Mascota – a step back in time

By Madeline Milne

galeria29The town of Mascota is a short two hour drive from Puerto Vallarta, 103 kms into the mountains behind the Bay of Banderas, where it’s a little cooler and there is almost no humidity. Located in the state of Jalisco, the town has a population of about 14,000 and is primarily based on agriculture. Settled by the Spanish around 1530, the town has a long history that predates the Spanish by at least 2,000 years.

Driving north towards Bucerias, you take the Ixtapa exit just past Home Depot, and drive straight. You literally can’t get lost if you stay on that road. The drive takes you through the town of Ixtapa, past the jail, through a number of small towns and ranches. The scenery is stunning, with rolling hills, lush farmland, and thick jungle. As you climb up the mountain, the jungle disappears and the pine and oak forests start to emerge. This is one of my favourite landscapes and makes me nostalgic for my childhood home near the Okanagan Valley.

Just before the town of San Sebastian del Oeste there is a very impressive bridge that spans a drop that is over 1000 meters. Stop and walk to the middle of the bridge just to see how far a kilometer looks from above. Once you get back on the road you are about 30 – 45 minutes outside of Mascota.

4We stayed at Rancho Esmeralda which is at the entrance to the town.  Situated in a beautiful setting, with a number of charming cabins, an outdoor pool and amenities set among fields and surrounded by the embracing mountains. Rancho Esmeralda is set up for self-sufficiency and you should at the least bring snacks to tide you over in the morning and evening. It is a great place for families, reunions, or even romantic vacations. Each cabin is set far enough apart for privacy and all come with lovely verandas where you can watch the birds in the morning.

There are a handful of other charming hotels further along towards the centre of town. All seem to be built in the delightful hacienda style, with inner courtyards. They range from $400 to $1000 pesos a night and may or may not include breakfast.

Early in the morning on our way to check out some of the surrounding towns, we stopped at an inviting café and I had one of the best mochas I’ve ever tasted, along with a perfect coconut cookie. Around the main plaza there are a number of coffee shops, most selling locally grown coffee and fresh baked galletas.

We decided to hit the road early to visit the towns of Yerbabuena and Navidad. Heading out of town towards Guadalajara, as you reach the Pemex, you can stay right and head to GDL or you can lean left and head towards a number of smaller towns. They are a total of less than 20 kms kms from Mascota along a tight one-lane road that in rainy season should encourage you to exercise caution.

Yerbabuena – Navidad
Yerbabuena is as cute as they come. About two kilometers from Mascota, he town is clearly enjoyed by the affluent weekenders from Guadalajara and the grand homes are all set with clay tile roofs and stone foundations. The tiny plaza has a lovely rose garden and the church is postcard perfect.

Apparently there is a very good restaurant along the river but it was early and we had our coffees in hand. Next time.
From Yerbabuena, we carried on to Navidad. This village was settled years ago by French immigrants escaping religious persecution and today the population is tall and slender with fair hair and light green or blue eyes. The town itself is extremely small (pop. 230) and appealing with some interesting mural work at the entrance to the town.

We stopped for a short time to visit the plaza and church, which was renovated in the 1980’s, and clearly looks like it was renovated in the 80’s. We headed back to Mascota, taking in some spectacular vistas of volcanos, valleys, and farmland. Once in town we stopped at the Museo Estatal de Arqueología.

Museum – Ruins
It is co-sponsored by National Geographic and is very well done. As is to be expected in a Spanish speaking country, the displays are entirely in Spanish. I thought we were out of luck but we were thankfully found by the only English speaking guide, who was pleased to share his knowledge and practice English with us.

The most prestigious item in their collection is a cut quartz that was exhumed from a burial site found by a local farmer. The quartz is fascinating because it is likely the earliest known cut stone in Latin America and believed to be 5,000- 8,000 years old.

The hole that has been drilled through the stone suggests it comes from another culture as the technique is not known in this region – or really anywhere at this point in history. The placement of the stone signifies its value among the peoples of the valley who lived here approximately 2,500 year ago. Personally, I found the exhibit on the petroglyphs absolute fascinating. Unfortunately we were short on time when we learned of their existence.

galeria66On my next visit – and there will be many – I intend to spend the day hiking around looking at the petroglyphs. There is something so tangible about seeing rock carvings that it gives me thrills up my spine. This is one of the most prolific petroglyph sites in Mexico. There are also some fascinating cave paintings in the vicinity.

Having asked around about things we should definitely check out, the Casa de las piedras kept coming up. Just around the corner from the Museum of Archeology, we had the extreme pleasure of visiting with the artist, curator and local resident Señor Francisco Peña.

For the past 25 years, he has made it his life’s work to cover his home in stones that he collects from the river. He sorts them based on size and colour and then applies them to everything. Literally everything, including his bed, the television, the fish tank, the telephone. Francisco is a charming man who speaks wonderful English and will warmly invite you to enjoy his creations.

A town treasure, Francisco also has an impressive collection of archival photographs of Mascota and he writes books on local history and genealogy. Very likely this will be the best $10 pesos you have ever spent.

