A Guide to Tepic: The Nayarit State Capital

Last Updated on: 14th January 2024, 12:13 pm

The Nayarit state capital of Tepic is by no means among Mexico’s most talked-about cities. Frankly speaking, the main thing it has going for it is its location. Situated between the tourism hotspots of Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlán, it’s a convenient place to break up the journey along Mexico’s Pacific coast. And in this Tepic guide, we’ll be covering what you can expect to do and see with a day or two in town.

For more details on reaching Tepic and where to stay, be sure to check the end of the article. Thank you.

Around Central Tepic

Tepic was founded in 1531 and most of its historical architecture can be found in its Centro Histórico district. While you shouldn’t expect a historical district as immersive or atmospheric as what you’d find in the Bajío region, for example, this is still where you’ll encounter the city’s main highlights.

Tepic Guide

Be sure not to miss the spacious Plaza Bicentenario, originally established in the 19th century. It would later be renovated and given its current name in 1993 in anticipation of the 200th anniversary of Mexican independence in 2010.

Facing the park, meanwhile, are other historical structures like the Governmental Palace.

The Catedral de la Purísima Concepción

Further north, meanwhile, is Tepic’s other main park, the Plaza Principal. And facing it is the city’s most iconic church, the Catedral de la Purísima Concepción. The current structure was built in 1885 in the Neo-Gothic style, replacing an earlier 18th-century church.

Unfortunately, it was closed for renovations at the time of my trip, with the whole thing being surrounded by a metal fence.

The Nayarit Regional Museum

Arguably the top attraction in this guide to Tepic is the Nayarit Regional Museum, which showcases the region’s unique pre-Hispanic ceramics and tomb findings.

Throughout western Mexico from around 200 BC-600 AD, people typically buried their dead within shaft tombs that could be as deep as 12 meters. And together with the deceased would be various objects, including expressive ceramics.

As little but the tombs themselves remain, archaeologists now call this civilization the Shaft Tomb Culture.

In addition to replicas of what these shaft tombs looked like, the Regional Museum displays the contents of many different tombs discovered throughout the region.

What sets the Shaft Tomb Culture apart from other Mesoamerican civilizations is that, according to archaeologists’ interpretations, their art was more centered around daily life in contrast to the purely religious nature of Mayan or Olmec art.

A shaft tomb replica
Tepic Guide

As such, this ‘celebration of the ordinary’ is more relatable to modern people. But who knows what (if any) deeper symbolism was encoded within the imagery.

The Shaft Tomb Culture was prevalent in what are now the states of Nayarit, Jalisco and Colima, and there were surely cultural differences from area to area. Nevertheless, a lot of the tomb findings demonstrate a lot of similar motifs.

Tepic Guide
Tepic Guide
Tepic Guide

For example, common characters are the ball player, the warrior and the hunchback. Figurines of women were also commonly placed in tombs, and so were dogs, as they were believed to aid the deceased soul’s journey through the underworld.

Also on display are various funerary urns, some of which are anthropomorphic.

As you’ll notice, many of the figures have very prominent noses, while elongated heads are another common characteristic of the Shaft Tomb art style.

Tepic Guide

Despite Nayarit’s rich pre-Hispanic artistic traditions, the state is lacking when it comes to archaeological sites that one can go and visit. Presumably, once the contents have been removed, there’s not anything left to see in these shaft tombs. 

Furthermore, many of the surviving tombs were completely destroyed as a result of the El Cajón dam.

One major exception, however, is the site of Los Toriles, also known as Ixtlán del Rio. While I have yet to visit, it’s one of the only settlements dating from the Shaft Tomb period, while it also thrived when the later Aztatlán culture dominated western Mexico during the Postclassic period (900 AD-1521).

Tepic Guide

At the time of writing, the museum is open daily except Sundays, and basic entry costs $70 MXN. Unfortunately, this is one of the only INAH museums in the country that requires an extra fee for photography which costs an extra 50 pesos. 

Considering how off-the-radar a city like Tepic is, it’s strange that they would implement such a policy for the few tourists willing to give the city a chance.

While the collection at this museum is indeed quite good, a lot of remarkable Nayarit ceramics can be found elsewhere, such as the Museo Amparo in Puebla or the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

Centro Cultural de los Cinco Pueblos ‘Bicentario’

Just nearby the regional museum is another cultural museum known as the Centro Cultural de los Cinco Pueblos ‘Bicentario,’ which focuses on the indigenous populations of the Gran Nayar region, which includes Nayarit, Jalisco, Sinaloa, Durango and Zacatecas.

You’ll find details of local festivities in addition to examples of traditional dress. Note, however, that all of the information is in Spanish only.

Tepic Guide
Tepic Guide

A large focus of the museum is the Huichols, an indigenous group which has historically been semi-nomadic.  As they lacked permanent settlements which could be conquered and subjugated by the Spanish, they’ve been able to retain many of their traditions throughout the colonial period and into the present day.

Tepic Guide

Today, Nayarit is home to thousands of them. And all throughout the city, you’ll find shops selling traditional Huichol artwork and handicrafts.

