San Sebastian del Oeste is a 400 year old small colonial village about 65 km from Puerto Vallarta. At an altitude of 1,500 m (4,900 ft) above sea level it's the perfect day trip to evade Puerto Vallarta’s busy streets and heat for at least a day.
While most hotels can arrange trips for you, it is much cheaper and a lot more fun if you rent a car or go there on your own.
The drive will take you along a winding road that meanders between the Sierra Madre mountains that limit Puerto Vallarta’s southern side, and although bumpy and not well indicated, it is seldom busy, allowing you to reach San Sebastian in about an hour and a half.
With quite a few things to do San Sebastian del Oeste is the kind of place you visit to simply get away from it all. This once mining town has cobbled streets and old houses that were walked in the past by a population of 20,000 that made money from the over 30 precious stone mines that surrounded the city.
Today, however, it has a population of barely 600 that survives from the income generated by the tourists and visitors who usually arrive from Vallarta.
Where to Stay in San Sebastian del Oeste
Accommodation in San Sebastian del Oeste is very easy to find, as there are plenty of cheap hotels and haciendas of all prices that will cater any need you might have.
If you want to stay somewhere nice we recommend Hacienda Matel, which is where we stayed. While it is in the outskirts of town it’s only a 10 minute pleasant walk along roads with no traffic to the main square, very easy.
You get beautiful views, a superb breakfast and a very cozy and elegant room.
Where to Eat in San Sebastian del Oeste
The best restaurant (and the most expensive) is by far and large Jardin Nebulosa, which you'll see on your left as you reach the outter limit of San Sebastian del Oeste. Yet it's one of those places you must eat in.
Sure, the decor is relaxing and inviting, and service is definitely very good too. But it's the food that really makes it unique. They use local seasonal produce for their dishes, which are carefully crafted and presented.
They also have their own craft beers and mezcal, as well as juices and coffee which is grown in town.
Once you're finished eating here, I recommend you skip dessert and walk across the bridge to your left and make your way to El Galletero Magico bakery, the best in town hands down.
Buy enough goodies to take back to Puerto Vallarta as they will beat any bakery you can find back . The dough is baked (not fried) and everything is simply delicious!
You'll find plenty of cheap eats around town if tacos, huaraches and other traditional fast mexican food at very affordable prices.
What to Do in San Sebastian del Oeste
Though easily visited in a day, Liza and I decided to spend a night here, indulging ourselves in local food and simply letting time go by- if for a change.
San Sebastian del Oeste has small cobbled streets and alleys that should be walked for an hour or so.
Must stops include the main square, the curved bridge built in the 19th century and the municipal dungeon, but we found that if you walk without a purpose you'll have a lot more fun.
San Sebastian del Oeste is certainly a small and apparently forgotten town, but is exactly where's its charm is.
Visit the Organic Coffee Plantation
After lunch we visited a few of the haciendas in town and the small organic coffee shop and plantation in the town’s outskirts, and decided to enjoy a Cafe de Olla once the sun was setting whilst speaking with a Mexican who had just moved there after living in Toronto for almost 7 years. What a change!
Visit La Bufa
La Bufa is the tallest mountain in the area, and with an altitude of about 2600m offers some great views of San Sebastian del Oeste, the mountains in the area, and on clear days the sea and Vallarta too!
We drove with our mid size car despite some difficult spots, but I highly recommend you do so only if you have an SUV and don’t mind driving steep terrain for more than an hour and getting dirty or getting stuck on the unpaved road.
If you plan on visiting La Bufa and is raining or has been raining recently, I strongly recommend you hire local transportation (even a beat up taxi will do) to reach the top. There are some sections that are very steep and slippery, and you'll find yourself burning tyres more than what you'd like.
Quads are available for rent too, and at 25 pesos/hour they can be a good alternative. In any case once up there you will appreaciate the effort you have made and will have the chance to enjoy the scenery.
Don’t forget your camera because you’ll take great photos!
Visit the Moutain Community of Real El Alto
This small village only has about 15 houses and is home to a population of around 30 individuals, but what it lacks in size it makes up in fun, views...and fresh air.
At an altitude of 2,600m (8,500 ft) temperatures here are roughly 5 degrees celsius cooler than in San Sebastian del Oeste, which are already 10 degrees cooler than Puerto Vallarta.
In other words, temperatures up here are half of what they are in Puerto Vallarta!
Hail is very common during the winter months, and it has even snowed!
There's a small church built in the 17th century with a portrait of the virgin of the Rosary said to be brought from Spain over 400 years ago. You can also buy fresh fruit and local "membrillo" (a thick jelly made from quince).
La Bufa is just a 10 minute drive away from here (followed by a steep 10 minute walk), and there's plenty of trekking to do. Expect to find mountain bikers during the weekends, and off road vehicles also find their way here, but the trails are usually empty.
If you want a little bit of adventure consider speding a night at one of the cabins here. They are somewhat basic, but are a great experience. We've done it a couple of times already, and throws in a few more things to do in San Sebastian del Oeste.
We spent just over 24 hours here, yet this is enough time to see what the village has to offer. It is a great escape from any of the hotels in Puerto Vallarta and a perfect example of what colonial Mexico used to be.
We have since returned a few times to spend a might or two only, and always welcome the fresh air and cooler temperatures.