Tepic (elev. 3,001 feet, 915 meters) basks in a lush highland valley beneath a trio of giant, slumbering volcanoes: 7,600-foot (2,316-m) Sanganguey and 6,630-foot (2,020-m) Tepetiltic in the east and south, and the brooding Volcán San Juan (7,350 ft/2,240 m) in the west. The waters that trickle from their cool green slopes have nurtured verdant valley fields and gardens for millennia. The city’s name reflects its fertile surroundings; it’s from the Náhuatl tepictli, meaning “land of corn.”
Resembling a prosperous U.S. county seat, Tepic (pop. 200,000) is the state capital and the service, manufacturing, and governmental center for the entire state. Local people flock to deposit in its banks, shop in its stores, and visit its diminutive main-street state legislature.
The Huichol people are among the many who come to trade in Tepic. The Huichol fly in from their remote mountain villages on air taxis, loaded with crafts—yarn paintings, beaded masks, ceremonial gourds, god’s eyes—which they sell at local handicrafts stores. Tepic has thus accumulated troves of their intriguing ceremonial art, whose animal and human forms symbolize the Huichol’s animistic world view.
You can very easily meet the Huichol people most any day in downtown Tepic. They welcome visitors to view the handicrafts that they offer for sale in a minimarket, beneath the sheltering portal of the Tepic Presidencia Municipal (city hall), at the west side of the Tepic city-center plaza.
Beyond the city limits, the Tepic valley offers an unusual bonus for lovers of the outdoors. About 45 minutes southeast of town by car, sylvan mountain-rimmed Laguna Santa María del Oro offers comfortable bungalow lodgings and a modest RV park and campground, fine for a relaxing day or week of camping, hiking, swimming, kayaking, rowboating, and wildlife-viewing.
Two-lane Highway 200 from Puerto Vallarta is in good-to-fair condition for its 104-mile (167-km) length. Curves, traffic, and the 3,000-foot Tepic grade, however, usually slow the northbound trip to about three hours, a bit less southbound.
A pair of routes (both about 43 miles, 70 km) connect Tepic with San Blas. The more scenic of the two takes about an hour and a half, heading south from San Blas along the Bay of Matanchén to Santa Cruz village, then climbing 3,000 feet west to Tepic via Nayarit Highway 76. The quicker (one-hour) route leads east from San Blas first along National Highway 74, climbing through the tropical forest to Highway 15 D, where four lanes guide traffic rapidly to Tepic.
By Bus: The shiny, modern Central Camionera on Insurgentes Sur about a mile southeast of downtown has many services, including a tourist information office, left-luggage lockers, a cafeteria, a post office, long-distance telephone, and public fax. Booths (taquillas) offering higher-class bus service are generally on the station’s left (east) side; the lower class is on the right (west) side as you enter.
Several carriers (Transportes Pacífico, tel. 311/213-2313; Estrella Blanca, tel. 311/213-2315; Transportes Norte de Sonora, tel. 311/213-2315; and Ómnibus de Mexico, tel. 311/213-1323) offer many first- and second-class departures throughout Mexico.