San Blas, Nayarit
San Blas is a quintessential Pacific beach town that hasn’t yet succumbed to tourism. It’s actually the northernmost town slated for development as part of Nayarit’s ambitious Riviera Nayarit tourism plan. But for now it is still a laid-back beach town of some 12,000 souls. Costco and Walmart are blissfully absent, in fact only mom-and-pop grocery stores and the town market provide supplies. There are no chain or five-star hotels. This is a great place for travelers who don’t mind trading major frills for some authentic Mexican hospitality. And it’s still a budget destination.
One of San Blas’ biggest attractions are the miles and miles of undeveloped beaches south of town. The closest is long, sandy Borrego Beach. Lining the wide shore are lanky coconut palms. At the north end of the beach, claim a table at any one of a dozen or so nearly identical open-air eateries called ramadas. Sit in the shade under a palm-thatch roof and order drinks or simple seafood dishes. Many have hammocks where you can relax and read all day if you like. At the south end of the beach is a picturesque estuary. Bring bug repellant, especially during the rainy season. San Blas’ infamous jejenes (no-see-ums) can be ruthless, but they are manageable with repellants containing DEET.
Las Islitas beach is about five miles south of San Blas.
The ubiquitous ramadas offer refreshments, and the south end of the beach is good for swimming.
The once legendary wave, known as the longest wave in the world, rarely breaks anymore except in the summer months.
For a nearly perfect day, order the fish sarandeando, cooked whole over mangrove wood. The only problem is the bugs; this is the jejenes country, so come prepared.
Buses or shared taxis from San Blas will drop you close to Las Islitas about every half hour. Get off at the village of Matanchen and from there walk down the dirt road until you reach the beach. The best ramadas and swimming
beaches are at the far end. If you walk past the last ramada you will come to some deserted beaches including Stoner's, once a favorite surf break. (Not to be confused with the ramada Stoner's on
At Los Cocos Beach, about 8 miles away, spend the afternoon at Casa Mañana, a hotel and restaurant where you can have lunch and use the pool. Ask the bus driver to let you off at Casa Mañana. The trip takes about 45 minutes due to a detour to La Palma. When you see the renovated Hotel Delfin, you are almost there. You can also take a taxi for about 100 pesos.
The long, wide Playa Matanchen is still a fine beach, excellent for a morning walk. If you like peace and quiet, go during the week and you’ll have the place to yourself. In fact you could say that for about all of the beaches around here. If you’d rather have some company, Etc. Beach Club is an attractive beachfront restaurant with a swimming pool; it’s open only on weekends. Take the white bus and get off in Matanchen. Walk down to the beach and take a left.
Back in San Blas itself, take an inexpensive boat ride (10 pesos each way) across the estuary to Isla Del Rey. This island beach is almost completely deserted and seems to go on forever. Climb up to the lighthouse for a view of San Blas. Isla del Rey is sacred to the Huichol Indians, who sometimes perform spiritual ceremonies here in their native costumes.
Don't miss the old Spanish fort (La Contaduria). Take the road up the hill by the bridge. There is a colorful cemetary there as well, and at the fort there is a lovely view
of the town and the surrounding shrimp farms.
Birds Are King, Kingfishers Too
Birdwatching is big in San Blas. Tours are organized in the United States and other countries, or you can hire a local guide to access estuaries and mangroves as well as ocean and foothill environments. The International Festival of Migratory Birds draws aficionados in late January.
You don’t have to be a birder to love San Blas’ claim to fame, however, a boat ride through the mangrove swamps to La Tovara freshwater spring. On the half-hour skiff ride along miles of mangrove-lined canals you’ll see egrets, herons, kingfishers, and many other species of birds as well as crocodiles, turtles, and iguanas. There’s an optional trip to a croc farm where a small zoo houses boar, deer, and other native species. Hang out at La Tovara’s restaurant or swim in the deep spring before returning through the mangroves.
Excursions from San Blas
Here are some other activities and places to visit around San Blas. For more detailed information, see www.visitsanblas.com.
- About an hour south of San Blas, Platanitos is a lovely cove with is the best snorkeling around. Half a dozen restaurants on the beach offer shade and sustenance.
- Loftily referred to as “the Venice of Nayarit,” Mexcaltitan is thought to be the ancestral home of the Aztecs.
- Santiago Ixcuintla is a typical Mexican town.
- Mecatan has a waterfall nearby.
- Jalcocotan is famous for its coffee.
Where to Eat
The most popular place is Wala Wala on Juarez. I recommend the camarones empanizados (breaded shrimp). The waiter, Pedro, speaks English and is always very helpful.
La Isla (also called Chef Tony's) on Mercado is a San Blas classic. It specializes in seafood and the decor should not be missed.
Wakame Chinese Restaurant behind the market can be quite good as well. This is not to be confused with the Chinese restaurant on the plaza which serves fast food.
Where to Stay
The two most luxurious places (in fact the only luxurious places) are the Garza Canela and the Flamingos.
Casa Roxanna is very popular with mid-range prices for apartment style suites. If you plan to stay a while you can rent a bungalow for a month. The prices can be very cheap - as little as 300 pesos (200 USD) a month.