Visiting the Sierra Madre Silver Towns Beyond Puerto Vallarta

story and photos by John and Doreen Berg

Talpa ChurchThe region in and around Mexico’s Puerto Vallarta is a popular destination for Canadians, with numerous charter flights making access easy.  And for those who desire more than just a beach vacation, the interior of this region offers much to explore.  Here John and Doreen Berg tell of more of their adventures, and in our following story James and Sonia Symes tell how the Berg’s’ earlier story (TTS, Nov. 2010) prompted them to do some exploring of their own.   

he warm sunny days and sparkling waters of the Mexican Riviera at first lured us to the beach and then to the hiking trails in our Los Ayala holiday paradise.  But after two months in paradise it was time for a change of scenery.  A three-day/two-night road trip in our rental jeep to the high Sierra Mountains, just behind Puerto Vallarta, continued to beckon us, as it had done before.

The first two villages we visited were San Sebastian and Mascote which we had visited last year.  The new addition to this year’s road trip was Talpa de Allende.  These three small towns are still living the old ways and currently not filled with tourists, although San Sebastian is now experiencing an increase in day trips from Puerto Vallarta.  The towns were settled in the 16th century by the Spanish to extract gold and silver.  Today few mines operate and mostly cattle and agriculture sustain the villages.  (The story of our first excursion to San Sabastian and Mascota appeared in this magazine in November 2010, entitled “The Mexican Rivera Beyond the Beautiful Beaches”.  Here we re-trace our steps, but the main focus of this report is to tell about our discovery of Talpa.)

After a relaxing two-hour drive on Highway 70 we found ourselves once again bumping along San Sebastian’s cobblestone roads heading directly to the now-familiar Hotel del Puente, using the philosophy, “If it works, don’t fix it!”  We selected the same quaint room with high ceiling and Mexican tiled en suite that we had enjoyed the previous year and soon were off, wandering the town’s streets and enjoying the fresh pine and coffee aromas.  We had no plans, but soon found ourselves in front of the Montebello Restaurant, our favourite!  We decided to reserve a table to again enjoy a wonderful romantic Italian dining experience, but much to our disappointment we discovered the restaurant was closed on that evening … a Wednesday.  So we continued wandering in the small town, enjoying the tranquil atmosphere, stopping for a late afternoon drink in the town square to watch this little world pass by.  Later, for dinner, we selected La Lupita Restaurant and were not surprised to find we were by now the only patrons.  The restaurant caters to the Puerto Vallarta day-trippers and once the tour buses leave the town has few tourists left and settles back to its tranquil state.  Our dinner here cost about $6 each!

San Sebastian’s central square with church steeple in backgroundReturning to our hotel, we enjoyed a late evening cribbage game in the beautiful interior courtyard before a sound sleep which we credited to the crisp mountain air and the quiet town.  A leisurely morning breakfast at Los Arcos Restaurant, which overlooks the town square, gave us a great start to the day in which we had planned to hike the mountain behind the town to locate the abandoned silver mines and shafts.  The hike started out well as we followed narrow trails high to the mountains ridge where the trails disappeared!  But the panoramic views were terrific.  The return trip was difficult as the hillside was steep and covered in slippery pine needles, but we safely returned to our hotel where an apology was in order to Sergio Sanchez, the hotel owner, as we were well past the noon checkout period and soon we were on the road to Mascota.

Mascota is a busy hub serving the surrounding towns and farming areas.  Its main attractions are the church located near the town square, the archeological museum – the Museo Pedregal-and a cultural centre.  The signage is poor so you will need to ask directions to locate the attractions.  As this was our second visit to Mascota we didn’t linger long and continued the drive to our day’s main destination, Talpa de Allende.

Doreen purchasing guayvas rollosTalpa de Allende is a former silver town established in the 16th century by the Spanish.  Today it is one of Mexico’s important religious towns. There are four major pilgrimages a year here to visit the ‘Virgin Rosario of Talpa’, a small statue that is claimed to have healing powers.  On pilgrimage days I’m sure the town’s population swells, filling the many hotels so at those times making reservations a must.  This was not the case for us.  Rooms were easily available at reasonable rates and after checking out a couple of properties we selected the Hotel Providencia.  Although some construction was apparent, the hotel offered good value, comfortable mountain-view rooms and secure parking.