Heermann’s Gull bird, La Tovara National
On countless trips to Florida, even in the Everglades, I’d never
seen the multitudes of alligators I was told I’d see. In fact, I’d
never even seen one outside of the zoo. I wasn’t, therefore,
expecting much when I visited La Tovara National Park, two hours
(95 miles) north of Puerto Vallarta in the newly developing, but
still pristine, Riviera Nayarit.
Here, in the lush mangroves of the estuary of the Camalota
Lagoon, I didn’t see one, I saw dozens of crocodiles and probably
glanced at many more than I realized, thanks to their effective
La Tovara is located within the municipality of San Blas, a
small fishing village of about 10,000 inhabitants and home to two
four-star hotels, a well-preserved colonial fort and outstanding
bird watching, which draws almost as many thousands of observers as
migratory birds each winter. San Blas has more than 20 miles of
virgin beaches, some with excellent surfing and huge lowland palm
forests along with extraordinarily lush rainforest areas. The
mangrove zone surrounding San Blas, which encompasses La Tovara, is
the most important ecosystem in Mexico and a sanctuary to 300
species of birds.
Crocodiles are a common sight in the
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the federally protected La
Tovara National Park and mangrove ecoregion in San Blas is one of
the most important winter habitats for birds in the Pacific, home
to 80 percent of the Pacific migratory shore-bird populations. A
paradise for bird enthusiasts, this region has the highest
concentration of migratory birds in this part of the world and
features over 250 species, including the black-bellied tree duck,
great blue heron, roseate spoonbill and endemic birds, including
the bumblebee hummingbird and the Mexican wood nymph.
The only way to see the park is by panga, small boats operated
by local guides who take about 6-10 people through the dense
mangroves of the estuary. The panga rental charges depend on the
ride’s length and typically run between $8-$10 per person. If you
want the panga to yourself, you need to pay for four people. Sights
from the panga include many different types of birds (we saw
egrets, owls, herons, etc.) as well as the aforementioned crocs,
tortoises, iguanas and wild orchids and bromeliads. La Tovara’s
natural spring sends fresh water toward the ocean, mixing with
saltwater and forming the river and lagoon.
Guestrooms La Tovara is home to 80 percent
of the Pacific migratory shore-bird populations.
The tour takes visitors under overhanging mangrove branches in
which wildlife takes refuge. La Tovara is an indigenous word for
sweet water, and at the end of the tour, the guides show off the
clear spring pool that is the source of the water system. Here you
can snorkel with freshwater fish. The complete tour also visits the
wildlife refuge and crocodile breeding center of La Camelota, where
you’ll view baby and full-grown crocodiles.
The residents of San Blas are united in their efforts to
maintain and further develop sustainable ecotourism. Ecotours
available in San Blas include bird watching, whale watching, jungle
tours, kayaking, hiking, camping and scuba diving (for certified
divers). Each January, the annual Festival of Migratory Birds for
nature and adventure lovers occurs. During the festival, many
activities take place, including conferences and seminars by
wildlife experts and ornithologists to help create awareness on the
importance of preserving and conserving the natural reserves in
Besides seminars, bird-watching tours are offered during the
festival, including special tours of La Tovara.
|WHERE TO STAY|
A delightful, truly unique accommodation in nearby San
Blas is the Hotel Garza Canela , a family-operated
property featuring exceptional Mexican decor and gardens along with
elegantly appointed rooms. The hotel, run by the now retired
Vazquez couple and their four adult daughters, has repeat guests
from all over the world. What really makes this hotel worth the
trip, however, is the cuisine.
El Delfin Restaurant is headed by one of the
daughters, celebrated chef Betty Vazquez, who is renowned for
preparing the exquisite Mexican dishes native to Riviera Nayarit.
Betty studied at the Cordon Bleu School of Culinary Arts in Paris
and has worked under Fernand Adria at El Bulli. She uses Mexican
ingredients fused with classic cooking techniques.