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Nayarit’s farmers benefit from its location in a fertile valley, and with 181 miles of coastline, the state is a top tourist destination. Tourism and other service industries account for about 24 percent of the state’s economy. Agriculture also supports the economy, with tobacco, sugarcane and tropical fruits being among the chief crops. Small factories manufacture tequila, leather goods, textiles and wooden products.


Early History
Although humans may have settled in Nayarit as early as 5,000 B.C, the first known civilization in the region, the Cora, appeared sometime around 400 A.D. Concentrated on the Nayar plateau of the Sierra Madre Occidental, Cora society reached its apex about 1200 A.D.; many of their descendants continue to live in the area. The Cora relied on agriculture, and cultivated beans, corn and amaranth.

From the 9th to the 12th century, other tribes migrated into the region, including the Tepehuano, Totorano and Huichole. Over the next 300 years they were driven back by tribes from the Indian civilizations of Xalisco. These tribes were members of the Chimalhuacán Confederation.

Middle History
In 1523, Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés briefly visited Nayarit. He was followed five years later by Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán, infamous for his ruthlessness in overthrowing indigenous leaders. Beltrán de Guzmán conquered many villages in the region and founded the settlement of Espíritu Santo on the ruins of the indigenous city of Tepic. In 1531, Cortés returned and tried to take control of the area, but Beltrán de Guzmán appealed to the Spanish crown and was named governor of a province comprised of the territories he had conquered.

In 1536, Diego Pérez de la Torre replaced Beltrán de Guzmán as governor. He ruled only two years, however, before being killed during an indigenous revolt in 1538. Throughout most of the 16th and 17th centuries, Franciscan priests of the Roman Catholic Church sought to convert and pacify the Cora, who fiercely resisted Spanish occupation. Spanish control of the region was constantly threatened by indigenous revolts, such as the famous uprising led by Tenamaxtli in the 1540s. Rebels in the Nayar mountain range continued to harass the Spanish until they were finally conquered in 1722.

Mexico began its march toward independence in 1810 under the leadership of Miguel Hidalgo. In Nayarit, a local priest named José María Mercado took up the cause, occupying the capital city of Tepic without a battle in November 1810. By December he had also captured the port of San Blas, but his success was fleeting. Within a year, royalist forces had recaptured most of Nayarit. Even so, the larger revolution eventually succeeded, and Nayarit became a part of independent Mexico in 1821.

Recent History
Under the first Mexican constitution in 1824, Nayarit was made a region of neighboring Jalisco. In the 1830s and 1840s national politics were dominated by conflicts between centralists and federalists and in the 1850s and 1860s by clashes between liberals and conservatives. The liberals finally consolidated their power under President Benito Juárez, who shaped the future of Nayarit by separating Tepic from Jalisco in 1867. The city was not an independent state, however; it instead became a military district of the Mexican Federation.

Soon after Juárez left the presidency, Porfirio Díaz rose to power, ruling Mexico from 1877 to 1880 and again from 1884 to 1911. During this period, Nayarit–like many states in Mexico–enjoyed economic growth due to improvements in transportation and communication. Increased prosperity was concentrated in the hands of a few, however, and most of the region’s inhabitants remained poor. Social unrest brought about the Mexican Revolution of 1910, when Francisco I. Madero led the effort to overthrow Díaz.

Although Díaz was removed from power in 1911, the war continued as various revolutionary factions battled among themselves. Forces loyal to Madero, Francisco “Pancho” Villa and Venustiano Carranza fought for control of the government in Nayarit. When the government adopted a new constitution in 1917, Nayarit was declared a federal state, and a brief period of peace and prosperity followed.

Like the rest of Mexico, Nayarit was under the political control of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party) from the beginning of the 1930s to the latter part of the 20th century. Under their leadership, the region experienced a surge of economic development and political stability.

Nayarit Today

For many years, one of the most significant contributors to the economy of Nayarit has been tobacco production. Two of Mexico’s largest tobacco companies are headquartered in the state, and a major cigarette factory operates in Tepic.

Although tourism is increasing, Nayarit’s coastline is still largely undeveloped, enabling visitors to surf and swim on beautiful, uncrowded beaches. The state is home to some of the best snorkeling in western Mexico, especially in the Las Marietas archipelago.

The government program Tepic Ciudad Blanca coordinates citizen initiatives to make the city cleaner and safer through trash collection and recycling, graffiti removal and neighborhood crime watches.

Facts & Figures

  • Capital: Tepic
  • Major Cities (population): Tepic (336,043) Santiago Ixcuintla (84,314) Valle de Banderas (83,739) Compostela (62,925) San Blas (37,478)
  • Size/Area: 10,417 square miles
  • Population: 949,684 (2005 Census)
  • Year of statehood: 1917

Fun Facts

  • The renowned painter Diego Rivera designed Nayarit’s coat of arms in 1921. A corn plant fills the upper left portion of the emblem, symbolizing the state’s capital, Tepic, the name of which comes from the Aztec word for corn, tepictu. At the upper right a golden bow and arrow represent Nayarit, the god of war worshipped by the Cora, the region’s most prominent indigenous tribe; Nayarit is said to have invented the bow and arrow. At the bottom, white peaks signify the Sierra Madre Occidental, a mountain chain that was home to the Nayar kingdom in the 1500s. At the center of the coat of arms, a small shield depicts an eagle eating a snake on a cactus, the nation’s symbol. Seven footprints encircle the small shield, representing the seven Aztec tribes that walked from the mythical Aztlán to their new home at Tenochtitlán.
  • Nayarit is one of the smallest Mexican states. Only Aguascalientes, Colima, Morelos, Tlaxcala and the Federal District are smaller.
  • One of Nayarit’s typical dishes is called cucaraches de camaron (shrimp cockroaches), although it contains no insects.
  • Luis E. Miramontes, chemist and co-inventor of the contraceptive pill, was born in the state’s capital, Tepic.
  • Nayarit has an unusual combination of both tropical and temperate ecosystems. About 300 species of orchids can be found there. Notable wildlife includes crocodiles, sea turtles, jaguars, humpback whales and 400 species of birds.
  • The Las Palmas crocodile refuge in San Blas manages a breeding program and offers visitors the chance to see many of the large reptiles in their natural environment.
  • The Spanish priest Junipero Serra, who founded many of area missions, embarked on his journey at the port of San Blas.
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1882 poem The Bells of San Blas portrays the city as a link between the past and present. More recently, the Mexican rock group Mana recorded a song, El Muelle de San Blas (The Pier of San Blas) about the city.
  • The archipelago Islas Marías lies about 115 kilometers (70 miles) off the coast. Since 1905 these islands have served as a federal penal colony where prisoners work and live with their families.


