TAPALPA: The Land Of Colors
By Stephen Stanton
Nestled in a quiet valley on the Tapalpa Mesa, this first “Pueblo Mágico” of Jalisco, Tapalpa, is still the living image of a lifestyle lost and even forgotten by many Mexicans. The quiet cobblestone streets, the traditional architectural style, the aroma of wood stoves and fireplaces and the country living are a remembrance of the deepest roots of the Mexican culture.
Once an isolated but important town, with the first foundry and paper mill in this region of Mexico (mid 1800s), today Tapalpa is still a small town, but it is growing. The natural beauty of the region, the mostly temperate climate, the rolling hills and pine forests that surround the town and the peaceful atmosphere of an old style “pueblito” make for an irresistible travel temptation.
The municipality had its first paved road built only forty five years ago. The development of residential complexes, cabins and hotels started slowly, some 25 years ago, making of Tapalpa the secret week-end getaway place for Tapatios (people from Guadalajara). To date, it is a week-end destination, which leaves Tapalpa in its natural state for the rest of the week: quiet and uncongested.
Declared a “Pueblo Mágico,” it receives important Federal and State funds. Wires have gone underground and phone and other posts disappear down town, section by section, which has made its traditional architecture stand out. It’s like traveling in time.
The lifestyle in Tapalpa still reflects the older way of life: you can find crafts-people dedicated to working leather, knit and woven wool, pottery and lots of other arts & crafts in small-town shops sprinkled in town and in surrounding communities. Looking for hand-made leather belts or “guaraches” (leather, tire-soled sandals), made to size? Or are you looking for hand-loomed wool wall hangings? These and other traditional and modern crafts are a way of life for many here in Tapalpa.
When talking about eating, visitors have some variety to choose from. Whether at the typical family restaurants or fondas or at the series of taco vending stalls in the “Portal del Taco” or at the more sophisticated restaurants in town and at some hotels, there are good options for eating well. Rooming varies from very simple rooms, to very good hotels, to barely basic cabins, to luxury cabin homes and even well-remodeled old homes, both in town and on the outskirts: some “cabañas” are literally hidden in the woods. The better services have their own Internet Web Page.
The places to definitely not miss include the oldest buildings in the area, the so called “Old Temple” (XVIII century) on the town square and the “Hospital de Indios” in the nearby community of “Atacco” (XVI c.), followed by the remains of the first paper mill in the region. More recent buildings to visit include the much larger “New Temple,” built totally in red brick, also on the square, in front of the Old Temple. Natural attractions abound: the “Salto del Nogal” waterfall (105 meters … only for real trekkers), the “Mega Boulders” (Las Piedrotas) park and the reservoirs and lagoons in different parts of the municipality are sights to visit.
Another “must” is the CITAC integration center, a non-profit facility dedicated to helping handicapped children learn arts and crafts: many readers are familiar with their work and look forward to seeing them again, in Ajijic, during the November Mexico Arts Show. There are golf and tennis facilities. Adrenaline freaks, on the other hand, have a number of extreme sports sights for everything from simple rappelling to hang-gliding from world class facilities. Tapalpa has something for most people: if it had it all, it just wouldn’t be Tapalpa.
To get to Tapalpa you can go through Jocotepec and either take the toll road towards Colima or the “libre” through either Zacoalco or Atemajac de Brisuela (the more scenic route), then take the corresponding Tapalpa turn-off. It should take you about one and a half hours: the drive is worth it. After sixteen wonderful years living here, I highly recommend visiting this unique pueblito in the mountains, The Land of Colors: Tapalpa