The Lagoon of Santa Maria del Oro is beloved by watersports enthusiasts. // © 2014 Mark Rush
Those seeking an authentic Mexico that is unsullied by overt tourism — such as wildlife enthusiasts — are drawn to Nayarit. One particular lure? The state is home to Lagunas Encantadas (Enchanted Lagoons), encompassing the San Pedro Lagunillas, Tepetiltic and Santa Maria del Oro lagoons.
Rows of Encino Oak and pine trees adorn the lagoons’ landscapes; they also teem with abundant fauna. Besides deer, wild boar, ocelots (dwarf leopards) and armadillos, there is a profusion of waterfowl, herons, shorebirds and other waders. It’s no surprise that bird-watchers regularly visit the area, hoping to catch glimpses of Neotropical migrants from Eastern and Western North America.
After thoroughly exploring the lagoons in their natural splendor, visitors can try other activities, such as waterskiing, kayaking, fishing, biking and swimming.
Up to 49 feet deep, the San Pedro Lagunillas lagoon is especially renowned for sportfishing. This large, closed basin in southern Nayarit can be found about a half a mile from its namesake town.
Tepetiltic Lagoon, in the municipality of San Pedro Lagunillas, is located at approximately 4,921 feet above sea level and is famed for canoeing and kayaking. Farmland, in addition to forest, surrounds this lagoon of volcanic origin.
Santa Maria del Oro’s scenic lagoon, set in a volcanic crater, is the largest in the state and most popular among visitors due to its calm waters — ideal for watersports. Many independent hotels surround the lake, as well as restaurants that largely feature a specialty fried fish item called chicharrones de pescado, served with warm homemade corn tortillas, fresh grilled vegetables and the fabulous melted requeson (Latin cheese) inside tortillas.
For rather incongruously swank accommodations near the Santa Maria del Oro lagoon, book a stay at the lakeside Lago Escondido Hotel Boutique. The modern hotel has 20 rooms and five suites — some with balcony hammocks — as well as a swimming pool and a large Jacuzzi. A morning there is breathtaking: Silver mist rises over the lake, and above that, layers of multihued green mountains peek through.