Nearly Secret Gem of an Overnight Trip

DSC_5157The December party season is exhausting. After the holiday, wouldn’t it feel wonderful to chill out for a couple of days in the middle of a spectacularly biodiverse rain forest, in a large, clean cabin with killer views, incredible stargazing, a full kitchen and all the modern amenities?

Every year tourists from over 25 countries are drawn to this very spot, home to a world-renowned breeding program for green macaws, aiming to rescue them from extinction. This gorgeous nature preserve has a semi-Olympic pool, tennis court, dozens of kilometers of hiking trails, waterfalls, petroglyphs, a museum, aviary and several climactic zones. You’ll witness breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, and amazing stargazing both with your naked eyes as well as through an astronomical observatory telescope.

How far do you have to travel to get to this magical place? Costa Rica? Malaysia? Chiapas? No, the Reserva Ecológica de Nuestra Señora Mundo Natural is right here in Sinaloa, just three hours by car or bus from Mazatlán—twelve kilometers east of Cosalá. It’s home to the most important macaw rescue program in northwestern Mexico, a two kilometer long zip line that is the second highest in the country (500 meters), and an astronomic observatory that partners with observatories in Russia, Chile and New Mexico to monitor near-Earth asteroids and space junk.

Not only is the nature preserve nearby, it’s affordable—because it’s part of our state university, UAS: Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa. A three-bedroom cabin (for eight people) with loads of natural light, air conditioning and a full kitchen costs 3000 pesos/night; they also have hotel and hostel rooms for 800 pesos/night. You’ll want to be sure and spend the night: the reserve closes to the public at 5 pm and opens at 10 am, so sunrise, sunset, moon and star gazing are not available to day visitors but only to those smart enough to spend some time here. The wild macaws are also best seen at dawn and dusk, yet another reason to spend the night here.

The 60,000 annual visitors to the reserve come for the incredible biodiversity of the area. You may also meet some of the domestic and international scholars conducting research here from Guadalajara, UNAM in Mexico City, Brazil, Chile, Spain and the UK. Fauna you’ll probably see include the green macaws that the area is famous for, plus white-tailed deer, coati, ocelots, lilac-crowned parrots, iguanas, gray hawks, owls, and a few things you may want to avoid: rattlesnakes and tarantulas. Flora-wise there are loads of braziles, amapas, mautos, moras, higueras, apomos, flor de Santiago, sabinos, rosarillas y papelillos and mangos. Should you wish to hold a workshop, large meeting or party here, there is even a conference center with closed circuit TV, a restaurant and space for up to 200 people!

During my visit there were several groups of students visiting from UAS. They conducted research in nature during the day and enjoyed pizza parties at the pool in the afternoon. There was a large family reunion, with family members coming from different states to meet up here, just outside Cosalá. Quite a few area businesses conduct employee-training programs here, and the reserve plays host to religious retreats, as well.

The General Manager of the reserve, José Alfredo Leal Orduño, was kind enough to spend a few hours touring me around the property and facilities. He spends the work week in Culiacán, but is at the reserve on the weekends. Leal told me that when UAS was founded in 1968, Governor Sánchez Celis gave the fully functioning reserve property—including hot water, electricity, a huge freezer and about 85 cabins—the equivalent of 260 hotel rooms—to the university as a source of income. It seems the property owner, a mining company, was delinquent on taxes; their loss was the university’s gain. The university, however, proceeded to nearly completely neglect the facility for the next forty years. By the time Leal took over, looting had destroyed 75 of the original cabins. What remained were the two haciendas on the property, which had been used by the mine superintendents, and the service buildings. The original structures were remodeled to become the cabins, hotel and hostel we see today. The rooms are a pleasant mixture of historic, rustic beauty on the outside and modern convenience and aesthetics on the inside.


José Alfredo Leal Orduño, General Manager of the Reserva

All cabins have hot and cold running water, air conditioning, private bath, and a full kitchen with refrigerator/freezer, stove, microwave and coffee maker. While you have a kitchen and can cook when you wish, if you let staff know ahead of time they will arrange for a local woman to come in and cook meals for your party. There are large decks as well as lookouts and rest areas where you can read a book or watch the nature around you. The cabins are accessible by car, making this an enjoyable respite for the mobility impaired, and the reserve’s 18 employees stand ready to help.

If you are physically fit you can take an early morning hike with a biologist from the lower Habitas River Valley, with its mines, petroglyphs and waterfalls, all the way up to the top of the Sierras, through several climactic zones. The reserve is on the border between Sinaloa and the state of Durango.

When is the best time to visit? Leal says it’s winter, November to May, the dry season. Anytime between June and October is when the rain forest is in full regalia, the river is at its highest and the waterfalls their most powerful. He showed me videos of a thunderstorm taken from within a cabin and it was absolutely beautiful—the sound of fresh, wet summer air! Macaw courting season is in February and March, which should be quite the experience, though Semana Santa is always sold out months ahead of time.

60% of the reserve’s visitors are from Culiacán, with a very small percentage from Mazatlán. That is strange to me, since the two cities are equidistant from the nature preserve. What a loss that mazatlecos don’t take better advantage of this terrific public resource! I trust you’ll help me change that reality by visiting soon.

The Reserve is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm, though I urge you to spend the night. To make your reservations call (696) 9650306 between 9 am and 1 pm or 4 – 7 pm (English spoken).

National Recognition for Local Handicrafts


Beautifully handcrafted barcinas, which traditionally hold dried shrimp

I am very excited that reporters from eight respected national publications will tour Mazatlán and southern Sinaloa from May 7-10, to learn about, report on, and photograph our regional artesanía and artesanos. The tour is coordinated by Turismo Mazatlán and Turismo Sinaloa, as well as by the Association of Hotels and Tourist Enterprises of Mazatlán.

If you are regular readers of, you know that we are big proponents of culture, particularly the preservation of local, regional and indigenous traditions. We also support sustainable tourism, ecotourism, religious and cultural tourism. Thus, we are extremely happy to know that tourism officials are taking action to help promote “the little guy,” those who add so much to our communities by producing the gorgeous handiwork we enjoy.

Most traditional handicraft is beautiful and also utilitarian. It reflects the culture, the environment, the people, and the daily life of the place where it is made. Preserving it, helping it thrive and develop, creates pathways out of poverty, builds healthy communities, and prevents delinquency and violence. Just look at the increased success, popularity and value of Native American handicrafts and music over our lifetimes, and the improvement in the quality of what is produced! We can create such a success story here in Mexico as well. Sinaloa is smart to diversify beyond heavy eco-footprint industries like cruise ships. Cultural tourism can help preserve our heritage and the gorgeous natural environment with which we are blessed, and it can help build strong, vital, resilient communities. It attracts a more savvy brand of tourist, one that is increasingly wealthier and more committed to the welfare of local communities. Kudos to all involved!

Publications participating in the upcoming tour include my personal favorite, México Desconocido; the Reforma newspaper’s De Viaje supplement; the Destinos section of El UniversalConceptos Turísticos magazine; Travelers Guide to MéxicoViaja Bonito magazine; Reportour 98.5 FM; and the magazine, Tiempo Libre.

Here in Mazatlán the group will visit:

  • The museum at Seashell City, to view handcrafted items such as lamps, boxes, crosses, Christmas ornaments, and picture frames made of shells.
  • Onilikan in the Golden Zone, to savor their fruit-flavored liqueurs and aguardiente, distilled in that gorgeous copper kiln.
  • Suaves downtown, makers of the world’s best marshmallows, to meet María Clara and experience the process of creating our much-loved local pride, coconut-flavored marshmallows.

I would like to politely suggest that the group visit a few of our terrific local seamstresses such as Sodelva Rios de Garcia, to showcase our long local tradition of sewing Carnavál costumes and royal dresses. They should also tour some of the terrific art and artisan galleries around town. And even though they won’t be active this time of year, I would recommend the official visit include the talleres/workshops for the carrozas or floats of Carnavál, or at least a slideshow presentation showcasing how important, inclusive and wonderful Carnavál is for our local community, and how many terrific artisans contribute to making it a success. Maybe another trip, so they can see monigotes or giant statues being created as well.

Outside Mazatlán, reporters will visit our neighboring communities including:

  • La Noria, where they’ll tour the gorgeous, award-winning Los Osuna distillery as well as visit the leather makers.
  • El Tablón Viejo in El Rosario, where they’ll learn about handicrafts made from gourds by the Larreta Medrano family.
  • Escuinapa, where they’ll watch barcinas, as in the photo at the top of this post, being made. I would also suggest they visit Ernesto at Productos Rivera, so they can watch the wonders the crafty ladies there do with fresh and dried mango.
  • Malpica, Concordia, where they’ll witness mosaic-making.
  • El Rodeo, Cosalá, and the traditional method of making conserva de Papaya. The last time we visited El Rodeo, Saboreando Ando was visiting there as well. Click through to see photos and video of the making of the conserva.

If you have not already visited the places above, or if it has been a while, now is a good time to go! The weather is perfect, national tourists have not yet arrived en masse, and local handicrafts-men and -women are eager to earn your patronage!

Cosalá—Pueblo Mágico and Day Trip from Mazatlán

Men of Cosalá

In early December we travelled to Cosalá to see the Festival of Candles, on the Virgin of Guadalupe Day this year. We’ve been to Cosalá previously, and have always loved it. It’s a very picturesque little town, Sinaloa’s first Pueblo Mágico (so named in 2005), and very deservedly so. It’s a bit farther away than some of our other favorite day trips (2 1/2 hours from Mazatlán), but well worth it, especially when there’s a special event.

The town’s proper name is Real de Minas de Nuestra Señora de las Once Mil Vírgenes de Cosalá (Royal Mines of Our Lady of the 11,000 Virgins of Cosalá, after the legend of Saint Ursula) and it dates from 1550. The town is beautiful and very well maintained, with cobblestone streets and gorgeous architecture, including many adobe buildings. You won’t find any neon signs here; signs for the town’s businesses, even the international ones like BanaMex, are hand-lettered, as you can see in the photos below. The historic downtown has a central plaza with a beautiful 1800s-era gazebo/kiosko, and the house of the Hernandez Arragon is said to have a ghost—the Woman in White. You can find Cosalá listed on UNESCO’s website.

Cosalá was a very wealthy mining town, and its mines are active today as well. Cosalá was the original capital of the western states (parts of Sinaloa, Sonora and Arizona) back in 1826, and home to the state’s first newspaper. It’s current population is about 20,000. A favored son was Luis Perez Meza.

The people of Cosalá have always fascinated me. There is a dignity and quiet, joyful pride about them. Here are just a few of the folks we happened by this last visit.

We made our journey with our friends Sandra and Héctor, who seem to know everyone and are widely beloved around southern Sinaloa. They arranged for us to have a private performance in the absolutely gorgeous Museum of Mines and History. One of the local teachers, Gregorio Corrales Herrera, who is well-known in Mazatlán for his singing as well as his folkloric dance troupe, conducted the show for us. The town’s Tourism officer, the lovely Martha Susana Aragón Navarro, welcomed us.

The night before, during the Fiesta de las Velas, we had greatly enjoyed the jaguar dancers. On this day, therefore, we were so excited to meet a few of them in person, and I was especially thrilled to learn how the “roar” of the jaguar worked—pull drums called rotares.

Just down from the main church on this very sunny day, we came upon a man who advertised chicharrones de res or fried beef. Since it’s much more common to see fried pork, this really interested me, and we stuck around a while to watch.

After the gorgeous Fiesta de las Velas the night before, the following morning we went to breakfast at Restaurante El Pueblito. The homemade sweet breads were to die for, as was the coffee and food, but the highlight of the experience was the parrot, who just couldn’t control himself. He was everywhere, climbing up the table, eating off our plates. The waiter removed him once, and then the second time had to actually replace him into his cage. Naughty bird!

