Jala Nayarit: The Best Hidden Gem in Mexico

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While Nayarit, found along the Pacific coastline of Mexico, is primarily known for its stunning beaches, you can also find charming and colorful colonial villages tucked away in its impossibly green mountains in the central part of the state. The town of Jala in Nayarit is one of Mexico’s beloved pueblo magicos (or magical towns)—and one of the country’s biggest hidden gems.

In this sleepy town, you’ll find cobblestone streets, brightly-colored buildings, adorable local shops, and a massive volcano. Sounds intriguing? It definitely is! Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Jala in Nayarit, one of Mexico’s best kept secrets.

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First things first—if you’re looking for the throbbing nightclubs of Puerto Vallarta or the surfer chic beach clubs of Sayulita, Jala is not your town. Instead, you’ll find a quaint village with mom-and-pop restaurants; beautiful mountains and waterfalls; and lots of laid back vibes.

Jala is the perfect small town to disconnect, relax, and get a better glimpse into local life in a pueblo magico.

Colorful alleyway with garland hanging between the buildings in Jala Nayarit in Mexico

How to Get to Jala Nayarit

The closest big city—and international airport—is the glitzy resort town of Puerto Vallarta. 

To get from Puerto Vallarta to Jala, you have two options:

Taking a bus from Puerto Vallarta to Jala

Take a Pacifico bus from the main bus station in Puerto Vallarta about two hours north to Tepic (which departs approximately every 20 minutes and costs $18 USD). From Tepic, you’ll need to take a TAP bus one and a half hours southeast to Ixtlán del Río (which departs every hour and costs about $10 USD).

From here, you’ll then need to get a 15-minute taxi to Jala (which should cost between $5-$10; remember to negotiate up front!).

Bus driving under an archway in Mexico

Taking a car from Puerto Vallarta to Jala

If public transport stresses you out a bit (*raises hand*) or you’re short on time, renting a car may be easier—and honestly not that much more expensive. When my husband, Justin, and I visited Jala, our group went in a car and it was an easy and beautiful three-hour drive along the coastline and through the mountains to get to Jala.

The roads leading to Jala were well-maintained, but some of the cobblestone streets in the town itself would be pretty rough on the tires of a standard sedan—so just remember to drive slowly and carefully!

woman standing along the side of a cobblestone street in Jala Mexico

What to do in Jala Nayarit

While Jala is definitely on the sleepy side, there’s still plenty of things to keep you busy for a few days!

Here’s some of the best things to do in Jala.

1. Basilica Lateranense de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción

When you’re in Jala, it’s impossible to miss the stunning baroque cathedral that stands in the middle of town. Constructed in 1856, the church is built out of local stone, including beautiful shades of yellow, pink, and green.

Lit up cathedral at night in Jala, Mexico

The Virgin Mary is beloved in Jala—it’s believed she helps Jala produce the tallest corn stalks in the world—and her image is found throughout the cathedral. For example, when you’re visiting the interior of the church, don’t forget to look up! Its dome displays a stunning depiction of her image.

2. Jala’s Annual Corn Festival

While we’re on the topic of Mary and massive ears of corn, we might as well talk about the town’s most unique event—its Corn Festival! 

Hand holding an ear of corn in front of a cornfield

We didn’t even realize this at the time we visited, but Jala holds the Guinness Book of World Records’ title of the longest ear of corn. Thanks to its mineral-rich volcanic soil, Jala has produced corn stalks that are over six meters high and ears of corn that are over 48 centimeters long!

Every year, in early August, locals compete to see whose ear of corn is the longest. The festivities are concluded on August 15 by the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, to give thanks to the Virgin for blessing the area’s agricultural prosperity.

If you can, it sounds awesome to align your visit to Jala with the Corn FestivalFestical—It’s not exactly every day that you can attend a contest for who has the longest corn!

a little boy sitting along a garden edge near Jala Mexico

3. El Salto Waterfall

To get a deeper appreciation of the area’s natural beauty, head to the 100-foot El Salto Waterfall to the east of the neighboring town of Jomulco. During the area’s rainy season from June through October, a stream of water cascades down the cliffside into a shallow pool that’s perfect for taking a dip in to cool off from the sticky Mexican sun. 

El Salto Waterfall in Jomulco, Mexico

To get to the waterfall, you’ll follow an easy path through a lush valley, carved in between the Sierra Madre Occidental, for approximately one kilometer. Along the way, you’ll see craggy cliffsides and luscious greenery—and we even saw a few wild horses running down the trail. 

If you happen to be visiting during a dry spell, the water may dry up, but the hike through the jungle valley is still beautiful!

Horse running down the El Salto Waterfall trail in Jomulco, Mexico
Pssst... if you love sleepy, yet colorful towns with waterfalls, I'd recommend also checking out Yelapa, a small fishing village near Puerto Vallarta that's only accessible by boat. The Yelapa waterfalls are gorgeous and the village's adorable downtown with cobblestone streets and pristine beaches are the perfect place to disconnect for a night or two.

You can get to the town by joining one of the Yelapa tours from Puerto Vallarta or grabbing a water taxi either from Puerto Vallarta orBoca de Tomatlan.

