San Sebastian del Oeste is a charming mountain village and pueblo magico in the central Mexican state of Jalisco, some 67km north of Puerto Vallarta. The settlement makes a wonderful day trip destination from the popular seaside resort city, but if your schedule allows, it is also a very worthy place to base yourself for a few more days or as part of a wider central Jalisco road trip itinerary.
San Sebastian del Oeste, Jalisco
San Sebastian del Oeste is a lovely little town that is nestled within the Sierra Madre mountains of south-central Jalisco. It has been designated a “pueblo magico” by the Mexican tourism board – a mark of honor given to towns and villages that boast particularly special local cultural traditions, rich history, cuisine, colonial architecture, or a selection of natural wonders.
Generally speaking, when you see that somewhere has been recognized as a pueblo magico, it is usually a good indicator that that place is well worth traveling to. That is definitely true of San Sebastian del Oeste.
The town was originally known as “Ostotipac” or “Hostotipac” – words of Nahatual origin meaning “over the cave”. It was the indigenous Tecos people who lived in this region until the Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1524.
San Sebastian as we know it today, started out as a mining town. Founded in 1608, at one point, the town was at the center of the gold and silver mining rush in Mexico, with many local inhabitants working in Minera Cimarron, Minera La Plomosa, and other nearby sites.
At its height, more than 20,000 people lived here. However, today, a little over 5,600 people call the town their home following the Mexican Revolution and the closure of the mines.
Many locals are proud descendants of the founding fathers of the town. A visit here is like a journey back in time. Centuries-old churches, mines and plazas established and frequented by the silver miners are still in use today.
Things to do in San Sebastián del Oeste, Jalisco
There are plenty of things to do in San Sebastián del Oeste to keep you occupied for a day or two. If you just want to have a relaxing village break where you just hang out, eat excellent local food, sleep in, enjoy the view from your balcony in the mornings and drive out to other villages and tourist attractions in the area, you won’t be bored if you spend a little longer in the town (my partner and I were here for four days) but you ideally need a car.
The town sits at an elevation of 1,480m which means it enjoys a much cooler climate than Puerto Vallarta and the lowland parts of Jalisco. Even when it is 97°F, humid and sunny in the height of summer in Vallarta, you will often find that it is a mild, cloudy and windy 77°F in San Sebastian.
In the evenings, you will usually need a thick blanket! In the autumn and winter months, it is often so cold that you can see your own breath!
Take photos at the Crystal Bridge
The Crystal Bridge, known by locals as the “Puente de Estancia” after the nearby village of La Estancia is a worthwhile stopping point on any drive to San Sebastián del Oeste. The spectacular bridge spans across a natural gorge and the namesake river of San Sebastián in central Jalisco.
Before the arched bridge was constructed, it took locals more than five hours to cross the valley! There are a couple of cafes and restaurants beside the bridge where you can stop for a coffee or a pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) while you revel in the view.
The shrewd cafe owner in the little store directly beside the bridge now charges people 5 pesos each to access the viewpoint and take photos, but it is worth it for the view, and you can pick up some local snacks and treats for your road trip at the store.
Stop for tea and cake at an eccentric cafe
For a coffee or tea break though, I would recommend crossing the parking lot to the “Panaderia Bakery”. It is a little bakery and tea room that looks fit for a mad hatters tea party.
Stepping inside is like venturing into wanderland as you pass through aisles of overgrown plants and shrubs and sit on the mismatching, higgledly piggledy tables and chairs.
The owner boasts of selling the “best hot chocolate in Jalisco” – perfect for these cooler climes. Although you can also choose from a selection of different teas and coffees (I recommend the cinnamon tea) and some lovely homemade treats.
Sweet and savory cakes and pastries like strawberry lattice tarts, vanilla empanadas and berry empanadas are prepared fresh in-house each morning.
Stroll around the cobblestone streets of San Sebastian del Oeste
Part of the charm of visiting San Sebastian del Oeste is simply found in taking the time to wander around the winding cobbled streets while admiring the scenery and the crisp mountain air. The little town is surrounded by rolling hills, farmland, pine and oak trees.
There is always a layer of thick, dense fog that hovers above the town, making it impossible to see the nearby hills and the looming mountain peak of La Bufa in the mornings, but it usually subsides by mid-day.
The scenery here is spectacular and there are few greater pleasures in Mexico than sitting on your hotel balcony with a coffee in the early morning and watching the town slowly come to life.
Even after several days here, you still feel as though you are constantly stumbling across new streets and passageways, coffee rooms and art galleries.
The Zocalo (central square) is something of a rendezvous point among locals, particularly the old timers who sit on the benches here to catch up on the local gossip. Free events and performances are often hosted here at various dates throughout the year which can be particularly wonderful to experience.
