Compostela: The Overlooked City

As our departure date approaches, this question presents itself… Where will the next day trip take us? Like a thunderbolt, the answer flashes from the road atlas page. There centered in bold print is the destination – Compostela, a colonial city. We’ve driven past the Nayarit city on our way to the Mexican interior, but never paused to visit. Thus the present adventure was grasped.

Leaving Los Ayala early insured breakfast in Las Varas enjoying “Divorced Eggs” and “French Bread” at Angelita’s ever popular restaurant. As mentioned in an earlier article, the trip is not solely about the destination, but about the journey along the way. Conversations flowed uninterrupted until reaching Mesillas, stopping at Café Nayarit for a coffee and a brief visit with friends, Elizabeth and Mario. Over the seasons we’ve visited the family’s coffee plantation to film petroglyphs on a rock wall.

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A visit with our two young friends at Café Nayarit in Mesillas. Great fresh brewed coffee.

You can learn more about Café Nayarit and their coffee plantation in this previous article.

After saying our goodbyes, we drove across the highway to visit another good friend, Felipe Rodriguez, an elderly stone carver. As always, our visit is heartfelt and of course we purchased a small figurine while friends, Ted and Jan, scooped up stone carvings for family gifts. Visiting Felipe’s workshop is a worthwhile stop to gain a glimpse of a Mexican culture that is seldom experienced in coastal tourist towns. A must stop for any adventurous inquisitive individual. If his shop door is open, the welcome mat is out.

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Visiting with stone carver, Felipe Rodriguez. A must stop in the small town of Mesillas.

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A sample of the many stone carvings that can be found on Felipe’s dusty shelves.

Felipe, our Mexican friend- a Mesillas icon.
Felipe, our Mexican friend and Mesillas icon.

Continuing to follow the twisting turning highway through the Sierra Madre Mountain range our next brief stop is a green two-story roadside shrine where small candles were being lit by people who probably lost loved ones or pray for safety along this stretch of highway. Reaching Compostela’s center, we locate a nearby parking spot. A short walk returns us to the historic picture-perfect zócalo with the 16th century Cathedral (photo below), complete with its loud clanging bell announcing the hour. Something to recall if planning to stay overnight in a nearby hotel! In the center, the majestic bandstand holds the spotlight. In front of the Cathedral, a small fountain provides a drink for the pigeons while the flowering shrubs complete the picturesque setting. In the southern corner of the square, the compact Compostela Archeology and History Museum presents inherited evidence from the region’s past. Diagonally across from the museum is a popular restaurant, thus cementing the plaza’s tourist importance.

The majestic 16th Century Cathedral.
The majestic 16th Century Cathedral.

An excellent display of preclassical (400BC to 200AD) ceramic figures.
An excellent display of preclassical (400BC to 200AD) ceramic figures.

Most might consider the Cathedral and its ornate interior the community’s main attraction. For us the major impact were the spotless streets, the pedestrian walkways and the helpfulness and friendliness of the local people. One such example occurred when after purchasing watermelons, we managed to splatter one on the sidewalk. For the clean-up a plastic bag was required. The vendor didn’t have one, but seeing our plight a merchant rushed across the street with a large store bag. Compostela turned into a hidden gem, and it’s only a brief drive from Rincón de Guayabitos.

First things first a  chance to purchase Hwichol crafts.
First things first, a chance to purchase Huichol crafts.

While in Compostela we found an opportunity to purchase a western style belt.
While in Compostela, we found an opportunity to purchase a western style belt.

The intrepid tourists or so we think!
The intrepid tourists or so we think!

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This restaurant served delicious fresh meals and was the final highlight before heading home.

Driving Directions

From the Rincón de Guayabitos Pemex, the round trip is approximately 134 km (84 miles). Direct driving time one way is 45-60 minutes. During holiday periods, the highway can be congested.

Drive Highway 200 towards Tepic. Nearing Compostela continue towards Tepic, turn right onto Calzado Gral Flores Munoz, the first road past the Pemex station #2380. We never did spot the street name! Passing a stadium you’ll come to a white coloured roundabout, blend to the right onto Miguel Hidalgo. Follow this street directly to the square. Locate a parking spot nearby. Visit the square’s attractions, wander the city’s streets, possibly shopping and maybe rent a Mexican bike rickshaw complete with driver for an escorted city tour. Enjoy your Compostela visit.

by John and Doreen Berg

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Leave a Review

6 Reviews on “Compostela: The Overlooked City”

  1. :

    Thank you Doreen & John for a fun trip-report. My inland adventures and exploration of this region almost always begin with a layover in Compostela. I really like this authentic ranching community vibe; comfortable and friendly to a fault. As I related to Kirk Nevin, the only thing lacking here is a central hotel with some charm to match the rest of the environment. Tom

  2. :

    I agree with Kirk. Before we obtained a car we did a lot of bus travel and they travel to every spot. Most are excellent and on long hauls you can book a seat. Try that with Greyhound!

  3. :

    Yes... the bus service is excellent and frequent. The Pacifico buses are fun, too... a great place to meet the real local folks. And it's easy to spend the night in Compostela, then either continue to Tepic or return to Rincon. If more people used the buses, those highways wouldn't be crowded or dangerous, and tourists would have a much lower carbon impact.

    1. :

      Hola, Kirk... "And it’s easy to spend the night in Compostela..." Where did you stay, please? A nice hotel centro in Compostela is the only thing that I have found lacking in this wonderful city. There are only two that I have found, across from La Plaza. The budget option is super-budget: clean enough, but... tiny cell-like room with one small window that opens to the hallway, thin polyester sheet, one bare lightbulb on the low ceiling, no toilet seat, etc. The slightly more upscale option is harsh, cold, and devoid of any whimsy or imagination; fake plastic plants everywhere. The aluminum framed plexiglass windows will not open because air-conditioning is available. An indifferent staff here! Trying to check in one day, the desk clerk told me to wait two hours for the next shift so he did not have to rebalance his books. I like Compostela a lot. I think it would be a very livable city. I see someone I know every time I stroll there. A small, centro posada with a bit of charm is all Compostela is lacking. Tom

  4. :

    Are there busses travelling from La Penita to Compostela for those of us without vehicles?

    1. :

      Yes, I have taken the bus to Tepic as well and often wanted to stop over in Compostela as passing through it, looked like a beautiful place to spend a few days.

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