Hiking in the Sierra Madre Mountain Range in Western in Mexico :: Hiking Trip Report



Hiking Sierra Madre Sierra Mascota - MexicoHiking in Western Mexico: Crossing the Sierra Madre and Sierra Mascota Mountain Range


Hiking Facts

Hiking trip from Jalisco's capital Guadalajara through the Sierra Mascota and Sierra Madre Mountain Range to the beach resort of Puerto Vallarta at Mexico's Pacific Ocean.

Hiking route Guadalajara - Tala - Ameca - Mascota - Puerto Vallarta
When Christmas a few winters ago
Duartion 8 days
Hiking time 68 hours approx.
Distance 315 km approx.
   
Outdoor Adventure Map Western Mexico >>

 

Sierra Madre Occidental Mountain Range
Lovely scenery deep in the Sierra Madre Occidental

1. Guadalajara - Tala, 7 hours

Sierra Madre Challenge
The noise of the six-lane peripheral highway around the six million metropolis of Guadalajara was deafening and this huge junction probably an odd spot to start a hiking trip. For sure that's what the people standing at the makeshift bus-stop thought who glanced at me shyly, hoping themselves to hop on the next possible bus to get away from that rather unappealing location. Possibly they were even on the way to the beach resort of Puerto Vallarta - so was I. Anyway, ignoring the comfy buses and fast planes with loads of better off citizens about to spend their Christmas vacation on the beach, I had decided on this starting point for an alternative route to the Pacific Ocean. After having had excesses of food and Tequila at the various pre-Christmas Posadas, I urged for a relaxing time out in the wild and serene countryside in the westerly mountain range of the Sierra Madre or a lonely stretch of beach, just get away from the bustling city and the hassle of shopping-mad crowds. That's when the idea of a sportive challenge came up, combining the mountains and the beach, walking from the very place I lived all the way to the ocean.

Guadalajara Highway Hiking
The shanty towns were already behind me as I followed one of the busy main arteries out of the city. A seemingly infinite number of vehicles speeded by, leaving me grasping for breath, desperately trying to suck in the rare oxygen out of the grey cloud of dust and highly polluted air that constantly surrounded me. Well at least I couldn't get lost on this first day as I walked on the shoulder of the main highway, every few hours comparing the towns' names on the rectangular traffic signs and my map. What's more I didn't have to carry any provisions since the many gas stations fuelled me with an adequate amount of unleaded bananas and whatever else I felt like. In addition you surely didn't have to prearrange a limited hiking permit or worry about any fee they charge you on more famous treks around the world and best of all, this trip was going to be unique, no standing in line behind a line of other hikers - for sure.

Sugar & Cane
Nevertheless I was more than glad that in the late afternoon I finally turned into a calmer country road while the big share of cars continued on the highway, making an enormous northerly detour in order to avoid this very mountainous area of the Sierra Madre. Both sides of the street were now bordered by seemingly infinite sugar cane fields which accompanied me until sundown when I reached the area's capital Tala with its enormous, dominating plant, sugar plant of course. This was the place to stay for the night!

Guadalajara Cathedral
Guadalajara Cathedral with the two yellow roofed towers is an important landmark and symbol of Jalisco's capital city

2. Tala - Ameca, 9 hours

Straight ahead to the Sierra Madre
More and more sugar cane bored me for quite a while next day so that I was on the point of promising myself to never again put any sugar into my coffee. Needless to say that I had a nice and sweet cup of coffee the following morning. Anyway I walked straight ahead all day long. Just once in a while a tiny hill broke the monotony. Then again straight ahead for 38 kilometers. Far away in the distance I saw the peaks of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range but they never came any closer. Straight ahead for 9 hours. The sweat dropped ceaselessly, the sun burned me alive. Straight ahead as there weren't any options. Straight ahead was as exiting as it got. Straight ahead until I hit tonight's camp! A beautiful spot - backpacker's heaven!

Hilltop trees around Ameca
These trees don't really protect from the burning heat, relief comes only when night falls

3. Ameca - Estanzuela, 8 hours

Heavy Backpack, sore Legs and Blisters
Another day, another picture. As the trip continued I left more and more civilization behind me. The highway with trucks, buses and cars turned to a country road with cars, the country road to a potholed track with some farmers' pick-ups and the track to a dusty path ideal for hikers. The cities turned to villages, the villages to hamlets and the hamlets to lonely farm houses. The landscape shifted too, now presenting an amazing variety of flora and fauna and lush forests in the first foothills of the Sierra Madre Range. As a matter of fact it was not before this third day that the actual pleasure of the hike started. That made me forget and ignore the heavy backpack which was pushing on the shoulders, the sore legs and the many blisters that tortured my feet already.

The foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range
The firstly flat landscape of the Sierra Madre changes gradually into more hilly territory

4. Estanzuela - Ahuacatepec, 8 hours (Christmas Day)

Gringo Police
As soon as I stood geared up at the junction after I had had breakfast at a bakery in Estanzuela, all of a sudden I was surrounded by a bunch of grim looking policemen! "Que haces por aqui gringo?" they asked impolitely, probably thinking I wouldn't even understand them. As my reply came even having a touch of the local accent, their initial unpleasant mood changed immediately and apparently I didn't seem suspicious anymore of whatever they had thought I could be suspicious of. While most of them leaped back onto their aged, rusty pick-up truck, one of them kept his post and explained that they were after some criminals but didn't want to tell me explicitly what had happened. Instead he asked me for a Swiss Army Knife as the first stereotype thing that came to his mind and I asked him for a bottle of Tequila to get even with senseless demands. As I didn't have a spare knife and he couldn't offer me any Tequila I kept on walking...

Christmas Feast
Because I drastically underestimated the distance to the next populated place I ran out of food and water towards the evening (well, the map wasn't that exact either I have to say to my excuse). I had the option between a rather long detour to a village down to the south or keep on the route and do without any supplies. Whereas I was thinking it over I got to the decisive junction but what did my eyes see in that very moment? In this strategically ideal position in No Man's Land stood a pitiful ramshackle hut and an old fellow watched over a number of cans of soft drinks and some packages of potato chips. My Christmas feast was saved! I almost bought his whole stock but made sure he still had something left for himself. He smiled at me through a few rotten teeth, apparently glad about my Christmas shopping spree and his good business. Now feeling more confident I set out on a rather steep path up the mountain side. I carried on until the setting of the sun forced me to look for a place to camp before it got completely dark. I hid my sleeping bag behind some bushes about halfway up the slope. Finally I could chill out and it was time for my Christmas celebration: I slipped into the sleeping bag as it can get quite cold as soon as the sun disappears, I lit my one and only Christmas candle, savored the potato chips and sipped joyfully lukewarm Fanta. Merry Christmas!

Camping in the Sierra Madre
Camp site on Christmas day. As it never rains in the winter months in this part of Mexico, a mosquito net is actually sufficient

5. Ahuacatepec-Mascota, 10 hours

Mexican Hospitality
The last gulp of Fanta and chewing some remaining crumbs of Dorito potato chips didn't really give me the necessary strength and energy to overcome today's hilly stage. Soon I was suffering again from hunger and thirst. As it doesn't rain at all at this time of the year, the few river beds had dried out for several months already and it was hopeless to get any water from Mother Nature. I struggled on trying to keep the effort as low as possible. But any time I climbed up a hill I just spotted another one waiting ahead. In the late afternoon I reached a farmhouse at last. Desperately I knocked at the door. An elderly lady opened hesitantly and cautiously. She looked at me absently when I explained my situation but didn't say a word, then she disappeared. I stood there in disappointment for a while and was on the point of setting off when suddenly the woman returned with a steaming cup of coffee. Wow, how good it felt when the black liquid streamed down the dehydrated throat. Again she vanished like a ghost. I heard her rummaging around the adjacent room. A minute later she held a box of cookies and a can of Coca Cola in her outstretched hand and pointed with her chin towards it like saying: "Please take it!" Thankfully I accepted her offer and pressed a banknote in her hand instead. For the first time she presented a weak smile, as it should be in Mexico lindo y querido!

Hey Loco
Now it was a real pleasure to hike again. I was so enthusiastic about reaching the village of Mascota that I moved on quickly. But what about this village? Shouldn't I have got to it by now? Did I take the wrong route even though I didn't see any other road forking? My legs got heavier and heavier as I stumbled on, I could hardly lift my feet, basically just dragged them along. I was close to simply step behind some bushes, crawl into my sleeping bag and doze off. At this very moment a car stopped by my side. "Hey loco, I saw you early this morning. Don't tell me you walked all the way here!" a friendly voice came out of a Toyota Land Cruiser. "Do you want to get a ride to Mascota?" Although it was a extremely tempting offer I couldn't show any weakness now, a plan was a plan, from the doorstep of my house to the beach, I had to go for it! Therefore I declined and asked him instead how much there was missing to that town. "Well, it's just over the hill down there, ten minutes for me, half an hour for you!" he smiled happily, pushed the accelerator and left me in a cloud of dust. I doubled the half hour, knowing that car drivers simply can't guess a hiker's pace. "One more hour, let's do it!" I successfully convinced myself. The goal was reached in the semi-dark, after a bit more than an hour. For a change I checked into a small family guest house and dined in the local restaurant, I guess I deserved it!