We then moved on to the Temple de la Preciosa Sangre which is an unfinished ruin of a church that was to be built in the late 1800’s for the local residents of the town, who had been pushed out of the central church by the newly arriving Spaniards.

The ruins felt otherworldly and ancient, with crumbling mortar, winding flowering vines, and the setting sun dappling the walls through the overgrown trees. It seemed as though the castles and churches of my imagined Narnia had come to life.

World’s largest Molcajete
mocajetaMMFor a late lunch we headed to Laguna de Juanacatlan home to the world’s largest Molcajete. A Molcajete is a lava stone mortal and pestle that you can purchase in many tianguis (markets) throughout Mexico. Typically used to grind the ingredients for salsa, it is also used to serve a widely varied dish called Molcajete which is very similar to Fajitas but served in an oven-baked Molcajete. After climbing into the giant Molcajete for some crazy photos, we sat down and enjoyed a delicious meal. Just a few weeks before rainy season, the lake was quite dry, but some imagination and the clearly visible high water mark suggests the lake laps the base of the restaurant patio.
Satisfied with our meal, we headed back to Rancho Esmeralda where the sun was setting on the valley and the golden hues added vibrancy to the landscape. This valley was a culture-sustaining paradise for thousands of years before the Spanish arrived, and today continues to nourish the local communities.

When you go
A visit to Mascota and the nearby towns is highly recommended for those of you who enjoy driving the back roads. Spanish would be helpful but not necessary, as signs are well marked and a polite smile will get you a helping hand, if needed.

Bring a phrase book and prepare your maps prior to setting out as cell phone service can be spotty in the mountains. Mexico is so much more than the strip of sand around Bandaras Bay; the ancient cultures rival anything you will find anywhere else in the world and are worthy of your exploration.


Madeline Milne on EmailMadeline Milne on Instagram
Living in Mexico full time since 2011, Madeline is a graphic designer, writer, iPhone photographer and road tripper.


  1. I LOVE Mascota!! I have a lot by the river on the road to the lake for when I retire. You can sleep with the windows open during the summer, it is that cool at night. The people are all super friendly.

  2. Dear Madeline,

    Rub-a-dub-dub , two women in-a-tub at Laguna de Juanacatlan, the location of the worlds largest Mokajete (lava stone mortal), and a nice picture of our Vallarta Tribune editor.

    In Mexico, the land of many volcanos (and Banderas Bay), the mortals and pistols are made of the low weight lava stone, whereas in California, many of the mortals and pistles are made out of hard and heavy river and glacier stone.

    My collection of river stone and lave stone mortals and pistols are lined up along my brick fireplace, and were purchased from a San Francisco flea market over time. The four old and worn Mexican Mokajetes were from an estate sale collection, half of the rock mortals and pistles (plus all four donut shaped Indian fishing net weights) came from a cataloged surplus collection from the De Young Museum when they closed to rebuild their building in 2004-5, and the largest were either fished out of Clear Lake in California, or dug up in yards around the lake.

    Your trip described here, will be my trip, when I return to Puerto Vallarta this October, so I can get my picture sitting in the worlds largest Mokajete.

    1. Frank, it is such a charming town I am sure you will enjoy it. There are about half a dozen lovely (affordable) hotels just of the plaza and I can pass on their details to you if you like. Oh! and October will be a breathtaking time to visit, the Lake will be full, the fields abundant and weather perfect.

  3. Madeline, in researching your article “Mascota – a step back in time”, I have teased out a somewhat different history of the area described. First, regarding the proclaimed world’s largest Molecajete: What was the size of the pestle? The largest I have been able find described are two giant pestles, one some 20 pounds, and another around 40 pounds. Both were found in a bat guano filled cave in Lovelock Texas in 1911, along with giant mummies 6′-6″ to 8′-0″ , that had red hair.

    The Piute Indians called the giants Si-Te-Cah Cannibals. and their legends say how they were killed by trapping them in caves, by building fires outside the entrance and killing them with arrows as they ran out of the caves.

    My smallest lava stone pestle is 2 inches long and weighs 3.8 ounces, and my largest river stone pestle is 10 inches long and weighs around 4 pounds. My largest mortals are very heavy, and I would think that a mortal for a larger pestle would be very heavy and likely carved in an unmovable bolder, or rock river bank ledge.

    Then, in the State of Jalisco, within a cave that had been blocked with a wall of stones, was found in a spacious apartment beyond the entrance, a pile of bones sufficient for some 200 individuals, the largest assembled skeleton measured just 8′-11″, and it appeared that the cave was burial place.

    Being cannibals, it was unusual to find pestles with these giants, and large stone hatchets to 30 pounds and other hunting and fighting tools are the norm. These giant burial sites have been found on every continent, and on many islands.

