A two-hour drive from Guadalajara, Tapalpa is one of 83 towns designated “Pueblos Magicos” (“Magic Villages”) by the Mexican tourist board. In 2002 Tapalpa became the fifth town in Mexico to win the Pueblo Magico designation, which is only awarded to towns with real natural beauty, cultural riches and historical interest.
The town of Tapalpa is a charming exhibition of colonial architecture, with a beautiful church and a quaint cobbled square. Perfect for a day trip or a weekend break, it is situated in the south of Jalisco state, a short distance southwest of Mexico’s biggest inland body of water, Lake Chapala.
Where to Stay and What to Eat in Tapalpa
Those who wish to stay the night will find several nice hotels in the town of Tapalpa. Another option is to stay in one of the romantic and economic cabins nearby, which come equipped with fireplaces and a stockpile of wood and pine cones so guests can keep cozy before a roaring fire at night. (Tapalpa stands at 1,950 meters above sea level, and the altitude means temperatures do tend to plummet rapidly after dark.)
Like virtually all small rural towns in Mexico, the food in Tapalpa is both delicious and inexpensive, with local specialties including roast lamb, dairy products, fruit preserves, sweets, toffee, hot fruit punch, an eggnog-like drink known as rompope and the ancient alcoholic brew of pulque.
Meaning “place of colored earth,” the name Tapalpa derives from the ancient Nahuatl language spoken by the Aztecs and many of Mexico’s indigenous civilizations. Aside from the town itself, the municipality of Tapalpa also includes the mountainous landscapes that surround it, encompassing rugged peaks, pine forests and rolling open plains.
The local flora includes cacti, as well as pine, oak, cedar and fir trees. Among the fauna visitors may find deer, rabbits, squirrels, armadillos, snakes, a small wild cat known as the oncilla and even a few elusive pumas.
Natural Wonders: Rocks and Water
Las Piedrotas, gigantic rock formations found about four kilometers north of Tapalpa, are one of the area’s main attractions. It is unknown how these colossal rocks, several of which are bigger than houses, came to rest in the broad grassy plain aptly named the Valley of Enigmas.
Climbing enthusiasts can scale the biggest rocks with the help of cables chained to the sides, while daredevils can ride zip lines suspended between them. There are horses available to rent for those who prefer to appreciate the rocks from further afield, and adventurous visitors who want a view from above can hang-glide from the mountains down into the plateau.
Another of Tapalpa’s main attractions is El Salto del Noga, a spectacular waterfall set in a canyon near the village of Chiquilstlan. To reach the waterfall, visitors must take a short drive along windy dirt roads, before hiking for about 45 minutes down a steep and rocky mountain trail.
Visitors are advised to bring water and comfortable shoes or hiking boots, but it is well worth the effort to reach El Salto, which at 105 meters (344 feet) is the tallest waterfall in the state. The spray from the fall will also serve as welcome refreshment after the exhausting hike.
Best time of the year
Tapalpa is a great place to visit for a relaxing weekend or an active outdoor adventure any time of year, but one of the best times to visit is during the Independence Day celebrations on September 15 and 16 when this usually tranquil town comes alive with tequila-fueled dancing, live music and other patriotic revelry.
Duncan Tucker is a British journalist based in Guadalajara, Mexico.