San Blas is a quintessential Mexican beach town that time has passed by. Located in the State of Nayarit on the northern edge of Matanchén Bay, it is a world apart from the resort towns of Nuevo Vallarta or Punta Mita. There is a lot of history in this area and a lot of bugs. The Tovara Estuary defines the geography creating a natural port and a world-famous surf spot called Stoner’s Point. The region is famous for wildlife including jaguars, crocodiles, and exotic birds. This is the far end of the Riviera Nayarit and you should check it out.
Long before this area was called Mexico or even Spain, it was an important holy place for the Huichol (Wixárika) people. Their origin story takes place on a small island just off the coast. Much like Real de Catorce, the Huichol are the foundation of the community and proudly preserve their language, art, and culture. The Mexican government has gone back and forth on the idea of designating the area a preserve but right now it looks like there are some big hotels on the way.
The Spanish established the port of San Blas, Nayarit in the early 16th century to establish a trade route to Asia. The Portuguese monopolized the eastern route so the Spanish had to go west. For a period, this was one of the most important harbors in the Spanish empire’s trade route to the Indies.
Once it was realized how productive the local gold and silver mines were to be, there was no need to send capital from Spain to purchase luxury goods of the orient. Chinese silk and spices were collected in the Philippines, paid for with the wealth of Mexico, and sent back to Spain. On a bluff overlooking the harbor are the ruins of the Contaduría building. The official translation is the accountant’s office but in the 16th and 17th centuries, it was more like a customs house guarding the treasure against pirates.
Fray Junipero Serra disembarked from the port of San Blas aboard the ship La Purisima in 1768 on his way to establishing the missions in Alta California.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wintered in San Blas in the 19th century and wrote a poem called the Bells of San Blas.
The San Blas Battalion has distinguished itself for bravery during the war of Independence, the Mexican-American War and still functions as a military town. To this day the naval training center is an important presence in these parts.
The dock at San Blas was memorialized by the iconic pop band Maná with their tune, En el muelle de San Blas. The song tells the tragic story of Rebeca Méndez, AKA La Loca de San Blas or the crazy lady from San Blas. In the summer of 1971 Rebeca was to marry a fisherman named Manuel. Just days before the wedding, Manuel went to sea and never returned. Rebeca sat waiting in her wedding dress on the docks of San Blas earning her the nickname.
La Tovara Nature Reserve is a unique combination of freshwater spring and salt water estuary. This is one of the best places in Mexico to see wildlife. The birding around San Blas is world-famous and has been attracting Canadian snowbirds for a really long time. Jaguars are regularly seen in the area, there are tons of reptiles, coyotes, boars, and dear.
For the rest of us, San Blas, Nayarit means surf. Stoner’s Point was discovered by surfers in the 1960s and quickly grew to mythic status. It was a right point break that would break for over a mile. Ron Stoner has an iconic shot of an old woody station wagon packed full of boards whose occupants watch a surfer reel down the line on a runner at Las Islitas. Stoner’s Point and Las Islitas, Nayarit has to be one of the most iconic beaches in Mexico for traveling surfers. The wave evokes a lot of emotion because so many people can say they had the session of a lifetime there.
The State of Nayarit is packed full of spectacular beaches, tasty waves, and exotic fruits. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be desensitized to the wonders around me. The rainy season has left the countryside every shade of green imaginable. From Guadalajara to Las Islitas, Nayarit, from the highlands to sea level, the scenery is incredible.
It’s not hard to find a good meal in San Blas, Nayarit.
Las Islitas, Nayarit
There is another break on the inside called Las Islitas or Matanchén Bay. There was a time when it was considered the longest wave in the world by the hodads at the Guinness Book of World Records. It’s a gimmick that even the longboarders are going to get board with. Las Islitas is a good place to teach your kid or spouse to surf but not much else.
I don’t get to the beach as much as I would like but when I see a big swell on the forecast I try to get organized, even if it’s just for one day. I leave before sunrise and have to be back in Guadalajara before 7 pm. The drive should be less than three hours if I can get out of Guadalajara before the morning traffic.
There are dozens of enramadas, or rustic kitchens usually with palm frond thatched roofs and plastic chairs with a Corona logo. The specialty is grilled whole fish, local oysters, and coconut water.
Look for restaurants that have lots of people. There are a couple of restaurants that look pretty slow during the week and aren’t turning their inventory over that quickly.
