San Blas used to be important. It was a crucial port when trade between Spain and the Philippines was in its heyday. Then Acapulco took over and San Blas became a backwater. But that’s why it’s a fantastic, little, chilled-out beach town today.
Set 90 minutes down a narrow two-lane road bounded by dense vegetation from the nearest city, Tepic, it feels very remote. I planned my visit for Mexico’s bicentennial celebration back in September 2010. I wanted to see the party in a small town and witness the locals and few tourists join in for the festivities. It all happened in the town’s main square: music, dancing, speeches, parades.
I could have stayed in Mexico City or Guadalajara, but I wanted to be in a small town to celebrate Mexico’s 200th birthday.
Why I chose San Blas
I was only in Mexico for a few weeks and only had time to visit one beach. I chose San Blas. Its description mirrored that of a slow and very laid-back lifestyle.
In fact, my guidebook, The Rough Guide to Mexico summed it up perfectly by saying “for such a small town, San Blas manages to absorb its many visitors without feeling overrun, submissive or resentful”.
I visited in the off-season so it was even more void of tourists (probably only a dozen foreigners in all), but still, there was plenty of local life. There are simple little cafes and street carts around town and a low-key but lively and fun bar scene. Internet cafes are plentiful and guesthouses are scattered around town.
The beaches are nice. For the first 200 m or so there are restaurants and a few cabanas along Playa El Borrego, but after that, it’s just palm-fringed beach the rest of the way down. It eventually stops after a few km because this beach is like a peninsula with a lagoon behind it. On the other side, where the lagoon opens into the ocean, are some other beaches at Los Islitas.
San Blas is also a relatively safe place to hang out. People linger outside at night. Budget travelers camp on the beach at Stoner’s Surf camp, where you can get surfing lessons as well. Safety is a concern to most people traveling to Mexico, so that’s why I tackled that issue in a recent post. Mostly it’s the US media that is blowing the drug wars out of proportion. Mexico is safe for tourists in most areas of the country.
The locals are really friendly and super easy going. On several occasions, I walked past waiting taxi drivers are they didn’t even call out to me. On a walk down by the beach, you’re likely to witness fishermen doing their thing. Towards the evening I saw about 12 guys hauling in a gigantic fishing net by hand.
Before arriving to San Blas, I heard lots of nasty stories about the biting sand flies that seem to attack humans at certain times of the year. This alone is said to be the reason that mass tourism did not develop in San Blas. The no see-ums weren’t around when I visited, but the mosquitoes were nearly unbearable every evening at dusk.
Around San Blas
One afternoon I was feeling energetic and borrowed a bicycle from my guesthouse and together, with a fellow traveler whom I just met, peddled over to Bahia de Matanchen. Most of the six-kilometer road led through marshes where we saw plenty of birdlife. Eventually, when we reached Los Islitas near Mantanchen village beach we leaned our bikes against a palm tree and pulled up a chair at a local beach-side restaurant. I ordered a whole fish grilled with garlic and a huge coconut to drink. After dinner, we took a dip in the bathtub-warm water and explored the rest of Los Islitas by bike.
Getting there and costs
San Blas is located on the Pacific Ocean in the Mexican province of Nayarit. It’s a 90 minute, $42 MXN ($3.50 US) bus ride from the city of Tepic and another 2-3 hours and $190 MXN ($16 US) back to Guadalajara.
I got a single room with bath in the off-season for 150 pesos ($12.75 US)per night, which was one of the cheapest options in town.