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Sitting at a bright-red table overlooking an estuary in the village of Mexcaltitan, we threw bits of tortillas to gulls and other seabirds that caught the snacks in their bills midflight. Dozens of great white pelicans floated by in the bottle-green waters, while a nearby family sang “Las Mananitas,” Mexico’s birthday song.
Home to approximately 1,800 residents, the no-vehicle village of Mexcaltitan sits in the middle of floating mangroves and canals. Aerial photographs reveal an oval-shaped village on a man-made island that measures just 1 square mile. Like the spokes of a wheel, streets radiate outward from a central plaza, where guests will find a church and a small but well-curated museum, Museo del Origen. There is just one small hotel on the island, and it has no name.
Beyond being a hidden gem in the state of Nayarit, Mexcaltitan has a place in Mexican history: Some consider it to be the original Aztlan, revered by Mexican-Americans and Mexicans as the home of the original Mexica tribe. Ancient Mexica prophecies refer to the site as the inspiration for Tenochtitlan, which was once one of the most powerful cities in the world.
To reach the village, it is advisable to hire a guide or take a tour, which can be booked from the town of San Blas. Visitors can also take a motorboat from La Batanga, 30 minutes from the town of Santiago Ixcuintla. The trip is an excursion itself, bringing travelers past estuaries, islets, coves and mangroves. The island is prone to flooding during the rainy season, which explains why it is often called “Mexico’s Venice.”
Once docked, travelers will find the town completely walkable. Strolling along its streets, it’s pleasant to see everyone’s doors open and local children playing outside, carefree. Of course, no day trip to Mexcaltitan would be complete without a good meal, and La Alberca is a fine place to stop. Our meal there included Nayarit’s beloved pescado zarandeado — a whole snapper, caught that morning then marinated, filleted and grilled on aromatic mangrove wood — served with homemade corn tortillas, ruby-red tomatoes, grilled onions, cucumbers, tostadas made of dried shrimp and a delectable shrimp pate with crackers. The total price for the feast was $25. Ice-cold Pacifica beers in hand, we relished the moment and marveled that such a place exists.
During our visit, I learned that some locals have never left the island, afraid to experience cars, noise and big-city life. As our magical day in Mexcaltitan drew to a close and we boarded our little boat — watched by dozens of great white pelicans — we understood why they would choose to stay.