You’ve probably already heard that San Sebastián del Oeste is an enchanting place. Set deep in the Sierra Madre Occidental of western Mexico, this is the perfect place to experience the culture of a small Mexican pueblo. You will find gentle, friendly people who are proud of their village and happy to share it with you. Escape the hustle and bustle of Puerto Vallarta and experience the serenity of this charming village with its rustic buildings and untamed surroundings. Feel the stress melt away as San Sebastián takes you back to a simpler time. Take the time to discover its secrets and you will find it truly is a special place. If you’re like me, the longer you stay in San Sebastián, the longer you’ll want to stay.
At an elevation of about 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) above sea level, San Sebastián del Oeste is located at 20°45’41” North and 104°51’10” West.
San Sebastián del Oeste has been added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, the region around what is now San Sebastián del Oeste was populated by Tecos (indigenous people). Francisco Cortes and his band of conquistadors rolled into the area in 1524. Precious minerals (gold, silver, zinc, and lead) were discovered and mining started in 1542. The town of San Sebastián del Oeste was founded in 1605. San Sebastián would eventually grow to become one of the principle mining centers of La Nueva España (the new Spain).
The mines around San Sebastián are at least partially responsible
for the beginnings of what is now Puerto Vallarta. Then known as Las
Peñas and consisting of just a few huts at the mouth of the Rio Cuale,
the inhabitants produced salt, which was necessary for the smelting
process. Mules transported this salt to the mines around San
Sebastián. The silver and gold from the mines was transported, again by
mule, to Guadalajara and Mexico City. From there it went to Veracruz
where it was shipped to Spain once a year.
San Sebastián grew in
importance and prosperity. Nearly thirty mines and ten gold and silver
foundries existed by 1785. San Sebastián was at one time a provincial
capital. The town became a city in 1812, and by 1830 it boasted more
than 20,000 inhabitants.
In those days San Sebastián had
amenities not found in much larger cities, for example, a telegraph.
It also had first class medical facilities, a bank, and separate boys
and girls schools. Longtime residents comment that some of the nearby
mining haciendas had electric lighting even before Mexico City.
Those days were not to last as mining was halted by the revolution in
1910. The prosperity and population of San Sebastián declined as the
last mine was abandoned in 1921. The town fell into a deep sleep from
which it has only recently awakened. While agriculture and
stockbreeding replaced mining as the principal activity, the population
dwindled to its present level of about 600 inhabitants. Return to Top ^
The beautiful church is dedicated to the town’s patron, Saint Sebastián. It was originally built in the 1600s but was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1868.
Now that the new bridge and highway from Puerto Vallarta are complete, the activity level in San Sebastián is picking up. Travel time from P.V. has been reduced to just over an hour for the 38 mile / 62 km journey.
An excursion into the Sierra Madre is always a feast for the senses. As the altitude rises the temperature drops and the air becomes crisp. The ridges are covered with towering pine trees and their scent fills the air. Approaching San Sebastián you will find pastures for livestock, fields of corn and agave, and coffee plantations nestled into the narrow valleys. La Bufa stands majestically over the village, the highest peak in the area.
This picturesque mountain village will never be described as bustling, and that is a very good thing. As you arrive at the very colonial town square, you will feel as if you’ve been transported to another time. The village retains its colonial heritage in the well-preserved buildings that are as much as 250 years old. Houses are constructed of adobe and wood. The architecture is traditional, characterized by red and white houses and tiled roofs. The main plaza consists of a central garden with a gazebo, surrounded by cobblestone streets that wander off in all directions. The church sits just off the plaza, its bell tower rising into view from the square. Return to Top ^