Top Things to Do in Terlingua, Texas – Eat, Stay & Play!

There’s something really odd going on near Big Bend National Park in the ghost town of Terlingua Texas!! The once thriving mercury mining town has reincarnated itself. What used to be a whispering ghost town transformed itself into a lively outdoor ruins museum full of mystery, wonder and quirky lore. But, aside from being a ghost town, there’s plenty of other things to do in Terlingua Texas!

Simply put, Terlingua isn’t just a map dot. It’s an intriguing place is that’s more of a state of mind. It’s a ghost town. 

Terlingua, by far, is unique, quirky and well…different.

Amidst the ruins of the past, there’s a bit of lively mystery that you just have to make it a point to make the drive and see for yourself.

Things to Do In Terlingua Texas - Always On Liberty

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Located near Big Bend National Park in west Texas, the historic ghost town of Terlingua is one of those places that you just can’t look away.

In fact, it’s drawn visitors from all over the globe dubbing it Texas’ most visited ghost town. Terlingua is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Terlingua plays host to mine shafts, old building ruins, a roofless saloon and a cemetery that celebrates dawn of the living dead everyday.

Though this small Texas town ranks low in population, Terlingua surely makes up for it with a personality as big as Texas. It takes reign as some of the most unique things to do in Terlingua.

About Terlingua, Texas

The name, Terlingua, derives from tres, and lenguas, two Spanish words meaning “three tongues” called such for one of two reasons.

Some of the locals claim one of the reasons is reference to Terlingua Creek’s three forks.

But others claim it’s because the three languages spoken there; English, Spanish and that of the Native American tribe in the area.

Those of the latter language were from the Chizo’s (Chiso) Indians. Also called the Taquitatome Indians, the Chizo Indians came from parts of the Chihauhua Desert, Chahuila and Trans-Pecos; thus bringing their communicative language to Terlingua.

The ghost town, Terlingua, is situated near the Rio Grand River between the small towns of Lajitas and Study Butte, and Mexico.

It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that life began in Terlingua, Texas. Cinnabar, the raw ore that produces mercury or quicksilver (found in old thermometers) was discovered. 

By World War I, mining operations peaked. It didn’t take long for the town to grow to about 2000 miners and their families in the mining district.

However, post World War II, mining operations stopped when the Chisos Mining Company filed for bankruptcy. The miners and settlers left for better opportunities elsewhere thus, earning its’ distinction as a ghost town

When is the best time to Visit Terlingua?

We found the best time to visit Terlingua is late October to March when the outdoor temperatures are very mild. The days are comfortably warm while the nights draw in that cool desert air.

We do recommend though not to visit Terlingua during holidays or kid’s school vacations; especially Christmas and Spring Break.

But also don’t plan your visit to Terlingua from May to October. It’s hot and miserable. Most places, especially lodging, lack air conditioning or not have efficient electricity to operate air conditioners.

But also, if you’re not a fan of snakes, especially the venous ones, rattlesnakes are active that time of year.

And, as summer winds down in August, tarantulas are out in full force to make baby tarantulas! Then those big, hairy, scary spiders go hibernate in their boroughs as the weather gets colder.

✰ OUTSIDER TIP Terlinguai is a desert town. Therefore, there are some creepy things you need to be aware of. 5 Dangerous Desert Spiders to  Avoid in the Southwestern U.S.

And lastly, if you’re looking for a truly unique adventure, Terlingua plays host to two big internationally acclaimed events.

The annual Viva Terlingua annual chili championship and Dia de los Muertos celebrations are what brings thousands to this thriving ghost town. We’ll talk about those later.

So, now that you’ve learned a little about Terlingua, grab your sightseeing bag and let’s go check out the cool things to do in Terlingua. We’ll show you why this living ghost town ranks at the top of our all time favorite travel destinations.

Top Things to Do in Terlingua, Texas

Places to Eat, Stay & Play!

Viva Terlingua! The Town that Rose from the Dead

In the 1960’s, a group of people looking for freedom and free love happened upon Terlingua to settle. Because it’s located near Big Bend National Park, the once-was ghost town reincarnated itself drawing in visitors and new life.