Tepic’s eclectic architecture showcases the city’s varied history. The city’s oldest building is the church of La Cruz de Zacate, famous for a natural grass cross that maintains its shape and color without cultivation. Adjacent to La Cruz de Zacate is a former convent, built in 1784, where Junípero Serra resided before founding missions in Baja California and the U.S. state of California. A more recent building is the neo-Gothic Cathedral of Tepic, erected during the 19th century; its two main towers rise 40 meters (132 feet).

Archaeological Sites
Los Toriles, also known as Ancient Ixtlán, is the region’s only major archaeological site. Náhuatl people are believed to have occupied Los Toriles between 300 B.C. and 600 A.D., building columns, porticos, plazas, interior patios, avenues and stairways that survive today.

Many islands dot the Pacific Ocean off the coastline of Nayarit, including Las Marietas, Islas Marías and Isla Isabela.

Las Marietas, a small archipelago near Puerto Vallarta, is perfect for diving, snorkeling and camping. The natural reserve attracts tourists who come to observe humpback whales. Each year these giant mammals swim over 6,000 kilometers (4,000 miles) from Alaska’s icy seas to mate in the warm waters of Banderas Bay.

The Islas Marías are located 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of San Blas. The four main islands–María Madre, María Magdalena, Cleofas and San Juanico–have a total area of 274 square kilometers (106 square miles). María Madre, the largest island, has been used as a penal colony since 1905. The three smaller islands are inhabited by government officials and religious workers.

The small island of Isla Isabel, 74 kilometers (46 miles) from San Blas, is an ecological reserve that provides sanctuary to several unique bird species, including the tijereta (a kind of hummingbird), various types of bobo, pelicans and seagulls.

Visitors to Destiladeras, El Anclote and Punta de Mita enjoy coral reefs, turtles, manta rays and lobsters. Los Ayala and Frideras are known for their golden sand, jungle vegetation and blue-green waters.


5 Traditions and Customs of Nayarit

Nayarit Is a Mexican state constituted by twenty municipalities, whose capital is Tepic. In the Uto-Aztec tongue Nayarit means"Son of God who is in heaven and in the sun".

Its population is mainly of indigenous roots, between which you can emphasize tribes like Huicholes, Coras and Tepehuanos.

The climate that predominates in Nayarit throughout the year is warm, giving rise to tourism as an important part of the economy of the same.

Nayarit has a good diversity of customs and traditions, as the different types of dress, folk sorts and annual celebrations.


Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

Nayarit, estado (state), west-central Mexico. It is bounded by the states of Sinaloa to the northwest, Durango and Zacatecas to the north and northeast, and Jalisco to the south and by the Pacific Ocean to the west. The state capital is Tepic.

The Sierra Madre Occidental rises steeply from the narrow Pacific littoral and, running southeast, cuts the state’s terrain into deep gorges and narrow valleys. Peaks include the volcanoes Ceboruco and Sanganguey. The coastal lagoons are well-known wild bird refuges. Islands and coastal areas in the Gulf of California that belong to Nayarit are part of a larger gulfwide UNESCO World Heritage site designated in 2005. The Río Grande de Santiago, sometimes considered a continuation of the Lerma River, flows into Nayarit from Lake Chapala. The Santiago flows westward through the state, emptying north of San Blas, the state’s chief Pacific port. The river’s valley is extremely fertile, producing corn (maize), tobacco, sugarcane, cotton, beans, coffee, various woods, and medicinal plants. Mining is important in the mountains.

Few of Nayarit’s Native American communities have remained vital, but groups of Huichol and Cora, Tepehuan, and Mexicanero Indians live in remote mountainous areas. The state’s population growth has been slowed because of the large numbers of residents seeking jobs in the Federal District, in factories just south of the U.S.-Mexican border, and within the United States. Major west-coast highways and railroads traverse Nayarit, linking Tepic with Mazatlán (in Sinaloa) and with cities in the interior.

Nayarit was named for a 16th-century Cora governor who resisted the Spanish Spain did not conquer the region until the early 17th century. Once part of the state of Jalisco, Nayarit became a state in its own right in 1917. State government is headed by a governor, who is elected to a single six-year term. The unicameral legislature, the State Congress, is composed of deputies elected to terms of three years. Like other Mexican states, Nayarit is divided into local governmental units called municipios (municipalities), each of which may include a city or town and its hinterland or, alternatively, a group of villages. Institutions of higher education include the Autonomous University of Nayarit and the Technological Institute of Nayarit, both in Tepic. Area 10,417 square miles (26,979 square km). Pop. (2010) 1,084,979.

The Legend of Lago Santa Maria Del Oro in Nayarit

Santa María del Oro (the lake) located in the municipality with the same name.

The latter in turn is named in honor of the patron saint of the place and the three gold mines that are in the vicinity of the town.

The crater of the Santa María del Oro lake was formed by the fall of an aerolite in the Sierra Madre Occidental. Locals for years claimed that the bottom of the lagoon had never been found. History told that in the center of the lagoon, perhaps, because it is a crater, the orifice that had been formed into a channel that would probably cross deep layers of the Earth. A recent UNAM study, however, has shown that the bottom of the lake is 60 m. This study of the Paleolimnology Laboratory of the Institute of Geophysics, under the UNAM, determined that the lake measures in its diameter 2. 25

However, this lake, surrounded by forest, has a special composition that does not affect the people who bathe in it.

