Mexico Life
Jicotlán's Baroque church, built in 1734. Jicotlán's Baroque church, built in 1734.

86 people hang on in Oaxaca ghost town

Santa Magdalena Jicotlán, Mexico's least populated municipality

At 600 inhabitants, the town of Santa Magdalena Jicotlán was already small at the turn of the 20th century.

Today, a lack of opportunity in the Oaxaca town has reduced its population to just 86 people.

Jicotlán is located just 174 kilometers away from the state capital, but the trip takes almost three hours over both paved and dirt road.

The most recent population data dates back to 2015, when it was determined that the town’s 50 women and 36 men survive thanks mostly to subsistence farming.

Only 22 votes cast by the town’s adult population were needed to elect the mayor, and only 10 children live in the community, where there hasn’t been a single birth in the last six years.

At 10 in the morning, Félix Santiago is the only person to be found in the town’s central square. He is the only police officer, wears no uniform and carries no arms.

“It is very calm,” he told the newspaper Milenio. “Until now there have been no assaults, thefts or anything else amiss. That doesn’t happen here.” According to Santiago’s description, the least populated municipality in Mexico is also one of the safest.

Jicotlán was one of the first towns settled in the Mixteca region, and the construction of its Baroque Catholic church was completed in the year 1734.

It appears that the population of 600 in the year 1900 was the peak for Jicotlán. Mayor Moisés Cruz explained that the number of residents has been dropping since then, a trend that increased in the decade of the 1980s when people started to migrate to Mexico City, the states of México, Puebla and Veracruz, and some to the United States due to the lack of schools and employment.

Those same reasons are as valid today as they were almost 40 years ago. The town’s 10 children attend school in the same classroom, and once their primary school studies are over they have to leave if they want to enroll in secondary school.

The town had a preschool but it was shuttered years ago as there was no one to attend.

There is a hospital in Jicotlán, modestly equipped and stocked with expired medications. The facility stands empty and closed most of the time because the doctor only makes one visit per month.

The commercial needs of the town are somewhat met by a single store tended by Leticia Márquez. She is now preparing to say goodbye to her 11-year-old son, just as she saw off her husband and brothers before him.

“If there were schools and work here I don’t think people would leave,” she told Milenio.

Although nearly a ghost town, Jicotlán is well cared for by its residents. Trees and gardens appear well-tended and the streets are clean thanks to the contribution of everyone in the traditional collaborative effort known as tequio.

After a hard day’s work the men in town have the option of visiting Doña Juanita Cruz’s place. The 82-year-old woman has been serving drinks out of her home for 70 years.


Sodas and beer are popular but her signature drink is called amarguitos, or little bitters, a strong beverage that mixes liqueur and fresh fruits that she prepares herself, a process she learned from her mother.

The elderly woman has seen all the members of her family leave Jicotlán, but her determination to stay is strong.

“Oh, my little town. I like everything about it, that’s the reason I’m here. I think when I die, yes, I’ll leave my pueblito.”

Source: Milenio (sp)

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