Mar 222014
 

For anyone who lives or travels in western Mexico, Tony Burton’s Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury is a “must have.” I own a well traveled copy of the third edition (2001) but I was delighted to see a fourth edition (2013) recently appear…in part because so many changes have taken place in the decade or so that has followed the third edition. For example, Guachimontones, the round pyramids west of Guadalajara, is described in far more detail than in the third addition.

There are lots of other changes as well. “A federal project to promote cultural tourism, called Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Towns), has brought much more publicity to no fewer than 15 towns featured in previous editions, including Tapalpa, Tequila, Mazamitla, San Sabastián del Oeste, Lagos de Moreno, Comala, Pátzcuaro, Santa Clara del Cobre and Angangueo.” In this past decade, the “quality of hotels has also improved, with the opening of excellent boutique hotels, some of them in quite unexpected places….”

New chapters have been added, new material has been added to existing chapters, maps and directions have been updated, new destinations, like Zacatecas, have been developed in detail.

Reading Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury, I felt that old desire rise up in me to be on the road, if only for a day or two. And so, even before writing this review, I called a young Mexican adventuress in Guadalajara. With the Kindle version of Western Mexico in hand we headed up a now modern highway to the charming old colonial town of Mazamitla, high in the mountains on the south side of Lake Chapala… and far more sophisticated than when I visited it twenty years ago. We even stayed in the inexpensive ($40US) boutique hotel Hostal Ciervo Rojo (a member of the Haciendas and Country Houses of Jalisco) recommended by Tony in his book.

A few days I went with a Chapala buddy on a day trip to Guachimontones, the round pyramids west of Guadalajara, passing trucks loaded with sugar cane, passing stands of a local potent drink called pajarete (a combination of milk, aguardiente, brown sugar, and sometimes chocolate) to arrive at what has become in a few short years, “one of the most astonishing archaeological sites anywhere n Mexico,” although only twenty years ago it was only “mounds of earth”. “The dramatic circular structures at Guachimontones, tiered in concentric terraces, are absolutely stunning….”

As Tony notes in his Introduction, this is “not intended to be a comprehensive guide to all the possible day trips and longer tours in the region…. Rather, it is a personal, idiosyncratic collection of my favorite places in Western Mexico….” The book is filled with whatever Tony finds fascinating… interesting and curious details of history and geography and geology and flora and fauna, and art and architecture and archaeology.

My kind of book!

Parts One and Two cover destinations within three hours of Guadalajara or the north shore of Lake Chapala…day trips. Part One begins with a history of the region from ancient times to the present, and discusses in detail Mezcala Island—“Lake Chapala’s National Monument”—and the “The Riviera communities: Chapala, Ajijic and Jocotepec,” although the spas at San Juan Cosalá, like the luxurious Monte Coxala with its large-scale pre-Hispanic replicas, are also included along with interesting places to stay, like the Los Dos Bed & Breakfast in Jocotepec, which was the home and studio of internationally famous Austrian artist Georg Rauch. Although Rauch passed away a few years ago, his charming wife Phyllis continues to operate their bed and breakfast.

Part One also takes us to the south shore of Lake Chapala, to places like Jiquilpan, a nondescript town that gave birth to two important Mexican presidents—Anastacio Bustamante and Lázaro Cárdenas), and several distinguished artists, like José Clemente Orozco, “one of the famous “Big Three” of Mexican Muralism.” Rafael Méndez (whom I heard when I was a teen, back in Ohio), “arguably the world’s greatest ever trumpet virtuoso,” was also born in Jiquilpan.

In Part Two we go west of Guadalajara to Guachimontones—those round pyramids—and to old haciendas (with concise histories of each), and to Tala, the sugar town, and to the giant stone spheres near Alhualulco. We also learn about mines…silver, opals, obsidian, and of course we visit the ever popular town of Tequila.

Part Three takes us on longer trips, best for overnight stays, to picturesque mountains towns like Tapalpa, and through pine forests to Mazamitla, and to Colima, a provincial state capital with important archaeological sites. Near Colima is Volcá de Fuego, sometimes called Volcán Colima, “the most active volcano in Mexico, and indeed one of the most active in the world, having erupted at least 30 times since 1576.”

Parts Four to Nine cover longer trips, to places like León, the “Leather Capital of Mexico,” and to Aguascalientes, and Zacatecas, and Bolaños, where the “old mining town revives its fortunes.” In Part Six we head west to the coast, to San Blas and Guayabitos (a youthful beach town for “a modestly-priced family holiday”) and even to Puerto Vallarta, “the resort that keeps reinventing itself.” In Part Seven, Barra de Navidad and Melaque—places once popular with pirates like Sir Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish–are jewels not to be missed, and discovered by tourists only a few decades ago. Part Eight finds us on the road to Tzintzuntzan and to Pátzcuaro, a region where the first Bishop of Michoacán, Don Vasco de Quiroga, “based his approach on the Utopian principles espoused by Thomas More. He established a series of communities in the vicinity of Lake Pátzcuaro, the heart of Tarascan country, where the people would receive training in arts and crafts alongside religious instruction.” He allocated “specific crafts to specific places,” and thus today, Paracho is famous for its guitars, Tzintzuntzan (named after the sound a hummingbird makes with its wings) is famous for its pottery, Santa Clara for copper, and so on.

The final section, Part Nine, is mostly about the beloved monarch butterflies of Michoacán. “Every winter, some one hundred million monarch butterflies fly into Mexico from the U.S. and Canada. On arrival they congregate in a dozen localities high in the temperate pine and fir forests of the state of Michoacán.” Tony discusses the various reserves where visitors can witness the amazing number of monarchs, but Tony also insists that you sample the delicious local blue-corn tortillas. He also takes you farther west to Tuxpan and the country where John Huston shot Treasure of the Sierra Madre, staring Humphrey Bogart. The first bend on the narrow road from Tuxpan to Jungapeo is the bend to have a name on the official topographic survey map: La Curva de la Gringa, a rather dangerous 110-degree bend.

Leaving The Gringa’s Curve behind, you come to the best place to overnight or vacation in this “scenically-stunning part of Mexico,” at the Agua Blanca Canyon Resort, “a charming, small spa-hotel with just 20 rooms, its pools and lawns overlooking the deeply carved valley of the River Tuxpan.”

As in the earlier editions, Tony concludes with a useful appendix that has a “Table of elevations and approximate driving times,” for example from Chapala to Barra de Navidad is four hours and thirty minutes, from Chapala to Mazamitla is one hour and forty-five minutes. He also advises you to take a look at “online forums, such as those on MexConnect.com, to ask for up-to-date information and advice from people who have recently made the same journey or visited the same places.”

If you live in western Mexico or are thinking about living here or visiting here, make this the first book you buy. It has always been a favorite of mine and this latest edition of Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury is the best ever!

This review first appeared on MexConnect.com.

Ready to buy a copy?

The 4th (2013) edition of “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” is now available at select bookstores, and at:

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Jan 032014
 

These are the definitive street plans of the major villages on Lake Chapala including Chapala, Ajijic and Jocotepec, and their subdivisions, together with touring maps of the north and south shore, and a detailed regional map showing highways, tourist information and villages within day-trip range of Guadalajara and Chapala.

Price $10.00 (includes shipping to anywhere in North America).

Where to buy

Lake Chapala MapsRecent Amazon reviews:

April 4, 2013: “Very Practical Map of Area with all key cities. We found the map really easy to use and up to date.”

April 23, 2014: “Wonderful, easy to read and carry in a pocket or travel wallet. Glad I was able to snag one to help me prepare for my visit to Lake Chapala, Mexico later this year.”

April 10, 2014: “My wife and I just returned from a week long exploration of Ajijic and Chapala on the shores of Lake Chapala. I was never without this map. I carried it with me, often folded in my back pants pocket. We walked around most of the time and this map helped me move around, know where we were and how to get back to our hotel. We also reviewed the map before we traveled to the area. I highly recommend it if you are traveling to the Lake Chapala area in Mexico.”

Dimensions (in inches): Concertina folded to 8.0 (ht) x 4.4, unfolding to 8.0 (ht) x 35.0 (printed both sides). The layout for the two sides is shown below:
Lake Chapala Maps, layoutThe maps come complete with an index to all streets, and the perfect size to fit in a glove box or hand bag, with all the details you’d expect:
Detail of Chapala MapThese best-selling maps are regularly updated. Price $10.00 (includes shipping to anywhere in North America). Please contact us direct for ordering details.

Where to buy

 Posted by at 3:17 pm  Tagged with:
Dec 182012
 

Sombrero Book is pleased to announce that the 4th (2013) edition of “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” is now available (Kindle  and Kobo editions).

In “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury”, author Tony Burton reveals the magic of Western Mexico. Relaxed and intimate, this easy-to-read yet authoritative account features 37 original drawings by Canadian artist Mark Eager and 10 maps. Enjoy the author’s unique insights into local history, ecology and traditions.

Now in its fourth edition, the book remains a favorite among knowledgeable travelers visiting this region of Mexico. This new edition is one-third larger and includes dozens of new places worth exploring. It incorporates several new chapters, including four (in part five) devoted to the region around Zacatecas. Every chapter has new material. Maps have been redrawn and travel directions updated.

