Although Tepic  has lost its former trailer parks to development, RV and tent camping and comfortable rooms and bungalows are available at the Koala Bungalows and Trailer Park (Tepic local cell 044-311/264-3698, long distance tel. 311/264-3698, P.O. Box 14, Santa María del Oro, Nayarit 63830, www.koalabungalows.com ) at the gorgeously rural, semitropical Laguna Santa María , about 45 minutes southeast of Tepic.
Owner Chris French maintains a tranquil, palm-studded lakeside park, with bungalow-style rooms, houses, RV and tent sites, a snack bar, kiddie pool, and rowboat and kayak rentals. Chris’s accommodations vary; they include five simply decorated but comfortable double garden rooms with bath ($30) for up to four; four kitchenette apartment-bungalows ($43) for up to four; and a small two-bedroom house with kitchen ($57) for four and a larger house with kitchen ($71) for up to seven. About 20 well-maintained shady RV sites rent for $10 daily, $60 weekly, with all hookups, toilets, and showers. Add $2 per day for air-conditioning power. Campsites go for about $4 per adult, $3 per child, per night. Weekends at Koala Bungalows tend to bustle with local families; weekdays, when the few guests are middle-class European, North American, and Mexican couples, are more tranquil.
Get to Laguna Santa María by bus or by driving, either along libre (nontoll) Highway 15 or the new toll Highway 15D cuota autopista to Guadalajara, which begins at Tepic’s far southeast suburb. From libre Highway 15, about 16 miles (26 km) southeast of Tepic, between roadside kilometer markers 194 and 195, follow the signed turnoff left (north) toward Santa María del Oro town. Keep on five more miles (8 km) to the town (pop. 3,000). Continue another five miles (8 km), winding downhill to the lake. For a breathtaking lake view, stop at the roadside viewpoint about a mile past the town. At the lakeshore intersection, either head left a few hundred yards to Koala Bungalows and Trailer Park; or, for the Santa María Resort, turn right and continue about three miles (5 km) to the signed driveway on the lake’s north shore. From the 15D autopista follow the signed “Santa María del Oro” exit. Proceed to the town and continue, winding downhill to the lake, as described above.
By bus, Laguna Santa María is accessible starting from the second-class bus terminal in downtown Tepic (from the cathedral, walk four blocks north along Avenida México; at Victoria, turn east a few steps to #9, at the station driveway). The relevant ticket booth (taquilla) of Transportes Noroeste de Nayarit (311/212-2325) is inside at the back. Buses leave for Santa María del Oro town several times daily. At Santa María del Oro, catch a taxi or colectivo van or truck (about $1) to the lakeshore downhill, where a left turn gets you to Koala Bungalows within a five-minute walk, and a right turn leads to the Santa María Resort on the north side of the lake within another three miles.
You can also ride a long-distance second-class Guadalajara-bound bus from the Central Camionera (Central Bus Station, on Insurgentes, southeast of the Tepic town center) to Santa María del Oro town, where you can catch a taxi, local bus, or colectivo the remaining five miles downhill to the lake.