare and are found exclusively in this area, a fact which has collectors quoting very high prices. For example, the species "Pterourus Esperanza" is listed as costing up to $1,500 per specimen. Reptiles are not left behind in the parade of diversity, as at least 13 species are considered to be unique to the area. Birds too are found in a multitude of forms, as recent studies have indicated the presence of more than 400 species, two of which are only found here, and 15 of which are considered in danger of extinction. Finally, there is a wide range of mammals which are found in the Sierra, as it provides a reasonably secure habitat. As a result, at least 11 species which are endangered, such as the tapir, jaguar and spider monkey may be found, although they are usually very difficult to spot.

Historic Sites
From the top of the summit of the Cuachirindoo hill, a large part of the Sierra can be made out. In this place, which took its name from the chief of the Zapotec army which defeated the Aztecs in 1486, it is still possible to find arrowheads and other witnesses of that memorable battle.

Time travel is still possible in Ixtlan, as one need only walk along the path which, since Pre-Hispanic times, has been used as a communication and commercial route between the Central Valleys of Oaxaca and the Gulf Coastal Plain. This is the same path over which the Spaniards entered the Sierra after having founded the rich city of Veracruz, and upon which they were defeated three times by the ferocious Zapotec warriors.



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