Northwest Mexico itinerary (Pacific coast)


There are probably hundreds of amazing places on this route that covers the states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Sinaloa and Sonora (we do not include Baja California here). I did not know much because I was running out of my visa and I was heading fast to the US. Even so, I fell in love with this coastal zone, west and north of the Pacific, including the Gulf of California, with its beaches, agave landscapes and deserts. Once again, its people and the regional dishes of each corner contributed a lot to it. Here are some top places:

  • Guadalajara

  • Lago de Chapala

  • Tequila

  • Puerto Vallarta & Sayulita

  • Tepic

  • San Blas

  • Mazatlán

  • Hermosillo

  • Alrededores de Hermosillo (Bahía Kino, San Carlos)

GUADALAJARA

Surrounded by agave plantations, the capital of Jalisco and second largest metropolis of the country bustles with art! Just wandering through its central streets is a delight, leaving on the way amazing buildings, impressive churches and quiet squares here and there.

But the essentials of Gdl are: 1) try the emblematic "tortas ahogadas"; 2) try the birria, another "tapatio" traditional dish based on sheep meat (or goat in some places). Then comes the rest! Apart from walking downtown streets, some specific spots deserve a separate mention.

  • Hospicio Cabañas, an emblematic neoclassical building in Guadalajara that served as a home for orphans from 1810 to 1980. In its interior some of the most important murals of the fantastic José Clemente Orozco are preserved. Undoubtedly, an authentic jewel for art lovers. It is worth doing the free guided tour to understand each and every one of the beautiful productions.

  • Other centers of artistic interest are the MUSA (Museo de las Artes de la Universidad de Guadalajara) and the Carmen ex-convent, where some exhibitions, theater presentations, dance and screening of "art cinema" films are held.

  • Following with the art of Guadalajara, a formidable place to visit is Tlaquepaque, a famous municipality for its galleries and art shops. In addition, there are scattered along the main streets beautiful canteens and establishments in which you can make a stop to taste delicious dishes and de-stress. And don't leave the place without first enjoying the "nieves de garrafa", a popular incecream!

  • San Juan de Dios Market in the neighborhood of the same name is one of the largest roofed markets in Latin America. There you will find "antojitos" (snacks), fruits, vegetables, herbs for those who practice Santeria, crafts, clothing, technology, souvenirs of Guadalajara, suitcases, baskets and endless things.

  • The extensive Metropolitan Park of neighboring Zapopan is the ideal place to disconnect a bit from the urban chaos of the capital. You can find there a bit of everything: lakes, running tracks, a really cool dog park if you are a "viajero perruno"...

  • Finally, an additional activity typical of Guadalajara is to attend a show (grotesque, obviously!) of Lucha Libre. The fight, which is actually fake, is the least: you won't live that crazy environment anywhere else. More than a fight what is lived there is humor, with a rivalry between the public of the stands (the poor ones), vs the public that sits around the Arena (the rich ones!). The best awaits at the end, with a great musical party/event where social class doesn't matter, nor who you are with, because you will end up dancing! So if you don't go to Lucha Libre, come party at the end of the event!

CHAPALA LAKE

The largest natural reservoir in Mexico welcomes you overflowing with fairytale landscapes and picturesque fishing and artisan populations. Good place to relax, chat with locals and other travelers and do some lake excursion in search of birds (you can visit a couple of little islands too) or by land around. Jalisco awaits you!

Photo by María Rodríguez

TEQUILA

Indeed, this is a destination in Mexico! And very visited because: 1) it is only 1 hour from Guadalajara, and 2) everyone loves tequila! As its name suggests, in this small town (designated as Magic Town) everything revolves around the most famous drink in the country. Due to its climatic and geographical conditions, we are facing the area where the blue agave plant grows the most, the one that gives rise to tequila. The amazing agave fields that you will find on your way to Tequila have already been worth the trip. You can get there by car (own car, hitchhiking), but also on board a tourist train in which you will get wasted on different tequilas. The bad thing is the Price (not cheap at all), but if you are a fan of tequila this will be your trip. Once in Tequila, you can stroll through its picturesque streets, visit the National Museum of Tequila and/or the facilities of one of the large tequila houses that are around to learn all the secrets and history of this drink.

PUERTO VALLARTA AND SAYULITA

Two of the coolest beach destinations on this coast, with delicious marine foods to brighten our taste buds.

Puerto Vallarta (still in Jalisco) is a very tourist destination, it really manages to bring everyone together: nationals, foreigners, people who just come to sunbathe, surfers... You can see how touristy is in the many agencies along the main streets offering tours of all kinds: snorkeling and diving in those full of life and clear waters; multi-adventure packs with 4x4 rides, zip lines etc; tours to agave plantations...

Sayulita (already in Nayarit) is more hippie, still little crowded. The town is very beautiful and colorful. The beaches are also beautiful and less crowded, so you can enjoy them more. The main beach is very cool, with the rough sea ready for the surfers. If you want to enjoy calm waters you can always go to the nearby Playa de los Muertos. Another amazing beach is in the nearby town of San Francisco (or San Pancho), only 7 km away. In addition, you can also hire a tour for things as diverse as watching whales and dolphins, bird watching (frigates, pelicans, herons...), visit the protected Marietas Islands or do a bit of multi-adventure tourism like a zip line tour through the jungle.

