North of San Blas , the Nayarit coastal strip broadens into a hinterland of lush farm and marsh where, on the higher ground, rich fields of chiles, tobacco, and corn bloom and Highway 15 conducts a nonstop procession of traffic past the major farm towns of Ruíz, Rosamorada, and Acaponeta.
But where the coastal plain nears the sea, the pace of life slows. Roads, where they exist, thread their way through a vast wetland laced with mangrove channels and decorated by diminutive fishing settlements. Through this lowland, Mexico’s longest river, the Río Grande de Santiago, ends its epic five-state journey downstream, past the colorful colonial town of Santiago Ixcuintla (eeks-KOOEEN-tlah) and its historic island-neighbor, Mexcaltitán , accessible only by boat.
Few Mexican town names are more intriguing than the name Ixcuintla. Its name derives from the Náhuatl (Aztec) word for the nearly hairless dogs that, in ancient times, were bred locally as pets and for food. Don’t miss seeing the dogs, now a whole family, at the Centro Cultural Huichol , donated by Nayarit Governor Huberto Delgado a few years back.
Although the town’s scenic appeal is considerable, the Huichol people are the reason to come to Santiago Ixcuintla. Several hundred Huichol families migrate seasonally (mostly Dec.–May) from their Sierra Madre high-country homeland to work for a few dollars a day in the local tobacco fields. For many Huichol, their migration in search of money includes a serious hidden cost. In the mountains, their homes, friends, and relatives are around them, as are the familiar rituals and ceremonies they have tenaciously preserved in their centuries-long struggle against Mexicanization.
But when the Huichol come to lowland towns and cities, they often encounter the mocking laughter and hostile stares of crowds of strangers, whose Spanish language they do not understand, and whose city ways are much more alien than they appear even to foreign tourists. As strangers in a strange land, the pressure on the migrant Huichol to give up old costumes, language, and ceremonies to become like everyone else is powerful indeed.
For bus travelers, the San Blas  and Tepic  bus stations are the best jumping-off places for Santiago Ixcuintla. The regional line, navy-blue-and-white Autotransportes Noroeste de Nayarit, runs a few daily buses from the San Blas and Tepic bus stations to the Santiago Ixcuintla station, where you can make connections by minibus or colectivo for Mexcaltitán.
With your own wheels, Santiago Ixcuintla and Mexcaltitán make an interesting off-the-beaten-track side trip from San Blas or Puerto Vallarta . Two routes are possible. From Puerto Vallarta, the simplest (but not the quickest route) is via Highway 200 to Tepic, then continuing along Highway 15, 38 miles (60 km) north of Tepic (and 16 miles north of the Hwy. 74–Hwy. 15 junction) to the signed Santiago Ixcuintla-Mexcaltitán turnoff. Within five miles you’ll be in Santiago Ixcuintla; Mexcaltitán is another 20 miles (32 km) beyond that. Be sure to get a very early start (or plan on an overnight en route).
Alternatively, car travelers in the mood for a little extra adventure should drive the back road that connects San Blas with Santiago Ixcuintla. The main attractions en route are the hosts of water birds, tobacco fields, aquaculture ponds, Huichol people in colorful local dress, and the Río Grande de Santiago, Mexico’s longest river.
Directions: The Santiago Ixcuintla road (signed Guadalupe Victoria) heads northerly, from the eastward extension of San Blas’s main street, Juárez, on the San Blas side of the Estero San Cristóbal bridge. Mark your odometer at the turnoff and continue along the paved road about 10 miles (16 km) to Guadalupe Victoria village. Follow the pavement, which curves right (east) and continues another eight miles (13 km) to Villa Hidalgo. Keep going through the town; after another five miles (8 km) turn left (north) at the signed La Presa–Santiago Ixcuintla side road. Continue to La Presa; bear left through the village center and very quickly to the river levee and across the new bridge, where you can see Santiago Ixcuintla across the river.