In its deepest part, the water of the lagoon lacks oxygen, contains high levels of nitrogen and high concentrations of phosphorus, which gives it blue tones other than water at different times of the year. Its waters are between five and six meters wide.

The oldest and most known legend of the site tells that this lagoon was born as a result of forbidden love. There was a city called Michiztlán where the beautiful daughter of King Tepozilama lived. One day she went out for a walk with her ladies. He caught sight of a wounded deer, approached him to take care of him and suddenly Pintontli, a young warrior, questioned him what he was doing. When they saw each other, they were enormously in love even though their cities were enemies. When Tepozilama’s father discovered that his daughter was secretly seeing Prince Pintontli, he ordered both of them tied up without eating. Then the tears of the two lovers filled the current lake.

The beauty of the lake is framed by pine forests that cover the slopes as you reach its margins where the flora becomes tropical.

Here you will find the ideal place to forget the stress and even the cell phone since the satellite signal is almost nil.

How to take advantage of your visit to the exuberant lake of Santa María del Oro.

Among the first things we recommend you do is stop for a moment at the lookout on the way to the lake. From this point, you can take the best panoramic photos of the area and contemplate the mountainous system that surrounds the crater.

Once you get to the lake, hire a boat ride. During the tour, the guide of the boat will tell you fantastic stories about the myths and legends that revolve around the lake, such as those that speak of the appearance of a creature similar to Loch Ness or the supposed connection that exists between this site and other gaps in the world.

In the lake of Santa María del Oro, you can practice sports such as water skiing and windsurfing. You can also take advantage of the opportunity to swim on the shallow shores of the lagoon, where the different tonalities of its crystalline waters are better appreciated.

Do not miss the opportunity to take a bath in the pools of thermal waters that are in their margins, which are said to possess medicinal properties.

15 minutes away is the old mining town of Santa María del Oro, from which the lake itself takes its name.

Among its main attractions are its religious buildings, such as the Temple of the Lord of the Assumption, founded between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as well as the magnificent crafts made by the Huichol ethnic group.

Near Santa María you can also visit the hot springs Acuña and El Agua Caliente. Other nearby towns, although a little less accessible by their dirt roads, are La Cofradía and Buruato

What to eat?

Many visitors come to this site attracted by the delicious food offered at local restaurants overlooking the lagoon. We recommend you to try typical dishes such as fish cracklings and Santa María style ceviche.

Where to sleep?

The options for spending the night range from renting a cabin or choose a camping area in Bungalows Koala, to sleep in a couple of luxury boutique hotels such as Lago Escondido and Santa Maria Resort . Another very attractive alternative is the hotel Yemaya , which offers its guests rent of sailboats, kayaks, bicycles and pedal boats.

During most of the year, an average climate of 25ºc is recorded, so it can be visited practically in any season.

Due to the geographical conditions of the lagoon, in the hills that surround it, you will find tropical and wooded vegetation.

The lagoon of Santa María el Oro is an hour and a half from Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara, and thirty minutes from the city of Tepic. Both Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta have an international airport if you travel from any of these two points, take a bus to Tepic and from there a taxi that will take you to the lagoon for 300 pesos.

Another cheaper option is to take one of the buses that depart every 20 minutes from the center of Tepic to the town of Santa María del Oro, where you must take a second bus that goes down to the lagoon. If you decide to arrive by car, plan your route from here.

From Mazatlan (316.6 km) por Lib. de Mazatlán/México 15D y México 15D

History of Riviera Nayarit Mexico

Artifacts from as far back as 7,000 years ago show people living along Mexico’s west coast all the way down to Nicaragua, each group with their own culture and tradition. As people began to farm and settle down, large towns and even mines began to develop, and different groups of people lived in harmony for the most part. However, the arrival of Spanish conquistadors brought brutality and terror to the mountains. Tepic Nayarit was the first city founded in the region by the Spanish in 1531, and today, it’s the state’s capital.

Indigenous People

Many of the people who make up Nayarit today can trace their heritage back to both indigenous groups and to Spanish immigrants. However, there are still small villages of indigenous people who preserve Nayarit culture and traditions. One of the biggest groups is the Huicholes. They worship over 100 gods and seek spiritual guidance through peyote ceremonies. Their villages are small and located deep in the Sierra Madre mountains, but in bigger cities like Nuevo Vallarta and Tepic Nayarit, you can easily spot them in their brightly embroidered Nayarit traditional clothing. Many galleries and boutiques have a variety of their local art and handicrafts: statues, paintings, and jewelry made of vibrant beads and fabric and depicting natural elements and animals.

Riviera Nayarit Mexico

Today, one of the most popular areas of Nayarit is the coast, where sleepy surfing villages and major resorts are nestled between the verdant mountains and the crashing waves. Here, Mexican culture is very laid back and less formal than in the cities. You can easily spend a whole afternoon with your toes in the sand and a drink in your hand, watching the surfers ride the waves.

Nayarit Fair

A part of Mexican culture throughout the country are local fairs. Each town has a patron saint, and their fairs fall on their saint’s day and last for at least a week. The Feria Nayarit, or Nayarit Fair, takes place in the two weeks leading up to Easter. This is one of the biggest Nayarit traditions, featuring concerts, rodeos, livestock exhibitions, vendors, and plenty to eat and drink. Families who have moved away return to Tepic Nayarit each year from around the world to be a part of the annual fair.

Day of the Dead

While Day of the Dead is practiced throughout Mexico and Latin American countries, it’s one of the beloved yearly Nayarit traditions. Families will build altars to commemorate their loved ones with photos, their favorite items, and candles that will guide their spirits to return to the land of the living for a single day. On Day of the Dead in Nayarit culture, families will gather at their loved ones’ graves to clean them and retell stories of their family. People will wear Nayarit traditional clothing and often paint their faces like the famous catrina skeletons. While the holiday’s name might sound spooky to some, this part of Nayarit culture and traditions is just as bright and joyful as the rest.