4. Stroll around Jala’s colorful streets

Part of the reason that Jala has been named a pueblo magico by the Mexico Ministry of Tourism is the beautiful pre-Hispanic and colonial architecture, found throughout its small downtown. 

colorful building lining a cobblestone street at dusk in Jala Mexico

For example, you can stroll past the Convent of Limpia y Purísima Concepción de María, constructed in 1582, when Franciscan Order missionaries arrived in the town to try to convert the Native people. Its pink facade still bears a unique image of Mary, who was depicted to have Native features and wore pre-Hispanic clothing, as compared to the Euro-centric images that we’re more familiar with today.

There’s several streets in Jala that have colorful colonial mansions and casas, several of which now have small craft shops or family-run restaurants where the matriarch is cooking up a storm (far from the Senor Frog’s of Puerto Vallarta!).

Take a couple of hours to stroll around the cobblestone streets, explore the local boutiques, and soak in the historic architecture.

Brightly colored colonial building on the streets of Jala Nayarit in Mexico
baskets hanging on a wall outside of a merchant shop along a street in Jala Mexico

5. Cerobuco Volcano

As you stand on the town’s cobblestone streets, you can’t help but take in the green slopes of the massive Cerobuco Volcano, towering above. In fact, it stands a whopping 2280 meters above sea level, making it the seventh highest mountain in all of Nayarit. Accordingly, its summit provides beautiful views of Jala and the surrounding green mountains.

To reach the top, you can either simply drive to it, following Calle Hidalgo from the main town square or—the more fun alternative, in my opinion, hike to the top! 

Volcano above Jala Nayarit in Mexico

It will take most hikers between three to four hours to follow the trail to the summit. Along the way, you’ll pass steaming volcanic vents and some of Nayarit’s beautiful flora and fauna, including tropical birds, iguanas, and even wild pigs, and will eventually reach the volcano’s main caldera, with several smaller craters inside. 

You can find a map of the trail here.

6. Museo Comunitario 

Just a block away from the main square, you’ll find the Museo Communitario (or Community Museum), housed in a beautiful 19th century mansion. 

Archways in a colonial building in the Museo Communitario in Jala Nayarit in Mexico

Here, you’ll find a large array of artifacts from Jala across the centuries, ranging from agricultural tools to pre-Hispanic artwork. It’s a quick stop, but an excellent way to take a deeper dive into Jala’s history.

7. Iglesia San Jerónimo Jomulco

Jala’s downtown butts up against the main square of Jomulco, a teeny village that looks remarkably similar to Jala, with cobblestone streets and colorful colonial architecture. In fact, it’s a bit challenging to tell where Jala stops and Jomulco begins! 

Iglesia San Jerónimo with trees in the foreground in Jomulco, Mexico

The centerpiece of Jomulco’s main square is Iglesia San Jerónimo, a charming powder blue cathedral with a towering green mountain as its backdrop.

Besides its beautiful architecture and artwork inside, its grounds have a small, but lovely rose garden where you can stroll around and admire both the blooms and the adorable buildings of Jomulco’s downtown.

8. Walk around Jomulco

While you’re visiting Iglesia San Jerónimo, spend an hour or so wandering around the teeny downtown of Jomulco. Like Jala, you’ll find a handful of shops selling crafts, restaurants helmed by abuelas, and street vendors.

There’s only a few cobblestone blocks to walk around, but, between the colorful architecture and the towering green hills surrounding the town, there’s plenty to see.

The Delegacion Municipal near Jomulco Mexico
small street shop at night near Jomulco Mexico

9. Ixtlan del Rio

Just a 15 minute taxi ride away from Jala, in the town of Ixtlan del Rio, lies the Los Toriles Ruins. These are the remnants of the Aztlán people, who flourished in this area starting all the way back in 300 BC and are believed to have eventually became the Cora and Huichol tribes, who still live in Nayarit today. The ruins also quite unique—in fact, they’re the only comprehensive site of Mesoamerican ruins in all of northwestern Mexico.

The impressive city once had over 85 buildings, but now, only 15 structures remain, including a temple to the god of wind and its tombs. In addition to exploring the stone structures, there’s also an informative museum, where you can see artifacts uncovered by archaeologists and learn more about the people who once lived here.

Where to Stay in Jala Nayarit

To be honest, you don’t exactly have a ton of choices in Jala… but luckily, the option that you do have is STELLAR. 

Nukari is a boutique hotel, housed in an enormous colonial mansion right in the center of town. The rooms are spacious and luxurious—the bathtub in our suite was LITERALLY bigger than most hot tubs I’ve been in. Beyond the beautiful rooms, there’s an assortment of wellness treatments that you can indulge in here, from a regular ol’ couples massage to a traditional Mexican sweat lodge. 

Perhaps my favorite part of Nukari is its rooftop bar and restaurant, which offers jaw-dropping views of the Cerobuco Volcano and the basilica. They have REALLY good and unique cocktails here, for totally reasonable prices—for example, I got a seriously delicious avocado martini for just $7 USD here!

Avocado martini in front of Nukari Boutique Hotel in Jala Nayarit in Mexico

I hope you get to see why Jala in Nayarit was named a pueblo magico for yourself! Do you have any questions about visiting Jala? Let us know in the comments below!

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