Access + Resources
GETTING THERE: Most visitors to San Sebastián choose the 15-minute flight from Puerto Vallarta over the three-hour drive. Aero Taxis de la Bahía operates daily plane service ($80 round-trip; 011-52-322-221-1990). Or fly there and mountain bike back: Contact BikeMex Adventures ($220 per person, including airfare and all gear; 011-52-322-223-1680, www.bikemex.com).
WHERE TO STAY: Hacienda Jalisco ($70 per person per night, including breakfast and dinner), a mile from the center of town, has seven rooms. Book through Pamela Thompson in Puerto Vallarta (011-52-322-223-1695; e-mail: email@example.com). A Welsh/Canadian couple run a bed-and-breakfast right in town ($20 per person per night, with breakfast; 011-52-322-297-2832).
WHERE TO EAT: El Fortín, for Mexican food with a global twist (011-52-322-297-2856).
ONE NIGHT AT A GALLERY opening just off Puerto Vallarta's main drag, an older gentleman named Bud Acord overheard me whining about the sunburned Canadians taking over the city.
"Listen, I have a little hotel up in the mountains," he told me. "You want to see Old Mexico before the tourists and developers gobble it up? Then spend a couple days in San Sebastián. Hell, it hasn't changed in a hundred years."
The two-and-a-half-hour drive up into the Sierra Madre to San Sebastin del Oeste was on a road so rutted that my seat belt was the only thing stopping me from being propelled through the roof. As we crested the 5,500-foot ridge above the town, its whitewashed, red-tile-roofed buildings, cobblestone central square, and Spanish church looked like a mythical, forgotten city. Founded in 1605, San Sebastin was once so prosperous from silver mining that at its peak in the mid-19th century the region had swelled to nearly 20,000 people. (The town now has about 600 residents.)
Though some of San Sebastían's palatial haciendas from that time have fallen into ruin, Bud Acord saved one of them. An artist from California, Acord was among the first wave of gringos to "discover" Puerto Vallarta and its surroundings in the early sixties, when John Huston was filming The Night of the Iguana. Acord bought the Hacienda Jalisco, which dates from 1854, for next to nothing and restored the place to its original statewhich means there's still no electricity, but plenty of rustic grandeur.
That evening in the courtyard, a few other guests and I ate an extraordinary four-course dinner made with ingredients from the hacienda's gardens. The next day I hiked to some abandoned mines with a guide. After he unsuccessfully tried to convince me to explore the pitch-black shafts, he let me in on the local lore: In the past, mine owners buried their silver to keep it safe from bandidos, saying, "When it is safe, we will return." Of course, they never did. So the silver remainsalong with much else worth seeking out.