Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Spring/Summer 2007 issue.
If you are new to Banderas Bay or on a short-term vacation, chances are that you will want to remain fairly close to your home or hotel, as you will find a plethora of things to do in Puerto Vallarta and its immediate surroundings. And moving north or south along the bay on Carr. 200 has always been easy, making places such as Sayulita or San Pancho appealing daytrips or weekend getaways. But the recent completion of the new highway from Puerto Vallarta to Talpa opens up a whole new world of possibilities for those who would like to take their acquaintance with age-old Mexico a few notches further. Now, more traditional towns, previously reachable only by small aircraft or dirt roads, such as Mascota, San Sebastian and Talpa, are only a few scenic hours away. And with the summer months upon us, an escape to cooler mountain weather is even more desirable. These three unique towns, each with its own personality and appeal, are now closer than you think.
Talpa de Allende is much smaller than Puerto Vallarta; however, a considerable number of tourists per capita arrive at this popular religious destination. A beautiful cathedral flanked by a well-kept religious museum located at the main plaza is a testament to the town’s religious heritage.
Talpa is a popular religious destination, as believers flock to pay favors credited to the Rosario Virgin or to ask for a miracle.
The miraculous fame of the Rosario Virgin started in 1641 when a priest noticed that villagers had not been giving adequate maintenance to the church and religious images, so he ordered that they be placed in a private room. Maria Tenachi was assigned the duty, but when she touched the Virgin it shined and she lost consciousness. Upon recovering, Maria saw that the Virgin had been miraculously restored, and since then thousands of believers come to praise the Virign. Celebrations for the Rosario Virgin take place October 5 - 17, when it is taken to the main square and side streets, and then bathed and given new clothes.
Talpa is a great showcase for Mexican food. Birria, pozole, tamales, tostadas, gorditas and chilaquiles have a Mexican taste that can’t be found at city restaurants.
It’s impossible not to succomb to the taste and smell of traditional Mexican cuisine. In this town you can enjoy delicious traditional Mexican coffee, spicy chilaquiles, freshly baked handmade tortillas and delicious desserts.
When the wind blows in Talpa, a delicious sweet guava smell fills the small cobblestone streets. This scent comes from the production of fruit roll, a product based on guava that is very popular in the region. However, the main local industry is chicle production, obtained from the milky latex of the sapodilla tree and processed into a paste that is then painted in several colors to make all kinds of shapes, from baskets to intricate dollhouses.
There are some things you might want to consider before your first adventure into the mountains. First, it’s easy to forget that you climb up the mountains faster than you think, Talpa located almost 4,000 feet above sea level. So, while you may feel quite comfortable during the daytime in Vallarta attire (short sleeves, Bermuda shorts), you might want to bring a sweater and long pants, as temperatures drop considerably during the evening hours.
Drive into the mountains at ease knowing that you will find plenty of PEMEX gas stations and ATMs along the way. Do keep in mind, however, that while Puerto Vallarta as a destination is used to dealing with US and even Canadian currency, folks in these towns may not have access to the latest exchange rate information. The best thing to do is to use Mexican currency whenever possible.
Along the same lines, the bilingual comfort zone that prevails in Banderas Bay quickly dissipates as you distance yourself from it. If your Spanish chops are not up to par you will appreciate traveling with someone who can help you along with everything from checking in at your hotel to translating a restaurant menu.
Each of these towns would make an excellent day trip, particularly if you begin your journey very early in the day. Unless you are already familiar with Mexican roads, you may not want to be caught driving the mountainous road at night. Planning an overnight stay at San Sebastian or Talpa simplifies the logistics of exploring all three towns in one trip. Regardless of your choice, you will be glad to have experienced some of Mexico’s rich cultural and historic heritage by having added them to your travel list.
Our choice to focus on Talpa should not minimize the allure of these two remaining destinations. A stop in Mascota would not be complete without a visit to the “National Geographic”-sponsored archaeological museum, featuring thousands of ancient petroglyphs discovered in the area. The museum is located one block from the main plaza. Farther along the road is San Sebastián, once a prosperous mining town and now a peaceful mountainous retreat increasingly sought by artists and locals as a place to get away from it all.
Talpa’s layout is such that once you get there, you probably won’t need to move your car. If you are staying overnight, Hotel Pedregal, (388) 385-0274, is located two blocks from the main plaza. The hotel features basic, comfortable rooms and has its own parking lot. Up on the hill Casa Grande, (388) 385-0709, is a small colonial hotel with beautiful views of the entire city and the valley beyond it. Keep climbing beyond Casa Grande and you’ll reach Cristo Rey, a religious landmark monument overlooking the town you will not want to miss. There are plenty of eateries throughout Talpa, many worth exploring. El Herradero, located across the street from Hotel Pedregal, offers traditional Mexican treats at very affordable prices, while Casa Grande’s own restaurant has delicious arrachera and other cuts of meat, also affordably priced.