Vancouver Sun

KNOW NAYARIT

Small state offers a different world of beauty, adventure and culture

- IRENE MIDDLEMAN THOMAS

Sitting at a bright- red table overlookin­g an estuary in the fabled village of Mexcaltita­n in the Riviera Nayarit, we threw bits of tortillas in the air to acrobatic sea birds to catch mid- flight. Dozens of great white pelicans floated by on the green water, while a family lustily sang Las Mananitas, Mexico’s birthday song, nearby.

Nayarit’s beloved “pescado zarandeado” — a whole snapper, caught that morning, grilled on aromatic mangrove wood and served with homemade corn tortillas, grilled scallions, cucumbers, tomatoes — plus a delectable shrimp paté with crackers were available. Icy cold Pacifica beers in hand, we marvelled that such a place still exists.

Never heard of Nayarit? It is Mexico’s 10th smallest state ( out of 31) and incredibly diverse — birdwatche­rs, wildlife enthusiast­s and those seeking the authentic, unsullied- by- tourism Mexico are drawn to it.

On a recent weeklong visit, we travelled through green rolling hills, endless sugarcane fields with fronds blowing in the breeze — and mango, banana, papaya and tobacco farms.

We were just a few yards from enormous crocodiles, inches from an exquisitel­y beautiful jaguar, viewed thousands of migratory birds in the emerald- green rainforest. We were also eating succulent dishes we had never heard of, and meeting fascinatin­g people from all walks of life, such as elaboratel­y adorned Huichol Indians still living their traditiona­l lifestyle.

It’s easy to travel from one fascinatin­g part of Nayarit to another. Nayarit’s southern border is just 10 minutes north from the Puerto Vallarta airport. The modern, intercoast­al highway is serviced by comfortabl­e, air- conditione­d buses that stop in each town — with very reasonable fares.

If you want the mega all- inclusives overlookin­g the Pacific, luxury spas, fabulous surfing, world- class golfing and lie-on-the-beach vacations, it’s all in the Riviera Nayarit; but if you yearn for adventure, colonial architectu­re and art and a heady dip into other cultures, venture into the rest of the state and “know Nayarit.”

The Nayarit Colonial zone offers Spanish colonial architectu­re, history and museums of the capital city of Tepic ( founded in 1542) as well as the delightful cobbleston­ed villages of Jala, Ixtlan del Rio and Bellavista. Tepic is a bustling, lively city perfect as a base for exploratio­n of nearby Huichol Indian villages and other areas.

We enjoyed walking the lively Plaza de Armas with its enormous cathedral and beautiful Municipal Palace, as well as the Amado Nervo, Museo de las Cuatro Culturas ( Museum of Four Cultures) and Juan Escutia museums, and gazed for a long while at a father and small son cutting, trimming and bagging sugar cane stalks at their street stand

Nayarit has several spectacula­r “enchanted lagoons” such as San Pedro, Tepetiltic and Santa Maria del Oro, where we spent the night in a rather swank, modern boutique 20- room hotel called Lago Encantado.

The morning there was breathtaki­ng — with mist rising over the lake and layers of multi- hued mountains rising beyond. People come to these towns to fish, bike, water ski, boat, rest and to enjoy the area’s famous delicacies.

We started our Riviera Nayarit exploratio­n in the large town of San Blas ( founded in the 17th century,) renowned as one of the world’s most important natural bird refuges.

While birdwatchi­ng here is wonderful all year, its rich migratory display every winter season ( November-April) brings an estimated 80 per cent of the migratory North American bird species to interact with local species, about 2 ½ hours north of the Puerto Vallarta airport. Caution — you will need insect repellent in this area!

In San Blas, we stayed at the very pretty Garza Canela, a garden- filled inn run by the four very friendly Vazquez sisters ( one of whom is Betty Vazquez, an acclaimed Paris- educated chef, and the Culinary Ambassador for the Riviera Nayarit) and their brother.

This property caters to bird watching groups, provides very early breakfasts to birders, and is just a 15- minute walk from the town’s long sandy beach. The Delfin restaurant, with Chef Betty’s gastronomi­c marvels ( written up in Bon Appétit and Gourmet) is well worth the trip. The Garza Canela sisters will help you book the services of a very reliable and knowledgea­ble taxi driver, Juan Martinez Velez, who regularly attends to internatio­nal visitors and can be booked in advance for private trips in the area.