Spider in camouflage
Hardly visible spider in camouflage

6. Mascota - Las Milpillas, 8 hours

Deeper and deeper into the Sierra Madre
Because of the luxury of the bed I set off later than usual. At first I crossed a broad valley which was completely used for agriculture. After having stocked up on water at the last farm house, I entered a dense forest and followed the path up the mountain. The path twisted and turned, up and down, left and right; if it hadn't been for the compass I'd have lost the direction completely. I even crossed the first creek where I bathed my swollen feet in the chilly water. In the late afternoon the walking became more and more painful, rather like a torture than a pleasure. Unfortunately it was impossible to stay where I was because of an almost vertical mountain slope on the left and a deep valley to my right, the nature forced me on. I had to go for another hour till the canyon flattened and turned into a meadow. Absolutely shattered I crashed down on an idyllic, grassy stretch by the riverside and not even the native mosquito swarm could keep me from falling asleep immediately!

Sierra Madre Hiker
Sierra Madre Hiker with the backpack full of water as rivers are dry during this season and water is scarce

7. Las Milpillas - Las Palmas, 10 hours

Fried Eggs and Tortillas
With the first daylight I was already prepared for today's challenge. According to my calculation in about two hours I could reach a couple of black spots on the map, some houses I guessed where I hoped to get breakfast. The calculation was not that bad, after a bit more than two hours I entered a tiny village over a cobblestone alley, greeted by the official donkey committee. Luckily I was able to convince someone of the lucrative business of serving me some fried eggs and freshly made Tortillas - I simply love country style Mexican breakfasts.

Hiking the Valleys
The countryside had changed from woodlands to rock formations with deep valleys and canyons. The gigantic canyon shortly after the breakfast village took me all morning to cross. The climate got warmer and warmer the closer I got to the Mexican Pacific. Generally speaking I was quite exhausted after this one week of trekking, as I was about 8 hours on the move daily and I hardly took any breaks, basically just walk or sleep. As a consequence my pace was not as fast as at the beginning anymore and I needed more time for fewer kilometers. However I had no choice, time was short and the Christmas holidays soon to be over.

Smell the Mexican Pacific
I spent the rest of the day gradually descending from an altitude of about 1500 meters almost down to sea level. I thought I could already smell the salty breeze of the ocean. In one more day I would be there. I put up tonight's camp on top of a hill, overlooking the last foothills of the Sierra Madre and further on the plain of the coast. A beautiful sunset distracted me from a awfully dry loaf of bread and some tasteless cookies what was supposed to be kind of a dinner. As usual when nature put the light out it was bedtime for me. Now, what do you do if you have the choice between nestle down in a sleeping bag that is definitely too hot for a night out on the Mexican coast and get bitten by bloodthirsty mosquitoes? I preferred the sweating. But consequently I couldn't fall asleep. What's more, apparently the hungry bloodsuckers called for reinforcement. As soon as I dozed off the hardly audible cracking of branches woke me up again and announced the approach of a bigger kind of animal ally. Startled I shone with my flashlight in the direction of the noise but couldn't make out anything. Same game again, soaking wet but protected from any insects I tried to nod off when a profound snort made me jump up. Armed with a stick in one hand and the flashlight in the other, I was prepared to defend my camp from any intruder. I patrolled the hill in a spacious circle but couldn't find anything. Or do bugs snort too? It wasn't before the stray almost tripped over me that I recognized the shape of a bull. But I think it was even more frightened than myself as it run off hastily and left me alone for the rest of the night!

Sierra Madre Canyon
Deep canyon in the Sierra Madre Mountain Range with a dirt track used by locals only, dangerous for driving - perfect for hiking

8. Las Palmas - Puerto Vallarta Beach, 8 hours

Mexican Market Power
It didn't take long before I got back to civilization. I took a break on the main plaza of a village. The market provided me with fresh fruit, strawberry yoghurt and an orange juice. From now on I had to follow the main road all the way to the coast. The traffic increased considerably as I continued westbound, so did the litter. Incredible all the stuff that people throw out of their car windows. Amazingly enough beer cans were definitely the most common garbage! It seemed drinking and driving is kind of a Mexican specialty! I didn't really care anymore, I had just one goal in mind: get to the beach, stretch out on a deck-chair and nurse a cool Cerveza Pacifico!

Bus instead of Puerto Vallarta Beach
But at the end of the day I hadn't even time to make these wishes come true. When I finally made it to Puerto Vallarta, one of Mexico's finest beach resorts, I just caught a glimpse of the Pacific, and then I headed straight to the bus terminal to catch the last bus back to Guadalajara. Honestly I'd imagined a more glorious celebration of my arrival but the next day I was expected to work again. Never mind!

Puerto Vallarta Beach
Puerto Vallarta Beach and no more hiking ;-)
You might as well be interested in other sites of Mexico:
Bike Tour Western Mexico Bicycle trip from Guadalajara over the Sierra Madre to Zacatecas and the Pacific Ocean

Travelling > Trekking Tour > Mexico > Sierra Madre Hiking Trip Report

 

  
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