We arrived in San Sebastian de Oeste on a Sunday after a holiday weekend so apart from a few stragglers hanging out in the town square the streets were deserted. So deserted that a couple of the local kids took advantage of the empty streets on this beautiful sunny winter evening and galloped bareback along the cobbled stoned streets on a couple of horses. Getting to San Sebastian was intriguing, it’s off the main highway down a 7km dirt track giving you no indication of what lies at the end of the road. Having gone there by recommendation with no prior research my expectations were not particulary high but at the end of the bumpy ride I was very excited to find myself in a magical old silver mining town.
The town is beautifully preserved and sits high in the rugged hills of the Sierra Madre mountains. In the evening the air was crisp and heavy with the scent of the beautiful pine forests surrounding the village. Time seems to have stood still here, most of the buildings are at least 250 years old and everyone of them white-washed with some of the roofs dating back 16th century. Original stone pavements, plastered mud-brick walls, archways, attics, wooden and tile roofs; all constitute the town’s distinctive traits. The newer buildings are all built to blend into this UNESCO world heritage site. The town just screams to be explored and around each order you are greeted with beautiful stonewalled pathways leading to avocado orchards nestled in amongst mining haciendas and casas along the rivers around the edges of the town.
If you are lucky you might even get accompanied by a local guide. He is not very tall and pretty stocky looking with a mouth that goes from ear to ear but he is friendly enough. Just stroll past his doorway and he will accompany you over the old bridge along to the end of the town where you can get on some wonderful hikes. The guide doesn’t say much and lets you set your own pace and upon returning back through the town wags his tail and settles back down on the porch for a snooze.
Veins of silver were discovered by the conquistadors in these mountains in 1605, and by the mid-1700s it was a large colonial town of 20,000 with wealthy hacienda owners running the thirty silver mines. The Mexican Revolution of 1910 brought an end to the hacienda system with the last of the mines closed in 1921 and leaving the town to oblivion. The Hotel El Pabellón, on the plaza, used to be a fortress where silver shipments were stored while awaiting transport with turrets on all corners top guard the precious metals. One surviving turret is now a cozy nook in a popular bar. The banditos were such a problem a tunnel was constructed from a mine to the garrison to transport the silver so it could not be stolen enroute. As mining operations wound down, the structure was used to store grain.
Today the people living in these mountains support their families by running coffee and agave plantations, raising livestock and providing services for the tourists trickling in by bus, car and plane. The La Quinta organic coffee farm is run by Rafael and his wife Rosa who are the fifth generation carrying on with the tradition of planting, sowing, drying and roasting organic coffee. The store is right at the entrance to San Sebastian.
For driving from Puerto Vallarta follow the highway towards Mascota, 15 minutes of which are made up of seven kilometers of dirt track through mountainous terrain. Shortly before arriving at the town there is an airstrip receiving excursionists who prefer to get there by air. Alternatively you can get the bus or tour with Vallarta Adventure .
Approximate distance from San Sebastián to:
Mascota 54 km 34 miles
Talpa de Allende 78 km 49 miles
Puerto Vallarta 64 km 40 miles
Guadalajara 265 km 165 miles
WHERE TO STAY
My top pick is Hotel del Puente, a 400 year old house managed by 19 year old Sergio Trujillo which has been in the family forever. It has a courtyard and 9 rooms of different sizes. Beautiful hotel and one of the cheapest in town for about $100 peso’s/ person with bathroom. To get there, heading east from the plaza, toward the lower bridge you will see the hotel. Other places include the Casita Alicia or some of the other hotels in town.