The rainy season on the Mexican coast can be a bit hard on the system. From about mid-July through mid-November, it’s hot, stormy, buggy and muggy. It’s the kind of tropical heat where you step outside and start sweating profusely just standing still. For this Colorado girl used to more high and dry conditions, it can be a bit challenging. While I love the new plants, flowers, fruits and butterflies the season brings — I always find myself needing a break from the heat at some point.
In our four years living on the Nayarit Coast, we’ve found these three spots top our list as the best places to beat the heat less than a half-day’s drive away. They are also great places to visit for anyone wanting to enjoy and experience Mexico outside of the more popular tourist destinations along the Nayarit and Jalisco coasts.
With its charming plaza, great restaurants, and tons of family-friendly outdoor activities, Tapalpa is my top pick for a summer escape. This Pueblo Mágico is located in the western Sierra Madres in the state of Jalisco about a 1.5-hour drive southwest from Guadalajara. The word “Tapalpa” is derived from the Náhuatl language and means “land of colors” or “high place.” The area was originally Otomi lands before the Spanish colonized it in the 1500s.
We spent a week in Tapalpa in August and loved it so much we are already planning our return visit next summer. The weather was cool and mild and gloriously mosquito-free – perfect for sitting outside on the porch of our rental cabin to sip hot cocoa, watch the hummingbirds and fireflies buzz, and the stars shine at night. We had a few short spells of heavy rain during our stay, but they passed quickly.
We spent our days exploring the great outdoors and our evenings exploring the town. From fishing at La Presa del Nogal (Nogal dam) and biking the trails around our neighborhood and surrounding country roads, to scrambling and clambering up the house-sized boulders at Las Piedrotas and hiking down to the jaw-dropping Salto del Nogal waterfall – we exercised our legs and filled our lungs with as much fresh cool mountain air as we could.
In the evenings, we would head downtown and stroll the beautiful plaza. Closed to car traffic on weekends, the plaza is lined with street vendors selling all flavors of tamales – from sweet atole (corn) to rich mole to acelga (chard) – and nieve de garrafa (like shave ice meets ice cream, but better). Just off the plaza are some great eats and treats such as La Sandunga Sabe – a Oaxacan-style restaurant, Los Girasoles (you MUST try the stuffed figs and grenada ponche!), Madre Tierra café (great gelato!) and La Merced chocolatier, which has some of the best chocolate bars I’ve ever tasted in Mexico. Tapalpa is also famous for its borrego asado – grilled lamb. If you are a meat eater, we highly recommend giving it a try. We enjoyed an incredible meal of borrego and pollo asado, fresh tortillas and salsas at Los Encinos restaurant. (They have two locations – we went to the one on the main highway 436 coming from GDL, about 2 miles from town.)
After a week in Tapalpa, we left refreshed and recharged and ready to dive back into the tropical heat of Chacala.
Mazamitla feels like you’ve been transported to planet Endor with its dense pine forests, green, rolling mountains and moss-covered trails. I half expected to walk around the corner from our little rental cabin in the woods and bump into an Ewok.
This Pueblo Mágico is located in Jalisco due east from Tapalpa in the mountains south of Lake Chapala. When we visited in early September last year, temperatures were in the 70s during the day, and cooled down to the 50s at night. We actually had to light our fireplace to keep warm in the cabin at night and sleep under down comforters — something we haven’t done since leaving Colorado four years ago! Maybe we are wimps to the cold now, but it sure was a stark difference from the sweltering heat of Chacala.
The town center is small but lively, with a pretty plaza and church surrounded by little tiendas (stores) selling locally-made products such as fresh fruit jams and rompope – a creamy, eggnog-like drink that comes in a variety of flavors such as pistachio (my favorite), pecan, vanilla, chocolate and coffee and infused with tequila. Local fruits are made into all sorts of delicious jams and preserves. We loaded up on fig, mango and strawberry jams when we were there.
From town, you can catch a tour or drive yourself up to the Sierra del Tigre (Tiger Mountains) for hiking, bird watching or just exploring. We ended up jumping on a guided tour bus that happened to be parked down the road from our cabin and had room to spare. The bumpy 2-hour tour took us on a beautiful ride through of the mountains and overlooks above Mazamitla and surrounding towns, stopping every so often for us to clamber out of the bus and take photos, learn a little bit about the area from our guide, and breathe in the fresh mountain air. You also don’t want to miss the impressive Cascada El Salto (El Salto Waterfall), which is accessed by walking a mile or so through a whimsical neighborhood that is nearly as fascinating as the waterfall itself.
We also enjoyed great meals at La Troje, Antigua Roma and Cava Nostra – a romantic little Italian restaurant with an impressive wine collection from all over the world. Ask your server to take you down to the cellar so you can pick out a bottle to enjoy with your meal! We did!
San Sebastián del Oeste
This little Pueblo Mágico is located in the mountains near Mascota about a 1.5-hour drive northeast of Puerto Vallarta. We’ve visited the town twice now – ironically each time in the winter when it is downright refreshing with temps dropping to the 50s at night. Summertime temperatures can warm up to the 80s — and even low 90s — during the day, but at an altitude of 4,600 feet, 80 degrees actually feels like 80 degrees (not like 100 on the coast). Temperatures drop into the mid-60s at night, so you might want to bring a sweater and definitely a rain jacket as summer storms hit up in the mountains as well.
While small, San Sebastián has a lot to offer those seeking a quiet weekend getaway. Formerly a mining town where the Spanish extracted gold, silver and lead, you can now explore some of its old mining tunnels and trails, or drive, bike or rent a quad bike and travel to the top of the Cerro de la bufa – a rocky escarpment that juts out of the mountain overlooking town. I especially enjoyed taking leisurely strolls around town and along the narrow cobblestone paths that wind behind the white-walled houses and small orchards growing everything from avocados to oranges.
Both times we visited we stayed at Hotel del Puente – a lovely, quiet and clean family-owned inn just a few blocks off the plaza. As for eats and treats, we highly recommend the micheladas (like beer meets a Bloody Mary, but way better) at La Barandilla Micheladas. Their micheladas are even better than those you find on the coast and are loaded with shrimp, tajín (spicy salt) and cucumbers. They are more like meal than a drink! We also recommend El Fortín for great espresso drinks, desserts and its savory soup of huitlachoche – a truffle-like fungus that grows on corn (it tastes WAY better than it sounds).
Here are some more photos from our time in these three great places:
I hope these travel tips give you some ideas for places to visit during the rainy season — or any time of the year!
What are YOUR favorite cool-down spots? Share your recommendations in the comments below.
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This is really descriptive and interesting. Very different than how most Americans have experienced Mexico – beach resorts.
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Not to pick nits, but as I recall, none of these churchs are cathedrals. A cathedral is the seat of a bishop.
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Thanks Jim! I updated the post with the correct names for the churches. Appreciate your flagging this for me!
Great intel for those who are looking to travel inland from the riviera!
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