Photo by Agustín Alcaraz

TEPIC

The capital of Nayarit is not be the most beautiful thing you will find on this route, but if it is on your way you can stop here for a day or two in a city where textile history and cotton are part of its identity. The most beautiful area is the tree-lined Plaza Principal, dominated by the neo-Gothic cathedral of Tepic, and all the old houses and buildings that remain in the surrounding streets (Casa Aguirre stands out, an imposing building that houses the Center for Contemporary Art of the Bicentenary Emilia Ortiz). You can buy "churros" from vendors and you'll enjoy the trip even more.

There are several interesting museums, most of them near the historic center: Museo Comunitario, Museo Regional de Antropología e Historia de Nayarit, Museo Juan Escutia (a Nayarita heroe) and the Museo de los 5 Pueblos (5 towns), which exhibits the diversity of native peoples: Huicholes, Coras, Tepehuanos, Mexicaneros and Mestizos. To have a breath of fresh air you can visit the parks La Loma, La Alameda or the Metropolitan Ecological Park, as well as climb the Cerro San Juan, from which you get a fantastic panoramic view of Tepic.

SAN BLAS

55 km from Tepic, this beautiful and old colonial port is ideal to relax with locals and the few travelers who roam these lands. Enjoy the sun, sand and waves (another great destination for surfers) thanks to beaches such as Borrego, Matanchen and Islitas. Three impressive beaches. But there are many more virgin beaches (and many other things to do) in the surroundings. Just 20 minutes from San Blas is the town of Tecuitata and the deviation to the community of Cora and the waterfall "El Salto del Cora". In this spectacular place full of water and exuberant vegetation you can relax and connect with the Pacha Mama. And swim! The mangrove of the Tovara is another place that deserves your visit, with a labyrinth of channels full of lush vegetation and fauna. Come and discover this little explored (and little exploited) coast.

Photo taken from sanblasrivieranayarit.com

MAZATLÁN

Known as "The Pearl of the Pacific", this coastal city is not known for its architecture, but for its nightlife, its boardwalk and beaches. Not to mention its stunning sunsets! Here everyone comes to enjoy the sun and the beach, as well as to taste amazing Sinaloan food in one of the palapas at the beach.It is also a magnificent place to watch whales and dolphins. Another place to have in mind is the lighthouse on top of Cerro del Creston. Less than 50 km to the north rests the Meseta de Cacaxtla, a vast biological corridor that runs parallel to the coast and protects low deciduous forests. Here hundreds of species of plants and animals coexist (especially birds). An exciting place for adventurers and to relax on empty beaches (tourists hardly get here). From Mazatlan you can continue north or take a ferry to Baja California.

Foto tomada de visitmexico.com

HERMOSILLO

Welcome to the desert! The capital of the state of Sonora is a quiet and desert city with pretty intense summers (so do not come from May to September if you do not want to die scorched!). And very beautiful! From Cerro de la Campana (Bell Hill), which is so called because certain stones hitting each other sound like bells you can get a nice panoramic of the city.

There is also the historic center, where are located (among others) the Plaza Zaragoza, the cathedral, the Government Palace, the Plaza Bicentenario, which commemorates 200 years of Independence... But if you have to mention the best thing that would be the food, obviously! Tacos, grilled meats, dogos (gigantic hotdogs), burros percherones, coyotas, coricos, jamoncillos, frijoles puercos... The food is markedly different from the rest of Mexico, with very special flavors and the greater use of wheat to the detriment of corn. Read more about Mexican food here!

AROUND HERMOSILLO

A lot of the magic resides in the surrounding area. The Sonoran Desert is home to large areas of arid lands, dunes, different species of cactus, Yaquis peoples and their rituals... (note: anyone who has read "The Teachings of Don Juan" will have another reason to come here). Just watching the landscape is sensational, but take the opportunity to visit some of its wonderful touristy destinations. We have Magdalena and Alamos Magical Towns, this last one so beautiful with its houses with portals and very colorful. You can also visit the towns of Sonora through the route of the mountains and the Sonora River. But this desert also hosts an impressive arid coastline, in the the Gulf of California. From now on you can say that you have bathed in the Sea of Cortez! There are many beaches that stand out near Hermosillo. For example:

Bahía Kino. A nice relaxed village with sandy streets where everything happens without haste. The locals live on fishing and tourism basically. The beach is very long and little traveled, always full of light, and cool because you can see the coast of a small island opposite. The pier area is gorgeous. Another point in favor is that it is just over 100 km from Hermosillo. And that the seafood is delicious and cheap!

San Carlos. For those who prefer something more elegant and cool, as well as going out at night. But it is also the destination of adventurers who seek to enter the nearby canyons (including: Nacapule - the best known and easy to reach -, Herradura and Alacrán), climb the Tetakawi Hill or dive. In addition, there is also the scenic viewpoint, not to mention the fantastic beaches nearby: Algodones, Piedras Pintas, San Francisco... San Carlos is just over 130 km south of the capital.

Photo by Aydalith Valencia

There are other amazing destinations such as Puerto Peñasco, much further away from the route (more than 5 hours north by car). But if you dare and explore a little these coasts of the Gulf of California you will discover paradisiacal beaches, canyons, oasis in the middle of the desert with natural pools, sand dunes, hills to climb... It's up to you!

NOGALES

The border town of Nogales is the end point of the Mexican adventure if you decide to cross into Arizona, United States. There is not much to do to be honest... Well, that's not true! Fill your stomach of tacos and burritos because those you will find from now on will never be the same as those you tried in Mexico. You are going to miss Mexican food a lot, guaranteed.

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