Mexico’s Rural Tourism Flourishes Near Mazatlan,
Bienvenidos a El Quelite!
Alison Gardner is a freelance journalist, magazine editor and guidebook author who specializes in ecological, educational, cultural and volunteer vacations worldwide. Her path-breaking guidebook, Travel Unlimited: Uncommon Adventures for the Mature Traveler, will be reviewed in the December/January 2002 issue of Mexico File. Email: email@example.com
Thirty-three kilometers northeast of Mazatlan, visitors leave behind the sun and sand attractions of one of Mexico’s most popular destinations to step into a fine example of rural or agricultural tourism. Such vacation experiences are increasingly in demand around the world by travelers who want to learn how others work and live.
Turn right off Pacific Ocean Highway 15 and discover El Quelite, a tidy little community of 2,000 – a pueblito – traditionally based on cattle raising, agriculture, fruit growing and dairy products. Its streets and town square, invitingly strollable and litter-free, are mostly cobbled and graced with subtropical trees, shrubs and colorful flowers spilling over the sidewalks. Buildings are scrubbed, painted and repaired and the entire community is ready to welcome visitors by becoming a model of rural tourism in Mexico.
Framed by the Pacific Ocean, the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains and the El Quelite River, the town has the qualities of a living museum of historic architecture and a lifestyle not so far removed from its Spanish colonial past. It is a walk through the history of the state of Sinaloa in miniature. Park your rented car or mini-bus and enjoy the rest of your stay on foot. You won’t have to go far!
A number of major hotels in Mazatlan offer pickup for guided day trips to El Quelite, or you may prefer to rent a car or go by public bus to stay for two or three days. If you stay awhile, you will be able to walk in the countryside, climb picturesque hills to admire the sunset, go horseback riding and tour some of the ranches and fruit orchards.
As in most small towns there are only one or two or a few of everything – the open door of a store-front bakery invites visitors to follow delicious smells into the tiny family-run shop. Take four giant steps straight ahead and you enter the working area where a large dome-shaped brick oven cooks buns, breads, cakes and cookies to perfection every day.
Just down the street is one of three tortilla making shops where you may watch this staple of the Mexican diet being expertly prepared for purchase or delivery to people’s homes. For 60 cents, you may buy a kilo – that’s 25 to 30 tortillas fresh off the griddle. Several cafés offer delicious cuisine, including local variations of machaca, asado and chilorio.
The church is a jewel of mid-nineteenth century architecture, and the community cemetery is a well cared for piece of history and a glimpse of how a different culture remembers its loved ones. One of the traditional country-style homes, owned by a local cattle rancher, dates from 1865. Called Mesón de Doña Mercedes, it offers graciously rustic bed and breakfast accommodation with rooms set around a flowered courtyard.
The visionary force behind the town’s rural tourism initiative is El Quelite’s medical doctor, Marcos Osuna Tirado, whose ties to the area have been lifelong. He is a man of energy and innovative ideas who believes it is important to diversify the local economy from relying purely on agricultural income. At this time, few people in El Quelite speak good English, but Dr. Osuna is encouraging the young people to become motivated to train as qualified guides, earn a little income, and practice the English that some are learning in the local school of 250 children.
Dr. Osuna also manages to find time to practice what he preaches. He has renovated his own family’s historic Mesón de los Laureanos to include bed and breakfast accommodation and a cantina-style restaurant which serves meals, snacks and the always-welcome cool cerveza (Mexican beer) amidst the flowering shrubs of his walled-in courtyard. Each room and bathroom has been distinctively designed and colorfully furnished.
This is truly a man on a mission. To symbolize his passion for the community and his connection through several generations, Dr. Osuna proudly declares, “My umbilical cord is buried here!” The good doctor is not kidding. It doesn’t get more connected than that!
FOLLOW UP FACTS
Olé Tours in Mazatlan offers informative day tours to El Quelite including hotel pickup around Mazatlan and lunch on the road. Price is 400 pesos (about US$32), www.oletours.com .
For overnight bookings in any of El Quelite’s bed and breakfasts, contact Dr. Marcos Osuna Tirado by email: firstname.lastname@example.org . All good quality accommodations in the town are US$50 per night.