But there’s much more to San Blas — the nearby dense mangroves and hilly rainforest’s microclima­te attract thousands of birds to mate, nest and feed in the nutrient- rich estuary. One morning, we arose before sunrise to climb up through the rocky paths at Tecuitata, through impossibly dense mango, jackfruit, banana and papaya trees, and as the first rays of sunlight hit us, so did the cacophony of sound — birds calling, singing, and cawing all around us, along with crickets and woodpecker­s. Our bilingual guide, expert birdwatche­r Francisco Garcia, called in excitement to us when he spotted a squirrel cuckoo.

The next morning, we skimmed the glasslike surface of the estuary in a small panga boat to enter the peaceful and beautiful La Tovara, a mangrove refuge filled with about 60 crocodiles, a multitude of turtles, lizards and herons, storks, hawks, eagles, egrets, ducks, falcons and more.

About a 45- minute drive from San Blas, small boats take visitors to the fascinatin­g village of Mexcaltita­n, mentioned above. This no- vehicle village of 1,800 residents is only reachable by boat; inside the estuary, this delightful town is completely walkable ( after dining on that fabulous fish mentioned above — try La Alberca, about $ 25 per couple for enormous fish and shrimp lunch with beer). Everyone’s doors are open, children are outside playing, the church has an exceptiona­lly bloody Jesus Christ statue, and there is a surprising­ly well executed small historical museum ( Museo del Origen).

Stroll the paths into yesteryear and slow down — what would it be like to live here, we wondered. In fact, we learned that some locals have never left — afraid to experience cars, noise and big city life.

As our magical day in Mexcaltita­n drew to a close, we embarked onto the little boat alongside some 25 great white pelicans. It was a day like no other we’ve ever had.

For our time of sun and surf, we headed back to Riviera Nayarit. We chose picturesqu­e San Pancho ( formally called San Francisco), where we stayed at the lovely Cielo Rojo boutique hotel, perfectly decorated with Mexican folk art. In San Pancho, we visited the fabulous Entreamigo­s Community Center — a utopia- like non- profit establishe­d and run by a former California­n. It is well worth an hour of your time.

Moving on to Bucerias, we stayed in an outstandin­g ecopropert­y. Los Arroyos Verdes is a botanical garden built around 36 private casitas, a restored Airstream trailer and small RV, with 26 staffers attending to the organic chef’s garden, nursery, authentic Temazcal sweat lodge, maintenanc­e, activities ( yoga, tai chi, salsa dancing, etc.). We explored the surroundin­g countrysid­e on the cute vintage bicycles, and swam in the huge azure swimming pool.

Knowing Nayarit is a joy, one that takes much more than one trip there — this gloriously beautiful, lush, authentica­lly Mexican destinatio­n will happily fill your minds, hearts and stomachs.

 ?? MARK RUSH ?? Visitors can enjoy the beach in San Blas and explore the nearby mangroves and hilly rainforest where a multitude of birds, both local and migratory, fill the air with song.
MARK RUSH Visitors can enjoy the beach in San Blas and explore the nearby mangroves and hilly rainforest where a multitude of birds, both local and migratory, fill the air with song.
 ??  ?? A doorway beckons in pedestrian- only Mexcaltita­n, while above left, pelicans swim in the estuary surroundin­g Mexcaltita­n.
A doorway beckons in pedestrian- only Mexcaltita­n, while above left, pelicans swim in the estuary surroundin­g Mexcaltita­n.
 ??  ??
 ?? PHOTOS: MARK RUSH ?? Clockwise from top left: Nayarit is an area of remote Indian villages and enormous lagoons; the cathedral in Tepic lights up the night; the La Tovara wildlife refuge is home to many rare creatures.
PHOTOS: MARK RUSH Clockwise from top left: Nayarit is an area of remote Indian villages and enormous lagoons; the cathedral in Tepic lights up the night; the La Tovara wildlife refuge is home to many rare creatures.
 ??  ??
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada