Hop on an extreme swing at Ben’Zaa, a cloud forest in Oaxaca

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Drive to the edge of the cliff and sleep in a flirty cabin inside an ecotourism center surrounded by a sea of ​​clouds

A place among the clouds where you will feel that you are flying through the air in the beautiful landscape offered by the Sierra Sur de Oaxaca. Here walking the steep paths is a challenge that has the reward of being close to the cotton of heaven.  

Desarrollo Ecoturistico Benzaa (@DBenzaa) | Twitter


 
The Ben’Zaa Ecotourism Development honors this scenario: “a place in the clouds” is what Ben’Zaa means, in Zapotec.

This place, famous for its high mountains and its cloud forest where pines, large ocotes, oaks, and eagle sticks abound, is located in the municipality of San Mateo Río Hondo in the state of Oaxaca.

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Photo: Ben’Zaa “a place among the clouds”.  

Ben’Zaa seeks to preserve the forests and take care of the environment, so these cabins have a mission to coexist with their nature and Jonathan García, manager of the place, makes a comparison of the forest and our grandparents.
 

Forests are like our grandparents, since they have lived longer than us, and without them, our existence would not be possible. That is why they need our care, dedicate time and listen to them. In their great trunks and in each one of their branches they weave stories that are heard in the wind. “

In addition to preserving its ecosystem, it seeks to rescue the Zapotec culture:  its customs and some rites that were practiced in ancient times, and local products are also promoted, taking advantage of them in a sustainable way with the philosophy of returning to nature everything that it gives you. gives.
 
If you want to visit the Ben’Zaa cabins you can do a road trip of a little over nine hours from Mexico City. From the center of Oaxaca, it is almost three hours by car.
 
Do not forget to be very warm since it is always very cold in the place, regardless of the time of year.   

jose ben zaa artesanias - jose benza artesanias

The Ben’Zaa (Zapotecs)

The Zapotec word comes from the Nahuatl word Tzapotécatl, it means “town of the Zapote”. The name was imposed on them by the Mexica due to the profusion of sapote trees in the territories of the Ben’Zaa, “people of the clouds”, as they identify themselves.

The Ben’Zaa are not a homogeneous cultural group; Ethnography groups them into four branches: Zapotecs from Valles Centrales, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Sierra Norte or Juárez, and the Zapotecs from Valles Centrales, located in the center of the state of Oaxaca.

As in most of the original Mesoamerican populations, the cult of pre-Hispanic deities was mixed with the religion imposed by the conquerors, resulting in a cultural and religious syncretism. As a consequence of colonial rule, the cargo system that currently constitutes a body of authorities of the native peoples was instituted. In this area, the topiles and the mayordomos who are in charge of carrying out the annual worship around certain saints of the communities stand out.

Traditional medicine plays an important role within the Ben’Zaa culture. They conceive illness as an evil of the soul that manifests itself in specific physical disorders. Therapists are of both sexes, their specialties are herbs and their attributes; Parthians, bonesetters, sucking-pulsators and fortune-tellers, prayers and spiritists, who use various plant and animal species, where most of the cures are carried out with various prayers and rituals.

They are a people of multiple and spontaneous art. The Ben’Zaa crafts of the Central Valleys present large areas of specialization, among which the production of clay, hard fiber weaving and wool and cotton textiles stand out, as well as the work of stone, wood, the manufacture of mezcal and the tanning and work of skins. To a greater or lesser extent, these activities are already determined by the requirements of a non-Zapotec external market, which controls and establishes sales prices, imposes production quotas and has a powerful influence on the gradual transformation of traditional work systems.

Within communities, social relations are based on reciprocity, especially in the exchange of labor or goods. The guelaguetza is an institutional form of this reciprocity, in which the participants correspond in kind and at the request of one of the parties to this process. This type of exchange is part of the social organization in the mayordomías, fandangos and in the construction of houses.

The guelaguetza is a cultural pattern, inherited from Mesoamerican mutual aid systems. The tequio or compulsory community service is the pillar of communal work. Men of legal age have the obligation to donate their work for a certain number of days in order to carry out works of communal benefit.

