Uncover the Treasures of Central Riviera Nayarit

This lesser known but not to be neglected section of the Riviera Nayarit has much to be discovered and is probably best geared to adventure travelers seeking to explore the Pacific Coast of rural, historic Mexico.  Some of these tourist attractions include archaeological sites of ancient Aztec ruins, such as the Altavista Petroglyphs near Chacala and other ruins in Las Varas.

While Central Riviera Nayarit is still a relatively undeveloped tourist area, some towns like Chacala and Platanitos are growing in popularity for their exotic nature and pristine beaches of all shapes, colors, and sizes that offer varying ocean conditions for different vacation activities.  A hidden natural attraction near Platanitos is the lovely Laguna La Mataiza Lagoon that flourishes within a supportive ecotourism environment.

Other towns in the area are slightly inland along the lush tropical hills and valleys of the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains and rainforests, such as Zacualpan and Las Varas.  Primarily agricultural towns with tropical fruit orchards, vegetable farms, and tobacco fields, they also feature some combined cultural and natural attractions like the caves of La Cueva de La Tigra containing ancient Indian cave drawings.

On your Mexico travels, explore the cultural treasures and natural wonders of Central Riviera Nayarit north of Bahia Jaltemba Bay along the Riviera Nayarit.


Legend of Mexcaltitán Island

Mexico exists in large part due to the Aztec civilization, and the Mexican state of Nayarit is Aztec country.  Even the great Maya of the Yucatan Peninsula were invaded by Aztec predecessors.  Long before the “Riviera Nayarit” was considered a tourist destination, it was part of the influential Aztec empire.  Credited for naming the country of Mexico, the Aztecs also authored the crest in the center of the Mexican flag, which became the Mexican National Emblem.

The image of the emblem comes from the Aztec legend, which identifies their new settlement as the place where a heron would be seen sitting on top of a cactus in the center of a lake capturing a snake in its beak.  On their pilgrimage from the island of Mexcaltitán in 1091 – considered the mythical Aztlán and birthplace of the Mexican identity – they searched for this new land, witnessing the snake-capturing heron in the region now known as Mexico City, and built Tenochtitlán in 1325, a significant site of ancient Aztec ruins today.

Arising out of this legend, historians believe the mythical name of the island, “Aztlán,” means “land of the herons” in the Aztec Nahuatl language, and its formal name “Mexcaltitán” derived from the Nahuatl “Metztli,” their moon goddess, which means “in the moon’s house.”  While the island may have multiple names, they do know the Aztecs eventually referred to themselves as the Mexicas after settling in the new region and calling it “Mexica,” which stems from the island name and later evolved into “Mexico.”

Tourist Attractions

Mexcaltitán’s historical significance makes it a truly magical place today. After receiving Historical Monument status in 1986, the island was designated by the Mexican government as a Pueblo Magico (magic town).  The Pueblos Magicos (magic towns) program began in 2001 to support the preservation of valuable historical areas which influenced Mexican culture and tradition. With about 40 Pueblos Magicos, it has increased tourism and income to towns that model Mexican culture, history, and architecture.

Built in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica by the Aztecs, this small island is only 400 meters (1,300 feet) in diameter, has no cars, and can be easily traversed by foot within an hour or two.  The island is accessible only by boat and is a 20-minute ride from La Batanga pier on the mainland near San Blas.  During rainy season, September through November, the roads are normally under water, making the only way around town by boat and earning it the nickname: “The Mexican Venice” (La Venecia Mexicana).

Surrounded by wetlands and endangered mangroves, conditions are ideal for shrimp fishing, the primary livelihood of island residents.  Mangrove marshes are natural shrimp habitats and also provide material to construct levees and make barcinas (special bags) for drying shrimp, the latter consisting of manta cloth and palm leaves.  Travelers who enjoy eating shrimp will find a variety of regional specialties with fresh shrimp, such as zarandeado, tamales, paté, and aguachiles (spicy lime shrimp).  It is also the place where dried, crunchy shrimp or “cockroach shrimp” were created, a delicious snack served with chilled cerveza (beer).

For such a small island, its rich history offers significant cultural attractions.  Dotting the natural landscape of this picturesque little island are traditional tile-roofed buildings and small unnamed stores that residents identify by memory.  Central to the island is the town square with a church and museum, Museo del Origen (Museum of Origin) which contains artifacts of Mesoamerican history and Aztec culture, including an archaeological stone engraving with that meaningful image of the heron capturing a snake, without which, Mexico may not be known as the cultural treasure it is today.

The island of Mexcaltitan is one of various tourist attractions worth visiting near the beach town of San Blas in the Riviera Nayarit, Mexico.



Surprising Chacala, Mexico

Charming Chacala

You may not have heard of it yet, but the quaint beach town of Chacala is starting to catch on as an enjoyable vacation spot in the Riviera Nayarit on the Pacific Coast of Mexico.  Just a 45-minute drive north of Sayulita, Chacala is growing in popularity. This is largely due to the construction of a paved road in 1998, which made the town much easier to find.

Before the road was built, Chacala was just a sleepy fishing village, where fishing and selling fish were the locals’ only livelihood.  The town was especially known for the large shrimp caught to the north of town in Chacalilla Bay, although it has been suggested these were actually lobsters which were once abundant here.  In fact, the word ‘Chacala’ derives from the Náhuatl (pronounced “now what”) language, meaning “place of the shrimp” or “large shrimp.”

After the road was built, it attracted the growth of new tourism businesses, increasing work opportunities for its residents.  Now the town includes a few hotels, shops, restaurants and popular beach activities, such as sport fishing, snorkeling in Las Cuevas cove’s underwater volcanic caves, expert surfing on Caleta Bay, turtle watching year round, and Humpback whale watching between December and March.

Cultural Attractions

View of Chacala Beach

With 52 indigenous languages, Mexican culture is equally diverse.  Náhuatl, the language of a dominant ethnic group, the Nahuan, includes the Aztecs, Toltecs, and other indigenous cultures.  The nearby town of Altavista was inhabited by the Tecoxquin (Tequectequi) group, which includes the Cora and Huichol indians who still inhabit Nayarit. Containing 800 petroglyphs (rock engravings) dating back to 2300 BCE, this small archaeological site is still considered sacred by the Huicholes.

An interesting cultural and language twist is on the terms Chac Mool, Chac, and Chacala. The words sound similar but are not even related.  Chac Mool (meaning “thundering paw”) is a statue of Toltec origin, a Mesoamerican civilization who invaded the Maya, and the statue only received its Mayan name from the archaeologist who excavated it.  Chac (also Chaak or Chaahk) is the Mayan god of thunder, lightening, and rain.  Interestingly, the Maya were an empire in southern Mexico and Central America far from Nayarit.

Appropriately, Chacala is a native Náhuatl word of Aztec origin and is befitting of the delightful fishing village that carries its name.

Delight in the Chacala Surprise of Chacala, Mexico in the Riviera Nayarit.

© 2012 Riviera Nayarit Fun Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha