El Tuito and the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens

There are several small colonial towns in the Sierra Madre Hills around PV. Most require an overnight stay but one,  El  Tuito, is close enough for a day trip. We decided to combine Tuito with a visit to the Vallarta Botanical Gardens since both are in the same direction. While local tour companies ask upwards of $85 dollars for a tour of these two places, it is very easy to go by local bus for 27 pesos instead.

We  caught the Tuito bus in Old Town at the corner of Carranza and Aquacate at 10 am and were whisked south along the highway past Mismaloya. At Boca de Tomatlan we turned inland and headed up into the mountains. Sitting on the right hand side of the bus, I had a tremendous view of the cliff face and jungle,  all the better to see any boulders rolling downhill to crush us. Every 100 feet or so just such a  boulder sat by the side of the road…  The road, a one lane highway, twists and turns as it switchbacks up the mountain.  As usual, I was a bit of a nervous Nellie with a death grip on the back of the seat in front of me as the driver sped around the hairpin turns.

As luck would have it,  after zooming through several small hamlets and going ever higher into a beautiful feathery pine forest, we arrived alive after an hour and a half at the sleepy burg of El Tuito, the capital of Cabo Corriente province. At 1100 meters, this town is cooler than the coast and has a completely different feel. The town’s name means “little beautiful bay” in Nahuatl, the local indigenous language. El Tuito is not at all dependent on tourism; in fact,  almost no visitors make it out here, except the few who come by bus and, this day, one jeep-load of guided tour people.

All the action takes place on and around the main square, a trapezoid paved two block area surrounded by government buildings, a Cultural Centre, and a couple of restaurants.

Huge fig trees dominate the Plaza, under which the local community sat enjoying the shade. We spent some time investigating the Cultural Centre, a beautiful orange clay building with a lovely interior courtyard and a dramatic mural decorating its main staircase.

This painting, by local artist David Edmundo Castillon Sanchez, is entitled Universal Revolution and illustrates the history of Cabo Corrientes.

In it are a vast cast of characters, including the Magellan brothers, Admiral Armando Castillon, aboriginal leaders, and figures from the Mexican revolution. The painting occupies three full walls and in the bottom left hand corner the artist has depicted himself holding a banner with his name and the date, not unlike artists of old like Durer used to do. One of the Centre’s employees, Efren, was kind enough to give me a document outlining the painting’s program. From it, I learned that, because one of the conquistadors’ ships had been sunk on arrival in 1517 by rough seas, they named this area Cabo Corriente, Cape Current. Apparently the beaches along this stretch of coast are not swimmable because of the currents.

After stopping at Los Mariachis for a Nescafe and chat with a couple of other visitors from PV, we rolled around the corner to the Church of San Pedro Apostoli, beautifully painted and decorated inside with flowers.

The scent was fantastic. After asking the fellow cleaning whether the flowers were for a special occasion, he told me in Spanish at length about the community’s grand Fiesta of the Virgin Mary on January 12th each year.

He explained that people come from all the outlying areas to join in celebration. Also of note in this church is the boulder altar, an enormous hunk of granite not unlike those that could potentially kill bus passengers as they scream down cliff faces… José explained that the Saint’s name, Pedro, is like Piedra, which means stone, hence the stone altar.

My Spanish was not up to the task of understanding how the boulder had been transported and installed in the church. Just outside the church we noticed the yellow jeep of a tour group whose clients, like us, were wandering around the back streets. A territorial doggie on a rooftop barked officiously down at us as we strolled by –  such are the joys of small town life. Back at the Town Square again we were lucky enough to hop on the bus out just as it was about to leave.

After a harrowing ride down the hill we were deposited at the entrance to the Botanical Gardens, a paradise of coolness and greenery.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the trails and lounging in the garden’s hacienda where they have kindly supplied couches and pillows for that very purpose.

Part of the twenty acres is devoted to forest trails that reminded us of Lynn Canyon Park, including a river trail that descends to the swimmable Emerald Pool, and a black diamond hike called the Jaguar trail.

Next to the hacienda is a pond with aquatic plants and a solarium with varieties of orchids. Inside the building is a restaurant with a nice deck and tasty food and on the main floor an exhibition of infrared photos, some of which were very good. I really enjoyed having a little siesta on a lounge chair and watching the hummingbirds come and go. I could have stayed there for a very long time.

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See more photos here.

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