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Meet Petra: The Woman Who Lives In A Cave

Tarahumara Woman Creel Mexico

Living in a Cave Builds Character

Creel, Mexico

A fascinating visit inside one of the indigenous Tarahumara caves in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains. It’s quite cozy & comes with everything you need.

The rugged northern Mexican state of Chihuahua is home to the indigenous Tarahumara people, known locally as Rarámuri.

During the 16th century most of them retreated into the dangerous mountains & canyons of the Sierra Madre in order to escape Spanish slave raids and Christian missionaries.

This formidable wilderness was where they attempted to continue a traditional way of life largely uninterrupted by the outside world due to it’s inaccessibility.

After centuries of relative seclusion, roads have started to penetrate deeper & deeper into the canyons — bringing change with them.

Tarahumara Cave Mexico

Home Sweet Home: Petra’s Cave

Mexico’s Tarahumara People

Today the Tarahumara population hovers around 50,000. Many have started adapting to the modern world knocking on their door.

Most Tarahumara live in small wood or stone cabins, but about 5% still reside within the countless mountain caves & rock outcroppings that dot the landscape.

Petra is part of this 5%.

I first learned about Petra from my new friend Alfredo.

While driving back to the town of Creel, he pointed out some smoke rising from a rock outcropping, explaining that an old Tarahumara widow lived inside the cave found there.

Intrigued, I decided to meet her myself. I’d never met anyone who lived in a cave!

Tarahumara Cave Bedroom Creel Mexico

The Master Bedroom

Living Inside A Cave?

So the next day I rose at 5am and marched about 2 miles through the crisp mountain air. October weather in Mexico will produce frost on the Sierra Madre mountains.

They even get snow here with an elevation of almost 8000 feet. How warm could Petra’s cave possibly be in this cold mountain air?

Arriving in front of her home, I kept my distance until Petra noticed me from afar. For the Tarahumara, visitors are expected to wait like this until they’re acknowledged, rather than go knocking unannounced.

She seemed a bit shocked & amused to see a lone gringo outside her cave so early in the morning. But I could tell she was very proud of her home — and welcomed me inside for a tour.

Petra has lived in this cave all 68 years of her life. Not to mention raising 7 kids here too. It’s a part of who she is.

Tarahumara Cave Kitchen Creel Mexico

Designer Kitchen with Custom-Made Woodstove

Warm & Cozy Mountain Home!

Petra actually enjoys living in cave so much, that when the Mexican government built her a wooden house next door, she refused to live in it.

As I bent down to enter the cave, the first thing that struck me was how warm it was inside! Its entrance is enclosed by a stone wall which traps most of the heat produced from a small stove.

The second detail that caught my attention was how bright it was, despite a lack of windows. Petra’s cave faces Southeast, allowing natural sunlight to filter in through the doorway for much of the day.

At it’s largest section the enclosure is just over 6 feet tall.

Petra’s cave home is maybe 100-150 square feet in area. It includes 2 beds, a cabinet, dining table, chairs, and storage space in back where the ceiling starts to get low.

Dining Room Cave Creel Mexico

Floral Table Cloth in the Dining Room

Fascinating Tarahumara Caves

Her kitchen consists of cooking utensils, a shelf, wall hooks, and a small woodstove made from half a steel drum. Smoke from the stove is shuttled outside via a pipe through the rock wall.

This tiny stove keeps Petra’s cave surprisingly warm, with very little smoke residue. And while I had to duck inside, the ceiling height was no problem for her, as she’s only about 5 feet tall.

Petra keeps a few different gardens out front with corn, beans, squash, garlic, and other vegetables. Chickens were wandering around too. Free-range meat, organic vegetables, no electricity bill — environmentally friendly & off-the-grid living.

But when you think about it, isn’t this all we really need?

Mario thinks so. He’s a younger generation Mexican who gave me lift out of the Copper Canyon (an 8 hour drive). He’s actually getting ready to move into his own cave home with his wife & young daughter for these same reasons. ★

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I hope you enjoyed my story about Petra, the woman who lives in a cave! Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

Would you ever consider living in a cave?

Clay Brown

Friday 29th of January 2021

Hi Matthew,

I am very respectful of people's privacy. With that said, How should I go about to request a visit a home of a Tarahumara individual with honor. I am will be in Creel in 2 weeks. My wife and I were in Creel back in1 993.

Thank you for any insight you can provide for me

Matthew Karsten

Sunday 31st of January 2021

If you ask around town, someone could probably point you to Petra. She's happy to have visitors, or at least was when I was there. And will show you around her home for a tip. My guess is there are some others who will do this too. You could try to ask a hotel or local taxi driver to help you set it up.

Barbara Bonardi

Tuesday 8th of September 2020

Your blog was very helpful in constructing a paper for my Architecture class on Vernacular design. I chose the Tarahumara culture, because I recently found out that my grandmother was from there (due to 23&Me). a My mom used to speak of the Sierra Madre Mountains, Chihuahua, and other places often, and that we were descendants of the Aztec culture. My mom is 100 and my grandmother in her day looked very much like Petra! Great article; great descriptions; great bravery! Keep traveling. Barbara Bonardi


Thursday 5th of December 2019

This is a great article and your wording is kind and respectful. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful woman's story!

tarish kaushik

Sunday 9th of October 2016

A day will come when ALL people in the world will live in caves, with ALL possible modern conveniences thrown in. Solar power will rule. Each cave family will have their own organic garden/natural forest to grow their own food and compost their own waste.Concrete jungles of today's cities would be the getaways,not the centres of attention, as they now are.People in caves surrounded by nature and natural flora & fauna would be the paradise everyone yearns for right here on our beautiful Mother Earth.

Lise Sheehan

Sunday 17th of April 2016

do you think it would be possible for someone to rent a cave in this area? How hard is it to access the cave dwellings? How far from a driveable spot are they?

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