We were in town for the annual mariachi festival in early September 2023 and had the pleasure of watching free live mariachi groups from Guadalajara, Ecuador and even Peru perform on the bandstand
Sample locally-produced coffee
Close to the town entrance, you will find Cafetalera La Quinta Mary (Gral Aguirre 110) – a small family-run coffee plantation. There is a traditional two-story wooden coffee shop that sits beside the plantation and extends over two floors.
Here, you can order a steaming hot cup of Café de Altura la Quinta Mary’s signature coffee to be enjoyed in a little clay cup. Two different variations of coffee plants are grown and cultivated here – the red arabica coffee bean, and the “robust” yellow coffee bean.
Locally, the plantation is best recognized for its coffee that is infused with chocolate and canela (cinnamon). You can sample this or a regular Americano coffee.
The store also sells bags of coffee (both ground or in bags of whole beans) as well as chocolate-covered coffee beans and other edible delights which make excellent gifts or souvenirs from your trip to Mexico.
Unfortunately, nobody was available to give us a tour, but we were able to wander around the little organic coffee farm ourselves and see the plants and machinery used.
See the Church of San Sebastian Martyr and its adjoining museum
Close to the central square of San Sebastian del Oeste, the town’s skyline is flanked by the 17th-century Church of San Sebastian Martyr whose whitewashed, blue-topped spire rises above the burgundy tile roofs of the houses in this magic town.
The church has been modified several times over the centuries, largely in efforts to preserve it and help it withstand the test of time. The temple is neoclassical and its decoration is baroque.
As long as you are respectful, you can step inside the church which is still used today for Sunday mass, as well as various other ceremonies. Beside the church, you will find an obscure little museum that a local man charges 20 pesos (circa $1.14 USD) to enter.
After signing the guestbook, the attendant will happily describe each of the exhibition items to you, although he only speaks Spanish. There are some interesting indigenous pre-Colombian artefacts and statues here that were recovered from the surrounding area during construction and building work in San Sebastian del Oeste and wider Jalisco.
There are also photos that show the town through the ages, and old household items, currency, clothing items and accessories that provide a glimpse of what life was like in the village in its early days.
Enjoy the local cuisine
Though relatively small, San Sebastian del Oeste does not disappoint when it comes to local restaurants that serve regional Jaliscan and sumptuous Mexican delicacies. Marralaca was perhaps our favorite spot.
It sits on the intersection of Calle Hidalgo and Calle Ancla and offers al fresco seating beneath the porticoed walkways. The menu is simply a hand-written chalkboard that changes each day depending on what ingredients the lady has available.
We enjoyed some wonderful cheese-stuffed poblano chilis and chicken flautas. Nearby, Fonda Eva Maria is a lovely family restaurant that serves hand-cooked cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
If you want to enjoy a traditional Mexican breakfast, come here for chilaquiles or eggs cooked to taste (“al gusto”) and washed down with a cafe de olla. The owners even sell little bags of handmade galletas (cookies) in different varieties that you can dunk in your coffee while you wait.
Finally, for a gorgeous spot that embraces the farm-to-table concept, check out Jardin Nebulosa. The eatery prides itself on the freshness of its ingredients sourced from local suppliers and farmers across central Jalisco.
There are, of course, plenty of more casual dining options for when you are not that hungry or if you are on a budget. Close to the central plaza, you will find a taco truck serving excellent barbacoa and carne asada tacos, while El Fortin de San Sebastian is an affordable local restaurant that serves stone-baked pizzas.
Rent a buggy or an ATV and zip up La Bufa
If you consider yourself something of an adrenaline junkie, you may enjoy renting an ATV (quatrimoto) or a buggie and whizzing up the Cerro de la Bufa. From the viewpoint from the top of the hill, you are 2,411 meters above sea level and on a clear day, you can see out to the beaches of Puerto Vallarta and the Bahia de Banderas (Banderas Bay) from the top.
The roads to get here are a little rough and virtually inaccessible by rental car so it is better to rent an ATV for sure. Quotes for hourly rentals varied wildly from 250 pesos an hour to 600 pesos an hour.
There are a lot of local guys that hang around in the Zocalo and try and rent quads to tourists but their prices were the most expensive. To secure the best deals, it is better to ask in the official tourism offices or Renta De Motos (Gral Aguirre 75) and Tourrso (Gran Aguirre 47) close to the town entrance.
Visit the remote mountain village of Real del Alto
Along the steep roads that twist and turn along the ascent to La Bufa, you will find many cabañas for rent, as well as the tiny mountain village of Hostotipac (Real del Alto de Oxtotipac).
Today, less than 20 people call the village their home and the steep mountain road that leads to it is not for the faint of heart. The main point of interest here is the little white Iglesia de Nuestra Señora Del Rosario that dates back to 1605 and contains some interesting religious icons.
