Tequila Has it All, Except the Mexican Riviera Beaches
Story and Photos by John and Doreen Berg
When Mexican tourists mention Tequila, numerous images spring to mind. Certainly, one thought that is often overlooked is to consider Tequila as a multifaceted tourist destination. The majority of tourists visiting Tequila simply tour a distillery and partake of its famous drink then immediately return to the Puerto Vallarta coastal area or to the Guadalajara region. Tequila and the surrounding countryside has much more to offer. The inquisitive tourist is able to plan excursions to visit exceptional museums, historical sites, natural springs, concentrical pyramids, spherical boulders and photographical landscapes as well as taste-testing tequila, and all at a reasonable price. What more could the intrepid tourist wish for?
Each winter season, Doreen and I abandon the damp chilling British Columbia rains to enjoy the warm dazzling sun and clear sparkling waters of the Mexican Riviera, Nayarit. Basking on the beach with warm sands trickling between our toes, with pristine waters washing against the shore, and with frequent fitness hikes continue to be our Mexican activities. However, after a month or so we require an alternative to enjoying our beach paradise and our decadent lifestyle and must seek different destinations. Last season we visited Tequila and enjoyed the town's ambiance so we decided to revisit Tequila and expand our travel plans to include excursions to two nearby archaeological sites: Los Guachimontones and Piedras Bola. The interior destinations seemed the ideal region for us to visit as we both enjoy exploring Mexican ruins and learning more about the regional history.
An 8:30 a.m. start, saw us loading our one suitcase into the back of our rented Jeep Cherokee. We drove from Rincón de Guayabitos, stopping at Las Varas to enjoy a breakfast in our favorite restaurant, La Birra de Angelita. After hueves rancheros and a Mexican omelette washed down with numerous cups of coffee, we headed toward Compostela, where we switched to the toll road (cuota) and continued driving to Chapalilla and here changed back to the free road (libra). Along the roadside many small pottery stalls can be found. It's a great place to pause to purchase pottery gift items. Our purchase was four different shaped and coloured coffee mug sets for family Christmas gifts! Nice when you luck out as the four kids loved the gift mugs!
Continuing along Highway 15 the next major town encountered is Ahaucatlán. On this year's trip we elected not to turn off to again visit the wonderful hot springs at Burranca de Oro. The springs are located deep in a narrow canyon with sturdy access walkways, adequate change rooms, and a variety of swimming pools. Located at the canyon's rim is a restaurant and accommodations. Last year our group of four spent an enjoyable few hours swimming, exploring and consuming a poolside lunch. Barranca de Oro would be a convenient overnight stop. However, we elected to push on to Tequila. Attempt to find time to enjoy Barranca de Oro as it is a fascinating spot and will be a complete surprise.
We returned to Highway 27 driving to Etzatlán junction where we turned north to Magdalena to join the toll road to Tequila. The secondary road is satisfactory but expect rough sections. If in no hurry, Highway 15 is a scenic drive passing through farmlands and small villages. An alternate to consider is to drive back to Ahaucatlán and take the faster toll highway directly to Tequila. From the elevated Tequila approach highway you can enjoy sweeping views of the agave fields. The area was declared a World Heritage site in 2006!
This trip we managed an earlier mid-afternoon arrival at Hotel La Rienda Mision Tequillan's enclosed parking area. The hotel is centrally located in Tequila's historic downtown area. Once checked in it was a short walk to visit the 17th Century Santiago Apostol Church and a few meters away is the Plaza de Arms, complete with a colourful bandstand. Located just off the square is the Sauza Family Grandparent's Museum. The museum is certainly worth a visit! Here you'll find personal artifacts that once belonged to the Sauze family, as well as displays depicting the traditional tequila-making process. After our museum visit we noticed tequila keg-shaped vehicles parked nearby. Couldn't miss them! After inquiring we booked a distillery tour for the following morning. Next was a search for an evening meal. After checking out several restaurants we decided to dine at Cafe Rossy and later watch the social interactions in the plaza. A few night photos and it was back to the hotel to tuck in.
Probably the most popular distillery tour is the José Cuervo Distillery as its within easy walking distance from the plaza. Having visited three distilleries over the seasons, José Cuervo, La Cofradia and Romo, we recommend the Romo Distillery Tour. The tour provided a visit to the original distillery area where we were able to view the old washing stands where once ladies chatted as they washed their clothing. Did these ancient wash stands evolve into our present day laundromats? Next stop was a visit to Distillery Reyes, an older equipped factory which only operates part of the year. After a brief tour and a few sample drinks we felt an obligation to purchase an almond tequila drink which, I'm sure, pleased everyone.
Back on the Tequila bus to visit a blue-tinted agave field followed by a tour of the Romo Distillery. At the time of our visit the plant was in full operation enabling us to enjoy the sweet smell of cooked agave nectar wafting through the spotlessly clean distillery. I was surprised, for safety reasons, at how near the tour guide brought us to moving tractors and operational machinery. The keg tour bus returned us to Plaza de Arms where a visit to an obsidian (volcanic rock) stall led to a home factory visit! As we chatted and admired the curved obsidian shapes the owner invited us to his home workshop to view how the beautiful obsidian pieces were made. A short taxi ride brought us to his abode.
