Beyond the beach in the Riviera Nayarit: 5 mountain villages to explore
posted by Norma Hernández
If you want to breathe in clean air and immerse yourself in nature while enjoying gorgeous country landscapes, then you’re going to love these towns in Bahía de Banderas and Compostela!
The Riviera Nayarit is a multifaceted destination: not only does it have 23 coastal locations, but there are charming villages dotting the tourist corridor right “across the beach” that are well worth a visit. Most of them are in the municipalities of Bahía de Banderas and Compostela in the Sierra de Vallejo mountains.
Below we’ll introduce you to five mountain villages to explore—perfect destinations for a daytrip where you can breathe in the clean air and immerse yourself in nature while enjoying the gorgeous country landscapes. Not to mention you’ll appreciate their historical heritage, including old churches, stone buildings, and even archaeological remains.
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This little town built into the side of one of the Sierra de Vallejo’s mountains is in the Municipality of Compostela just seven kilometers from Federal Highway 200 and only 20 minutes from Rincón de Guayabitos. Thanks to its altitude—300 meters above sea level—the town lives up to its name with spectacular vistas of the ocean and the soursop, mango, and pineapple fields. Most of the homes have clay-tiled roofs and line narrow streets made of flattened earth and river stones; these are ancient buildings that defy time.
As if this weren’t enough, Altavista is home to the ceremonial archaeological site of La Pila del Rey, also known as “The Petroglyphs” or the “The Sanctuary,” where experts have identified over 60 petroglyphs that date back to 2,000 A.C.
This town in Bahía de Banderas has an important historical past: it was once of the municipality’s most important resource distribution centers in the latter part of the 19th century—just after Valle de Banderas. El Colomo was part of the huge Hacienda Maisterrena, owned by the Spanish cacique (chief) Martin Maisterrena. The property started in La Peñita de Jaltemba (Compostela) and extended all the way to the town of San José del Valle (Bahía de Banderas). The village is located approximately 20 kilometers from Nuevo Vallarta—the grandeur of its past can still be seen in some the homes that date back to the 1900s, including the hacienda near the church.
Besides history, El Colomo offers adventure activities for the more daring visitors. El Chorrillo, located three kilometers from town, is a natural spa that’s a favorite with locals and visitors. It’s ideal for a daytrip out to the countryside with the family for a dip in the cold water, especially during the rainy season when the stream runs high and creates the small waterfalls that give the place its name.
FORTUNA DE VALLEJO
Fortuna de Vallejo is one of the oldest villages in Bahía de Banderas and originated in the late 19th-century Hacienda Maisterrena. Here, time seems to stand still, thanks to the rustic infrastructure, cobblestone streets, adobe houses, the town square with its stone benches, and the parish dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Visitors standing in the square can enjoy a beautiful view of the Sierra de Vallejo and its intense shades of green. Near the town, explorers can still discover crystal-clear streams tumbling down the mountainside.
The village is on the “border” between Bahía de Banderas and Compostela, even though it belongs to the former municipality. To get there you have to travel about 30 kilometers from Bucerías along Estaciones avenue, head through the Valle de Banderas and continue to San Juan de Abajo. There you have to take the detour to El Colomo and continue on to El Coatante until you reach the detour that will take you to Fortuna de Vallejo.
The village of Mazatán is tucked away in the mountains just 15 kilometers southeast of Compostela, the capital of the municipality of the same name. Its name means “Land of the Deer” or “Place where deer abound,” and it has a rich history that’s reflected in its architecture, traditions, and inhabitants, hard-working people dedicated to farming and livestock. Of note is that it was an important producer of coffee, coconut oil, and soap during the 1940s and 1950s.
The village is small and rustic, with narrow cobbled streets lined with proud old homes with high ceilings and wooden gates dating back to the era of the viceroyalty; most of them have fallen into disrepair. The plaza is small with a simple kiosk that reflects the passage of time. This place is the meeting point for the villagers to get together to catch up and pass the time, especially during the patron saint festivities held in honor of the Virgin of the Nativity. That celebration is held in early September in the 17th-century church.
If you want to visit Mazatán you have to take Federal Highway 200 and follow the Compostela-Guadalajara junction. After approximately 1 kilometer you’ll reach a fork: to the left is Compostela, to the right is the road to Mazatán.
Nuevo Ixtlán (Las Cañadas) is a small rural village located in the municipality of Compostela, located at an altitude of 148 meters. It’s part of the villages of the Sierra de Vallejo, so it’s surrounded by dense vegetation that turns a brilliant green during the rainy season. The village isn’t much more than a collection of houses, however, it’s quite charming. It’s greatest attraction, though, is that it’s only 2 kilometers from the spa waters of Nuevo Ixtlán, a thermal spring with 31 pools shaded by leafy capomo trees. The place is managed by a group of co-op members that belong to Las Cañadas Co-op and engage in ecotourism activities to help their families.
To get to Nuevo Ixtlán you have to take Federal Highway 200 to the crossroads at Altavista, just 15 minutes past Rincón de Guayabitos (if you’re coming in from the south), then turn right. If you’re coming from the north on the same highway, you’ll arrive at the junction just a few kilometers from the Chacala crossing, then make a left. The road is long and twisty, but don’t despair because it’s very much worth the drive.
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