Amatlán de Cañas
At the bottom of a twisty mountain road in the southeast part of Nayarit state, Amatlán de Cañas means "Place with abundant amate," which is the tree from whose bark is produced a rough brown paper used by pre-Hispanic societies. But its real claim to fame is the area's sulfurous hot springs. Neither the town nor the bathing facilities are in the slightest bit sophisticated, but both have a rustic appeal for lovers of off-the-beaten-track Mexico. Many of the townspeople have migrated to the United States or Jalisco in search of work, and there are currently fewer than 4,000 residents.
It's not at all hard to locate the hot springs, several of which have onsite, plain-Jane hotels. Bungalows Los Pavorreales is a notch above these lodgings, but their one swimming pool is cool, not hot. If you stay here, walk a few blocks away to the facilities at Balneario Amatitlán, Balneario Aguas Termales, or one of several others on the same street.
In addition to the sulfur baths, visitors can see the church, adjacent to the main plaza. El Templo de Jesús el Nazareno was built in 1750, but the town was originally settled by the Franciscan monks, who founded the mission town in 1620 along with Spanish soldiers and the inevitable entrepreneurs, who mined for gold, silver, and lead.
The Barranca del Oro y El Pilón mines still produce a small amount of gold, silver, copper, zinc and lead, however the more important economic activities are agriculture, livestock, and lumber. Corn is the most important crop, followed by potatoes, beans, sorghum, and peanuts. Cattle, sheep, goats, and other domestic livestock are raised.
This region was originally part of Jalisco state (which borders the municipality to the east, west, and south), and only became associated with the state of Tepic in the 1880s. Troops loyal to Pancho Villa and Venustiano Carranza fought it out here during the Mexican Revolution. Isolated for much of its existence, the paved road from Uzeta to Amatlán de Cañas was completed only in 1999.
At 740 msnm (2,428 feet above sea level), Amatlán is surrounded by two volcanic mountain ranges, la Sierra de Pajaritos and la Sierra Madre del Sur, where forests are home to oak, mahogany, and mesquite trees. Reforestation projects have reintroduced red cedar and the massive huanacaxtle, so valuable for making furniture. Amatlán is a supply center for tiny hamlets throughout the municipality. One of the state's least populated, it has just 16.5 inhabitants per square kilometer.
If you want to explore outside town, there are several small pre-Hispanic sites with petroglyphs left from the Aztatlán culture (AD 700 to 1524). You'll need a car (or hire a taxi) to visit these or the San Blasito and El Rosario hot springs.
A trip of several days to Amatlán de Cañas can be combined with a visit to Los Toriles archaeological site and nearby Jala, Ixtlán, Tepic, and Laguna Santa María del Oro. Cancún (or even Oaxaca, Guanajuato, or San Miguel de Allende) it isn't, but this is a worthwhile trip to see some of the friendly, small towns of Nayarit state.