There is a little house at the side of the church with a vast orchard at the back filled with apple, lemon, orange and pear trees. For a small tip (propina), the owner will let you fill up a basket of fresh fruit to take home.
Visit the town’s museums
There are a couple of other museums scattered around the center of San Sebastian del Oeste and admission to enter them is usually no more than 20-30 pesos. None of them are particularly large or great as far as museums go, but they could be worth having on your radar if you find yourself with some time to kill when waiting for a bus or taking cover from the rain, etc.
The Casa Museo Doña Conchita Encarnación (Paso del Nte 2) sits just behind a basketball court behind the main plaza and tells the story of one of the first families to arrive in the town. The wealthy family relocated here from Spain and went to great efforts to preserve their bloodline (notably, inbreeding).
The museum is very small, and everything is just displayed in one room, but it is only 30 pesos per person to enter. There are some interesting artefacts that date back hundreds of years and the youngest descendant of the family will share tales about how her father is also her uncle, cousin and nephew!
Raicilla is a distilled spirit that is produced in this part of Jalisco, Mexico. Similar to tequila and mezcal, it is made from the agave plant.
On the road to San Sebastian, you will pass through countless fields filled with bright blue agave plants. The drink has been enjoyed for over 300 years and is a product of designated origin in this part of Mexico.
You will find different flavors of raicilla at virtually every bar and cafe in the town and the wider area. You can usually enjoy a shot for as little as 20-40 pesos and bottles of the liquor are available for purchase in the various local stores.
Many day tours that go from Puerto Vallarta to San Sebastian also include a visit to a raicilla and tequila distillery, as well as some of the old haciendas in the wider area.
Shop for local produce
Many of the little tiendas (stores) in San Sebastian del Oeste sell handmade biscuits, traditional sweets (dulces) and other goodies that make excellent gifts. One thing to look out for in particular is a sweet called “rollo de guayaba” (guava roll) that comes from the nearby town of Talpa de Allende.
The sweet is made simply by preparing and heating mushed guavas with sugar mixing it until it creates a paste, and then letting it cool. It is simple but delicious and you will see it everywhere in Jalisco!
Continue onwards to other Jaliscan villages
If you have access to a car, you can continue onwards from San Sebastian del Oeste to the nearby Jalisco villages of Mascota, Yerbabuena, Navidad, Santa Rosa, and Talpa de Allende.
A few adventurous travelers travel from Puerto Vallarta and Talpa during their vacations but the other cute little villages are about as off the beaten path as you can get. These settlements await along the “Ruta del Peregrino” (Route of the pilgrim).
This route is steeped in more than 200 years of tradition and extends over 117km through Jalisco. More than 3 million people make the journey each year, particularly at Easter (Semana Santa).
They tend to do so by bicycle, but it is also possible to drive through the villages on the route. Navidad and Macota are also Jalisco pueblo magicos.
Bonus: Stop at Las Cazuelas restaurant en route back to Puerto Vallarta
If you are going to be driving, the 1.5-hour return journey from San Sebastian del Oeste to Puerto Vallarta can feel like a bit of a slog. Fortunately, street vendors along the way selling aguas frescas, fruits, fresh coconuts, and other treats along the road give you plenty of opportunities to stop and stretch your legs.
If you want to stop for lunch or dinner, stop by Las Cazuelas in El Colorado, on the approach back to PV. The restaurant is unknown to foreigners but is beloved by locals for its excellent Comida Mexicana (traditional Mexican food). In particular, its carne asada.
Where to Stay in San Sebastian del Oeste
There are lots of great hotels and accommodation options in San Sebastian del Oeste that don’t break the bank and offer something for every taste, travel style and budget. You can easily secure a spacious double room in the center of the colonial town for as little as $30 USD a night.
If you are looking to stay in absolute luxury and stay in a four or five-star hotel or a fully equipped high altitude cabaña, you are looking at prices in the realm of $100 a night. We spent 2 nights at Hotel De Cervantes and 2 nights at Hotel del Pozo and would recommend them both if you are looking for a low-cost choice.
Hotel Del Pozo
Where: Gral Aguirre 17
Hotel Del Pozo is a cosy little place right in the heart of San Sebastian del Oeste. Its rooms are spacious with double beds, smart, flat-screen TVs with Netflix enabled and en-suite bathrooms.
However, the biggest draw of staying here is the balconies. If you stay on the second floor (and the owner is super friendly so you can specifically request this), the rooms have one or two private balconies each with excellent views over the town and rural Jalisco.
Double rooms start from just $40 a night, and unlimited free water, tea and coffee is provided in the communal areas.
Hotel De Cervantes
Where: Lerdo de Tejada 13
With rooms starting from just $30 a night, Hotel De Cervantes is one of the cheapest options in San Sebastian. The rooms are rustic but homely and spacious and are centered around a courtyard which has been decorated with eccentric ornaments and antiques.
