Colour, Music and Enchantment
Photo credit: Steph Islas
Mexico is a country with a thousand faces – from the beautiful beaches along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, to the colourful towns of Oaxaca and Guadalajara and the world-famous ruins at Chichen Itzá. But it is within the small Mexican villages and indigenous communities that you will find the heart of the country and discover exactly what it is that makes it so special.
The Riviera Nayarit or “The Mexican Riviera” is situated along the Pacific Coast and includes the beautiful city of Puerto Vallarta, a place that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton once called home. The region is home to an abundance of authentic indigenous life, with many Indian villages and a prominent Huichol community. These Mexican villages are scattered along the coastline and situated close to one another, framed by the beautiful Pacific waters on one side and the dramatic Sierra Madre mountain range on the other with sugar cane fields and papaya, mango and tobacco farms tucked in between.
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle
Named “the enchanted towns” by the Mexican Tourism Department, these Mexican villages embody everything that is authentic about Mexico in a region where the views are as lively, bright and full of life as the inhabitants. La Cruz de Huanacaxtle is a colourful and vibrant village located around 25 kilometres outside of Puerto Vallarta. As you wander the maze of cobbled streets that make up this charming fishing village, the smell of tortillas fills the air and mingles with the exotic notes emanating from the instruments played by the many street musicians. The Huichol people are notoriously reclusive but if you listen carefully, you will hear the magic of their language from those who come to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle to sell their crafts. Their artistic talent and craftsmanship are astounding and their brightly coloured clothing, handicrafts and jewellery are easy to find in villages across the region, either on market stalls or hanging in art galleries. La Cruz de Huanacaxtle is also home to the largest marina in Central America, making it a popular anchorage spot for passing sailors. It is especially vibrant when the fish and farmers’ markets are taking place, where you can mingle with the locals and sample the fresh catch of the day.
For Mexican villages of a more intimate experience, the town of Jala in the southern part of Nayarit has a tiny population of just one thousand and a genuine magical feel. Even its name reveals its indigenous origins, coming from the Nahuatl (Aztec) language and meaning “a place with an abundance of sand.” The pink cobblestone streets are filled with brightly coloured stone houses, a beautiful old cathedral and beaming Mariachi bands playing their cheerful folkloric tunes. The majority of inhabitants of this Mexican village work in agriculture, producing many local specialities, including home-grown snacks, such as peanuts that are grown in the surrounding fields. The town is also home to excavated archaeological ruins believed to date back to 700AD while the Ceboruco volcano is just down the road (it hasn’t erupted since the 1870s).
Bucerias & San Pancho
North of Puerto Vallarta, you will find Bucerias. Its cobblestone streets were built by hand, and the entire village evokes a heart-warming feeling of a bygone time. Most of its original inhabitants were traditional oyster fisherman who dived to the bottom of the ocean with tools in hand to catch their prey. Bucerias’ beach stretches uninterrupted for miles, and the water is ideal for deep sea fishing and diving. Inside the town, the open-air craft market offers a beautiful glimpse of traditional Mexican daily life, with stall owners slicing open sugar cane to drink the juice while passers-by browse their wares. San Pancho is yet another beautiful refuge, set between the verdant jungle and on the edge of the ocean. Men on horseback still ride the streets here, and the beaches are home to nesting turtles – all of this just an hour away from Puerto Vallarta. Also close by, is the town of Zihuatanejo. A former fishing village, it still retains its quaint feeling and is home to a bohemian lifestyle with many art galleries and lovely seafood eateries. Local speciality dishes include fresh shrimp with lime and chilli or whole snapper grilled on mangrove wood served with tortillas and scallions.
Where to Stay
The Matlali Hotel brings the authentic Mexican ambience into a five-star luxury accommodation, surrounded by immense natural beauty and seemingly endless golden beaches. Its contemporary design rests beautifully against the tropical scenery while the onsite spa includes outdoor treatment rooms with a focus on indigenous traditional healing and rituals. The delectable seafood dishes in the restaurant are excellent examples of why the Riviera is a seafood lovers’ paradise.