Food is an important part of any area’s culture and tradition, and it’s one part of Nayarit culture visitors love to savor. Since Nayarit is a coastal state, it’s no surprise that fish, shrimp, and even octopus are commonly found in local dishes like tacos or fresh ceviches. If you order other staples like quesadillas, sopes, or tamales, fruit-flavored water is a refreshing treat to balance the spices of authentic Mexican cuisine.

On your next trip to Mexico, dive into the vibrant culture and experience some of the Nayarit traditions that combine ancient practices with modern vitality. Whether you get to watch a live performance of traditional dances, eat a variety of local cuisine, or pick out a piece of Nayarit traditional clothing or jewelry to take home, embracing the local culture will make your vacation an education and memorable experience.

San Francisco, Nayarit, Mexico History | San Pancho Life


In the early stages of San Pancho&rsquos development, the story goes that the town evolved out of a hacienda, and later communal ejidal territory, into a humble fishing village still named after the patron saint, San Francisco. For decades the handful of families that made up the town fished for their subsistence, and raised livestock and local fruit crops. The development of San Pancho would have continued slowly and unremarkably - in step with all the other pueblos along the Bahia de Banderas coast - if the President of Mexico had not taken a special interest in the town during his term that lasted from 1970 to 1976.

After a visit to San Pancho, and the construction of what was once his family&rsquos vacation mansion, Vista Magica, Luis Echeverria became very invested in the unique development of the town. During his term, President Echeverria adopted San Pancho as the site for his particular vision of a 'third world', 'self-sufficient' model town. As a result of his special interest, funds were poured into the humble village that at the time did not even have electricity. Nonetheless, an infrastructure was constructed. Roads were laid and proper housing was built for the small population of fishermen and farmers. In addition, schools, a fishing museum, an industrial factory, and a modern, fully-equipped hospital were all constructed and inaugurated by the president as part of his dream of turning San Pancho into a 'university of the Third World'.

While the factory that processed local fruits went on to provide jobs for the community well on into the 1980s, the rest of Echeverria&rsquos vision for San Pancho was brought to an abrupt halt with the end of his presidential term and the miserable state of the Mexican economy at his term&rsquos end. Consequently the ventures the President had proposed failed, and San Pancho drifted back into a drowsy tranquility. The fishing museum that had once housed perhaps the largest palapa in Mexico, and was graced with elegant fountains, shortly fell into disrepair. Once the fruit-processing plants closed down, and the 'university' building went vacant without any students or professors to fill it, the overgrown tropical vegetation reclaimed the new developments. The town&rsquos inhabitants went back to fishing and growing fruit, and with San Pancho still hard to reach, little changed.

Yet with the cobblestone streets, schools, and fully-functioning hospital, San Pancho still remained clearly unique and desirable, and in recent years has received the interest of an increased amount of tourists, especially as a second-home destination. Development in San Pancho has still been much slower than that of the neighboring towns to the South, partly due to the fact that until recently there was no reliable bus service that reached the town, and the beach&rsquos strong undertow does not lend itself to water sports. Yet those two apparent negative attributes have had the oppositely positive effect of allowing San Pancho to develop as a genuine alternative to the mass-market holiday options, and therefore to attract a very special and eclectic international group of residents and visitors.

Mexcaltitan, Nayarit: an island city in the swamp

The mangrove swamps of Mexico’s Pacific Coast shelter a seldom-visited jewel of a day-trip destination.

Legend has it that the man-made island city of Mexcaltitan, was Aztlan, the ancient home of the Aztecs, and that it was here a priest had a vision of an eagle perched on a nopal cactus, eating a serpent, which he interpreted as orders for the Aztecs to head south. By 1325 they had settled in Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City, nearly 700 miles to the southeast. Mexcaltitan may or may not be Aztlan, or the “cradle of Mexico,” as it likes to call itself. The town’s other favorite nickname is “the Venice of Mexico,” which is stretching it a bit, although summer floods and rains do turn the streets into canals, and force the inhabitants to build their sidewalks two to three feet above street level.

On my last visit, I still had one foot in the boat, which had brought us over from a mainland dock with a load of supplies, and the other on the swaying dock, when the first friendly native approached, offering a guided tour.

It wasn’t a first visit, so I knew one hardly needed a guide to the tiny island city. We thanked our would-be guide warmly and gave him enough pesos to buy a beer (clearly not his first of the day), then set off for the main plaza, past a couple of open-air restaurants where groups of men lounged with their late-morning beer and snacks. Along the four blocks to the plaza, I fended off more willing guides with an authoritative wag of my forefinger, a Mexican gesture that stops any unwanted activity dead in its tracks.

On this late winter day the streets were dry, and we elected to walk in them, avoiding the climb up and down at every intersection, and leaving the sidewalks to trays of drying shrimp and prowling cats.

The town is laid out like a wheel, with the plaza at the hub, with the church of Saints Peter and Paul on one corner, a tiny but choice museum diagonally across. In the center is a lacy wrought-iron gazebo and, to one side, a statue my companion dubbed “the sexiest Madonna in Mexico.” Unlike the better-known sexy Madonna, this one is white plaster on her rounded hip she holds a chubby infant who tugs at her flimsy sculpted gown. Both mother and child are so animated, so saucy, one wonders what silver-tongued artist talked the town into accepting them. Perhaps they’re a relic of Mexcaltitan’s pagan days, when it’s said to have been a center for moon worship.

Inside the church, the mood is typically solemn despite the swallows that dart among the eaves. Wax statues of Christ and saints with somber expressions on their pale faces stare from glass cases. In a room to the side of the altar is a crucified Christ with long black hair blowing in the breeze. Saints Peter and Paul come out on July 25 and 26 and are treated to a boat race around the island during the celebration of its patron saints’ days.