Only a few years later, did Terlinguans come up with a way to put this eclectic town back on the map.

In 1967, a few locals put together their first annual Chili Cookoff which later deemed Terlingua as the “Chili Capitol of the World” by the Chili Appreciation Society.

Today, a little over 100 people inhabit the eleven square mile small town. Living amongst the ruins mixed in with a sprinkle of small art galleries, trading  company, hotel and eclectic outdoor exhibits, the humble residents of Terlingua stand tall and proud.

The ghost town residents find simple reasons to celebrate life from their annual chili cook-off, Day of the Dead and good old fashion dirt floor dancing while throwing a few back while living life in the slow lane.

Things to Do in Terlingua, Texas

Today, Terlingua portrays itself more of an attitude and state of mind than anything else.

When you visit this former quicksilver mining town, appreciate all that’s now happening here; even if it scares you a little.

And guess what?

You actually don’t need to spend a dime to explore Terlingua. Visitors, tourists and gawkers are free to roam this quirky living ghost town ruins.

But, do help keep Terlingua alive by patronizing their restaurants, lodging, shops and galleries.

St. Agnes Church

St Agnes Church Terlingua Texas - Always On Liberty
Photo courtesy of The Big Bend Holiday Hotel

Amongst the ruins of Terlingua, it’s no surprise that one of the buildings left standing would be the church. 

Considering Terlingua is located in a Catholic religious region, there was a need for a church for worship and gathering for the miners, settlers and passing through peddlers.

Formerly known as the Chisos Mission, St. Agnes Church was established not until 1914, after the town of Terlingua acquired a dependable water supply, a town doctor, hotel lodging for outsiders, mail service and even telephone service.

St Agnes Church in Terlingua Texas
Terlingua St. Agnes Church

The adobe constructed church building sits on a the side of a hill overlooking Terlingua. Today, St. Agnes Church continues to present its’ iconic symbolism to not only the faith but that of life in this desert town.

St. Agnes Church was the gathering place to worship, mourn the dead and celebrate new life of baptisms and weddings. 

Still remaining as the town’s sentinel of faith, the simple altar, hardwood benches, and pine floor is all that’s needed for the spiritual seeking comfort which still renders today.

Terlingua Cemetery

Terlingua Cemetery Signs - Things to Do in Terlingua Texas - Always On Liberty

LOCATION: FM170 & Terlingua Ghost Town Road · Terlingua, TX 79852

One of our favorite things to do in Terlingua is is to visit the Terlingua Cemetery. I can’t quite describe it so you’ll just have to go to see for yourself. Also listed in the National Register of Historic Places, this indescribable cemetery resembles nothing of most cemeteries in the United States.

There are no perfect rows of headstones or grave markers. And, there’s no meticulously manicured landscaping…anywhere! 

In fact, there’s not even one blade of grass to be seen. It’s a hodge podge collection of scattered graves with personal adornments and moments…everywhere.

Terlingua Historic Cemetery Graves - Terlingua Texas
Terlingua Historic Cemetery

Historically, the first graves dug in the Terlingua Cemetery were to lay the victims of the 1918 influenza virus outbreak.

But also, miners who perished are also buried here and there’s even the grave of a Civil War Veteran.

Since there is no local granite stone grave marker company within hundreds of miles, makeshift crosses and memorials were constructed by family members.

As you walk around the makeshift mounds of sandstone and rock graves, you’ll notice there is no uniformity or even rhyme or reason of who is buried where.

Now, as we’ve heard from a couple of the local Terlinguans, the reason for the cemetery’s quirky humanistic approach to death is those left behind believe since death is inevitable that we should embrace it with hilarity (I guess?).

Terlingua Historic Cemetery Memoirs

And, it’s kind of an untraditional sense of how family members memorialize their deceased loved ones with anything from beer bottles, plastic toys, old faded silk flowers and little personal trinkets only the dead will know.

Starlight Theatre Restaurant and Saloon

Terlingua Starlight Theatre in Terlingua Texas
The Starlight Theatre in Terlingua
LOCATION: 631 Ivey Road, Terlingua, TX 79852
PHONE: 432-371-3400

The Starlight Theater Restaurant and Saloon is one of the focal points in the dried up, desert town of Terlingua.