There are two main churches in town, the Templo de Santa Úrsula, and the Chapel of the Virgen de Guadalupe. There are also two convents: Jesuit and Franciscan. Saint Ursula Temple dates from the 1700s, though there was a church on this site from the 1600s.

We had been told that a gentleman in a small nearby town, El Rodeo, made fruit preserves that were unbelievably tasty, so we took a drive. The preserves were made from squash, sweet potato and green papaya, cooked over open fires with lots of sugar and a bit of spice. It was a charming journey, and we bought several kinds of preserves for Christmas gifts.

Interestingly, one of the shows we enjoy, Saboreando Ando, was in El Rodeo filming an episode. It was rather fun watching Guillermo Guerrero record his interviews. Below are some photos of that, and following the photos I post the copy of Memo’s Saboreando Ando episode on Cosalá.

Next time we go, we want to stay at La Reserva Ecológica el Mineral de Nuestra Señora la Candelaria. Designated an ecological preserve in 2002, there are a hotel, hostel and cabins here, lots of hiking, flora and fauna and, we are told, green macaws. I can’t wait!

Near Cosalá there are also thermal baths (San José de las Bocas), a cave with stalactites and stalagmites, as well as a couple of waterfalls (Vada Hondo and Caudal del Arroyo del Sabinal). There are quite a few places to spend the night, and plenty to see, so though it’s an easy day trip, you might want to spend the weekend or a few days. Enjoy!

Driving Instructions:

Cosalá is a little more than halfway to Culiacan from Mazatlán and well east of the highway. To get to Cosalá, take highway 15 heading north— the old (free/libre) road towards Culiacan. You will go pass exits for El Quelite and San Ignacio and still have a ways to go. It is about a 2-1/2 hour drive from Mazatlán, but well worth it. The views are wonderful. As the road is very isolated and not lighted, we do not recommend making this drive at night. Also, use caution as it is a two lane road and you can encounter an animal or slow-moving vehicle around any turn.

Fiesta de las Velas Candlelight Procession in Cosala


Danza del Jaguar

We have long loved the small town of Cosalá, the first and very well deserved “Pueblo Mágico” (2005) of Sinaloa. It’s history is well preserved in its lovely architecture as well as the lifestyle of its people. This year we were able to take time off work to attend the Fiesta de las Velas, which is held every December 11th, on the eve of Virgin of Guadalupe Day.

The candlelight procession was an absolute delight! It was not a “spectacle” or performance, as so many of these events become in larger cities. Cosalá’s homage to the Virgen is home-spun loveliness. The procession is a tradition that dates back over 300 years, and is the only event of its kind in Mexico or throughout the world! As Cosalá is only 2-1/2 hours from Mazatlán, we highly recommend you make the journey!

Mouse-over any photo to view it larger or see a slideshow, and be sure to scroll down to read the full post—there are lots of pictures in this one, as so much happened in such a very short time!

People all over town began lighting candles at dusk, setting them out in front of their homes and businesses, along the curb, on window ledges, and atop rock walls. We saw a wide variety of different candles: tapers, candles in glass, votives in glass, candles in plastic cups, and even beautiful Virgen de Guadalupe votives, so we supposed that each family buys its own candles to put out on this very special night.

As soon as the candles are lit, the children, of course, begin to have fun with them. What little boy can resist a burning flame? I very much enjoyed watching these three boys light sparklers from the candles their mother had just lit, squealing in delight. The entire night was just a joy.

At 7:00 pm, the electric lights in the city went dark, and the entire pueblo took on the lovely glow of candlelight. It was truly a sight to behold! The streets were nearly empty except for those waiting for the procession to reach them, so they could join in. The winding streets lined with glowing candles, street lights draped and shaded, it was truly magical.

As we walked around the pueblo, marveling at the beauty, we noticed a miniature Christmas village displayed in a window. The lady of the house quickly came out to invite us inside. This very humble-looking-from-streetside home was huge and wonderful inside! And its family was so very hospitable! We entered into a courtyard with a life-sized nativity, through to the living room with a huge Christmas tree and the village we had first noticed, past a large statue of the Virgin to another living room with a tree hung from the ceiling, out to a back courtyard that was strung with beautiful twinkle lights. Later on, we met the ladies of the house again during a procession.