  4. I just read your article on Mascota and was thrilled. My husband, a painter, passed away on February 28th last and I am still struggling with everything I have to do. The reason why I was so interested in your article is primarily because we have a house in the mountain of Yerbabuena with an incredible view of the Valley of Mascota where we go for the Summer months. A paradise for a painter. Hellmuth has been the only artist painting petroglyps (that you will see on his site) and he was so enthusiastic about the whole thing that he has asked a friend to make a dvd showing him painting the petroglyps on one of the numerous sites there are in the region. If you are interested you can contact me through my e-mail for some more details and even see the paintings of petroglyphs he has done. They were at the Museum of Mascota where he has sold some of them.
    I therefore invite you to visit Hellmuth’s site. Thank you so much for the most interesting article. Huguette

    1. Hola Huguette, Thank you for your message. I love the area around Mascota and the next time I am through that way I will definately let you know and stop by to see your late husbands paintings.
      Abrazos, Madeline

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  6. Regarding giant people and the round cone shaped pyramid in Mexico that you visited Madeline and reported in the Vallarta Tribune, I have a picture of the Wikliffe Mounds in the U.S. state of Kentucky, and the skeletal remains from that round cone pyramid that used to be displayed in American Museums until around 1990. It shows part of the inner structure where the remains of people who were 6-7 foot tall, and of the 5 foot 4 inch people who were ruled by the giants who oversaw the construction of the mounds and earthworks.

    Native Americans left behind thousands of pyramid shaped and conical burial mounds, geometric earthworks , and artifacts depicting mysterious symbols that represent the earth and spaceships and saucer shaped craft. The natives believed that we have two souls , one is the life soul, and the other was the free soul, which travels out into the galaxy as part of its judgment , and return to the land of their ancestors.

    If the people wanted the soul to be reincarnated, the body would be buried in tombs inside the mounds. Since many if not most of these mounds have been destroyed, and the remains are no longer shown in Museums, the people in America know little about them. That was the reason of my question to you Madeline regarding the round cone shaped pyramid you visited in Mexico. You replied that it was orientated from down to up, and not as conventional pyramids with the corners lining up with certain star structures in the heavens.

  7. I have just learned more about the giants of the past that not only have been found in many parts around the globe , but in Mexico. Also where they came from.

    First clue was from the NASA pictures taken from the International Space Station, of a moon like image photographed coming over the Earth’s, horizon … that was not the Moon. Second there are reports that it has been seen just after sunset as a blue-green or blue-gold haze just above the western horizon.

    Further reports that the object is planet X (Nibiru) the home planet of the Annunaki, or the Biblical fallen Angels , which were from 8-12 foot tall. The planet has a diameter of 29,000 miles , has water, land masses, and many volcanos , and is some 30 million miles away from Earth, and in an orbit between Earth and Venus.

    When it gets some 14,000 million miles from Earth its gravity and magnetic tails may grab the mid Atlantic rift and slide it up over the North pole of the core, moving the North magnetic pole over Brazil, causing additional extreme weather and planet warming.

  8. Above it is 14 million miles and not 14,000 million miles. Earth’s orbit around the sun averages some 93 million miles from the sun. The late Zecharia Sitchin published and spent over 60 years researching for his some 14 books on the translation of the ancient Sumerian clay tablets on the Annunnaki astronauts that hybridized Homo erectus to form the first Adam. Many of these clay tablets can be found in Museums around the world. His work stands to be vindicated by planet X entering the solar system again after some 3,614 years.

  9. A foot note to this story of GIANTS in Mexico and other places that can be documented as follows:

    1. The tomb stone of the sarcophagus in the temple of the Inscription at Palenque Mexico of the Mayan ruler Hanab Pekal II is 12.43 foot long, by 7.21 foot wide. Was he as tall as Goliath ?

    2. Goliath was about 9 feet plus or minus a few inches. 1 Samuel 17:4 late 11th century .

    3. King Og spoken of in Deuteronomy 3:11 , who’s iron bedstead was approximately 14 feet long by 6 feet wide. King Og was at least 12 feet tall, yet some claim up to 18 foot tall.

    4. Possibly the tallest ever found were two 36 foot tall human remains discovered in 200-600BC by the Carthaginians.

    How do you measure up to these ancient persons ? Perhaps they had a diet greater in zinc.

  10. Reading your travel log again Madeline , this time in the current issue of the Vallarta Tribune, my mind wondered over the some 80 times I have flown over the Mexican landscape between San Francisco and Puerto Vallarta and back, and all the small towns , ranches and farms seen out of the airplane window.

    According to the July/August 2012 article in the Archaeology magazine which we have subscribed to for many years, in the article “Archaeology Interrupted “, it maps the northern Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua as part of the south west cultural area, or El Norte de Mexico.

    Highlighted in the state of Sonora (the location of the series of Carlos Castenada books on Don Juan, a Yucci Sorcerer ) is shown Cerro de Trincheras that consists of 900 terraces built into a hill of black basaltic rock, and in the state of Chihuahua , the site Paquime (Casas Grande ).

    The point of my comment here is that because of the drug trafficking in the area and their sacking the sites for artifacts that can be sold on the open market, few archaeologists dare venture into these areas for discovery of the early people who built these sites.

    Thus the discovery of another loss to Mexico due to the expansion of the Mexican drug cartels, and that one should visit many of the sites in Mexico before they are further destroyed and lost.

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