Carr Toluca – México s/n, Cuajimalpa de Morelos, 05020 La Venta, CDMX
55 9131 9542
Back in the XVII century, this convent was built as a sanctuary of peace and meditation in the middle of the forest to allow the priests to have a space where they could reflect, pray, and study while being in close contact with nature. The convent was named Convento Santo Desierto de Nuestra Señora del Carmen de los Montes de Santa Fe and was finished in 1611, it belonged to the Order of the “Carmelitas Descalzos” (“Barefoot Carmelitas”). The Carmelitas friars and nuns were part of an order that was founded in the XII century when a group of hermits were inspired by prophet Elijah and retired to Mount Carmel (in the region of Israel) to live and study. Since the Carmelitas Descalzos couldn’t hold directly secular positions in Mexico, they did it through the León family, which also represented them before the Spanish crown for many years. And the name Desierto de los Leones stuck through the ages.
The ex-convent is surrounded by 1,860 hectares of forest that provided the Carmelitas with the peaceful solace that they were looking for at their times of prayer and reflection, nowadays it allows residents of Mexico City and tourists a brief escape from the noise and commotion of the big city. The ruins of the convent were restored many years ago and it holds the distinction of being the first national park in the country, decreed as such by then-president Venustiano Carranza in 1917. When you visit the convent you can look at the cells and prayer rooms where the friars dedicated their many hours of prayer and reflection, the hydraulic system located beneath the building, and the well-manicured gardens, there’s also the dark creepy basement where the tour guide allows access only to the brave ones who enjoy a little bit of an adrenaline rush. The access fee to the whole place is $35 pesos and it’s open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s located some 30 km from the Zócalo on the highway headed to Toluca so your best option for getting there would be by Uber or taxi.
Before being a well-presented tourist attraction the ex-convent was a refuge for robbers on the run, it housed the Zapatista troops during the Mexican Revolution, and was even a glass factory at some point. Within the premises of the ex-convent, there’s the Museo Zapata, which exhibits artifacts from the revolution, and the Museo Bicentenario, from the independence. It’s a good idea to hire a tour guide who is available on the premises so he can let you in on the full story and legends regarding the place, and make sure to at least check out the menu of the neighboring restaurants that are located outside which offer exotic dishes such as venison and other types of game meat. An excursion to the ex-convent of Desierto de los Leones is a relaxing experience filled with history in the middle of nature, you might find a little bit of that peace that the friars cherished so much.