Mexcaltitan: Home of Aztecs and Prawns

When I first read about Mexcaltitan in Lonely Planet, it sounded pretty interesting. Its main claim to fame is that it is the mytho-historical home of the Aztecs. Legend has it that before the Aztecs only arrived in the Valle de Mexico, where they founded Tenochtitlan (where Mexico City is today), after migrating from an island named Aztlan. One of the more popular theories for the location is Mexcaltitan, a tiny island in the coastal lagoons of the state of Nayarit in Mexico.

Mexcaltitan from the air

Mexcaltitan from the air

When no-one I mentioned it to, either Mexican or other travellers, had even heard of it, it made it even more of a must-see – everywhere I´d been to so far had been firmly on the tourist trail, so the chance to visit somewhere a bit more obscure was very appealing.

Now anyone who knows me will agree that I can be pretty stubborn when I want to be, even with myself, so I wasn´t going to let the fact I´d only had two hours sleep (thanks to the previous night in Mazatlan) get in the way of my plans. So despite the mother of all hangovers, I embarked on a journey that took in a three hour bus-ride from Mazatlan to Peñas, a forty minute collectivo taxi to Santiago Ixcuintla, a half hour collectivo bus to the wharf, and finally ended up packed onto a wobbly lancha for the final half hour through the lagoon to the island.

One piece of anecodotal evidence to suggest the legend is true is that Mexcaltitan has the same street plan as Tenochtitlan did – the island is divided into quarters by four roads that intersect in the centre of the isaldn to form the main square. Linking these together is a circular road that runs all the way round the island. And that´s it – it´s a tiny place that these days is inhabited by prawn fisherman, and it lives a sleepy existence largely uniterrupted by modern life.

The very simple street plan

The very simple street plan

In fact it´s so small, that after getting off the lancha, it took me all of twenty minutes to see the entire island. But what a fantastic place. The circular street is a dirt road, with pavements three feet above the road, and is called Calle Venezia, as every year in the rainy season it floods and turns into a canal.

Calle Venezia in the dry season

Calle Venezia in the dry season

In the main square sits a little museum outling the island´s fascinating history, and a pretty little church. By the looks of the visitor´s book in the museum it seemed I was the first foreign visitor for several months, and that´s just the way I liked it, despite the lack of things to see or do, it was amazingly relaxed and pretty. Here the street kids didn´t annoy me by trying to sell me stuff; instead they were just fascinated with my digital camera, insisting I take dozens of photos of them (and their pet iguanas), just for the pleasure of seeing themselves on the viewscreen, which they all found first mesmerising and then hilarious.

Friendly locals & their iguanas

Friendly locals & their iguanas

After that there was nothing to do but head to one of the island´s two restaurants, to try the local prawns. It´s a good thing I like them, as that was the only thing on the menu, both as starter and main course. For starters, I was served a plate of small prawns, fried in chili and served with the inevitable salt, lime and salsa. Seeing as they were served shell-on, I first tried to peel one, only for it to dissolve in my hands. So the only thing for it was to pop the whole thing in my mouth, head, shell and all – and they were of course, delicious. After devouring the whole plate, the next course was delicious albondigas, made of prawn rather than the usual meat. Fantastic.

The local speciality

The local speciality

The whole place was so relaxing, I lost track of time and ended up leaving later than planned, jumping on the last lancha of the day only to find that the last collectivo had left, meaning my only way back to civilisation was to hitch a lift in the back of a pick-up, perching precariously on a couple of boxes of freshly-caught prawns heading to market. Two more collectivos and yet another bus later, I finally made it to Tepic, my overnight stop on the way to meet my friends in Guadalajara. All in all I´d spent nearly ten hours travelling that day, all to see a 400m round island with nothing to do but eat prawns. And it was worth every second of it.


12 responses to “Mexcaltitan: Home of Aztecs and Prawns

  1. What a great adventure geoff. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Finally caught up with your trip… so glad you are enjoying Mexico… and no I haven;t been here either so really enjoyed this post… will look at the others now!!

  3. I live in Mazatlán and haven’t been there yet. I look forward to it. Thank you!

  4. Good overview of one of my favourite visits this year. I too had a wonderfully relaxed time. I met a bunch of guys in the main square and we drank beer together on a Sunday night. They insisted I should return and I could immerse in Spanish and share some English teaching. I think that is a great idea. I’d like to spend a month. Of course there is no internet there, but that may be a blessing.

  5. i heard of this city. saw photos when it floods. looks pretty cool.

  6. just reading ahead via facebook – i want to hear all about zipolite please. via fb email if is not fit for the blog!

    love the pics of the kids – really sweet. was just discussing with someone how funny it is that kids here now automatically want to flip the camera over as soon as you take a picture so they can see it.


  7. wow – that sounds amazing H, just what you want to be doing, discovering untouched gems. truly jealous! loving the pics – it could be the perfect getaway from the hell that is londinium!

    can’t wait to hear more


  8. I love that shot of Calle Venezia. So haunting…

  9. I’m proud to read about Mexcaltitan. It’s not so known and its so unique, with its own charm; fresh seafood, very inexpensive, and as a local joke says: much more easy to buy a beer than a bottle of water! (I am from Tepic, Nayarit).

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