First constructed in the early 1900s, The Starlight served as an entertainment theatre venue for the local miners who lived in Terlingua and area villages.

But, story has it, the roof blew off in a storm thus, for it being named The Starlight.

Then, established ninety-some years later in 1991, the roofless theater has been thriving while still keeping the original vibe of The Starlight.

While it remains as a historical site, it still provides a great venue for concerts and dances, parties and yes, even theatrical shows.

Starlight Theatre Music Entertainers in Terlingua Texas

The Starlight is open Sunday through Friday from 5:00 pm to midnight. And Saturdays, they give you another hour of imbibing and storytelling from 5:00 pm to 1:00 am.

The Starlight offers a fine selection of gourmet dishes, fun drinks and stories that only a dog will believe. They also have live entertainment from local talent as well as afar to fill in the gaps of boredom.

Starlight Theatre in Terlingua Texas

If you are coming in a group of ten or more, you’ll need to make a reservation as it’s the popular weekend watering hole for them there local cowboys and their lasses.

Oh, and if you wear a tie, they probably shoot ya! 

Terlingua Trading Company

Terlingua Trading Company Store Door - Terlingua Texas

LOCATION: 100 Ivey Street Terlingua, TX 79852
PHONE: (432) 371-2234

You don’t want to miss taking in a little shopping at the The Terlingua Trading Company, formerly the Chisos Mining Company’s Old Trading Post.

Located right next door to The Starlight Theatre, the general store once was the gathering place for nomadic cowboy, settlers and trappers.

The Trading Company has remained in the family since Rex Ivey opened it. Today, Rex’s son, Bill along with his family own and operate the thriving quirky store.

Terlingua Trading Company Store Inside - Terlingua Texas

There’s something for everyone; even hot pepper lights and regional Christmas decorations! It literally has everything under the sun and stars!

You can find everything from Cowboy hats, pottery, regional jewelry, soft stuffed animals and cool story books for the kids to Dawn of the Dead souvenirs!

And, they have quite the collection of books; ranging from history of the region, rockhounding, travel and nomadic campers.

Where to Dine in Terlingua, Texas

La Kiva: A Bar to Die For?

La Kiva Restaurant and Bar - Terlingua Texas

LOCATION: 23220 FM170, Terlingua, TX 79852
PHONE: (432) 371-2250

If you’re into trying something indescribably eccentric and weird, you’ll want to visit the La Kiva Bar in Terlingua.

This cave bar and restaurant is situated on about 25 acres in the center of the town.  But dang, the food and drink were excellent!

Unfortunately though, this little hole-in-the-wall cowboy watering hole put Terlingua on the map of notoriety. 

Apparently, the former popular bar owner got in a drunken, heated altercation that left him murdered in front of his own bar only to be discovered by an employee the following morning.

Always On Liberty at the La Kiva Bar in Terlingua Texas

Today, this borderline brow-raising, eccentric hole-in-the-wall bar and grill serves it up in total informal fashion. The minute you walk into the La Kiva cave should tell you all you need to know.

But hey, the food and spirits are good! Even GQ magazine coins La Kiva as “the #1 most bizarre bar you must visit before you die”.

(Note: La Kiva is currently closed due to the COVID Pandemic. Make sure to check out their Facebook page to see when they open.)

Other Eats in Terlingua (Source: Travelocity)

Places to Stay in Terlingua

Big Bend Holiday Hotel

LOCATION: 100 Ivey Rd, Terlingua, TX 79852
PHONE: (432) 203-6929

If you’re looking for an interesting place for rest, romance, and relaxation, you’ll want to look into staying at the Big Bend Holiday Hotel.

But, Holiday Hotel for short, is not your average Super 8 or Marriott. It’s old rustic west Texas charm clashing with modern conveniences that creates a lodging experience you’ll never forget. It has gorgeous rooms in a historical West Texas setting.

There’s several different venues that may suit your lodging fancy; Ghost Town Lodging, Casitas, Rio Grand Rock House, and the more sophisticated Perry Mansion.