One especially popular place for Huichol-made souvenirs is Zitakua, situated atop a hill on the eastern outskirts of Tepic. While it seems to be possible to just show up on your own, a popular way to get there is via a tour leaving from the city’s central square.

An example of Huichol artwork

Visiting Zitakua

At the time of my visit, there was a small tourism kiosk in the Plaza Principal offering bus tours up to the Huichol cultural area of Zitakua for $65 MXN per person. The tours are supposed to run daily at 11:30, 13:30, 16:00 and 17:30.

My first time in the area, I went to the kiosk to confirm that tours did indeed depart daily according to schedule. But when I returned the next afternoon, they told me they weren’t doing tours that day! While they claimed this off-day was a rare occurrence, one has to wonder how often it really happens.

Ultimately, I didn’t end up visiting Zitakua. And to be honest, I wasn’t all that interested. I had previously hiked to Cerro El Quemado in Real de Catorce which is considered the most sacred spot to the Huichols, and this touristy activity seemed like a major departure from that. But I’d still hoped to give Tepic a fair shot by seeing everything the city has to offer.

If you’re interested in Huichol handcrafts, it seems like a great place to go, but there doesn’t seem to be much to do other than shopping and enjoying the view.

Centro de Arte Contemporáneo del Bicentenario Emilia Ortíz

Tepic’s primary art museum is known as the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo del Bicentenario Emilia Ortíz, named after the Tepic-born painter who lived from 1917- 2012. 

The museum is situated in a 19th-century building known as the Aguirre House that was once owned by wealthy factory owners. The Neoclassical structure was then renovated for the purpose of housing this museum, which opened in 2010.

Tepic Guide

In addition to viewing the works of Ortíz herself and various other Mexican artists, numerous rooms have been preserved to demonstrate the home life of the wealthy elite a few hundred years ago.

At the time of writing, the museum is open every day except Mondays and entry is free.

Tepic Guide

More Around Central Tepic

Another museum in central Tepic is the Casa Museo Juan Escutia. It’s dedicated to a boy from Tepic who, according to legend, wrapped himself in the Mexican flag in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park during the 1847 battle between Mexican and American forces. 

I tried to visit on a couple of different occasions but never found it open. The museum has a confusing schedule in which it closes for a few hours each afternoon, while it’s also closed on Mondays.

Tepic Guide

While not particularly remarkable, Tepic also has some other well-manicured parks aside from the Plaza Bicentenario and the Plaza Principal mentioned above. To the south of the center, for example, you can find the massive Parque La Loma.

But if you’re looking for a real outdoor experience, don’t miss the next location in this Tepic guide, the Sierra de San Juan.

Parque La Loma

Sierra de San Juan

One of the few things that sets Tepic apart from other state capitals in Mexico is its proximity to hiking trails. With a few exceptions, not very many cities in Mexico are situated this close to nature.

While nature lovers have a few different options, I decided to explore the Sierra de San Juan to the southwest of the city. It’s an easy taxi or Uber ride from the city center.

Tepic Guide
Tepic Guide
Tepic Guide

To get there, hire an Uber to take you to ‘Estacionamiento Cerro de San Juan’ as marked on Google Maps. To get there, the driver may need to do a U-turn to access the other side of the highway.

Once at the parking spot, the start of the hiking trail will be easy to find. But how far to go?

Tepic Guide

The hiking trails in this mountainous region are quite extensive. But you could hike for as little or as long as you like. I recommend downloading the AllTrails app and choosing a route from there.

I ended up following a trail that had me hiking for around 5.5 km roundtrip.

Regardless of how long you decide to hike, everyone has to make it up the same steep ascent that begins immediately past the parking lot. To be honest, it was quite a bit more intense than I expected, and I wish I’d brought more water!

Tepic Guide

The effort was worth it, however, as the views of the city down below were spectacular. If you’re concerned about safety, though I hiked on a weekend, the trail was packed with locals, so this seems to be a well-trafficked and safe hiking area.

Following a couple of hilltop viewpoints, I walked over to the Aztec Calendar replica before turning back. As the name suggests, it’s a carving of the Aztec calendar on a local boulder.

The Aztec Empire, however, never extended out to this region, though some do believe that Nayarit could’ve been the original homeland of the Mexica people. 

Additional Info

As is typically the case when it comes to historical Mexican cities, the best place to stay would be in the historical center. This would allow you to easily reach the highlights of this Tepic guide on foot.

The top-rated hotels in the center include Hotel Fray Junipero Serra, Hotel Fray Select, and City Express.

While a bit outside the center, those on a budget may want to consider a place like Departamento Coyoacán.

As mentioned, the main reason many travelers visit Tepic is to break up the long journey between Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlán. And if you’re not renting a car, Tepic is well-connected by bus.

 Regular buses leave from Puerto Vallarta, with the journey lasting about 2.5 hours.

If you’re coming from along the Riviera Nayarit, buses from Bucerías take a little over an hour. There don’t appear to be any direct buses from Sayulita at the time of writing.

Buses between Mazatlán and Tepic, meanwhile, last about 4 hours and 15 minutes.

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