We entered the living quarters and passed through to the rear factory area. Not a large workshop where four or five workers were busy working at various machines cutting, shaping and polishing obsidian pieces. Out of all the designs the ever-popular heart shape was the favourite as it allows one to appreciate the beautiful colours of the rainbow obsidian and it sells well too! Doreen fell in love with a beautiful 20 -25 cm tall female statue of silver sheen obsidian. At the time, the price caused us to reconsider its purchase. However, in hindsight, Doreen wishes she had purchased the lovely lady. Over time the price would be forgotten but the statue's beauty would continue to be enjoyed in our living room. Or this is what I'm being led to believe! The final event of the day was a dinner at El Palmolar Restaurant on the church square.
The next day after a breakfast at the market we visited, Nunat, the National Museum of Tequila. The museum depicted the history of tequila making complete with tequila bottles from three generations of Sauza production. We returned to Hotel La Rienda to collect our baggage and check out. We retraced our drive back to Magdalena but before turning off to Etzatlán we browsed the local shops selling opal and obsidian handicrafts. I'm sure their beautiful store displays will tempt a purchase or two.
From Etzatlán we drove Highway 27 to Teuchitlán watching for the turnoff to Los Guachimontones, the archaeological site of the round step pyramids. The site is easily located with highway signage to keep you on track and a paved road into the site's parking lot.
Los Guachimontones was discovered some fifty years ago, quite by accident. Apparently, Dr. Phil Weigand and a teacher Acelia Garcia stumbled upon some skilfully crafted obsidian objects in the town of Teuchitlán. Further investigation led the pair to present-day Los Guachimontones. The site continues to be excavated and present literature states there are 10 pyramids and the main round step pyramid is named "La Iguana." It is approximately 10 meters high and has a diameter of 29 meters. La Iguana is an impressive mass and quite different structurally as compared to the East Coast Mayan pyramids.
We observed a tour guide and his student group performing ancient chants. Later we spoke with the tour guide and he informed us that each year previous to March 21st, people come to Los Guachimontones and for two days, dressed in white, they take part in indigenous rituals which includes native dances and concerts with pre-Hispanic music.
Climbing a hill behind the main pyramid presented us with an excellent overview of the site with La Iguana in the foreground and Teuchitlán combined with Lake Presa de la Vega in the background. A great photo opportunity! Los Guachimontones is a splendid archaeological site to visit, and is especially important to the Jalisco region which only a few years ago was thought to contain few if any archaeological finds.
At the day's end was a return drive to Etzatlán where Hotel El Centenario, our hotel choice for the night, is centrally located. The hotel can be found just off the corner of the town's main plaza. The hotel has great ambiance with an airy courtyard ringed with antique furniture plus our room was spacious and well appointed. The courtyard was a great spot to relax and enjoy a card game before our rumbling stomachs encouraged us to venture out for an evening dinner. Unfortunately, we found it difficult to locate a suitable restaurant. The one that was recommended turned out to be mainly for lunch or breakfast dining. Finally finding a restaurant, we consumed an "okay" meal and after watching dancers in the plaza and enjoying an ice-cream we returned to our hotel for a well-earned sleep.
After our morning breakfast we visited the Oaxicar Museum with its recreations of shaft tombs, clay pottery and many more artifacts. Next on our agenda and our main goal for the day found us enroute on Highway 27 driving toward Ahualulco de Mercado to find the protected area of Piedras Bola (round boulders). Just before Ahualulco we turned onto Highway 608 driving towards Ameca for 14 km. The highway climbs from the valley floor into the mountains. Just past the 14 km marker is a pullout area complete with a clearly illustrated park map. Well worth taking time to study the map to obtain an understanding of the parks layout and the location of the round boulders. Unfortunately, we failed to notice the pullout and signage on our journey into the park. As a result we missed the park's signature display of tall compacted soil mounds each supporting a single round stone ball. Apparently they're located about 1.5 km from the amphitheatre and behind the main boulder find! The 5 km single lane dirt/gravel road was in good condition and while we navigated it slowly we encountered no difficulties or other vehicles. It would appear that the park was an ecotourism project that is either seasonal, or didn't gain popularity, or monetary funds were withdrawn. We passed camping spots, hiking trails and zip lines in disrepair and without seeing a soul. The park seemed deserted. And what a shame as there appeared to be much potential for a variety of outdoor recreational activities.
At the Piedras Bola site we found an amphitheatre with benches, an administrative building and numerous toilets with their doors flapping in the breeze. We followed a path past here and soon encountered the first of many round boulders. What an amazing sight! We wandered the area taking numerous photos, in complete awe of the huge perfectly formed spherical stones. Some approximately two meters in diameter, numerous smaller boulders scattered here and there and many partially buried with their round tops poking above the ground's surface.