In the museum, island history is traced from the earliest inhabitants, about 4,000 years B.C., to the present, in dioramas, photos, paintings and exhibits of local flora and fauna. The displays do not include the explanation of the Aztecs’ departure, which author Gary Jennings relates in his often-bloody, often-hilarious, novel Aztec. There, a visitor wonders why the Aztecs left such a beautiful, fertile land and the mayor informs him they had no choice: The town kicked out “those bloodthirsty savages.”

Mexcaltitan’s 1,300 inhabitants, like those of most Mexican villagers, live in concrete block houses, some stuccoed, some not, which make a solid wall along the sidewalks. As we walked towards the far side of the island, open doors revealed an occasional courtyard brimming with tropical plants and the day’s laundry, high-backed chairs surrounding baronial-size dining tables, and many front rooms crowded with beds.

A perimeter street circles the island. Here we spotted a nameless hotel and asked to see the rooms. All six were simple but immaculate and airy most had views of the water and a luxuriant back garden blazing with orange and magenta bougainvillea. Rooms offered accommodations for two to six people If I had a reason to spend the night in Mexcaltitan, I wouldn’t hesitate to stay there. The owner told us he hadn’t been full, except for the Saint Peter and Paul celebrations, since the eclipse of July, 1991, when observers converged from around the world, filling not just his hotel but the many new rooms built in private homes just for the eclipse.

Another three blocks or so along the street, we found the restaurant open (not always the case) and vibrating with activity. A big Mexican party, which we took to be a family of three or maybe even four generations, occupied the center of the open-air dining room. A boom box at the bar to one side filled the air with dance music, and the floor with dancers: young couples, old couples, little boys with grandmothers, little girls with grandfathers, little girls with other little girls.

Outside, long-necked olive cormorants dove and surfaced with a gleaming mouthful of wriggling fish. Our view across the water was to another island, where humble houses of palm thatch and sticks teetered on the beach.

Salt-water breezes competed for our attention with rich food aromas, frying fish and hearty soup dominating. We ordered a local specialty, soup with shrimp meatballs to start, and fish (meaty robalo, or sea bass, that day) in garlic butter to follow. One or the other would have been plenty.

Mexcaltitan is in the heart of Mexico’s Marisma Nacional, or National Swamp, about midway between Teacapan (just south of Mazatlán) in the north and San Blas in the south. In its southern reaches the swamp is movie-bayou country, thick with mangroves, exotic birds, alligators and turtles. Towards the north it thins out and becomes marshland. Throughout, it’s a fertile breeding ground for shrimp, oysters and fish, succulent raw materials for talented cooks.

During lulls in the music, we fell into conversation with a man at the next table, a native of Mexcaltitan, who now lives in California’s Central Valley. “They don’t get a lot of foreign tourists here,” he told us, adding that it’s a popular day-trip for residents of nearby towns, especially on Sundays, when todo México heads for the nearest coast and a long afternoon’s feast. Many of the residents, he said, have never left the island, content to pass their lives in tropical peace and ignore the outside world.

Well, not quite, we discovered as we walked back to the dock in late afternoon. Except for the cats, staring at the drying shrimp, the streets were deserted. And they would have been silent, but from nearly every home reverberated the current telenovela, the soap operas with endings which have captivated Mexico’s housewives, saturating the ancient village with sounds of distant melodrama.

The cuisine of Nayarit

The following is a quick guide to the cuisine of Nayarit. This guide was discovered by Conner and adapted from the original Spanish version by Camille. There are several foods listed for which there are no translation as they are native to the region.

The Nayar Mesa is famous for its chiles and, as such, Nayarit offers a wonderful chile sauce called Salsa Huichol. This sauce is made from a variety of chiles, spices, vinegar and salt and is sold in bottles under different names. Akin to tabasco sauce, it has a much better flavor.

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An introduction

Tamales de Camarón

Nayarit is blessed with a unique geographic location. It is situated on the Tropic of Cancer which provides it with an excellent climate that offers abundant rains in the summer. This, along with its fertile soil, produces a great variety of beautiful flowers and fruits with an incomparable flavor.

Nayarit produce includes coconuts, corn, wheat and beans and it is the largest producer in the nation of tobacco, bananas (there are 14 varieties grown in this region), mangos (the famous “petacones” come from here) and sugar cane. The best example of the fertility of Nayarit soil is seen in Jala, a town near the state capitol, where the corn stalks grow to a height of 70 cm.

From its seas come shark, dog fish, sea bass, sierra, shrimp and oysters, which explains why seafood takes center stage in Nayarit’s gastronomy. Exquisite oyster enchiladas and sopes, shrimp tamales, barbecued fish (one of the region’s specialties), shrimp soup and fish cooked over a manglar wood fire are just some of the delicacies offered here.

Representative dishes of Nayarit

Following are descriptions of some of the wonderful regional dishes you can experience while in Nayarit.