The procession wound around town, lasting perhaps an hour and a half, growing larger and larger as more and more people joined in. The procession is most definitely inter-generational: grandmothers and children, husbands and wives, groups of teenaged friends or middle-aged women, all walking with candles in hand. This event was most definitely a photography challenge! In addition to low light, you have constantly moving targets! How to possibly capture candlelight and people moving? I’m sure many have done better than I did, but at least you’ll get an idea of the beauty and preciousness of it all, I hope.

The painting of the Virgin is held high, on the shoulders of local men, as she is fêted. In addition to the main image in the procession, there are of course images of the Virgen all over town to celebrate her on her special day.

People in the procession were singing and praying as they made their pilgrimage through town, from one church to another and back. There were also two groups of dancers in the procession. One group of mostly young girls carried a candle in each hand and danced in a choreographed way each time La Guadalupana was sung. They had their heads covered and were dressed in gowns, to represent the Virgen, I believe. The drummer accompanying this group was a boy dressed in a shirt with a beautiful image of the Virgen on the front.

The second dance group of the evening were the teenagers who performed the Danza del Jaguar, native to Cosalá. The young men act as hunters, while the young women act the role of jaguars, hiding, running from, and occasionally leaping at the young men. They play these terrific instruments called rotares: hollow so they’ll reverberate, with a leather cord attached that is pulled to create the sound of a jaguar roaring. Accompanying the dancers was a small band, in the back of a pickup truck, with several drums, more rotares, and other percussion instruments. This group walked immediately in front of the Virgin, and we were told that their dance clears the way of any bad spirits, cleansing and purifying the route for today’s honored guest.

The following morning as we were walking through the plaza, we noticed two of the jaguar dancers from the night before. The young woman, Maribel, had such striking eyes that we immediately recognized her. She was very congenial and outgoing, and was so very pleased when I asked her to tell us the story of the jaguar dance.

The procession ended at one of the town’s churches, where an outdoor Mass had been set up. The painting of the Virgen was proudly displayed on the altar, and Father Nahúm Villalobos said a heartfelt Mass attended by hundreds who crowded into the yard and filled the church proper to overflowing.

During the Mass, Victor Franco debuted a new song he had written for the town, Cosalá Bendita. We felt very privileged to be able to hear it as it was performed for the first time ever, in the presence of so many Cosaltecos who seemed incredibly moved by its words and melody.

After Mass concluded the outgoing Mayor of Cosalá, Mario Cuauhtémoc Padilla, and Francisco Córdova, State Secretary of Tourism, announced that the town had just officially named Fiesta de las Velas as a cultural heritage event. Next steps will be to seek state, then national, and finally, hopefully U.N. designation for this gorgeous event. I can not imagine it will stay small, sweet and uncrowded for many more years.

Following that ceremony was a singing performance, which culminated in singing Las Mañanitas to the Virgin.


Our friends Sandra and Hector took us on this wonderful trip. They seemed to know absolutely everyone in town, so we felt so very welcome, and our friends Jeanette and Emery joined us as well. I will later do a post on the town itself, and our adventures the day following the procession, but let me leave this post here. It is definitely worth planning for next year. There are good restaurants in Cosalá, and several categories of hotels as well. I’d recommend you go up and stay two nights, as on the 12th there were fireworks, a town fair, and a children’s parade.

I put together a two minute video of the procession, including a bit of both dances and the prayers. You can view that below.

Religious Tourism in Mazatlán and the Nearby Towns During Holy Week

Crucifix over MZT

I took this photo during the Vía Crucis/Stations of the Cross of PAJUMA Mazatlán (Diocesan youth group). It is taken from the top of the lighthouse after the celebration of an open-air mass. Unfortunately this event does not happen every year.

