This magical town was officially made a Pueblo Magico in 2012. A historic town with a rich past, this once booming mining town as the second city in Mexico to get electricity. It was also home to Hollywood celebrities and today is a haven for Guadalajarans and Puerto Vallartans looking for tranquil nature and a respite from the summer heat.
The white and red buildings, cobblestone roads, stone bridges and stunning mountain vistas transport visitors to a time before iphones and flatscreen tv’s. But don’t worry, there is wifi in the town plaza and at most of the restaurants and hotels. The town continues to grow with the inauguration of the new business association. There are approximately 10 hotels and 20 restaurants. Freshly prepared meals made from mostly local ingredients, flaky French pastries and warm, rich cups of coffee will give you the energy to spend the day exploring the town and surrounding hills.
How to Get There
From Puerto Vallarta take Highway 70 north past the airport. Watch for signs but as long as you stay straight you can’t get lost. The trip takes about an hour and a half. It’s 60kms of often single lane highway that winds through the farmland of the Ameca Valley, through the jungles, to the sierras of pine and oak forests at about 1,500 meters above sea level. The air can be a little thin but it’s humidity free which is a blessing in the summer heat.
Enjoy the culinary tradition of this destination, offering treats such as huitlacoche stewed with onions and spices, or mixed platters that include a stuffed chili pepper, gordita, machaca and nance flavoured aguas frescas. And you can’t ignore the “chocorraiz”, a chocolate drink with “Raicilla” (a local moonshine) and, for desert, enjoy peaches with rompope and cinnamon. Above all, take advantage of nature’s generosity, offering guavas, lemons, plantains, oranges, peaches, arrayan and “faisan” berries. To truly enjoy the local fruits visit in May and June.
What to do
Visit this old mining city that once had up to 20,000 inhabitants, which still maintains its grandeur albeit with a tranquil charm of a village that is currently home to just 600 people. Its cobbled streets take you done tree-lined paths flanked by mossy walls and vines, all hypnotically set to music by the sound of a stream passing underneath old stone bridges.
4:00 p.m. From the sea to the mountains
Puerto Vallarta’s heat behind us, the bus gained 1,480 meters in altitude and left us at La Estancia, a town where we caught a taxi to San Sebastian del Oeste. There the pavement ended and we began our way along cobbled streets flanked by trees and beautiful white houses. They led us to a flat earthen plaza with a central gazebo and archways all around. We couldn’t help but think we were in a movie: the old adobe houses and signs looked like they were straight out of a Clint Eastwood film.
7:00 p.m. The gourmet wild west
As fog rolled into town, Fortin de San Sebastian lit its streetlamps. A restaurant right on the main square, we ordered huitlacoche guisado con cebolla (stewed corn fungus and onions) and finished it off with chocorraiz, or hot chocolate with raicilla (homemade liquor similar to tequila), a San Sebastian specialty. To make sure we slept well we had a peach, rompope (eggnog-like drink), and cinnamon desert. Although the town is warm during the day, at night the temperature drops significantly so we headed to our cabin and chimney at La Galerita.
8:00 a.m. Waking up in Eden
In the morning we went out for a walk and were astonished by the place’s beauty: just a couple of blocks from downtown San Sebastian del Oeste and we were immersed in a garden of fragrant trees, walls covered in mosses, fences cloaked in vines, and the sound of a nearby creek passing under old stone bridges.
Just in front of Hacienda Esperanza de la Galera we found a garden full of fruit trees open to visitors. There we picked guavas, lemons, plantains, oranges, peaches, and faisanes, a type of blackberry.
12:00 noon. A peaceful walk about town
In the afternoon we continued walking about town, going up and down cobbled streets, discovering alleyways, and admiring the stately homes where the mines’ owners once resided. In an old house next to the Presidencia Municipal we saw a sign for the Doña Conchita Encarnacion Museum, exhibiting objects that were collected by Doña Conchita, who belonged to an important mining family.
Her daughter, Maria Guadalupe Berm, takes care of the place.
We crossed the plaza and found Raul Bernal sitting on his porch. He makes cigars using Nayarit tobacco and his main customers are Americans and Canadians that come from Puerto Vallarta to stock up on the sweet-smelling products.
Later we visited Quinta Mary where they sew and produce 100%-organic highland coffee. From there we went to La Hacienda Jalisco, which is currently a museum and hotel. It’s famous for doing away with electricity and having served as a getaway for a long list of celebrities. We went back to town and sat down at La Fonda Eva Maria where they served us a mixed plate with stuffed chiles, gorditas (fried stuffed corncakes), machaca (a type of dried beef or pork), and agua de nanche (nance juice).
5:00 p.m. A sea of clouds
After our late lunch we decided to go to Cerro de la Bufa where they say you can get a view of the ocean when it’s clear out. As we had time to spare we stopped at Real Alto where you’ll find the area’s oldest church dating back to the 17th century.
There we met Señora Mariana who offered us cajeta, a local type of fruit jam; we bought quince, tecojote, and apple jams in addition to ponche, a fruit liqueur that we absolutely loved.
We got to the top of Cerro de la Bufa as the sun lit the surrounding clouds a bright red and took a stroll along a path there.
The setting was the most magical on our entire trip and we stayed until it was dark out, snacking on cajeta and drinking ponche.
8:00 a.m. Exploring
We left early for Los Reyes, a community just 13 kilometers from San Sebastian del Oeste following a difficult and sinuous road. Along the way we stopped at Santiago de Los Pinos to have breakfast. There we delighted in tortas de picadillo (ground beef sandwiches), ranchero-cheese quesadillas, and a delicious type of local tuber known as tacuacines.
We got to Los Reyes using a road that crosses a stone bridge. There we met up with Olga, who would be our guide at the cave of basaltic prisms. We got to the ruins of La Hacienda La Victoria and continued using a creekside trail. The vegetation along the way is exuberant and tropical with plantain and avocado trees all over the place; we also saw old entrances to mines and the remains of walls, chimneys, and water channels.
11:00 a.m. Finding
We crossed a hanging bridge and found the cave known as La Escondida (‘The Hidden One’), a cavern with basaltic prisms crowded together like teeth. Olga picked fruits from a passionflower vine, similar to the sweet granadilla, which she gave us to try. We took a different trail back and saw Los Reyes from far away. To our surprise the town is built on a rock foundation out of which a waterfall flows, creating a postcard-perfect scene unlike any we had ever seen. We feel asleep on the way back and woke at the entrance to San Sebastian del Oeste: in the two hours that it took to get back we didn’t feel a single bump along the rough dirt road. The road during the best of times is bumpy – rainy season is another story. Save your suspension and plan on driving a 4×4 or taking a local tour.
4:00 p.m. A farewell meal
We ate at Los Arcos de Sol where the specialty is beef tongue in an almond sauce. For dessert we had tamales colados (a regional type of sweet tamale). On the recommendation of the locals we stopped at El Parral on the way out. There, master raicilla-maker Eduardo Sanchez showed us how he produces his homemade liquor, distilling it from agave. Source: visitmexico.com