San Blas Surroundings by Sophie Jensen (1998)

ISLA ISABEL:

Several local fishermen offer a two-day two-night trip to this marine and avian sanctuary with its excellent snorkeling. The cost is about $400 U.S., for four people. Visitors bring their own food and staples, the boat captain supplies 50 gallons of purified water, and the party fishes for food. There is a primitive camp.

The island is 42 nautical miles (48.3 statute miles) offshore and is of volcanic origin. There are two beaches, Los Pescadores and Las Monas. The principal attraction is the fauna and marine birds, which include blue-footed and yellow-footed boobies, pelicans, swallows and sea gulls. Isla Isabel is one of the main nesting areas in the Pacific Ocean. Parakeets and sea swallows use the island for breeding from September to November. There are also some shore birds, including egrets and hummingbirds.

The island became a national park in December, 1980, and is maintained as an ecological preserve by the federal and state governments.

The University of Mexico has a research station here for studying whales, crabs and birds.

VILLA HIDALGO:

Commercial center of the agricultural area east of San Blas, large market with nice selection of brown pottery, very good food stalls. Frequent buses. Trip goes through shrimp beds.


Photos by John Keegan SANTIAGO IXCUINTLA:
Another market town, across the river from Villa Hidalgo. A bridge is usually open during the winter, otherwise, you must drive or take the bus up to Hwy. 15 and then back to Santiago. Home of Susana Valadez's Center for Survival of the Huichol Indians. Drop-in visitors are discouraged, but those planning to buy large amounts of artworks, or who wish to volunteer to work (mostly on Indian health problems) may call Susana for an appointment: 5 11 71.

Photos by John Keegan TEPIC: Nayarit state capitol. Regional museum, cathedral, two large markets, bull ring, supermarkets (Comercial Mexicana and Ley, which is owned by Safeway) with lots of U.S. products. Several nice restaurants. Major bus terminal for long-distance trips. Trains run daily from here to Nogales-Mexicali and to Mexico City. Regional airport. Frequent buses.

ATICAMA-LOS COCOS-MANZANILLA-MIRAMAR-SANTA CRUZ-EL LLANO:

Small beach towns south of San Blas. Los Cocos has a very nice moderately priced hotel and restaurant, Casa Manzana. Manzanilla has a newis RV park and apartments (expensive) on an ocean bluff; excellent small restaurant. Miramar is little more than a collection of seafood restaurants fronting on the beach and fishing boats--beautiful view. Santa Cruz is a small, pretty, town with bungalows for rent, and the site of a shrimp hatchery, operated by a consortium of Mexican, American and Thai businessmen. Frequent buses. El Llano is a very small town, start of the scenic coastal road to Las Varas and Puerto Vallarta.

JALCOCOTAN:

Small town about midway between Santa Cruz and Tepic, on Highway 66. Roasted beans and ground coffee from nearby plantations sold at stores in the center of town.

EL SALTO (COLA DE CABALLO):

A group of waterfalls, three small and one large (more than 45 feet high), and a natural pool for swimming and diving, reached by hiking (about an hour) through tropical jungle and two old railway tunnels, built for a planned railway to San Blas which was never finished. The area abounds in tropical vegetation and fauna, including raccoons, deer, coatimundi, and partridges. Ask about a guide in San Blas, Santa Cruz or El Cora.

PLATANITOS:

An idyllic curved beach with fine gray sand, fringed by palms. South of Santa Cruz. Fish restaurants are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

BALNEARIO NUEVO CHAPULTEPEC:

Up Highway 66 from Santa Cruz crossroads. Frigid swimming pool with slide, facilities for cooking your own fish or carne asada, waterfalls on the hill above. Small fee for table rental. Mobbed with families on holidays and weekends.

MECATAN:

North of Hwy. 66, small hill town with pretty topiary shrubs around the plaza. According to the official state guide book, there are petroglyphs of spirals, curved lines and circles symbolizing the movement of a hurricane, carved in eight basalt rocks near town. Ask for directions in the village--you might have better luck than I did on the day an interested schoolteacher said be sure to let him know if I ever found the rocks.

EL MAMEY:

Natural rock pools in basalt rock, 5 km. west of Mecatan. Tables, benches and grills for picnics.

CHACALILLA:

Undeveloped archaeological zone, about 5 miles up a rough rock road from the road between San Blas and Guadalupe Victoria. A few fragments of rock beads and carvings may be found, but the area has been vandalized. The farming village of Chacalilla has a small store carrying soft drinks and snacks, but no tourist services.

SINGAYTA:

Village on Hwy. 54 from San Blas, start of rough dirt road to a choice area for viewing birds. Four-wheel drive recommended. Easy hiking required for a couple of miles.