Mezquite grilled fish: Pescado sarandeado

This most typical dish originated on the isle of Mexcaltitan. It is usually prepared with the pargo (sea bream), one that does not readily dry out when exposed to heat because of the fat content of its skin. The fish is smoked over a mangrove (manglar) wood and palm frond fire and is previously marinated in a combination of lemon juice, soy sauce and chile. This is then served on large platters accompanied by sliced onion, tomato and cucumber, tortillasm tostadas and a special salsa. Truly unique! Chicken Ixtlan del Rio: Pollo al estilo Ixtlán del Río After boiling the chicken, it is fried in lard and served with potatoes which have been fried in the same lard, zucchini with a vinaigrette dressing and chopped lettuce all smothered with a typical Mexican tomato sauce prepared with plenty of ground oregano. If you visit Ixtlan del Rio and try this dish, we know you’ll love it! Pipian sauce with pumpkin seeds: Pipián de pepitas de calabaza This thick sauce is prepared with pumpkin seeds, peanuts and a variety of toasted grains and seeds which are then ground and combined with broth to make the sauce. When done, it has a light brown color and is served over meat with tortillas and refried beans or frijoles refritos. Pork beans: Frijoles puercos A special kind of beans called azufrados are cultivated in Nayarit for local consumption and are the preferred beans for this dish. Chorizo and Szechwan chiles (chiles de árbol) are sautéed in pork lard then the beans are added and mashed. This dish is usually garnished with farmers cheese and served with corn chips. In some places along the coast, they serve these with sardines. Chitterling tostadas: Tostadas de chanfaina Pig innards are prepared in a unique and traditional manner then chopped and served atop tostadas with a dried red chile and vinegar sauce (marketed commercially as Salsa Huichol), which is made from the best chiles available on the Nayar Mesa. Oyster soup: Sopa de ostión Onions, garlic and tomatoes are sautéed until soft, then water, bay leaf, oregano and coriander are added and brought to a boil. Oysters are added one by one in order not to break them, and the broth is simmered and served. Delicious! Cebiche: Ceviche de pescado Raw sierra fish is scraped to remove the flesh from the bones and then placed in a bowl and mixed with lime juice and allowed to marinate until “cooked.” Chopped carrot and onion is added to the fish and allowed to marinate a bit longer before serving. Charred fish: Pescado tatemado Normally the fish used for this dish is liza, or mullet. It is cooked over an open fire made of manglar wood and is another one of the typical Nayarit dishes you will find served in San Blas. Shrimp cebiche: Ceviche de camarón Fresh shrimp is marinated in lime juice, salt and chile. It is then served with onions, cucumbers and condiments. Shrimp in garlic: Camarones al mojo de ajo In a pan butter is melted, then the garlic is added, followed by shrimp, a touch of vinegar and spices. This mixture is sautéed until the shrimp are well flavored. Devil style shrimp: Camarones a la diabla Prepared as above but with chile sauce instead of the garlic. Ranch style shrimp rancheros: Camarones rancheros Shrimp is peeled and butterflied and placed in an oiled frying pan. Chopped fresh tomato, onion and green chile is added and the mixture is sautéed until the tomatoes become soft. Shrimp broth: Caldo de camarón In Nayarit, shrimp broth is customarily called “juice” (Jugo). The shrimp is simmered with bay leaf, oregano, coriander and tomato and the broth is served with chopped onion and lime and saltine crackers. Shrimp paté: Pate de camarón Shrimp is finely chopped and mixed with spices until it forms a paste. It is then bathed with white wine or port and allowed to repose in the refrigerator. It is served with saltines or black bread. Tlaxtihuille A haute cuisine dish with pre-Hispanic origins which consists of atole — a thick grumade from ground corn — powdered shrimp and chile. It requires delicate preparation and those who know how to prepare it truly deserve recognition. Oyster sopes: Sopes de ostión The most famous of these are the ones prepared in the typical restaurants found on the main square of San Blas. These are prepared just like the enchiladas with the exception that the tortilla is smaller and has edges to contain the filling. Don’t miss these! Shrimp cockroaches: Cucarachas de camarón A small amount of butter or oil is heated in a pan. Then the whole, unpeeled shrimp are added and covered with a dried red chile and vinegar sauce (marketed commercially as Salsa Huichol) to taste and sautéed until the shrimp are well done. Shrimp tamales: Tamales de camarón There are two varieties of shrimp — fresh and dried. Tamales with fresh shrimp are made following the traditional recipe — masa, lard and baking powder, which is then filled with whole, peeled shrimp. Tamales made with dried shrimp are also prepared as above with the following additions to the masa: ground chilacate and shrimp powder. Both are a delicacy. Rice with shrimp: Arroz con camarones This dish is the traditional Mexican rice with dried shrimp added along with the broth. This gives the rice dish a unique and delicious flavor. Shrimp and prickly pear cactus fritters: Tortas de camarón con nopales These fritters are prepared with dried shrimp, powdered chile and egg. The cactus is simmered in a tomato and chilacate sauce with which the fritters are then served. This dish s most common during Holy Week, the week preceding Easter Sunday. Oyster chichichangas: Chichichangas de ostión A dough is prepared using corn masa and the liquid retrieved from oyster shells. This dough is then formed into tortillas and filled with oysters, tomatoes, green chile strips and onion and folded like a taco and then fried in oil.

Indigenous Nayarit: Resistance in the Sierra Madre

The Sovereign State of Nayarit, located in northwestern Mexico, is surrounded by Jalisco on the south and east, Zacatecas and Durango on the northeast and Sinaloa on the northwest. On its west is the Pacific Ocean. With an area of 27,857 square kilometers, Nayarit takes up 1.4% of the national territory of Mexico and is the 23rd largest state. In fact, Nayarit is one of Mexico’s smallest states only Aguascalientes, Colima, Morelos, Tlaxcala and the Federal District are smaller.

Nayarit’s 1,181,050 inhabitants occupy Nayarit’s twenty municipios but ranks 29th among the 31 states and the Distrito Federal in terms of population. The capital of Nayarit is Tepic, which had a population of 332,863 inhabitants in 2010, representing 28.2% of the state’s total population.

The State of Nayarit was named after a great Cora warrior that founded the Kingdom of Xécora in the high country of the Sierra Madre Mountains. He was revered by his subjects and elevated to the status of a deity. Up to 1867, Nayarit was a part of the State of Jalisco, frequently referred to as the “Seventh Canton of Jalisco.” In August 1867, the present-day area of Nayarit became the “Military District of Tepic.” It was elevated to the status of a territory separate from Jalisco in 1884, achieving full statehood in 1917.