So, whether you are looking to enjoy a romantic weekend, relaxing after a week of hiking Big Bend National Park or a weekend of celebrating, it’s the place to lay your heads.

But, you may want to sleep with one eye open as it is in Terlingua where rust never sleeps. And neither do the ghosts of miner’s past.

The Big Bend Holiday Hotel is owned an operated by the same Ivey family that owns and operates the Terlingua Trading Company next to the Starlight.

Other Lodging in Terlingua

Big Bend Casitas in Terlingua Texas
Big Bend Casitas

Source: Travelocity

RV Parks and Campgrounds near Terlingua

Paisana Village RV Park Terlingua Texas
Paisano Village RV Park & Inn

Source: Travelocity

Specialty Lodging in Terlingua

 Basecamp Terlingua Bubble Lodging Terlingua Texas
Basecamp Terlingua Bubble Lodging

Source: Travelocity

Viva Terlingua! Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff

Viva Terlingua Chili Championship Billboard Sign

LOCATION: Mariposa Mine Rd, Terlingua, TX 79852
COORDINATES:  29.3150° N, 103.6715° W
PHONE: (214) 802-9618

The Terlingua Annual Chili Championship happens on the first Saturday in November. CASI (Chili Appreciation Society International) was the original host for the 1967 Terlingua  Chili Championship and continues the tradition. 

Chili Cookoff Championship

The CASI calls it the granddaddy of all chili cookoffs worldwide!

The four day event begins on the Wednesday prior to the big weekend event that crowns the International Chili Champion on Saturday.

The annual celebration consists of three incredible nights of great music and five different mouthwatering contests; chili, traditional salsa, non-traditional salsa, buffalo hot wings and beans! 

The entire spicy celebration takes place at the Rancho CASI de los Chisos located on the north side of Highway 170 right in Terlingua.

So, bring your sassy appetite for some tongue-tingling, spicy samplings, song and dance! Because this event is always regarded as one of the most fun things to do in Terlingua.

Dia de los Muertos – Day of the Dead

Things to Do in Terlingua Texas - Dia de Los Muertos

One of the top things to do in Terlingua is their annual chili championship, plan on visiting the Terlingua Cemetery at sunset on November 2nd to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, also known as “Day of the Dead”.

Costumed and face-painted residents of Terlingua light up the cemetery with thousands of candles while honoring their lost loved ones with offerings and meditations.

Trust me when I say, this is one of the most unique traditional events you’ll ever experience!

Things to Do in Terlingua Texas - Dia de Los Muertos Candle Lighting

For an interesting perspective of Terlingua’s Dia de los Muertos, check out Ayasha Basu Photography’s collection of photos of the celebration.

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Wrapping up our things to do in Terlingua

Of our many travels throughout the United States, Terlingua, Texas scaled its’ way up to be one of the most peculiar and favorite historic places we’ve ever visited.

But what drew us to explore this living ghost town? Curiosity? Or were we searching for something odd and eclectic?

So many adjectives describe this once bustling pre-Civil War bustling mining town that now collects visitors like us to continue telling their story. And, there’s always plenty of things to do in Terlingua!

Things to Do In Terlingua Texas - Always On Liberty

While you’re visiting Terlingua

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Our Excellent Mexican Adventure at Boquillas, Mexico

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3 Replies to “Top Things to Do in Terlingua, Texas – Eat, Stay & Play!”

    1. Hi Kate and John, we are so elated that you enjoyed reading about Terlingua! We have come to the notion that to truly enjoy a destination, we have to visit it at least twice because we always seem to miss something. We hope you get to revisit again soon. Early November is an exciting time! Thank you for taking the time to read it.

  1. My experience was never being in the town of Terlinguia . I have known about the Chili cook off. I always ordered my chili spices from a place called Pendrys
    For Sierras Chili. I won 3 cook offs using Pendrys seasoning. I think Colleen
    Wallace won most of the cook offs.
    I cannot find Pendry’s on the internet,I assume they are no longer in business.
    If you have place that sells chili spices I would be grateful if someone let me know.

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