Naturally questions sprinkled our discussions as we asked ourselves how were these many perfectly round boulders formed and how did they get here? As you can imagine there are many theories and legends to explain the phenomena. After much "intellectual" speculation our theory is that centuries ago gigantic giants occupied the park area and the Piedras Bola site was their outdoor bowling alley! Visit and research the site to formulate your own theory! Our return drive back to the main highway was quicker and more comfortable as local road conditions were now known to us.
Once we rejoined the highway our focus was to return to our coastal hotel before night fall, for us avoiding Mexican night driving is a cardinal safety rule. Since we knew the route it wasn't long before we reached the Magdalena junction , switching to the pay highway brought us quickly to Compostela. The next driving segment found us arriving at Rincón de Guayabitos late afternoon. A brief visit to the shops to purchase dinner items and we soon found ourselves safe and sound in our bungalow preparing our evening meal.
The three-day road trip exceeded our expectations. With a variety of Mexican towns, archaeological sites, informative museums and active tours we were exposed to a great host of experiences to recall and share. For us the trip was not only a learning experience but also provided an alternative to our beach life. One thing for sure- this was a journey to remember and one we encourage others to travel and to expand the time frame to include visits to other interesting nearby spots.
Helpful Facts: Jalisco, Mexico
Hotel La Rienda Mision Tequillan
Abasolo #47 Centro
Phone: 374 742-3232
Great location with secured parking. Rooms well appointed 450 pesos ($37.50)
Real Marinera- Seafood Restaurant
Juarez # 92 Atrás de Parriquia Cáfe
Rossy and Pasteleria
Two restaurants located beside each other on the square in front of the church. Great spot late evening for eating and people watching.
Local Market -located beside church plaza
*Many small restaurants
* Great for breakfast
Tranvias Turisticos de Tequila -Look for tequila keg van
Tour time - two hours approximately every 30 minutes
Mon - Fri 10:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Sat. - Sun. 10:00 a.m.- 5:30 p.m.
100 pesos ( $10 approx. )
www.vistandojalisco.com.mx Phone: 045-33-12-99 7536
Sauza Family Museum
Vicente Albino Rojas #22
Central Plaza behind the bandstand
Features family memorabilia. 10 pesos ($1 approximately)
National Museum of Tequila
Ramón Corona # 34
Well designed displays of photos and artifacts detailing the history of Tequila.
Parque Acuatico La Toma
La Toma water park is an often a missed destination . Cascading natural spring water, swimming pools, panoramic views and much more. La Toma is located approximately two kilometres on the right hand side of the highway driving towards Magdalena. While we didn't partake of the swimming it was enjoyable to visit and wander the walkways and take advantage of an opportune photo shoot. Take a few hours to kick back and enjoy La Toma water park.
Barranca de Oro
Located a short drive from Ahaucatlán off Highway 15.The canyon development is a man's life time dream project and he has done a wonderful job of developing the location. There are a variety of swimming pools to enjoy and paths to follow providing an opportunity for the camera buffs to photograph the steep colourful canyon walls. Great spot to spend a day swimming and relaxing.
Hotel El Centenario
Escobedo 290, Etzatlán 500 pesos ($50)
Rooms are well -appointed, secure parking , splendid courtyard
Oaxicar Archaeological Museum housed in the House of Culture has a collection of pre-Hispanic artefacts. A short walk from the main plaza
Escobedo # 359 Centro, Monday to Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Telephone: 386 753 3052
Hacienda El Carmen described in James and Sonia's TTS September 2011 article is nearby.
Museum of Archaeology: Located in Teuchitlán's cultural center. The museum exhibits artifacts, obsidian objects, and stone utensils.
16 de Septiembre 10, Monday to Friday 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Saturday to Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
You will find the Inmaculada Concepción Church with a beautiful plaza and picturesque surrounding area approximately 11 kilometres from Tequila on Highway 15.
Other Road Trip Opportunities reported in TTS:
1) "The Hidden Gems Close to P.V." by James and Sonia Symes, vol. 29, No. 7, September 2011
James and Sonia's article stimulated us to share our similar driving adventure. An intriguing happening is that Sonia and I had connected soon after completing our respective road trips. Experiencing a "similar moment" I was unable to recall where or how we met, but somehow we compared our experiences. In fact I've Sonia's first draft on my desk! Small world!
2) " The Mexican Riviera Beyond the Beautiful Beaches" by John and Doreen Berg, vol. 20, No. 9, November 2010.
Outlines an exploratory drive to a small interior silver town, San Sebastian. Provides driving directions, restaurant selections and a great hotel. Drive is on a very good paved highway!
3) "Visiting the Sierra-Madre Silver Towns Beyond Puerto Vallarta" by John and Doreen Berg, Vol. 25, No. 7, September 2011. The article re-traces our steps to San Sebastián del Oeste and Mascota, with the main focus to tell about our exploration of Talpa de Allende, another easy, but rewarding road trip from Puerto Vallarta.