If you’ve ever stumbled upon San Luis Soyatlán, nestled in Mexico’s Jalisco state, it likely wasn’t due to a compelling recommendation like, “You must visit San Luis Soyatlán!” Much like the picturesque lakeside towns encircling Lake Chapala, the largest lake in Mexico, San Luis Soyatlán in Jocotopec possesses its own charm — a central square, a striking white church, and majestic mountains adorning the horizon across the lake. It’s the kind of place you might pause to stretch your legs during a drive around the lake, a convenient day trip from Guadalajara. However, if San Luis Soyatlán rings a bell, it’s probably because someone enthusiastically encouraged you to head there for a singular reason: to join hordes of thirsty Mexican travelers in line for the town’s signature beverage: the Vampirito.
The Vampirito derives its name from its vivid, blood-red hue, attributed to Sangrita, a popular tequila chaser indigenous to Jalisco. The name itself, “Vampirito,” translates to “little vampire.” As explained by Dr. Edgar Martin del Campo, an expert in Mexican vampire folklore, “Vampires are a fascination in Mexico because of their roots in indigenous culture, clandestine relics from the darker side of native spirituality.” Mexico boasts a rich array of vampire legends, such as Cihuateteo, the alluring yet perilous seductress; Chorti, eternally confined to the past with backward-facing feet; and Tlahuelpuchi, the shape-shifter who craves blood during her monthly period and, some say, can be repelled by a garlic enchilada. Some scholars trace the origins of Mexican vampire lore back to the Aztecs, specifically to the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, known as the “god of the smoking mirror.” Jalisco is home to the Huicholes, an indigenous group with roots in the Aztec civilization, making it apt that a Jaliscan town has propelled the Vampirito to such fame.
Vampiritos are available in bars throughout Mexico, but none quite compare to the bustling scene in San Luis Soyatlán, where the local rendition is celebrated as the most delectable. Frequently, multiple small Vampirito operations set up shop in San Luis Soyatlán on weekends, but the longest-standing, in operation for over 15 years, comprises an assembly line of sorts arranged on a few interconnected folding tables by the roadside. Here, one person hands you a bag of ice, reminiscent of the sort you’d receive with a prize goldfish. As you hold the bag open, another person dispenses orange and lime juice, sangrita, salt, and Squirt soda. Meanwhile, a third individual rushes you to select from a choice of four or five tequilas, deftly confiscates your bag, inserts a straw, secures the top, and thrusts the concoction into your hands.
Diehard Vampirito enthusiasts may opt to bring their own bottle of tequila for an extra shot (though from experience, it’s hardly necessary). A large Vampirito will set you back a mere 80 pesos, approximately $4.65 USD. After parting with your payment, you can savor your brimming bag and soak in the sunshine with your salty, tangy cocktail. Alternatively, you can slip back into your vehicle (as the passenger, naturally) and continue your journey to Mazamitla. Or, you can opt to head in the opposite direction to the bohemian town of Ajijic and dine at La Mesa, a new restaurant boasting outdoor seating, fire pits, contemporary local art adorning the walls, and the finest ceviche for miles. Or you can immerse yourself in Mexico’s rich folkloric tradition: for a fleeting moment, you’re not a tourist enjoying a Vampirito; you’re a vampire quenching your thirst for blood.
As you finish your Vampirito, your very human constraints will swiftly remind you that you’re not a vampire. However, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself returning to San Luis Soyatlán sooner rather than later because, like a vampire savoring its initial taste of blood, you’ll be haunted by dreams of Vampiritos.