The Witching Hour

On the first Friday in March each year, hundreds of brujos (shamans), witches and healers from all over Mexico descend on Catemaco to perform a mass cleansing ceremony. The event is designed to rid them of the previous year's negative energies, though the whole occasion has become more commercial than supernatural in recent years. Floods of Mexicans also head into town at this time to grab a shamanic consultation or limpia (cleansing) and eat, drink and be merry in a bizarre mix of otherworldly fervor and hedonistic indulgence.

Witchcraft traditions in this part of Veracruz go back centuries - mixing ancient indigenous beliefs, Spanish medieval traditions and voodoo practices from West Africa. Many of these brujos multitask as medicine men or women (using both traditional herbs and modern pharmaceuticals), shrinks and black magicians (casting evil spells on enemies of their clients). If you're lucky, you could run into a brujo on your visit because, really, who couldn't use a little more abracadabra in their life?

To arrive at communities surrounding the lake and toward the coast, take inexpensive piratas. They leave from a corner five blocks north of the bus station.

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