Copala: One of Our Favorite Day Trips

1.IMG_2414Copala (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.

Driving Directions:
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.

San Ignacio: Lovely mountain town one hour from Mazatlán

One of the reasons we came to live in Mazatlán is our compadres, the Valverde family. Daniel has been Greg’s best friend since they both were sixteen, working up in the SF Bay area. Daniel and his family are originally from San Ignacio, and many of his family members and dear friends have worked for Greg up north over the decades. Greg began to travel down to Mazatlán with Daniel on holidays, staying in the house Daniel built for his mother. They would often travel out to San Ignacio, to the rancho, to visit family and friends. Over the years they have become family to us. Danny dearly loves his tíos and cousins, and not so long ago we went to San Ignacio with Mariana and Rubén, Daniel’s sister and brother-in-law, to visit the dentista loco and his wife, Irma, also good friends.

San Ignacio (de Loyola) is a lovely small town about 60 miles north of Mazatlán, entered through the typical scenic gate, and with a walled church on the central square, as is so normal in the small towns of México. It was founded in 1633 by the Jesuit priest, Diego González de Cueto, and is currently home to about 4500 people. San Ignacio was originally called Piaxtla, after the indigenous people who lived there. It is a colonial mission town, with the Jesuit Misión de Santa Apolonia established there in 1748.

Like most of the small mountain towns near Mazatlán, San Ignacio was a mining town, rich in silver, gold and copper. Today, life on Constitution Square and in the streets of San Ignacio is laid-back yet vibrant. Many of the colonial French and Spanish style buildings are still standing, and the landscape is lush. The main church is called, of course, San Ignacio de Loyola, and a second church in town is Our Lady of the Nativity. There are hot springs, though our friends have never taken us to them.

What stands out during a visit to San Ignacio is the huge statue of Jesus Christ up on the hill, hands outstretched in a similar manner to the famous statue in Rio. You can easily view this landmark from the main square, and the views out from the statue on top of the hill are truly breathtaking.

I’ve always wanted to go to San Ignacio for Good Friday. They do a remarkable, community-wide reenactment of the crucifixion. The event attracts hundreds of people, so hotel reservations need to be made far in advance. The one hotel I know of in town is the Anjolin, which is fairly new with modern amenities.


What we have done quite often is to go down to the river. It’s very pleasant, the views are open and the water is crystal clear. In summer the riverfront is one big party: trucks, horses, food carts and stalls, and of course, lots of beer.

As you drive into San Ignacio, there’s a great little restaurant on the left side of the road, Cuata’s. I’ve written about this place previously, and we highly recommend it (very rustic, as you can see). We highly recommend a trip to San Ignacio for a change of pace and some beautiful scenery. Next time we are definitely checking out the hot springs!

Driving Directions
Head northwest towards Culiacan on highway 15 — the free (libre) road — for 43 miles to Coyotitán, where there is an exit for San Ignacio. You’ll turn right and proceed about 20 miles up into the lush Sierra Madre foothills to reach San Ignacio.