Physical Description
The State of Nayarit consists mainly of a large coastal plain in the northwest and extensive mountainous regions that covers much of southern and eastern Nayarit. The state consists of four physiographic provinces, which are described below and illustrated in the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI) map on the following page:

• The Sierra Madre Occidental Mountain Range covers 57.25% of the state territory, taking up almost the entire eastern portion of the state. In Nayarit, this range is more often called “Sierra del Nayar.”
• The Pacific Coastal Plain (Llanura Costera del Pacifico) covers 15.11% of the state territory, mostly in the northwest part of the state.
• The Sierra Madre del Sur Mountains covers 7.61% of the state territory, taking up a small part of the southern tip of the state.
Eje Neovolcánico (The Neovolcanic Axis) covers 20.03% of the state territory, running from coastal region to the southeast border. The entire Neovolcanic Axis — also known as the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt — crosses central Mexico from Nayarit and Jalisco in the west to central Veracruz in the east.

Indigenous Groups at Contact
The map below illustrates the primary indigenous peoples inhabiting Nayarit just before the Spanish exploration and conquest [Andres XXV, “Mapa de Nayarit antes de la Conquista Española” (June 17, 2013) at Wikipedia, “Nayarit Precolombino.” Online:].

The Tepehuán Indians inhabited the most extensive region of all the sierra groups, occupying the eastern slopes of the Sierra Madre Occidental through much of Durango, as well as some portions of present-day southern Chihuahua, northern Nayarit, western Zacatecas and northern Jalisco. The territory of the Tepehuanes is believed to have stretched as far north as Parral in Chihuahua and as far south as Río Grande de Santiago in Jalisco. As noted in the map, they also occupied some of the mountainous regions of northern Nayarit. The Tepehuán, according to Buelna (1891), received their name from the Náhuatl term, “tepetl” (mountain) and “huan” (at the junction of).” The earliest descriptions of the Tepehuanes have come from Francisco de Ibarra’s 1563-1656 expedition.

Linguistically, the Tepehuanes belong to the Pima Division of the Uto-Aztecan linguistic stock and are usually associated with Durango and with their massive revolt from 1616 to 1619. Anthropologists have divided the Tepehuanes into southern and northern groups who speak different dialects of the Tepehuán language. The southern Tepehuán language varies considerably from that of the Northern Tepehuán.

The Southern Tepehuán and the Tepecano form a linguistic unit with only dialectic differences. In fact, the Tepecano are very isolated from the other Tepehuán groups, but it is believed that they may have been cut off from the Tepehuán because of Huichol expansion eastward or because of movements that took place in the early colonial period.

The Totorame Indians — also known as the Memurte and Ponome — occupied the coast of Sinaloa from Mazatlán and the Piaxtla River southward. Their territory extended inward into Nayarit and included the primary settlements of Aztatlán, Sentispac and Chametla, the latter on the Baluarte River and the first two in northwestern Nayarit. The Totorame were closely related to the Cora Indians of Nayarit and belonged to the Aztecoidan linguistic group.

The sedentary Totorames were farmers, cultivating corn, beans, squash, chili and cotton. They consumed sea products and collected salt from natural deposits for their own consumption and for trade with other groups. The Totorames were not aggressive people, but had to defend themselves frequently against the Xiximes and Acaxees who came down from the sierras to take away their crops on a regular basis. They are now extinct as a cultural entity.

Huichol Indians
Some historians believe that the Huichol Indians (also known as Wirraritari or Wirrárika) are descended from the nomadic Guachichiles of Zacatecas, having moved westward and settled down to an agrarian lifestyle, inhabited a small area in northwestern Jalisco, adjacent to the border with Nayarit. The Huicholes, seeking to avoid confrontation with the Spaniards, became very isolated and thus we able to survive as both a people and a culture.

The isolation of the Huicholes – now occupying parts of northwestern Jalisco and Nayarit – has served them well for their aboriginal culture has survived with relatively few major modifications since the period of first contact with Western culture. Even today, the Huichol Indians of Jalisco and Nayarit currently inhabit an isolated region of the Sierra Madre Occidental.

The survival of the Huichol has intrigued historians and archaeologists alike. The art, history, culture, language and religion of the Huichol have been the subject of at least a dozen books. Carl Lumholtz, in “Symbolism of the Huichol Indians: A Nation of Shamans” (Oakland, California, 1988), made observations about the religion of the Huichol. Stacy B. Schaefer and Peter T. Furst edited “People of the Peyote: Huichol Indian History, Religion and Survival” (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996), discussed the history, culture and language of these fascinating people in great detail.

Cora Indians
The Cora call themselves Nayarit or Nayariti, a tribe belonging to the Taracahitian division of the Uto-Aztecan linguistic family. The Cora developed agricultural methods that included the building of terraces to control erosion. According to Salvador Gutiérrez Contreras, in “Los Coras y el Rey Nayarit,” the Cora’s success with agriculture caused some of them to move into surrounding areas that are now in the neighboring states of Colima and Sinaloa.

Linguistic studies by Grimes (1964) have indicated that there are significant linguistic similarities among the Pima, Tepehuán, Tarahumara, Yaqui, Cora, Huichol and Náhuatl speaking peoples living in the Nayarit Sierra Madre and the coastal regions of Sinaloa and Sonora. In fact, Grimes’ studies noted that the similarities between the neighboring Huichol and Cora peoples were most pronounced, indicating that they are a linguistic subfamily sharing a common ancestry.

The Aztlán Theory
Aztlán (Azatlán) is the legendary place from which the Náhuatl peoples came from. In fact, the word “Azteca” is the Náhuatl word for “people from Aztlán.” Náhuatl legends relate that seven tribes lived in Chicomoztoc, or “the place of the seven caves.” Each cave represented a different Nahua group: the Xochimilca, Tlahuica, Acolhua, Tlaxcalan, Tepaneca, Chalca, and Mexica. Because of a common linguistic origin, those groups also are called “Nahuatlaca” (Nahua people).

Sometime around 1168 A.D., the Aztecs left Aztlán, eventually settling in a new place called Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City). Scholars have speculated on the location of the legendary Aztlán. In 1887, the Mexican anthropologist Alfredo Chavero claimed that Aztlán was located on the Pacific coast in the state of Nayarit. In the early 1980s, Mexican President José López Portillo suggested that Mexcaltitán, located in the municipio of Santiago Ixcuintla in west central coastal Nayarit, was the true location of Aztlán. Many modern scholars have disputed these theories. Nevertheless, the state of Nayarit incorporated the symbol of Aztlán in its coat of arms with the legend “Nayarit, cradle of Mexicans.”

