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The Sierra Madre Areas
The laid back, small village atmosphere still exists in the outlying areas around Puerto Vallarta. In the Sierras behind Puerto Vallarta are some villages and small towns that are still living the old way. Some have not changed much in the last 100 years. Quiet, uncomplicated and friendly, they are not too easy to reach and that’s why they have not changed much today.
Although some can be reached by small plane in as little as 15 min. from Puerto Vallarta airport, to get to them by road only takes a few hours, most are high in the Sierras, up to 6,000 feet. In most cases, to reach these places by bus you will have to stay overnight, since the arriving bus will arrive after the return bus has left.
Most of these towns were established in the 16th Century by the Spanish, in many cases because of the gold and silver to be mined there. Few of the mines remain today and agriculture is now the main business . Most have one or two hotels and surprisingly pleasant Haciendas are available for accommodation at some places, while at others it maybe necessary to stay at someone’s house.
Up behind Puerto Vallarta in the Sierra Madre Mountains is an old mining town that has a completely different atmosphere than Puerto Vallarta. At 4,500 ft. with pine trees, the air is crisp and clear and at night it can be quite cold. In the surrounding valley you’ll find cattle, corn and coffee plantations. This local coffee is excellent and you can sample and purchase it in town. Founded in 1605, San Sebastian del Oeste was one of the gold and silver mining centers of Mexico. At one time a provincial capital of 40,000 people, you will find it strangely deserted with only about 600 people living there now.
The Plaza, it’s Bandstand and surrounding buildings are typical of the colonial period. The mines were, in part, responsible for the start of Puerto Vallarta. Then know as Las Peñas and consisting of just a few huts at the mouth of the Rio Cuale, it was used to supply the mines with salt which was taken by mules up to San Sebastian and other mines in the High Sierras and used in the smelting process. The silver and gold from the mines was sent, again by mule train through Guadalajara and Mexico City to Veracruz, where it was sent, once a year, to Spain
The church, dedicated to San Sebastian, was originally built in the 1600s but was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1868. The mines are long gone, although the ruins of them are still there, some distance from the town
Established around 1592, this verdant valley at 4,000ft is rich in agricultural products such as wheat, rice and corn. The name is derived from a Nahuatl word “Mazacolta” meaning “Place of Deer and Snakes” and does not refer to ‘pets’.Mascota is an agricultural town, so don’t be suprised to meet a bunch of cows wandering down the street.
Mascota, together with Talpa is also the land of the horse. People from all over Mexico and beyond come here to buy horses. Many also bring their horses here to be trained. The number one topic, regardless of a person’s occupation, are the fine horses of this region.
The new archaeological museum, set up by Joseph Mountjoy and sponsored by National Geographic, is worth a visit. He has been studying the extensive petroglyphs found in the area and the recent uncovering of pottery shards, by a farmer in one of his fields.
There are two very nice hotels in Mascota, Mesón del Refugio and Mesón de Santa Elena, they are very close to the plaza and they have the architecture and quality of the Pabellón in San Sebastián. There is a good restaurant called Navidad and the very interesting Rodríguez Peña museum.