Free toiletries are provided, and the beds have thick, comfortable blankets for the cooler nights in this part of Jalisco. Our only complaint is that the room felt a bit humid, but for the price, it wasn’t bad.
Hotel Boutique Hacienda Caudillos
Where:Sendero al Nogalito #2
If you really want to indulge and treat yourself during your time in Jalisco, you can book a night or two at the Hotel Boutique Hacienda Caudillos. This gorgeous five-star property is set inside one of the old silver reduction haciendas and has been lovingly renovated to the highest spec.
Suites start from around $150 per night and have been decorated with stylish, modern contemporary furnishings, giving the hacienda a perfect blend of old meets new. Some of the suites have a log fireplace, and all of them have en-suite bathrooms, a flat-screen TV with cable channels, free toiletries, and a hairdryer.
The property can be found just on the outskirts of town, providing a peaceful location away from the hustle and bustle, that is still conveniently close enough to all the cafes and restaurants in the center.
How to get to San Sebastian del Oeste
The most common way to travel to San Sebastian del Oeste is to do so overland from Puerto Vallarta. However, it can also be reached overland from Guadalajara and Talpa de Allende.
There is a distance of 67.4km between the town and Puerto Vallarta, and the journey takes just over an hour and a half by car. From Guadalajara to San Sebastian del Oeste, there is a distance of 253.3 km and the journey takes about 4.5 hours.
The most convenient way to reach the town is to rent a car in Mexico and drive yourself. However, if you cannot drive or you are not confident in doing so, many reputable local tour companies operate in the area.
Participate in an organized tour
One of the most comfortable ways to see San Sebastian del Oeste is to visit the town as part of an organized tour. Tours take a lot of the stress out of managing the logistics of your trip as they include pick-up and drop-off from your hotel or another chosen point.
They usually work out reasonably priced too, and not that much more expensive than taking public transport when you consider that you would probably have to take taxis or Uber to Puerto Vallarta bus station, then the bus, etc.
Best San Sebastian del Oeste tours from Puerto Vallarta
A shortlist of some of the best San Sebastian del Oeste tours you can do from Puerto Vallarta is detailed below. Book your place online in advance to avoid disappointment!
- San Sebastian del Oeste magic town tour from Puerto Vallarta
- Private San Sebastian del Oeste walking tour from Puerto Vallarta
- Tour of San Sebastian del Oeste with lunch
Rent a car and drive independently
Renting a car in Puerto Vallarta and driving to San Sebastian del Oeste is the most convenient option and is the choice my partner and I chose. We used Discover Cars (read my Discover Cars Mexico review here) to rent a car from PV airport via Avis for four days while exploring Jalisco.
The road that you need to take is scenic, safe and pleasant, and as you can see in this article, there are plenty of places you can stop along the journey.
Take the bus from Puerto Vallarta to San Sebastian del Oeste
Local buses do not run directly to San Sebastian del Oeste so you need to take the bus to La Estancia and then change and take a taxi. Fortunately, there are plenty of stores and restaurants to wait at when you need to wait for the return bus.
A ticket from Puerto Vallarta to La Estancia costs between 100 and 180 pesos each way. Then, you should expect to pay around 200-300 pesos for a cab for the rest of the journey.
There are usually always plenty of cabs waiting around but if you have any difficulty finding one, you can always ask around in the village. Since this method is a little awkward, it is better to take a tour or drive.
FAQs about Visiting San Sebastian del Oeste
Do you have any further questions or concerns about visiting San Sebastian del Oeste? The answers to some frequently asked questions on the topic are detailed below for your consideration.
Hopefully, you will find the information you are looking for there. If not, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
Is San Sebastian del Oeste worth visiting?
San Sebastian del Oeste is definitely worth visiting. It gives a view of what life was like in Mexico centuries ago and demonstrates just how vast the sceneries and climates are within Mexico, away from the tourist resort areas.
Is San Sebastian del Oeste safe?
Yes. San Sebastian del Oeste is a very safe place. Locals are very friendly and accommodating and you won’t feel uncomfortable here.
Final thoughts on visiting San Sebastian del Oeste
Hopefully, you are sold on San Sebastian del Oeste as a place to visit during your time in Jalisco now. Visiting the small town is a wonderful cultural experience that allows you to enjoy some respite from the intense heat of Puerto Vallarta.
You can easily spend a couple of days here among nature. If you have any additional questions or comments you would like to add, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
I have been living in Merida Mexico for the last two years and spent a significant amount of time in Jalisco, after previously considering buying a house in the area and scouting around for land. I am more than happy to help with anything you need.
Buen Viaje and enjoy Mexico! Melissa xo