First Contact with the Spaniards (1524)
In 1524 Captain Francisco Cortés de San Buenaventura, a nephew of the Conquistador Hernán Cortés, arrived at the site of present-day Tepic, Nayarit. He was confronted by at least two thousand Tactoani Indian warriors who turned out in force to give him a peaceful reception. He was presented with a gifts consisting of a cup of gold nuggets and with silver pieces by the Tactoani Indians.

The Expedition of Nuño de Guzmán
Feuding with Hernan Cortez, Nuño de Guzmán left Mexico City in December 1529 and embarked on a journey of destruction, marching through Michoacán and Jalisco, and striking into what is now Nayarit after Easter 1530. During the next year, Guzmán arrived in the area of Tepic. On July 25, 1532, Nuño de Guzmán established Santiago de Compostela, the first capital of the province of Nueva Galicia. [On May 10, 1560, the capital was moved to Guadalajara.]

Compostela was founded on the site of Tepic, an indigenous town which received its name from the Náhuatl words, “tetl” (stone) and “pic” (hard). Later, Compostela was moved south, and Tepic returned to its original name and eventually became the capital of the modern state of Nayarit.

According to Gutiérrez Contreras, Nuño de Guzmán and his henchmen committed many atrocities against the indigenous peoples of this area. The atrocities included the burning at the stake of the Cora governor by Guzmán’s lieutenant, Gonzalo López, and the murder of many Cora children. It is believed that these atrocities and others led to the Mixtón Rebellion that started in December 1540. The rebellion engulfed many areas of Jalisco, southwestern Zacatecas and southern Nayarit and lasted until February 1542 with Spanish victory.

The Conquest of Nayarit (1592-1723)
The relentless march of Guzmán caused many tribes to relocate, many of them joining and becoming assimilated into the Cora and Huichol peoples in the Sierra. The difficulty of the Sierra Madre terrain prevented the Spaniards from making any serious attempts at conquest of Nayarit until 1592, when Captain Miguel Caldera entered the Sierra and started communications with the Cora. But in the century to follow, the Spaniards were plagued with frequent rebellions in many northern locations of their colonial empire. From 1616 to 1618, the Coras joined the Tarahumaras and Tepehuanes in a rebellion against the Spaniards that included parts of Nayarit, Durango and Chihuahua.

The final decision to subdue the inhabitants of present-day Nayarit was made in 1719. By this time, drought, epidemics and famine had taken their toll on the Cora people. Baltasar de Zunigi, Marquis de Valero and the 36th Viceroy of Mexico, sent a large force to subdue the Coras and established the Presidio de San Francisco Javier de Valero in 1721.

In 1721, the Cora chief Tonati had led a delegation that met with Zunigi and the Spaniards and said that the Cora would accept the rule of the Spanish Crown if the Cora rights to their lands would be respected and their native government would be respected. However, soon after the delegation had returned to Nayarit, Spanish forces seized Mesa del Nayar in February 1722 and, by 1723, Zunigi’s force had completed the conquest of the Coras, who were rounded up and confined within eleven Jesuit-controlled villages. The Sierra thus became fully incorporated into the Spanish colonial Empire.

The Huichol Retreat
In contrast to the Cora Indians, the Huichol were never congregated into nucleated mission settlements and thus, according to Franz (1996), were never converted from their “primitive pagan ways.” In his 2001 thesis for the University of Florida, Brad Morris Biglow noted that, while the Cora Indians fought aggressively to resist acculturation, the Huichol response was primarily to “flee” to more remote locations in the Sierra Madre. According to Aguirre Beltran, the Huichol retreat into the Sierra created a “region of refuge” and enabled the Huichol to “resist the acculturative pressures around them.”

Nayarit in the Nineteenth Century
The indigenous peoples of Nayarit played some role in the independence movement of the early Nineteenth Century. But the seizure of indigenous agricultural lands (primarily those occupied by the Tepecano, Huichol and Cora) by Spaniards and mestizos led to a rebellion against the Mexican Republic in 1857. The uprising, led by Manuel Lozada, initially met with success when government troops were defeated in Nayarit. At times, Lozada possessed various regions of northern Jalisco, the Sierra Costa (western region), as well as the seventh canton, Tepic (now the State of Nayarit). At one point, Lozada commanded 11,000 peasants, including 6,000 Huicholes and 3,000 Cora.

In the 1860s, Lozada’s followers made public the demands of indigenous people for their lands with the goal of recovering peasant lands. The map on the following page shows the large range of territory that Lozada had occupied in the 1860s, including portions of other states [Jean Meyer, “Esperando a Lozada” (Guadalajara: El Colegio de Michoacán, 1989)].

Wandering through Nayarit

Nayarit is still one of Mexico’s best kept secrets. Here you will find rich traditions, beautiful beaches, and “secret places” to discover for yourself. If you are planning a trip to explore Nayarit, you will want to consider doing it by car and taking the time to visit some of the places listed below.


A visit to the Regional Museum of Anthropology and History is a must. It exhibits a number of pieces of importance to western culture including the Venus of Nayarit. Continue your journey to the Cathedral, constructed in the 18th century and dedicated to la Purísima Concepción de María (Mary’s Immaculate Conception). Next to this is a beautiful rooftop garden, and across the street is the main square and the luxurious Municipal Palace.

Take a walk through the residential sector known as Loma de la Cruz. Here you will find an old convent that houses the famous Cruz de Zacate or “Grass Cross” which, although it has received no care, continues to grow back each year and, because of this is considered a miraculous site. The now extinct Sanganguey Volcano offers an opportunity for climbers to test their skills and a variety of festivals in the neighboring villages throughout the year, guarantee you will have a memorable visit.



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