When I arrived in México I couldn’t wait to participate in some of the incredible Holy Week religious events that I had so long heard about and seen—especially those that re-create Jesus’ long walk to the cross, the Via Dolorosa.

Because our son is still in school, we can’t travel while classes are in session. So, we take advantage of the school break to see some of this gorgeous country, and thus we are usually out of town and miss these great events locally. We have had the pleasure of participating in Holy Week ceremonies in the states of Chihuahua (Copper Canyon) with the Tarahumara, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, and Michoacán among a few others…

Do you know that there is a long tradition of beautiful Holy Week events right here in Mazatlán and the surrounding towns? Kindly, our friends over at Mazatlán Interactivo have agreed to permit us to use their photos and legwork to share with you some of what is available right here in southern Sinaloa.

The biggest events locally take place on Good Friday, which this year falls on March 29, 2013. The reenactments of the crucifixion are generally held late in the morning. These involve members of local parishes dressing up in period costume and acting out the 14 Stations of the Cross. This can get very graphic, with realistically simulated whipping, nailing of hands and feet, and bleeding. It is a beautiful and very moving sight to behold, and I highly recommend you experience it. The actors’ lines come directly from Bible verses.

In some communities there is also a Procession of Silence  after darkness sets in on Good Friday. Members of the community process through the streets holding lit candles and religious relics. Often there is solemn music and the procession is followed by a mass.

Here in Mazatlán the Diocesan youth group annually conducts PAJUMA (Pascua Juveníl de Mazatlán) a three-day event that takes place in the baseball stadium Estadio Teodoro Mariscal on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (March 28-30, 9 am – 7 pm each day). The full three days’ attendance is only 50 pesos, and there is no age limit on participation. The kids reenact the crucifixion of Christ there in the stadium and then, still fully dressed, process from the stadium to the cathedral.

MARCH 29, Good Friday, 5:00 pm
Procession of Silence
PAJUMA participants will leave the baseball stadium at 5:00 and head out to the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception downtown, passing by the Aquarium, along the malecón (not many places in the world you can see a Way of the Cross enacted along the oceanfront!), the Fisherman’s Monument, and the pangas in Playa Norte. The procession will then turn left and go down through Plaza Zaragoza to the cathedral.

MARCH 30, Holy Saturday, 5:00 pm and 6:00 pm
Mass of the Resurrection of our Lord, and then the closing of Pascua Juveníl de Mazatlán. Entrance is free after 5:00.

Pretty much every church in the city will have Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, and a vigil with foot washing Thursday evening. Plus, of course, Easter mass. Some congregations reenact the Vía Crucis as well; check with your local parish. Mouseover a photo above to view the caption, or click on one to view the slideshow.

Cosalá (172 km from MZT)
MARCH 29, Good Friday, 11:00 am
Traditional Stations of the Cross, in the church

MARCH 29, Good Friday, 7:00 pm
Procession of Silence

Mouseover a photo below to view the caption, or click on one to view the slideshow.


Malpica (Concordia; 38 km from MZT)
MARCH 29, Good Friday, 11:00 am
Reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ, starting from the moment Judas Iscariot kisses him and Jesus is apprehended into custody in the Garden of Gesthemane.


Viacrucis escénica en Malpica. Photo courtesy Mazatlán Interactivo

Matatán (Rosario; 82 km from MZT)
MARCH 29, Good Friday, 11:00 am
Reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ as he made his way to Golgotha.


Viacrucis representativa en San Ignacio. Photo courtesy Mazatlán Interactivo

San Ignacio (111 km from MZT)
Our good friends, the reason we ended up loving and living in Mazatlán in the first place, are originally from San Ignacio. It is a gorgeous small town with a huge image of Christ on the hill.

MARCH 29, Good Friday, 11:00 am
Reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ, the Via Dolorosa or Way of the Cross.

MARCH 29, Good Friday, 7:00 pm
Procession of Silence (with music)

Mouseover a photo below to view the caption, or click on one to view the slideshow.

Teacapán (Escuinapa; 130 km from MZT)
MARCH 29, Good Friday, 10:00 am
Reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ and his walk to Calvary.