<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Discovering San Blas Mexico
NOTE: While this is designated as an ARCHIVE FILE, it is retained despite the date of first publication because it offers information of continuing current interest and/or for its historical perspective. Please be guided accordingly.




by David Eidell

The "Off The Beaten Path" series will take you to places that are less visited than the top attractions. For many people the fact that some destinations are less touristed than others is reasons enough to visit.

San Blas is an ancient seaport village on Mexico's Pacific coast and is located roughly halfway between Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. Spanish Naos (galleons) anchored here and provisioned up for the long sail to the Philippine Islands in the 1500's. Today the village basks under a tropical sun and by luck of the draw happens to be located in one of the most bird-intensive wetlands on the face of the earth. San Blas' famed "Jungle River Tour" allows visitors to explore mangrove lined estuaries and spot exotic birds and wildlife by motorized skiff (panga), and lunch at a freshwater spring where swimming is encouraged.

The Village

The tropical atmosphere seems to encourage you to abandon hurry and to relax. This seems to have affected the townspeople as well as few things here are new or even look "recent". Activity centers around a central town plaza which is shaded by ancient trees full of squawking tropical birds. The surrounding buildings are low one and two story edifices and the clock tower houses a timepiece that hasn't moved an arm in decades. A central open air "mercado" is located two blocks north of the plaza and it is likely that several types of tropical fruit will be for sale including Mamey, Tamarindo, Zopote, and finger size bananas with a violet hue. There are several markets in town catering to traditional tastes, and a half-dozen restaurants ranging from bargain priced shrimp and seafood dinners to traditional enchiladas, and tacos.

Los Cocos RV Park

Follow these directions and you'll avoid making a sharp left from one narrow street onto another narrow street:

The main road into town passes by the south end of the city plaza. But you will want to circle three-quarters the way around the plaza by turning RIGHT once you reach the plaza, then turn LEFT and hug the plaza north edge, then make another left and skirt the west edge and then cross the main boulevard. This may be a bit roundabout but look at the bright side, it allows for a great driving tour of the city plaza! Once you're southbound the street will angle to the right and then you will encounter a coconut grove. The main office for RV Park Los Cocos is the Office/Bar facing the street. The facility usually has major sports events on it's satellite TV system which makes watching the super bowl a great way to schedule a visit.

The RV Park behind the Office/Bar is huge and wide open allow for the largest and longest RV's on the road to pull straight into a spot. The park is mostly unoccupied. The water tends to be brackish, and electrical power should be used for your rig's converter and very little additional load should be imposed on the shaky electrical system. No air conditioners for certain.

San Blas's Fabled Bug Problem

During the winter small gnat-like creatures abound wherever the ground tends to be sandy. These critters can leave itching welts and preparation should be obtained and implemented in order to neutralize the pest. A good slathering of DEET repellant should be applied to exposed skin. Window and vent screens should be bug proof. I blast the inside of my rig with bug spray after dinner and by bedtime I am assured of uninterrupted sleep. I consider San Blas's no-see-ums to be about as risky as a sunburn and a good slathering of protectant is no more inconvenient than SPF 15 lotion. If I forget and get nailed by the no-see-ums a local pharmacy can provide a strong cortisone cream which nullifies the welt and itching.

The Jungle River Tour

Several years ago the local fishermen's collective decided that the town's regular Sunday picnic at the headwaters of the town water supply (a spring) were interesting enough to "go commercial". Twenty foot open launches called "pangas" ply the waters between the estuary near the highway bridge for around eight miles through a maze of channels. A capitan and helper can accommodate up to fourteen people per panga (not recommended). Four visitors per allows for freedom of movement and frequent sightings of exotic wildlife make for an interesting journey coming and going.

The launching point for the tours is on the west end of the bridge but unfortunately parking for cars is scarce and non-existent for anything larger. The village has taxi service and the drivers are fully familiar with the Jungle River Tour, and when to return and pick you up. The pangueros (boat men) will almost immediately hail prospective customers and soon you will be stepping into a Panga. Prices are set by the collective and are prominently painted onto the side of a building near the highway. At my age and with my stiff knees, I prefer to negotiate my way aboard using a walking stick to brace myself against the effects of a rocking boat. People with more pronounced disability should travel with people who have the ability to physically assist them while boarding and debarking. The cursed no-see-ums are absent this far from the ocean and during the winter and spring hardly a mosquito will be encountered. But even during January and February expect afternoon temperatures to reach almost ninety degrees (dry humidity), so take a wide brim hat and slather up with sun block. The La Tovara spring is located at the terminus of the tour and the huge freshwater spring invites swimming (take a suit -- there are changing rooms at the spring).

Expect to see herons, and snowy egrets, turtles basking on half-submerged logs, and crocodiles. Mexico has several species of "caiman" and crocodile. I have seen huge specimens along the coast that exceeded ten feet in length. The crocs normally do not show up much before eleven AM in the winter so if you don't get a glimpse of one on the way in, your boatman will make it a point to dally on the way back and point out some of their more favorite haunts (tiny clearings right on the edge of the water). You can relax about running into a croc at the Spring -- it isn't going to happen.

The tour lasts about four hours including an hour or so at the spring. The scenery and ambiance are incredible. As the panga breaks out of the mangroves and sweeps by tall grass, palms, thick jungle and an occasional canopy tree you'll swear that you can hear a tiger roar (there are Jaguars but they're far too shy to roar), and the cry of Tarzan as he swings from tree to tree on a vine. I've had more than one visitor remark to me that the cost of the LA Tovara Jungle River Tour "Is the best money for a tour that I've spent in Mexico". The tiny palm frond snack bar at the spring serves cold drinks and a credible quesedilla. By the way, you'll need to duck way-way down into the boat as the craft passes beneath a low bridge. Vines and branches can catch on clothing and slap the person behind you silly so keep an eye out while you're passing through eye-popping scenery.

How Much Time To Allow

I prefer to arrive one day, spend the next exploring the village and trying out restaurants, the following day going to La Tovara, and the day after that prepping my rig and enjoying one last seafood dinner (they're an unbeatable value here). So to answer my question, three full days. There is an optional extra-cost tour from La Tovara to the crocodile farm where baby reptiles are raised and released into the wild. This makes the trip into a full day's outing. A special birding trip has been offered for many years and perhaps the next time I go I shall elect to take it. As was noted earlier, San Blas and environs has more different types of birds per cubic mile than just about anywhere else.

How To Get There

Depart Mazatlan southbound on Mex 15 a two-lane highway. Take the bypass toll road around the city of Escuinapa unless you need gasoline. As you approach the intersection with the highway to San Blas (just before the city of Tepic), large overhead highway signs will announce the impending turnoff. I allow five RV driving hours between Mazatlan and San Blas

How To Depart If you're heading north, simply retrace your steps, southbound RV's should not return to Mex 15 (unless you are headed for Guadalajara and points east). On the opposite end of the highway bridge where you caught the panga to La Tovara is a "new road" which eventually ends up at "Las Varas", Mex 200, the road to Puerto Vallarta, and La Costalegre. The new road is not only much faster than the roundabout way through Tepic and Campostela, but it's much flatter, less winding, and much more scenic. Even the largest and longest combination RV's and toads will have no problem on "The New Road".