From sea to river, a journey through a jungle sanctuary

A gorge marks the halfway point of a two-hour hike to a waterfall along El Nogalito River. A gorge marks the halfway point of a two-hour hike to a waterfall along El Nogalito River. (Tracy Jan/Globe Staff)
March 20, 2011

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EL NOGALITO — After a week of surfing, we wanted a change of scenery — a break from our break. So off to the jungle we went.

We booked two nights at the Casa de los Monos (House of Monkeys), a quaint, four-room bed-and-breakfast ringed by lush vegetation in a village of 250 people minutes by car from Puerto Vallarta — but a world away.

The roads were unpaved. There was no cellphone reception. We spotted hardly any tourists. The jungle sanctuary appeared to be the perfect retreat.

But I could not sleep. The barking dogs, the braying donkeys, the crowing roosters. Yes, roosters crow at night. Accustomed to tuning out the sirens and car alarms in my Boston neighborhood, I was now tossing and turning to the cacophony of nature (though there were no monkeys).

I perked up in the morning when we were treated to a Dutch-Mexican gourmet breakfast of potato pancakes (made with potatoes, chayote squash, zucchini, chorizo, and egg) and fresh-squeezed guava juice by our B&B owners — a Mexican painter named Lorena and her Dutch boyfriend, Remco.

Remco suggested we hike to the waterfall along El Nogalito River and offered to guide us, but said we could easily make it on our own and pointed us in the direction of a restaurant (one of two in town) where the hike began. A man at the restaurant pointed us to the start of the trail, and said he expected to see us for lunch in an hour and a half, two tops. I imagined a pleasant stroll of a couple of miles.

Within minutes, the trail disappeared. Sure, there was a dirt path or two through the woods along the river but they were overgrown with prehistoric-looking trees and a web of tangled branches, and frequently ended in a cluster of boulders. The river seemed like the path of least resistance, so we waded in knee-deep water that became thigh deep in some parts and scaled slippery rocks on all fours, occasionally grabbing a hanging vine for balance.

The terrain was gorgeous, with its canyons and crevasses, but we treaded carefully. An hour became two, and then we heard it — a waterfall tumbling into an inviting, serene pool of water. We dived in.

We did not arrive back at the restaurant until more than four hours after we had set off. After a meal of fish ceviche and cold beer, we walked back to the B&B, laid our sodden, dirt-covered shorts and tank tops out to dry, and set out on another trek — to the beach. After all, it was our last full day in Mexico and Playa Punta Negra was only a mile down the road.


If You Go

Where to stay
Casa de los Monos
Calle Gavilanes 10
Quaint four-room bed-and-breakfast, located in the jungle, one mile from the beach and a short walk to river hike. One of just two housing options in town; $80 per night.
Where to eat
The village of El Nogalito is so small, with its two restaurants closing by 5 p.m., that we found it best to make the 10-minute drive to Puerto Vallarta’s Zona Romantica for dinner.
Joe Jack’s Fish Shack
Basilio Badillo 212
Octopus and shrimp ceviche to die for. Start with Hawaiian tuna poke and house mojito. Finish with fish tacos and cold Indio beer. Entrees about $11.
Fredy’s Tucan Restaurant & Bar
Basilio Badillo 245
A popular breakfast spot serving American and Mexican breakfasts. Go Mexican with the chilaquiles with fried egg. The banana pastries taste like moist coffee cake with banana slices buried within. Perfectly accompanied by licuados, a smoothie with fresh pineapple, banana, melon, orange juice, and honey. Entrees about $6.
What to do
El Eden Eco Park in Mismaloya
Zip lining above the jungle canopy that served as the set of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Predator’’ movie. Be prepared to climb hundreds of steps up the hillside. $81 per adult.