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Riviera Nayarit, Mexico (April 20, 2009) - Is the tiny island village of Mexcaltitan, in the mangrove wetlands of Riviera Nayarit, the birthplace of Mexico, the legendary ancient Aztlan? Uncanny connections to the fabled Aztec empire have academics pondering but for most of the visitors lucky enough to make the 25-minute boat ride to find it, Mexcaltitan's unique character, friendly welcome and simple, sunny pleasures are enough to make the short trip to this "Pueblo Magico" more than worthwhile.

After all, how often does one find narrow streets doubling as canals - no cars on the island - and sidewalks spread out with pink shrimp and crispy tostadas, which may appear together later as a delicious ceviche for lunch?

It seems hard to imagine that someplace so small, friendly and unpresuming as Mexcaltitan could be the precursor to mighty Mexico City, but pre-Columbian history remains full of mystery. What is known is that, according to legend, Aztlan, the birthplace of what became the Aztec civilization, which called itself "Mexica," was a small man-made island city north of what is now Mexico City. In the 11th century, omens and prophesies reportedly convinced the Mexica to move south where, centuries later, they built Tenochtitlan, or Mexico City, on an island in a lake. It would become one of the largest and most powerful cities in the world before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.

Mexcaltitan may be reached from Batanga pier north of the village of Santiage Ixcuintla, 37 miles from Tepic on the mainland of Riviera Nayarit. The visit begins with a refreshing boat ride through estuaries, islets, coves and mangroves from the mainland - either 25 minutes by open motorboat or longer by dugout canoes whose designs have been unchanged for centuries. Time is in no hurry here so travelers should put away their watches and have no urgent schedule to follow. With no means of public or private transportation in Mexcaltitan, the only way to get around is by foot and this is where visitors have their first surprise, because the sidewalks are reserved for shrimp.

One easy way to enjoy Mexcaltitan is with Vallarta Adventures' "Mexcaltitan + San Blas all day tour.  The tour, featuring a visit to the island as well as the opportunity to explore the wildlife in the waters surrounding it, encompasses the roughly 90 miles to San Blas in Nayarit by land, with a 45-minute flight back. For more information about the tour, visit

Aerial views of Mexcaltitan show an oval-shaped village on a man-made island surrounded by mangroves teeming with exotic birds, the occasional alligator, turtles, fish, shrimp, lobster, oysters and mussels. From a central plaza that contains a picturesque church and a very small museum, the streets of the village radiate outward like spokes of a wheel. In some seasons they flood and become canals, necessitating travel by small boat or wading. An outer ring road circles the town as if holding it together. Though its earliest history reportedly dates back some 4,000 years, the village is rumored to have been founded prior to the 11th century, before the Aztecs began their migration. A visual comparison to Mexico City, where, at one time, streets also became canals as needed, shows astonishing similarities in design.

Perhaps the lack of certainty about its origins adds special appeal for Mexcaltitan as one of Mexico's Pueblos Magico, a collection of over 30 towns and villages that, in the words of the Tourism Ministry, are places "with symbolism, legends, history, important events, and day-to-day life - in other words, "magic." The magic for many visitors to Mexcaltitan, one of the smallest and most remote of the designated Pueblos, may be the great pleasure they find in doing, well, almost nothing in this exceptionally low-key, charming village except wander, relax and soak up a culture and lifestyle found nowhere else in Mexico.

Shrimping, and to a lesser extent harvesting other delicacies from the sea, is the primary occupation in Mexcaltitan, and dried shrimp is made into a zesty, mouthwatering variety of dishes, some dating back to pre-Hispanic times. With sunny warm weather year-round (the average yearly temperature is 79 degrees), houses packed closely side by side and very limited open space in the village, what better place to prepare the shrimp than the high sidewalks, some almost table-top high to accommodate the autumn flooding that has given Mexcaltitan the nickname "Venice of Mexico"? So, residents and visitors are relegated to the streets.

In addition to a visit to the Museo del Origen in the central plaza to see a variety of displays about the history and culture of meso-America watched over by its loving proprietor, visitors will find that strolling the village and chatting with its residents is an uncommonly enjoyable pastime. Less than a square mile in size this can be accomplished in leisurely fashion in two hours. But, there's always time for refreshment and the handful of open-air restaurants are inviting. Among the favorite dishes are taxtihuilli, an ancient recipe of shrimp, shrimp broth, corn meal and indigenous spices; a tasty soup with shrimp meatballs; shrimp tamales; local fish sautéed in garlic butter, and dozens of other seafood specialties.

There is one unnamed though comfortable and welcoming hotel in Mexcaltitan and several unnamed shops. The doors to most of the homes lining the narrow streets are usually open, providing glimpses of flowery inner courtyards and family life. In summer, the patron saints of the village and fishing, St. Peter and St. Paul, are celebrated with boat races, feasts and merriment, and residents are always eager and willing to assist travelers in finding what they need or wish. But, by and large, the trappings of tourism - the special events and brand names - are absent in this one-of-a-kind village. Instead, visitors, if only for a brief time, are so immersed in a different world that they may never want to leave.

It is said that Mexcaltitan, in addition to being the birthplace of Mexico, was once an ancient center for the worship of the moon. In the absence of serious archaeological study or excavation, the truth about these legends and the village's authentic place in the history of Mexico is bound to remain an intriguing mystery. But, for its residents and the fortunate visitors who discover it, that's just fine. Life itself is an unfolding mystery, like shrimp drying on a sidewalk without being eaten by cats, and probably one best enjoyed and contemplated on an island, in the sun, far from reality.

About Riviera Nayarit

Riviera Nayarit is Mexico's newest travel destination stretching along 192 miles of pristine Pacific coast framed by spectacular mountains to the north of renowned Puerto Vallarta.  Mostly undeveloped, the destination extends along the entire coast of the Pacific state of Nayarit including the resorts of  Nuevo Vallarta,  the  historic, colonial town of San Blas, exclusive Punta Mita and the spectacular Banderas Bay. The region features luxury resorts and eco-tourism boutique hotels, world-renowned surfing, four professional golf courses, rare native wildlife including sea turtles and tropical birds, mountain and island adventures, shopping for local artwork and traditional Huichol handicrafts, charming fishing towns and miles of serene beaches. For more information, visit:

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