Puerto Vallarta and Beyond: The Magical Towns of San Sebastian and Mascota

Ready to get out of town? Find your way to the magical towns of San Sebastian del Oeste and Mascota, two stunning jewels nestled into the foothills of the Sierra Madre.

Surrounding the beautiful, sunny city of Puerto Vallarta are several Pueblos Magicos, or magic towns. Pueblos Magicos are designated officially for their special qualities such as historical significance, exquisite beauty, or fascinating lore. Two such towns are nestled in the Sierra Madre just east of Puerto Vallarta, and they are absolutely worth a trip for anyone who’d like to step back in time to colonial Mexico.


Mascota is a colonial town, located in an agricultural area nestled in the Sierra Madre. It was founded in the late 16th century. The architecture itself will take you back to a different time with many buildings still standing from the 1700s. It is several degrees cooler than Vallarta due to its elevation (about 1,200 meters above sea level), which can be sufficient attraction for those who may need a breather from Vallarta’s tropical temperatures! Mascota is famous for its coffee, homemade treats such as cookies and fruits, and best of all, its raicilla, an alcoholic spirit made from the agave plant.

Impressively, Mascota is home to a comprehensive archeological museum sponsored by the National Geographic Society. The museum is located in the heart of Mascota, housed in a renovated colonial mansion. You will also find the ruins of the unfinished La Iglesia de la Preciosa Sangre, over 120 years old, and El Pedregal, a museum with artifacts made entirely from stone.

San Sebastian del Oeste

This little mountain village is deeply rich in history. It was founded in 1605, and was a booming mining town in its heyday. When the last mine was abandoned in 1921, the bustling city evolved into unassuming agricultural village. Lately, the tourist industry has taken on significance in the local economy. It’s unsurprising once you experience this town’s original colonial architecture, gorgeous surrounding topography, and breath-stealing flora and fauna.

If you’re in decent shape and love to hike, you really should walk up Cerro de la Bufa, which is over 8,500 feet at its peak. The surrounding mountain views are spectacular and well worth the climb. It’s an ambitious hike, so you may do well to consider all terrain quads.

Situated just off the central plaza is the famous El Fortin, where you can try local dishes. Other options include El Meson and El Jardin Nebulosa, which incorporates the local blue corn into its varied menu. Intrigued by the idea of a day trip to these Pueblos Magicos but not sure about driving in the mountains? Take a tour! There are a number of great companies in Vallarta who can take you on a group or private tour on your schedule.

Getting There

Driving out on highway 544 from little Ixtapa on the outskirts of Vallarta, you’ll follow it for about 90 minutes until you get to the village of La Estancia. Be prepared for some switchback driving and graded roads. From there you can make your first decision: follow the road another 45 minutes to colonial Mascota, or take a left and make your way on a unpaved and then cobblestone road for about 20 minutes until you reach San Sebastian del Oeste.

Whichever road you choose, you really must find a way to get to both.

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