A mixture of interests is represented. Included are historical sights such as Zacatecas, Lagos de Moreno and San Blas; artistic colonies like Ajijic; and lakeside communities, including Chapala and Pátzcuaro. Alongside them are ecological wonders, such as Manantlán and the monarch butterflies; old mining towns like Angangueo and Bolaños; coastal resorts such as Barra de Navidad and Puerto Vallarta; Indian villages like Angahuan, and a host of others.

Many of these smaller places in Western Mexico offer a glimpse of the Mexico behind the mask; they are places where Mexico has retained her ancient culture and her ancient traditions.

All the destinations in parts one and two are within day-trip range (maximum three hours driving time) from Guadalajara (Mexico’s second city) or nearby Lake Chapala, a popular retirement center for Americans and Canadians. In part three, all the locations described are worth at least an overnight stay, though Tapalpa, Mazamitla and Tamazula are still within three hours driving time of Guadalajara-Chapala. Parts four to nine describe longer, three or four day trips, which are all well worth the investment of extra time.

No fewer than 17 of the towns featured in the book have received the federal designation of “Pueblo Mágico” (Magic Town), in recognition of their cultural, historical or ecological significance, and facilities for visitors. There are now many excellent boutique hotels, some of them in quite unexpected places, making it far easier to explore the less traveled areas of Western Mexico.

Whether your interests lie in art, architecture and archaeology; fiestas and folklore; unusual sights and natural wonders, or in Indian villages and indigenous handicrafts, this book will help you discover for yourself Western Mexico’s many hidden treasures.

Author: Tony Burton has specialized in exploring and writing about Mexico for more than thirty years. He is the author of “Lake Chapala through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales” (2008) and co-author of “Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico” (2010), and a three-time winner of ARETUR’s annual international travel-writing competition for articles about Mexico.

For other formats besides Kindle and Kobo, please use the “contact us” form and we will do our best to meet your particular needs.

Feb 022010
 

This book by Raymond Craib (Duke University Press, 2004) is one-of-a-kind. Craib combines archival analysis of mainly 19th century documents with perceptive comments on the relationships between history and geography in Mexico from the mid-19th century until about 1930.

Craib emphasizes the significance of map-making in post-Independent Mexico as a means towards furthering nationalism and as a development tool. He traces the changing motives of map-makers, focussing especially on the key area of Veracruz-Puebla which served as Mexico’s main gateway to Europe for centuries.

Craib considers why certain place names acquired more prominence than others, and examines a case study of a mining area where the granting of water rights hinged on precisely where a particular river flowed, and which tributary had which name, a case where cartographic ‘proof’ proved to be impossible and where a pragmatic solution was required.

This is an important study, with meticulous footnotes and bibliography.

Note: This book is not stocked by Sombrero Books, but can easily be bought via amazon.com

Jan 032010
 

Tony Burton’s Tony Burton’s Western Mexico: A Traveller’s Treasury
Reviewed by Allan Cogan in MexConnect, 2003,

I’m not sure why I haven’t reviewed this book sooner. It’s been around since 1993 and it was one of the first books my wife and I read when we arrived here in Ajijic eight years ago. And – heaven knows! – I’ve reviewed more than 60 books about this fascinating country in the past few years. Anyway, this useful volume is back in a new and updated edition and it’s still as essential as ever. Whether you’re making a brief visit as a tourist, or escaping the northern winter for a few months or checking out the area more extensively as a place to spend one’s retirement years, this is one item you should have in your survival kit. It’s a nice blend of guidebook, travelogue and history text with lots of local color and some ecological notes sprinkled throughout.

Re-reading it brings back a host of good memories. I’d forgotten, for instance, Santa Maria del Oro and the impromptu New Year’s party we were invited to in the campsite there in 1994 when we visited the area – as a result of reading this book. And then there’s the lovely drive up the flower-covered slopes to Mazamitla in September and October. Also, my wife says I shouldn’t forget to mention the restaurant that Burton recommends on page 158 – the Camino Real just outside Pátzcuaro. (Cecilia never forgets a good comida.) The restaurant is located in an unlikely place, next to a gas station. But Burton’s book is like that – well researched and he’s obviously checked out all these places before writing about them. Lots of other memories flooded back as a result of a rereading.

