Driving through San Blas, Mexico:
San Blas, Mexico, is about 2 hours drive North from Puerto Vallarta, on the Riviera Nayarit coast in the Bahia De Matanchen area. It is a provincial town of about 10,000 people, and although packed with historical significance, thriving coastal activities and a National Park, you will hardly see a single tourist there. It’s a traveler’s heaven.
We stay in the Garza Canela hotel, a medium sized family run hotel spread around a pool and coconut trees. The rooms are large, and in two-storey blocks, with a feeling of local hospitality married with fast wifi, amazing bathrooms, and oh so comfortable beds. The Garza Canela hotel is about 2 minutes walk from the main town square, and 5 minutes from the sea so is perfectly located for adventuring around the town.
As dawn arises, we take our cameras down to the marina to picture the fishing boats in the bay. The light is exquisite and gives you all the tones and shadows you could want. Our guide goes off to check our itinerary and leaves us to enjoy the moment, the only other eyes on us being the pelicans, curiously looking down at us from their perches high up the masts of the boats. The town is empty, with only the occasional fisherman up repairing nets.
Our guide comes back excitedly. There is a rumour that a whale shark is in the bay, feeding by the estuary outlet where the freshwater from the mountains flows into the sea. With the recent mountain rains, the area is teaming with life, feeding on the vegetation and other items brought out to sea by the water from inland. Whale shark tours are popular and most let you jump from the boat and swim with them if you want to. So we grab a boat, a guide and head out into the bay.
Today there is no whale shark, but we are still not disappointed. The tranquility of the sea and relaxing silence of the boat moving with the sea current clearly washed away any stresses any traveler could have. Other boat trips are available, from fishing to coastal scenery tours, along with scuba diving for the more active.
San Blas is well known for bird watching, and La Tovara National Park is world famous for the variety of birds that you can find there. The uniqueness of the La Tovara park is that it is mainly water based, consisting of thousands of acres of freshwater mangrove swamp. The entrance to the park is a small boat jetty, where you hire a boat and a guide to take you on a tour.
Our guide Mark Stonehouse, is an American birdwatcher who has lived in Mexico for 20 years and simply oozes his enthusiasm for the area and its wildlife. He is and avid bird spotter, and takes fun in competing with people as to how many different birds he can spot on a trip. His record is over 200 in a single day, and you can be assured that any trip with him will be a bird spotters dream come true. The official guide book shows 140 birds in clear colour as a spotting tool, listing them as ‘easier to spot’.
I ask if the mangroves have any food purpose. No says Mark. “They just grow. And make oxygen”. It is that mix of mangroves and flowing fresh water that makes the air in the park so uplifting and fresh. It acts like a detox for the lungs.
Needless to say, you would want to do this tour with a decent camera if you were a bird watcher, but you can also just soak up the beauty of the area by closing your eyes and smelling the freshness and listening to the calm breeze blowing through the mangroves. You could just moor up, lie back, read a book and enjoy the beauty of the place if you wanted too.
The tours can take as long as you want, with the bird watching tours taking a full day or longer periods for watchers after a specific experience. Mark says many people opt for a 3 or 5 day experience.
At the end of one of the river estuaries of the park is the La Tovara and Camalota lagoons where the Crocodile farm is found. Open to visitors at set times of the day, it is also a sanctuary for crocodiles that are rescued from the swamp or have become a ‘nuisance’, mainly due to their size or inquisitive nature.
Stopping in the midday sun, whilst heading back to the hotel, our guide jumps out and takes us to the river bank at the side of the road. The river is wide and sprawling, the mangroves forming islands on the other bank. And right at our feet are free and wild crocodiles being fed scraps from a bucket. And they are not small.
After two days here it was time to move on South, down to Sayulita and visit some of the larger resort hotels. As we wind our way down the MEX200 with amazing views of the forests and mountains mixed with the coastal villages, we couldn’t help but feel that we have experienced something magical, the beauty and tranquility of San Blas and the area permeating to our souls.
The guide books say there are two reasons to visit San Blas; for its historical and architectural legacy and for its matchless natural wonders. I would say there is a third; the region has the tranquility and authenticity any holiday maker would want, without being a tourist destination. Long may that last.
Garza Canela Hotel
Tel: 52 (323) 285 0112
La Tavara National Park
Tel: 52 323 285 1243 (San Blas, Nayarit)