Published on January 5th, 2014 | by Mark Chesnut
PHOTOS: San Sebastian, A Historic Day Tour from Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta is known for its sun, sand and countless activities. But a quick day trip during my recent visit — organized by tour operator Vallarta Adventures — took me back to a decidedly earlier time in Mexico’s history. The town of San Sebastian del Oeste (often called simply San Sebastian), which like Puerto Vallarta is located in the state of Jalisco, offers more than a run-of-the mill Mexico tour experience, and it’s a far cry from the Mexico beach vacation that most people experience along Puerto Vallarta’s sunny shores. San Sebastian offers a chance to bask in the ambiance of Mexico’s rich history.
Tucked into the hills of the Sierra Madre mountains, San Sebastian is a picturesque village about 90 minutes by van from Puerto Vallarta. Originally settled in 1605, this settlement grew wealthy from mining, and peaked with a population of more than 30,000 residents. Gold and silver were mined between the 1600s and the 1930s, and since then the town has shrunk to something like 600 people — making it an especially peaceful and pleasant place to admire historic architecture and learn about traditional ways of life that date to long before the arrival of the first tourists in Puerto Vallarta.
The residents now cultivate coffee and agave, and the town’s designation in 2011 by the Mexico Tourism Board as a Pueblo Mágico — a Magical Town — has helped draw more attention to its unique allure.
It’s a unique Mexico travel experience to reach San Sebastian, as you wind along hilly roads, past rural towns and tiny homes. Among the highlights of the San Sebastian tour:
Restaurante El Parral: A bit before arriving in town, we stopped at this attractive small restaurant, which also serves as a distillery of raicilla, a spirit that dates to pre-Hispanic times and — similar to Tequila and Mezcal — is made from the agave plant. The friendly manager explained the process of making this drink, and provided a tasting of several varieties.
Hacienda Jalisco: We bounced down a rumbly dirt road to arrive at this historic estate, built in the 1700s on the outskirts of San Sebastian. Originally designed to house the riches of the local mines before they were shipped off to Spain, this impressive property — which has no electricity — today serves as both a charming guest house and a fascinating museum, with exhibits of antiques and memorabilia that depict the history of the home and the region’s wealth-generating mining traditions. The grounds are postcard-perfect, with a cobblestone driveway, fruit trees, colorful flowers, butterflies and beautiful architectural remnants of the hacienda’s role in the region’s commerce.
Los Arraganes: We had lunch at this quaint restaurant, where we witnessed the making of fresh tortillas and even had the chance to make some of our own. A statue on the street in front of the restaurant pays tribute to the miners who helped make this a wealthy town so many years ago.
Downtown San Sebastian: This town was made for walking and exploring. Among the photo opps are a lovely, 18th-century church and a cobblestone plaza graced with a classic Porfirian bandstand.
Panteon Antiguo: The old cemetery, which sits just outside of town, is dotted with interesting graves and mausoleums from the 19th and 20th centuries, some of which resemble scale-model churches and historic homes.
WHERE I STAYED: Read my review of the Fiesta Americana Puerto Vallarta
MORE INFO: Puerto Vallarta’s tourism Website
MORE MEXICO TRAVEL TIPS:
• Bohemia Viva: Argentina Style & Latin Music in Puerto Vallarta
• Kiss, Shake Hands, Fly! How to Swim with Dolphins in Puerto Vallarta
• HOTEL REVIEW: Fiesta Americana — Stunning Views in Puerto Vallarta
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