One of many reasons for my lifelong love affair with Mexico is the sheer diversity of the country. I am continually amazed that one can be cavorting on sandy beaches in warm blue ocean waters or hiking through tropical rain forest, yet within a few hours’ drive one is seemingly transported to a completely different world.
This other side of Mexico, not seen by many tourists is a wondrous place where the landscapes consist of soaring mountains swathed in stately pine trees, fresh water lakes and rivers, roses and cactuses, fields of berries and apple trees, and plenty of charming colonial towns brimming with culture and history.
This Mexico offers a temperate climate with warm, sunny days and cool, balmy nights… year round. The scenery is reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest and some of the colonial towns bear a strong resemblance to the smaller towns found in Spain and Portugal. Here one can enjoy a vacation at a more tranquil pace, for a fraction of the cost of a comparable vacation in Europe. The laid back style typical of Mexico’s beach towns’ changes to old world Mexico where ladies still wear dresses; men wear long pants, white shirts and cowboy hats; and tourists in light sweaters indulge in hot chocolate and coffee (instead of beer and margaritas) at colorful sidewalk cafes.
If you, like myself, enjoy exploring Mexico whenever the opportunity arises two gems worth discovering are the towns of San Sebastián del Oeste and Mascota. These two towns are nestled within the Sierra Madre Mountains in the state of Jalisco, a leisurely 3-4 hour drive from Jaltemba Bay. If your focus on Mexico has always been on its spectacular beaches and you have yet to visit any of the colonial towns, set aside two to three days for this trip. The drive is incredibly scenic and the road leading there meanders along countryside rich in pine forests, lakes, rivers and streams… all set off by canyons, cliffs and the grandiose Sierra Madre.
San Sebastián del Oeste is a small, historic and very picturesque town which was founded as a mining community by the Spanish Conquistadors over 400 years ago. In its’ time, the population of San Sebastian reached over 20,000 and the town bustled with miners in search of lead, zinc, silver and gold. A few years after the Mexican Revolution the town of San Sebastián was abandoned. It is said that it became a ghost town. The last remaining mine was closed in 1921. The population of San Sebastian today is less than 1000. Agriculture and tourism are now the primary activities, and tourism to this area is growing quickly.
San Sebastián is a colonial town which has been designated as a “Pueblo Magico” and indeed it is magical. Today’s San Sebastian is a touristic delight. Here you will find narrow cobblestone streets, white buildings with red tiled roofs, horses and carriages, haciendas and many buildings of architectural interest which date back over 200 years. For sure this small towns charm will envelop you and as you stroll its cobblestone streets and imagine life back then.
Recommended activities include visiting the Dona Conchita museum which showcases memorabilia and photos from the early mining years (entrance to the museum is just 10 pesos) and the pretty white church in the town plaza dates back to 1608. The church is dedicated to the saint San Sebastián and was rebuilt after the 1868 earthquake, and restored to its original beauty in the 1980s.
Other popular activities include ATV tours to the surrounding mines and nearby towns. If you are so inclined, tours of the area are also available on horseback. Another recommended tour is to La Bufa, a scenic lookout point, via a bus decorated with a straw roof.
If you are not staying at the charming Hacienda Jalisco, a favourite summer getaway for locals who frequent San Sebastián to escape the summer heat of the beach towns, make it a point to visit the hacienda and the onsite museum. The hacienda was built in the 1840s and has been beautifully restored. Hacienda Jalisco is the place to stay to experience life as it must have been back then.
Recommended shopping purchases include the San Café Sebastián de Altura, a locally grown organic coffee for which I can personally vouch. There is also a quaint store which sells beautiful, locally made arts and crafts and one that sells delectable locally made candies. Tops on my list? Exploring the town and its’ shops on foot followed by a leisurely lunch at one of the restaurants around the immaculately maintained town plaza.
When you are ready to say farewell to San Sebastián just follow the road signs at the exit from San Sebastian for Mascota. The drive to Mascota takes about an hour and can be a little nerve wracking during the rainy season. Steep mountain sides meet at the base of the windy road on one side and on the other side there are some very steep and daunting cliffs. Indeed the road has several signs warning of landslide areas and falling rocks. Nevertheless I would rank the drive to Mascota from San Sebastián as one of the things I enjoyed the most about this trip because of the stunning vistas along the way.
About the Author: Christina Stobbs is a writer and photographer who lives in Los Ayala year round with her husband Robert. As a photographer, she feels fortunate to live in an area so rich in flora and fauna, and abundant in natural beauty. She enjoys landscape and wildlife photography, and has a fondness for pelicans. Most recently, she starting selling her photos with stock companies Dreamstime and Big Stock Photos. As a writer, she states that living in Mexico is perfect because each and every day is full of surprises. To view more of Christina’s work, click here.
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