Close enough for a day trip from our area, but also suitable for a stay of a couple of days, is the beautiful volcanic crater lake Laguna de Santa María. Natural beauty and tranquility are the main appeal here. There are no telephones, television or Internet access.
During the summer the lake’s calm water is great to cool off in or to enjoy on an inner tube or other flotation device, canoe or kayak. Powered boats are allowed, but jet-skis are not. Water taxis ferry passengers among various locations throughout the day.
Year-round lakeside activities are limited to walking, bird watching, and picnicking or visiting one of the many restaurants.
A walk around the lake will provide a pleasant two to three hours of light exercise as you enjoy the scenery, but carry water with you: all of the area’s stores and restaurants (and most of the accommodations as well) are located within a kilometer of the road in from Santa María.
La Laguna is a good place for birdwatchers; a long-time winter resident of the area, Ben Wassink, posted his personal species list here.
Most, if not all, of the restaurants offer a lakeside specialty, “Chicharrón de Pescado”: small deep-fried chunks of fish, crispy on the outside and tender inside, along with the usual variety of Mexican dishes.
Laguna Santa María is about a two-hour drive from our towns by Jaltemba Bay. Head north on Highway 200 toward Compostela, then take Highway 15 toward Guadalajara and then head north toward Tepic where the highway branches near Chapalilla. After a long, steep climb, often behind slow-moving trucks, the drive is easy and well-marked. Along this section, in an area with many pine trees, take note of a large and well-attended restaurant on the left which specialises in bírria, a delicious stew made with spit-roasted goat; they also sell goat cheese. We stop there on the way back and buy both to bring home with us.
After driving through the town of Santa María del Oro and before descending to the lake there is a parking area where all new visitors stop for the spectacular view of the beautiful lake below; there are also a few Huichol (a local indigenous people) vendors of handicrafts and a restaurant at this spot.
The last ten minutes or so of the drive takes you down a steep and narrow switchback road to the edge of the lake.
If you visit Santa María and want that tranquility the area can offer, avoid weekends and Mexican holidays when this small area will be jammed with families. Tepic, the state capital of Nayarit, is less than an hour’s drive away, and Guadalajara is also fairly close.