Puerto Vallarta: Off the beaten path adventure at Alta Vista

Alta Vista Waterfall

Alta Vista Waterfall

Are you looking for off the beaten path things to do in Puerto Vallarta, or the Nayarit area of Mexico? Well, we’ve got a beauty for you.  Follow your Cuponismo guide to a locals only waterfall, and petroglyphs in a location just north of La Peñita called Alta Vista.


For a great, Indiana Jones-style adventure for kids of all ages, head up to Alta Vista. This relatively untouristed site, a few miles off Highway 200 just north of La Penita in coastal Nayarit, really is like an Indiana Jones movie adventure, combining adventurous hiking and water play with archaeological exploration. The directions that follow are fine except that you might find the road impassable at any point in the last mile or so, and will have to finish on foot.

Begin in La Penita de Jaltemba, Nayarit.  Travel North on Highway 200 6.4 miles  (10.3Km).  The turnoff to Altavista is at Km 81.8, and watch carefully, the sign is small.  Turn right onto the dirt road to Altavista. At 1.02 miles (1.7 km), turn left onto tree-lined road. At 1.55 miles (2.5 km), turn right before the rebar gate. At 2.22 miles (3.6 km), cross dry creek and through barbed-wire gate. Close it behind you.  At 2.40 miles (3.9 km), pass through second gate. Close it. At 2.52 miles (4.4 km), park  in parking lot.  You are here.

At the gate you pay a small fee and head in. The trail leads along a creekbed into an increasingly narrow canyon. Huge white butterflies lead the way. The water rushes through the rocks. Birds cry out in the forest. The tropical jungle enfolds you.  It feels…wild!

Soon you’ll start seeing petroglyphs—strange, beautifully compelling carvings chipped into the surfaces of boulders. These images, which are believed to have held deep religious significance for the Tecoxquines, an ancient Aztecan tribe, were created some 2000 years ago. In the aftermath of that tribe’s destruction at the hands of the conquistadors 500 years ago, the petroglyphs came to hold religious significance for the still-extant Huichols living in the region. There are roughly 2000 carvings spread over a 200-acre area, with around 70 relatively easy to view.  Signs in English and Spanish tell the story of the peoples that made them.


Alta Vista Petroglyphs


At the end of the easy part of the hike, where the canyon gets steep, a series of small waterfalls and rapids tumble into rock pools, offering a great place for picnicking,  splashing, and cooling down after the hike in.  This is a serene, mystical place—offerings of fuit, incense, jewels, and other small items artfully arranged with  flowers and candles on impromptu altars atop boulders suggest that many of the people  that hike in are moved by some other wordly energy. Plus the kids will love the waterfalls and swimming holes!

Justin Henderson is the author of nine books on architecture and interior design, travel guides to Costa Rica, Los Angeles, and the Caribbean, and seven murder mysteries featuring amateur sleuth Lucy Ripken. His surfing style is much like his writing, playful, smooth and easy on the eyes.

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