Sunday, June 23, 2024

Thrills, skills and hills: Tapalpa’s got it all for a fun-filled family getaway

If you are feeling cramped in the city or overheated on the coast, or are just looking for a fun travel destination for your family, look no further than Tapalpa, Jalisco. 

This Pueblo Mágico is nestled in the beautiful Sierra Madre Occidental mountains, conveniently located just a two-hour drive from Guadalajara or a half-day drive from Puerto Vallarta and the Nayarit coast. 

As few travelers outside of Guadalajara know of this town, Tapalpa remains a quiet, quaint and friendly pueblo, free from the crowds and tourists you will find at more popular destinations in Mexico.

Tapalpa has become our family’s preferred summer getaway when coastal temperatures soar. Recently, we visited in the fall for a change, to introduce the town to my father-in-law who was visiting from the United States. 

We found it just as pleasant — maybe even more so — than in the summer, as the wildflowers were in full bloom and the sun shone brightly every day. (Summers in Tapalpa are blessedly cool, but can also be a bit rainy.) It was the perfect getaway to enjoy some family bonding time and new experiences — even for my world-wise 80-year-old suegro.

Ekopark in Tapalpa, Jalisco
Grandpa Slobe gets ready to zip line at Ekopark Tapalpa.

My father-in-law grew up on a small dairy farm in upstate New York and spent many mornings in his youth milking cows. So I was surprised to learn when we attended a “cow-to-plate” cheese-making workshop with local maker Elena Preciado that he had never tasted cow’s milk fresh from the teat. Growing up in the suburbs, where I only got milk from the grocery store, I, too, had never tasted fresh cow’s milk, and neither had my daughter or husband. 

Preciado made sure that our first experience was a treat. Within the first few minutes of the workshop, she had us milking cows and sipping steaming cups of fresh milk mixed with cocoa powder, sugar and a shot of sugar cane alcohol for the adults.

After our feeble attempts (well, my father-in-law knew what he was doing), the pro cowhands took over and filled several buckets with ease. We headed back to Preciado’s house and proceeded to transform the milk into queso fresco over the course of the next three hours. 

Between each step of the process, she taught us the fundamentals of making cheese; the differences between queso fresco, queso fundido, panela and requesón; and a whole new Spanish vocabulary for cheese-making. We learned cuajar (to curdle) and chiquihuite — the little round basket for making panela cheese (and my new favorite Spanish word). 

At the end of the workshop, we came away with enough queso fresco to keep us rich in cheese for weeks. The whole experience was delightful, informative and fun for the whole family and was just one of many new experiences during our time in this amazing Pueblo Mágico.

It being our fifth trip to Tapalpa, we already knew of some great family-friendly activities that we planned to do again. One activity my nine-year-old daughter loves but that I wasn’t so sure we could convince her grandpa to do was zip lining at Ekopark Tapalpa

cheesemaking workshop Tapalpa, Jalisco
At Elena Preciado’s cheesemaking workshop, get hands-on “cow-to-plate” instruction on the entire process, starting with milking.

This outdoor adventure park features not only zip lines but a suspension bridge course, paintball, rappelling and an attraction where you swing in 360-degree circles upside down by your feet. It reminded me of a modern version of the Papantla Flyers — a dizzying ancient Mesoamerican ritual still performed today in parts of Mexico. Now that I think about it, perhaps zip lining was the tamest activity we could offer my dear father-in-law. 

But to my surprise, he was game. It was a thrilling experience for all, and one that we will always look back on with amazement that he joined us for seven wild rides down the zips. 

One activity that we can all agree on is trying new foods. The Slobe family LOVES to eat. There’s rarely a bakery, sweet shop or street food vendor we pass by without stopping for a treat. Yet with all our familiarity with different foods, we managed to find a novel culinary experience for our visitor.

Tapalpa has many wonderful restaurants (see a link to a list at the bottom), but one of our favorite places is La Sanduga Sabe, a Oaxacan eatery run by Martín Garcia, a sweet and welcoming oaxaqueño who also happens to own 14 adorable Chihuahuas — you may see him walking his dogs on the plaza or his furry companions lounging at the restaurant. 

La Sanduga Sabe’s mole negro and mole almendrado (almond mole) are amazing, but I would be remiss if I also didn’t recommend the chapulines (grasshoppers). These come sauteed in a buttery, garlicky, spicy sauce that even a non-bug-eating person like me can enjoy. 

With all his lived experience and love of food, my father-in-law had yet to try chapulines. He didn’t hesitate one bit and liked them right away. 

La Sanduga Sabe, Tapalpa, Jalisco
The Slobe family likes to eat! Luckily, there’s plenty of places in Tapalpa to do it like the Oaxacan eatery La Sanduga Sabe.

With all our good eats (we hit a new restaurant every day), we had to work it off with some good old-fashioned exercise. We got our steps in (18,525 to be exact) hiking the Piedra Bola trail — a 6.4-mile round-trip hike to a rock mirador (lookout) with amazing views of the Tapalpa countryside, the mountains and Colima volcano. 

We also did some rock scrambling at Las Piedrotas, a curious array of giant boulders strewn across an expansive grassy field that you can climb on, zip-line between, rappel off and ride horseback around. 

Our week in Tapalpa was filled with even more family-friendly fun, including attending a rodeo, a lavender workshop and exploring the downtown shops and central plaza. Despite all the activities and all the times we’ve visited Tapalpa, we never seem to tire of the place. Every time we visit, we experience something new and fun for the whole family. What more could one want out of a family vacation? 

Thank you Tapalpa, we’ll be back again soon.

• Planning a trip to Tapalpa? Here are some of our favorite family-friendly activities and restaurants.

Debbie Slobe is a writer and communications strategist based in Chacala, Nayarit. She blogs at and is a senior program director at Resource Media. Find her on Instagram and Facebook.

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