Lunes del Cerro en Oaxaca, historia y tradición


 

Things to do in Ben’Zaa

 
1. Get on an extreme swing in a forest in Oaxaca

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Photo: Ben’Zaa “a place among the clouds”.  

You will feel that you are flying on the two extreme swings in this cloud forest, 2,400 meters above sea level. In each swing, you will be able to see the beautiful rocky monuments sculpted by nature, in addition to feeling the air throughout your body and admiring a sea of ​​clouds.

According to Jonathan García, the swings practically sway in the void, when being on the edge of a ravine. To enjoy this adventure, you will need protective equipment that consists of a safety vest that is connected to a harness, which will support you to avoid falling.

2. Sleep in these comfortable cabins 

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Photo: Ben’Zaa “a place among the clouds”. Stay in the three cabins in Ben’Zaa. All are equipped with a fireplace, electric light, and hot water. They have a restaurant with 24-hour service, for those late-night cravings.  Jonathan assures us that the place has surveillance all day so that customers feel safe, it also has private parking so you can keep your car without worrying about it.  There are also other activities at Ben’Zaa that require a reservation in advance but are worth it. 

3. Stargazing 
 

 

 

 

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Photo: Unsplash / David Blasco.
 
Being in a privileged geographical area, due to its altitude, on clear nights it is possible to see constellations with the naked eye. The full moon is another celestial body that looks beautiful in this forest, away from light pollution.
 
To make your experience even better, in Ben’Zaa there is a telescope so that you can better admire the stars. 
 
4. Temazcal ceremony

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Photo: El Universal Archive. 
 
The man of fire will ensure that the heat is not lacking in the temazcal. In this steam bath, there is a ceremony of gratitude to the Pachamama, to the ancestors, to the parents, in order to connect with oneself and detoxify from all stress to relax to the fullest. 
 
When you go out you will be another person with more luminous skin, a face with a relaxed countenance, and a cleaner mind; you will feel in harmony. 


5. Bohemian nights

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Photo: Pexels / Taryn Elliott.
 
Enjoy a honeymoon in the company of your circle of people close to the rhythm of a bolero trio. At the center of it all will be a bonfire that will illuminate your best dance steps or accompany you while you show off how well you sing.
 
So that you recharge your energy and the night closes with a flourish, rich roast meat will fill your belly. For dessert, you can burn chocolates at the campfire. A plan that anyone wants.  
 
6. Workshop in connection with nature

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“Here we seek that people become part of nature, that they understand that they are the same with their environment. Show that human beings are not superior to their ecosystem, therefore they must be loved and respected”, says the manager of this ecotourism center.
 
A specialist in neurolinguistic programming is the one who guides you in this adventure that will help you to have an emotional release in nature. An excellent choice for these unusual pandemic times.     
 

Recreational activities in Ben’Zaa

 
Another objective of this place is to get to know the Zapotec culture; that visitors not only enjoy a moment of peace but also learn about the ancestral traditions of the region and the love of the environment that the community has for Ben’Zaa. That is why you can go hiking on the marked trails, camping and watching flora and fauna. 
 
7. Walking tours

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Photo: Ben’Zaa “a place among the clouds”.

There are walks to the La Postema hill where you travel approximately three kilometers with very steep slopes that will leave you exhausted.  
 
There is also the Rancho Tres Cruces trail, in the tourist complex area. It is a 3-kilometer route that allows you to live with nature while moving your body. This path is not so difficult and it is convenient to do it as a family. 
 
8. Observation of flora and fauna

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Mario E. Fuente Cid. 

In the highest corners of the forest you can find gannets, varieties of mushrooms, and ocote trees. It is also possible to see armadillos, foxes, deer, and water snakes. The Ben’Zaa team has tours to appreciate all nature and learn from it.
 
9. Camp

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Photo: Ben’Zaa “a place among the clouds”.  
 
The ecotourism development has a camping area equipped with showers, toilets, and everything you need to sleep in the forest. They rent you the tents for 150 pesos a day.
 
