Copala (San José de Copala) is a picturesque little town southeast of Mazatlán, just past Concordia. The smallness of this village, the charm of its winding, hillside cobblestone streets, and the friendliness of its people, make it one of our favorites.
Populated by indigenous people and then “founded” by Francisco de Ibarra, veins of silver were discovered nearby Copala in 1565 and the town grew to serve the mines. It was destroyed during an uprising by the Tepehuan Indians in 1616; its church was built much later, in 1748.
You can tell by the beauty of its church and central plaza how wealthy Copala became, but it has definitely fallen on tough times now. The incredibly lovely church has plants growing from its steeple and facade, and is in desperate need of restoration—though this mix of opulence and ruin does create a thoughtful charm.
Coming into town you drive past a small cemetery. Once you are in town, children will likely approach you with hand-carved wooden replicas of the home of Copala, quite nice souvenirs. There are several restaurants in which to eat here. Years ago we always ate at Daniel’s, but that is closed since his death. Chalva’s famous banana coconut cream pie (or a replica of it) is still served in several local places. The last time we went to Copala, we ate at a new restaurant—Alejandro’s—just down the hill from the plaza. The view was outstanding, and the cook (owner’s wife) even more so. For such a small town, it is surprising that Copala also has several places to spend the night.
There are souvenir shops and a mining museum that, despite appearances, we are assured still opens regularly. It was not open the last time we visited Copala. While there isn’t a whole lot to see here, we highly encourage a leisurely visit. It’s a very welcome respite in a busy life: a beautiful place to read a book, make some sketches, or just sit, visit, and relax a spell. Copala is also a very worthwhile stopover on the way to or from Durango.
Copala is just over one hour southeast of Mazatlán. Take highway 15 south pass the airport to Villa Unión (about 13 miles from Mazatlán). Turn east on the free (libre) version of highway 40, towards Durango. After about 15 miles, you will pass through Concordia (read here about this wonderful furniture making town) and another 15 miles later you will see the exit for Copala.The exit is clearly marked, but easy to miss if you are speeding or distracted. As soon as you exit, you will be on a cobblestone road — one of the hallmarks of this magic town. The road splits quickly and you should go to the left. You will pass by a beautiful cemetery and wind your way into town. Just stay on this main road, and you will find yourself in the plaza in front of the old church. The drive is beautiful and easy, as you pass plantations of coconuts, mangoes and bananas. Just don’t get on the new highway.
For those traveling this way from Durango on the new highway, there is a cutoff to the old highway which lands you in Concordia. From there it is a simple 15 minute drive back northeast to Copala. It is a very convenient stopover and well worth a little extra time.