The church of La Iglesia de la Preciosa Sangre was never finished, and tourists can now explore its ruins. // © 2016 Vallarta Adventures
Feature image (above): Every year, thousands of pilgrims make their way to Our Lady of the Rosary of Talpa. // © 2016 Vallarta Adventures
A three-hour bus ride is hardly something most people would look forward to on a vacation. But on Vallarta Adventures’ Talpa & Mascota tour — the company’s newest offering, which sends travelers on a food tour of the rural colonial towns of Talpa and Mascota — hours seemed to tick by like seconds as we made our way through the Sierra Madre mountains.
The first stop on the trip was a cliffside “panaderia” (bakery) just outside Puerto Vallarta. The establishment is family-owned; if you take a peek in the kitchen, you’ll even see the owner’s young daughter helping to make delicious pineapple empanadas and “pan dulce” (sweet bread). The owners loaded our group up with a bunch of goodies and offered us the chance to try our hands at making the pastries.
Our next stop was a high school in Mascota, a town famous for its cheese, which is produced locally by the students. After touring the facilities and seeing how the cheese is made, clients get to sample the goods. And once they have a bite, they’ll realize why it is renowned worldwide.
Another stop in Mascota included the family-run Panaderia Blanquita, where we took a break from the bus to enjoy a mug of hot chocolate and cookies, as well as visit the Museum of Archeology and La Iglesia de la Preciosa Sangre, an unfinished church that is now completely overrun by flora. The church is an amazing and truly humbling sight; seeing trees growing right out of its roof and half-finished windows made for an incredibly unique sightseeing experience.
If you travel as I did during one of the area’s religious pilgrimages, which occur numerous times throughout the year, you’ll also notice pilgrims making their way to Talpa by foot as the bus winds through the mountains. These pilgrims hike hundreds of miles for weeks in order to receive a blessing from the Virgin of Talpa, who is thought to have curative powers. Watching them is a sight I won’t soon forget. You’ll also see many pilgrims at La Iglesia de la Preciosa Sangre, where several stay overnight to rest.
In Talpa, we arrived at the same time the pilgrims did and were treated to the sound of a marching band welcoming them into Our Lady of the Rosary of Talpa church. We were given free time to explore the town square, where vendors line the streets. You can find handcrafted leather shoes, homemade milk candies and a bevy of other treats from sellers throughout the town, as well. Vallarta Adventures also takes travelers to Villa Cantabria, where they’ll see amazing views of downtown Talpa and the extinct volcanoes in the valley and hills surrounding the area.
In addition to Talpa and Mascota, I also visited San Sebastian del Oeste. While it’s not included in the typical Talpa and Mascota itinerary, Vallarta Adventures offers a separate trip to the town and also allows for customized itineraries if a group is interested in adding it to the schedule. San Sebastian del Oeste is a must-see, but be warned: The trip will add a few extra hours of time on the bus.
In San Sebastian del Oeste, we had an amazing meal at a secluded former hotel just a few minutes away from the town square. The food on this tour is truly the standout. We had fresh-squeezed guava juice, homemade quesadillas with thick tortillas and some of the best chicken and ribs I’ve ever eaten. In addition to our meal, we were also taken to the town square, which features a Porfirian bandstand and an 18th-century church.
Whether clients are interested in cultural immersion, history or just delicious food, Vallarta Adventures’ newest tour has something for everyone. Trust me: After filling up on authentic Mexican delicacies, travelers won’t even notice the long bus ride.