The book covers eight distinct areas of Western Mexico in the States of Jalisco, Colima and Michoacan. Reading it leaves you wondering if there’s any country anywhere that’s offers so much variety in such a relatively small geographic area. Altitudes range from sea level to 12,600 feet, which is the peak of Tancítaro, the highest peak in Michoacan. That’s almost 2-1/2 miles straight up! The terrain includes desert, cloud forest, ocean beaches, picturesque villages, swampland, mountain ranges, tropical jungle and several cities, including, of course, one huge metropolis….Guadalajara. Also, we have volcanoes. I don’t know the precise number but there are obviously lots of them. And some are still active. As I write this, in February 2002, our local community newspaper, The Reporter, features a front page story on a volcano very close to Colima which is spewing out lava and causing the evacuation of several villages.

Guadalajara receives little mention because Burton is obviously more interested in getting into the hinterlands and exploring everything that’s out there. Be warned that it’s very much a book that’s geared to driving although the author provides maps and clear directions on how to reach the offbeat places he describes.

I know that there are lots of buses in Mexico and the first class ones are really first class. But this volume is also concerned with getting you down side roads and visiting places you might otherwise miss. Along the way you pick up all sorts of information on the various specialties offered in each community – whether it be equipal furniture, quilts, ceramic tiles, straw goods, woollen sweaters, guitars, pottery, toys or whatever. And you’re also given useful information on accommodations and restaurants and Feast Days and other occasions that might tickle your fancy.

History isn’t neglected either. People have been living in this area for thousands of years and there’s evidence everywhere regarding these former inhabitants and their societies. The author covers them with colorful accounts that enhance your explorations or are simply interesting to read, not just about the various Indian tribes that inhabited the area but also about the coming of the Conquistadors and the profound effect they had on every aspect of life here.

Burton is obviously interested in the geological and ecological history of this part of the world. He provides accounts on topics such as how Lake Chapala was formed and why there are so many of those troublesome volcanoes still around.

The book also contains some 30 or so short highlighted passages that cover various relevant subjects. For example half-page sidebars discuss topics like “Why There is Such an Astonishing Variety of Flora Here”, or “The Production of Tequila”, or “The Volcán de Fuego”, a brief look at Mexico’s most active volcano.

The book is illustrated throughout with drawings by Mark Eager. There are about three dozen of them, bringing the overall story even more to life. Maps are also provided for all the areas Burton explores and the driving routes he’s recommending.

Western Mexico: A Traveller’s Treasury is readily available in the usual shops here in the Lakeside area and also at Sandi’s Bookstore in Guadalajara. For those of you who live further afield, Sombrero Books has it.

In my humble O: It’s a volume that just makes you want to git up and go. Now then – where on earth did I leave those car keys….?

Jan 022010
 

“The area of Mexico covered by Mr. Burton’s book is filled with historical, cultural and geographical/geological riches. The problem for me as a resident of this area has been where to find them, and where to learn about them, once you have heard about them. This book has been a god-send as it has allowed us to learn and explore our “neighbourhood” with confidence and always rewarding experiences. If you are interested in more than beach, babes, and beer, then this is a wonderful book to use, or just to read, learn and dream. It is truly a “Mexico” book.
David McLaughlin, Jalisco, Mexico.

British born Tony Burton is a long time resident of Mexico and an award winning travel writer and naturalist. He has collected and updated the best of his writings over the years into what is a unique guidebook to western Mexico. Based on his frequent travels and intimate knowledge of the region, Tony offers his special insights into this scenic and culturally rich area of lakes and mountains, colonial towns and Indian villages. From San Blas on the Pacific coast to the celebrated Monarch butterfly refuge in the high Sierra of Michoacan, the author takes us to all of his favorite places along the less traveled roads of the region, revealing their history, ecology and archaeology, as well as their arts, crafts and folklore. I found the book to be especially valuable for his keen observations on, and enthusiasm for the varied natural wonders of western Mexico. Charmingly illustrated by artist Mark Eager, Tony’s guide is easy on the eye. It is well organized, packed with suggestions for the traveler, with suggested itineraries and detailed maps. A full bibliography and index is also appended.
Reader from Santa Barbara, California.

“I am very impressed with his literary style and his ability to transport the reader to the very presence of the action. I’ve never seen the villages or localities he describes but I can almost believe that I’m there, feeling the gentle breeze off the lake, hearing the birds, seeing the children in the square and seeing the changing scenes. Tony Burton adds a new dimension. He weaves in a history rich in detail and color. The book speaks about the pride of the Mexican people and their love of their homeland.”
Armchair Traveler from Vermont

“I have just finished reading your great book on Western Mexico and found it one of the most interesting and factual books on Mexico I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Even where I think I know a place, you add material that will increase my enjoyment and understanding the next time I visit.”
Editor of AIM (Adventures in Mexico).