Mascota: A Treasure in the Sierra Madre
Driving on the upgraded Highway 90 from Vallarta toward Talpa and Guadalajara, Mascota might be viewed by some as a town to pass through on the way to somewhere else. However, this pueblo is a jewel waiting to be discovered by those who enjoy a traditional laidback Mexican experience. Full of history, outdoor activities and a peaceful ambiance, Mascota is a perfect place to get away for a relaxing day or a restful weekend. It remains primarily an agricultural center, so don’t be surprised to see locals arriving in town on horseback or all-terrain vehicle.
The word Mascota derives from the ancient Nahuatl (the language spoken by the first settlers of this region) amaxcotlán mazacotla, or place with deer and snakes. The first settlers were scattered all over the valley due to a nearby volcanic eruption, but at the end of the 16th century, Augustine priests created the first settlement where Mascota is located. Mascota experienced a particularly prosperous cultural and economic period during the 31 years that President Porfirio Díaz remained in office, earning the title of “City of the Year” in 1885.
With a population of over 14,000 and an elevation of 4,160 feet, Mascota is less than two hours by car from Vallarta and about three and half hours from Guadalajara. The dry mountain air is refreshing, and with an average annual daytime temperature of 24 degrees Centigrade, the evenings cool down nicely, as well. Rainy season is from June to October, and during these months, the surrounding countryside radiates an emerald glow.
Explore the town itself on foot. There are numerous museums, shops and restaurants, as well as the church and temple, all within easy walking distance. Cash is the most acceptable currency, the town bank and money- changing kiosk conveniently located across from the
plaza. However, unlike in most Mexican communities, the streets flanking the plaza are not home to Mascota’s main businesses, which are located a block or two away and are fun to discover while exploring.
There is a small regional airport just outside of town, but to enjoy the outdoor activities in and around Mascota, you may wish to arrive by private vehicle. Although there are local taxis available, many of the outdoor activities are based within a few kilometers of Mascota, and a small truck or SUV would provide ideal transportation. Enjoy fishing, hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, scenic boat tours and horseback riding.
Expect excellent value for your money in Mascota. Prices in the shops and restaurants are noticeably lower than in Vallarta and cater to the local economy. This area is well known for its homemade cheese, traditional Mexican sweets, honey and delicious locally grown produce at very affordable prices. Also look for handmade terracotta pottery, still crafted the same way it has been for centuries. Restaurants serve traditional Mexican cuisine at its delicious best, and although there is a tortilla factory in town, steaming hot handmade tortillas appear to be the norm.
Virgen de los Dolores Church
A Baroque construction dating from the 18th century, this magnificent church is located next to Mascota’s plaza, which is one of the town’s main social gathering points, particularly on Sundays, when a variety of musical groups perform throughout the day. At the plaza, it is not uncommon to find men and women flirting “old-fashion style”: gents walking around the plaza in one direction, usually on the outside, ladies walking in the opposite direction, trading glances and smiles.
Preciosa Sangre de Cristo Temple
This unfinished construction is perhaps the most memorable attraction in town. Designed to become Mascota’s primary sanctuary when construction began in the 19th century, it was never finished and now is a beautiful garden with imposing stone walls, a perfect backdrop for cultural events.
Raul Rodriguez Peña Museum
This fabulous museum houses a fine collection of treasures, such as original paintings, memorabilia from Mexican movie star Esther Fernandez, antiques, religious art and pre-Hispanic pottery. Morelos 44
This National Geographic-sponsored archaeological museum features ancient petroglyphs discovered in the area. Allende 115
View an eclectic and unusual collection of objects made entirely of stone, and other objects, such as old TV sets and books, with their surfaces entirely adorned by stones of various sizes, shapes and colors. Morelos 64
The beautiful mountain lake created by this dam, just 10 minutes from downtown Mascota, is great for fishing, hiking or taking a scenic boat tour. Eat at one of the two waterfront restaurants or bring your own lunch to enjoy at one the private picnic shelters.
La Casa de Mi Abuelita
A local favorite for dinner, with steaming handmade tortillas. Traditional Mexican food at its finest. Ramón Corona 102
Contemporary Mexican cuisine, with an artistic decor. Hidalgo 75
Cakes, cookies, sandwiches and designer coffees. Also a good place for breakfast. Hidalgo & Zaragoza
Mesón Santa Elena
16th-century construction, luxurious and spacious rooms, fabulous breakfasts and wireless Internet. Centrally located. Hidalgo 155 • www.mesondesantaelena.com • (388) 386-0313
Meson Santa Lucia
Historic construction located in the heart of town, with spacious rooms, swimming pool and restaurant with live music. López Cotilla 79 • www.mesonsantalucia.com • (388) 386-0218
September 6 – 15
Mascota combines religious cerebrations with Mexico’s Independence Day, holding significant parties, adorning streets with paper flowers and much more.
December 10 – 12 (Mascota) and 16 – 19 (Yerbabuena)
Festivals to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe are held.
Mascota is the ideal place to develop (or rekindle) a taste for la siesta. At midday, just about every business shuts down for a couple of hours.
Museum Raúl Rodríguez Peña
Mascota’s history comes alive at this eclectic and well-known museum, featuring a collection of photographs, antique furniture and works of art, testimony to Mascota’s rich heritage. Three of its eight halls are devoted to local personalities: Esther Fernandez, considered one of the finest actresses from Mexico’s Golden Age of cinema; Gilberto Guerra, whose detailed landscape paintings are reminiscent of those created by renowned European masters; and Jose Maria Robles, a local priest canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000. Open seven days a week. Morelos 44
This quaint little town just 15 minutes from Mascota is great to explore on foot. Plan to travel in a sturdy vehicle or rent a mountain bike in Mascota and enjoy the scenic uphill ride.
Make It a Mountain Trilogy
Consider a relaxing road trip from Vallarta with stops at San Sebastian del Oeste, Mascota and Talpa. Each town has its own flavor, history and highlights, as well as charming hotels and restaurants. From Mascota, the 16th-century mining town of San Sebastian is only about an hour’s drive toward Vallarta, and the significant religious center of Talpa is about 25 minutes toward Guadalajara.
Not Quite Mascota But…
In all its crowning glory, consider a stay in Sierra Lago, a proverbial jewel in the Sierra Madre. This serene and beautiful mountain property provides an environment conducive to relaxation and is well worth the bumpy 40 minute trek from Mascota. Choose to indulge in a massage, enjoy an array of outdoor activities or or simply sit back, inhale the crisp mountain air and do nothing. www.mexicoboutiquehotels.com/sierralago