Ruins of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario Temple.

(Previously Published on Canada.com)

Nestled along the coast line of Riviera Nayarit, Mexico lies San Blas, a small but picturesque fishing town steeped in tradition. It’s where the heart and soul of Mexico resides, and where culture, beauty and way of life come together to welcome travellers from all over the world. From the airport in Puerto Vallarta, there is bus provided twice a

Hotel Garza Canela, San Blas

Hotel Garza Canela, San Blas

day to San Blas (early in the morning and early afternoon). It’s about a three-hour ride, but provides an opportunity for visitors to take in
the beauty of the country side. We opted to take a rental car to the town, which allowed us to make stops along the way.

The charm and hospitality couldn’t be more evident than in the family-run Hotel Garza Canela, an iconic hotel that has stood the test of time. For the past 36 years, Betty Vasquez and her family have run the hotel, welcoming visitors
both into their resort, and into their family. Our family was welcomed with open arms when we arrived by Betty, her mother Dora, and her sisters, Josefina, Doris, Diana and brother Hector. Once inside, we met with the Hotel’s official greeter, Morusa, a 12-year old dachshund, who is also dubbed the princess of the manor. She takes her role quite seriously as she walks along with guests, waiting patiently for their attention and admiration.

Head Chef Betty Vasquez preparing a dish at her restaurant, El Delfin

Head Chef Betty Vasquez preparing a dish at her restaurant, El Delfin.

What I was most looking forward to was the food at El Delfin, the restaurant located at the hotel. Betty studied at Le Cordon Bleu School in Paris and has also appeared on Iron Chef America in 2013, during the International Iron Chef Competition held in Toronto.

After a leisurely swim in the beautiful outdoor pool, the children were anxious to sit down for dinner. As every parent knows sometimes children can be picky eaters, however, I needn’t have worried, as the children were provided with fresh fish (caught that day) lightly battered with a homemade tartar sauce. My son asked for a second helping after he cleaned his plate.

During our stay, we were treated to such creations as Ceviche con curry (fresh fish marinated with curry and mint), sopes with oyster (little corn tortillas with oysters and pickled veggies) and chicken breast stuffed with shrimp with bell pepper mole with pineapple salad. The desserts were an absolute treat and included fresh ginger ice cream and flan with apple compote (apples fresh from the family’s own orchard).

One particular evening, I watched as Betty moved about her restaurant, hugging guests and welcoming them back. It is evident that the hotel has become a home away from home, where guests return year after year to be remembered and embraced.

Chapel at Hotel Garza Canela

Chapel at Hotel Garza Canela.

The rooms are comfy and quaint and overlook the courtyard of the hotel. There is a playground for the children, and a stunning chapel and gardens for visitors who want to reflect, pray and even exchange vows. San Blas has much to offer in the way of nature. A truly fun adventure was a visit to La Tovara National Park. It is a sanctuary for birds in a natural mangrove forest that is fed by the Pacific Ocean.

There, we experienced a thrilling motor boat ride through the mangroves to view the hundreds of native birds and migratory ones as well as the crocodiles and swamp turtles. At the end of the hour-long ride, we paid a visit to the wild life refuge and crocodile sanctuary. It was absolutely amazing to get a close-up view of many of the larger crocodiles. The sanctuary helps to preserve the species that is currently endangered. There are approximately 50 adults and 250 young alligators in captivity, which will later be released into their natural habitat.

Boat ride through the mangroves in La Tovara National Park

Boat ride through the mangroves in La Tovara National Park.

 

Sea Bass grilled on wood coals, "Las Islitas", San Blas

Sea Bass grilled on wood coals, “Las Islitas,” San Blas.

We also had the gift of visiting a little piece of paradise, known as Las Islitas. These

"Las Islitas" San Blas, Riviera Nayarit, Mexico

“Las Islitas” San Blas, Riviera Nayarit, Mexico.

beaches are truly spectacular.  The children were able to play in the surf, learn to boogie board, and enjoy a freshly caught fish luncheon served to us right on the beach. Bahia de Matanchen, located just south of San Blas, will impress surfers, water skiers, sailboat navigators and divers alike. Other must-see attractions include the ruins of the San Basilio Fortress which was founded in 1530, La Contaduria which was built in 1770, the ruins of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario Temple which was constructed in 1769, and the Ex Maritime Customs transformed into the Culture House (it has spectacular views of San Blas).

Life seems to go at a slower pace when you are in San Blas. Perhaps it’s the beauty of nature that surrounds it, or it could the people and their appreciation for life that shines through. Maybe it’s both. What is known for sure: if you want a truly culturally enriching experience in Mexico, a visit to San Blas is something the whole family will remember for years to come.

Our family with Chef Betty Vasquez at Hotel Garza Canela, San Blas

Our family with Chef Betty Vasquez at Hotel Garza Canela, San Blas.