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Who would have thought of eating Cordon Bleu-inspired cuisine in a tiny hotel in a relatively tiny town (just 10,000 inhabitants) on a stretch of Mexican coastline far from the madding crowds? Dozens of happy foodies do so each day in San Blas.
Located on Mexico’s Pacific coast, about 2½ hours north of the Puerto Vallarta airport and some 40 miles northwest of Tepic, the capital of the state of Nayarit, San Blas is a haven for birders, naturalists, silky-soft golden sand beachlovers (there is more than 20 miles of pristine coastline), surfers and surprisingly, gourmets. The small town is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Vallarta and the chic resorts of Riviera Nayarit. San Blas gives visitors a taste of Mexico’s past.
The port city was founded by Spaniards in the 17th century and was soon one of the most important ports on the Pacific Coast. From here, Spanish conquistadors set sail enroute to Alaska and California, and colonial ruins of the old customs house and the San Blas fort still remain. The haunting remains of the Our Lady of the Rosary church, dating from 1769, are still here as well. This was the church that inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “The Bells of San Blas.”
History buffs can explore the colonial sights, sportsfishermen will find some of the best deep-sea sportfishing in the world — the waters are teeming with marlin, sailfish and dorado — and thrillseekers delight in humpback whale sightings during the winter when the huge mammals come to the Nayarit coast to mate and calve.
San Blas is visited by thousands of birders from all over the world each January who come for the Festival of Migratory Birds. During the festival, many activities take place, including conferences and seminars by wildlife experts and ornithologists that help create awareness about the importance of preserving and conserving the natural reserves in Riviera Nayarit.
Bird-watching tours are offered during the festival, including special tours of the La Tovara Mangrove Park, which is one of the most important natural refuges in the Western Hemisphere.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the federally protected La Tovara National Park and mangrove eco-region 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. The 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 woodnymph.
La Tovara never disappoints — visitors, who travel down the mangrove canals in wooden six- to 10-passenger pangas with experienced young men at the helm, are virtually guaranteed to see wildlife galore. The trip, which costs about $10 per person, lasts a bit less than an hour and starts off with Miriam, who has been hawking her warm home-baked banana bread (about $1) to park visitors for years.
And, when visitors are not exploring nature in the Riviera Nayarit, they may be dining at El Delfin restaurant run by the internationally acclaimed Chef Betty Vasquez, where they can indulge in jicama and avocado tartar or fresh lychee sorbet. Another option is to sample rustic local seafood dishes, such as smoked sarandeado fish prepared on mangrove wood, under a thatched palapa.
High season in San Blas runs from Dec. 15-April 15 and holiday weekends. The top-end property in town is home to Betty Vasquez and her sisters, the four-star Hotel Garza Canela, (www.garzacanela.com) but clients also may want to check into the Hacienda Flamingos and the Marina San Blas.