The magic of bonfires is also present, they are only allowed in specific areas so as not to cause accidents.    


 

What else to do

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons / DavidConFran.
 
In addition to being in the clouds, this ecological complex has some agreements with different tour operators so that you can get to know Oaxaca and some of its most representative places.
 
The costs range from 1,500 pesos per person to 5,000 pesos. Some of the tours: Mitla, Monte Albán and Ocotlán.
 
All packages include guides, transfers, lodging, and personalized experiences. 


Where to eat

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Photo: Ben’Zaa “a place among the clouds”.  
 
Ben’Zaa has his own restaurant called Itóo,  “good eating”,  in Zapotec. Each dish rescues Oaxacan gastronomy and, of course, uses the freshest local products.  
 
Don’t miss the opportunity to try frothy chocolate beaten with the grinder, accompanied by a soft yolk bread; or the traditional jerky with beans that, Jonathan tells us, is the favorite dish of diners.
 
There are also the memelas, highly acclaimed among diners. Mezcal creams, natural bee honey, and, of course, mole, are other products that you have to savor on your visit to Ben’Zaa.
 
Because the place is very cold, hot drinks are the order of the day, and café de olla is the most requested because Oaxaca has some of the best feather coffees in the Mexican Republic.

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Photo: Oaxaca State Government.
 
There is also the water chocolate, which has a lighter flavor; and the milk one, which is more powerful in terms of flavor.
 
The apple tea is made with Creole apple which is native to the place. Cinnamon, tejocote are added and it is sweetened with brown sugar. And Jonathan tells us that he is the favorite of the visitors.  
 

What to visit near Ben’Zaa

 
1. San Mateo Río Hondo
 
This town is famous for its hallucinogenic mushrooms and the diversity of flora and fauna.
 
You can visit the Torre del Roüre, a place where pork products are made by hand, such as Serrano ham.
 
In the month of August, you can see the different mushrooms of the region and the drinks that are prepared with them.
 
Another must-see is the artisan jams: apple, pear and peach, typical fruits of the municipality.   
 
Río Hondo, which gives the town its name, is one of the most beautiful bodies of water, and one of the attractions that you should not miss on your trip to Oaxaca. On the shore, you can have a picnic, walk and have a quiet time. 
 
2. San José del Pacifico 
 
This town is a zip line paradise. Some measure up to 750 meters in length, in case you want to jump, feel the emotion and the air on your face. 
 
They also have a hatchery where you can fish your own trout and ask for the cooking to be the way you like it.  
 
The temazcal ritual is a good plan if you want to purify yourself, in addition to cleaning your skin with aromatic vapors; San José del Pacifico is famous for having several of these pre-Hispanic steam baths.
 
If you want to take a souvenir, buy handicrafts made with sheep’s wool, shaped like animals or people.

 

Where is

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Photo: Ben’Zaa “a place among the clouds”.  
 
Just halfway from Oaxaca and the beaches of Huatulco, Ben’Zaa is located on the federal highway that goes from Oaxaca to Pochutla, at kilometer 138.2. This address is the one known to the locals.
 
If you want to find the location on Google Maps we suggest you write Carretera 175 km 142 Oaxaca-Puerto Ángel. 

Costs

 
Staying in this high altitude paradise is cheaper than you think since the night costs 500 pesos per cabin. They are for two people, but with an extra cost of 100 pesos per individual, they can accommodate up to four guests.
 

Hours and reservations

 
Ben’Zaa is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Advance booking is recommended as cabins are limited and there is not always availability. 

What are the protection measures against Covid-19

 
The people who work at Ben’Zaa disinfect the cabins and the restaurant more than twice a day while you are staying at the place. They have face masks and masks for their protection and that of their clients.
 
People with a cold, cough or temperature are not allowed to protect their clients and the community.
 
Before visiting any destination, find out about the status of the epidemiological traffic light and the non-essential activities allowed in the place. You must consider that the pandemic is still present and that the protocols established by the authorities may change from one moment to the next.  

The Oaxaca Post

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