The beaches further inside the bay have very small waves that are great for the kids to play in. Most days, there are absolutely no waves at the first couple of beaches. This happened to be one of the biggest swells of the season and the waves out on the point were three-to-five-foot-tall. On the inside, the waves were one-to-two-foot-tall and reeling down the line with perfect form.
After the last enramada the mosquitos come out and it feels like you are driving into the estuary.
Playa Borrego is a 3 minute drive south of the town square. It is mostly inconsequential beach break. You are not going to buy a plane ticket to surf this wave. The star of the show is Stoners Point on the northern edge of Matanchén Bay. When it’s on you should cancel your plans and spend a few days posting up in San Blas.
The road turns to unmaintained dirt, and lastly four-wheel drive only. The stretch of trail that you need four-wheel-drive for is only 300 yards long, but there are some good-sized rocks and some soft sand at the end.
Stoner’s Point is the very tip of the estuary. The river empties into the ocean just on the other side of the point. Some of the guys walk down from San Blas and swim across the river mouth. This is where the mosquitos become especially aggressive. During the early morning and late evening, the mosquitos become untolerable.
This is one of the longest waves in Mexico. It held a Guinness Record but the sand has since shifted and doesn’t connect like it used to. Even though it is no longer the longest wave in the world, it is still a very long wave. Check out this guy’s wave. I estimate that he rode this wave more than 500 meters. That is like a quarter-mile long ride.
Stoners Point needs a serious swell to wake up. If the open ocean buoy is less than 4ft it is going to be a lake. When you see a serious south-west swell you should cancel your plans a post up in San Blas for a few days. The wave runs down the line, has a ton of sections, and quarter-mile long rides are common. The wave starts off mellow with an easy drop and quickly stands up and races down the line.
Stoner’s Point is a very fickle wave. It only breaks a couple of times a year when the swell is absolutely maxing out. Keep your eye on the swell forecast to see if you can score this place. Las Islitas Nayarit is a treasure that you should visit even if the waves aren’t that big. I am sure that you will enjoy it.
How to Get to San Blas
Looking at the map, San Blas is 150 km from Puerto Vallarta and 250 km from Guadalajara. The difference is that the way in from Guadalajara is all toll-road freeway and the way in from Puerto Vallarta is a windy country road. It is cheaper and faster to fly into Guadalajara than it is to fly into Puerto Vallarta.
To drive the 150 km from Puerto Vallarta to San Blas it takes 3 hours. To drive the 250 km from Guadalajara to San Blas it takes only 2½ hours.
The Drive from Guadalajara to San Blas
Stoner’s Point in San Blas has become my new favorite surf spot. The drive in from Guadalajara is really easy. It is all freeway without those mountainous curves that you have to go through to get to Puerto Vallarta. I can usually make it in two and a half hours depending on what the traffic is like getting in and out of Guadalajara.
The drive is 250 kilometers (155 miles) with 230 km of easy, well-marked, and mostly straight toll-freeway driving. As you leave Guadalajara it’s still dark, but as the sun rises over the Tequila Volcano you can see agave fields come out of a low hanging cloud. A little further out of town the forest starts: oak, parota, even huge cacti. The scenery is filled with cornfields then another extinct volcano that has left a black, metamorphic rock landscape.
As you cross into the State of Nayarit and approach Ixtlan del Río, keep an eye out for the ostrich farm on the side of the freeway. The landscape change and there is more sugarcane and even more cornfields.
There is a macrolibremiento bypass that lets you go around Tepic, doing 110 km/h, rather than going through the city center. It just gets greener and more tropical as you go. On the backside of Tepic has an old textile mill with an arched aqueduct and brick furnace chimney tower. This is where the elevation drops rapidly and it gets intensely tropical.
The scenery changes to trees of banana and mango and billboards warn you to watch for big cats.
This is where you get your first glimpse of the ocean. The freeway turns to a local road that parallels the bay for another 5 minutes. Turn left at the intersection with the banana bread bakeries. Make sure to stop on the way out and pick up banana bread for your wife who is home watching the kid.
If you drive in to Las Islitas you need 4×4 or at least a truck with good clearance to make it all the way out to the point. If not, you can park a half mile down the point and walk in. Make sure to visit the old Spanish fort and the abandoned 18th century church on the bluff overlooking the city. The views are awesome and the tour guides have some great stories.