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.
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!
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.
Warm & Cozy Mountain Home!
Petra actually enjoys living in this 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.
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. ★
Location: Creel, Mexico
Useful Tips: I visited Petra on 3 separate occasions. She currently shares the cave with her daughter & granddaughter — welcoming the occasional visitor and any donations. She lives a couple miles outside of town. Just ask around for directions. Many locals know her.
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Would you ever consider living in a cave?