Saturday, January 7, 2012

Etzatlán Adventure Part 2: The elegant Hotel Centenario and some great places to eat

The hotel entrance is guarded by a beautifully intricate wrought iron gate. Hotel Centenario faces the southwest corner of Plaza de Armas in Etzatlán's Centro Historico. We discovered the hotel on our second visit to this small colonial city. After our first brief visit last summer, I researched Etzatlán for a blog posting and discovered how much we had missed. In the fall, we paid a second visit and stopped by the Hotel Centenario. We were charmed by its elegance and astonished by its low rates. On our third visit, a dozen of us from the Lake Chapala area stayed here. Everyone loved the hotel and its staff and we all agreed that Hotel Centenario is a very special place, just a Etzatlán is a very special town. To locate the hotel in Etzatlán, click here.

We were greeted by this lovely young hotel employee. Karina gave us a tour of the hotel facilities and explained the rates. As with the other hotel staff we met, she only spoke Spanish. However, Karina was very patient with us and we managed to get the information we needed. Hotel Centenario is owned and operated by a Mexican couple, Ausencio Huerta Garcia and Elsa Imela Quintero del Castillo. The site of the hotel has served many functions since the 18th Century when a wealthy Spaniard built a large home here. After silver and gold were discovered in the mountains overlooking Etzatlán, the raw ore was sent to a mill at the site. The ore was turned into ingots and shipped to Mexico City where it became the silver and gold coins used in Nueva Hispaña's commerce.  In 1913, during the Mexican Revolution, troops under Generals Alvaro Obregon and Luis Blanco used the property as a barracks. In 1914, the site briefly became the official residence of Governor Manuel Dieguez of Jalisco State. During the later 20th Century, the city bus station was located here for a time.

Like most colonial-style buildings, the hotel is built around a central courtyard. A large fountain burbles in the center. There are two floors in the hotel with a total of 10 rooms. On the ground floor, all the rooms open onto the courtyard. The upstairs rooms are reached by the beautiful curving staircase that you saw Karina descending in the second photo. The large door on the left of the photo above leads into the formal dining room. The courtyard provides a delightfully airy, sunny feel. The hotel is stocked on both floors with lots of potted plants and comfortable leather chairs and sofas. Ausencio and Elsa have divided their responsibilities. She runs the hotel with a firm but motherly hand, and the quality of the service shows it.  Ausencio operates the Centenario's small but elegant bar next door. The evening we arrived, he kindly offered everyone in our group a complimentary cocktail.

Leather and wood furniture provides comfortable places to enjoy the ambiance. The rust colored tiles covered the area around the ground-floor courtyard. I dislike overusing words, but elegance comes to mind again and again whenever I look through these pictures. Sometimes beautiful chairs don't live up to their appearance when it comes to comfortable seating, but these certainly do. When Ausencio and Elsa bought the property 9 nine years ago, it was in ruins. They initially wanted to build their family home on the site, but then changed their minds. They felt that Etzatlán needed a hotel worthy of its beauty and history. Creating Hotel Centenario out of the rubble they found was not easy, according to Elsa. Their success is manifested in the photos of this blog posting. Ausencio and Elsa chose the name Centenario in reference to the coins created from the silver and gold ore milled here long ago. The treasure they have created is every bit as real as those old metal coins.

Sharon and Wayne are Lake Chapala "birders". The local birding community tracks the wild fowl that live around Lake Chapala or show up seasonally. I didn't know them before I arranged this trip, but they had heard about it through mutual friends and asked to be included. They were a good addition to our party. In fact, there were a number of people on the trip who had not known each other previously. Everyone got along wonderfully, even when things didn't always turn out quite as expected. Mexico always has interesting and often amusing little quirks. Dealing with these while maintaining a relaxed sense of humor is a requirement for a happy life here.

The rooms were comfortable and beautifully appointed.  Carole didn't come on this adventure, so I took a single room and it cost me only $370 pesos per night ($26.90 USD). Weekend rates are a bit higher, and the larger rooms and suites are more expensive, but even for those the charges were still very reasonable. The rooms on the second floor of the hotel in the front have small, wrought-iron balconies overlooking the street and the plaza. The rest of the hotel's rooms open onto the central courtyard.

The second floor balcony above the courtyard also has a sitting area. Above, Julika (lt.) Anne (middle) and Denis (rt.) discuss the plan for the day. Julika and Denis are married Americans, but she originally comes from Germany and he is from Ireland. Anne is Canadian. For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the foreign community around Lake Chapala is its international flavor. Etzatlán lies at the foot of heavily wooded mountains which can be viewed from here. The balcony also overlooks the courtyard below.

Pam rewarded me with a beautiful smile when she spotted me taking her photo. Pam and her husband Chris are Canadians, but originated elsewhere, as so many of my Canadian friends did. Pam was born in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and Chris in Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia). They met at a party when Chris was studying for the bar exam in London. After they married, they moved first to Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia), then to South Africa, and finally to Canada. They were very eager to come on this adventure, and turned out to be delightful traveling companions.

Where to eat in Etzatlán?

Hotel Centenario includes a large, formal dining room filled with antiques. The hotel does not include a breakfast as a part of its room rates, but will prepare one (and lunch, too) if guests request it in advance. Since we had a full schedule, it made sense for all of us to eat here rather than to individually scatter around town in search of breakfast. The kitchen staff served up eggs prepared in a variety of ways according to individual taste. I had a scrumptious omelette, along with fruit, toast, juice, and coffee. The charge was $70 pesos ($5.00 USD).

Mi Casa restaurant was an unexpected find. Mi Casa means "my home" in Spanish. When we got back to the hotel from our first day's adventures, I immediately went in search of a restaurant, since the Centenario dining room is not open for dinner. Small Mexican towns are often thin on restaurants because most people eat with their families. In addition, many have too little disposable money to go out to eat, except at small taco stands and the like. I walked all the way around the plaza and scoured some of the side streets with no success. Discouraged, I returned to the hotel. I decided to climb up to the mirador (look-out area) on the roof to enjoy the lights of the city at night. Peering over the edge of the wall to the street below, I spotted Restaurant Mi Casa--right across the street! It lived up to its homey name and served a delicious variety of traditional Mexican dishes. I tried the pozole and sopes. Pozole (po-so-lay) is sort of a thick stew, made with pieces of pork and corn with a tomato base and spiced with chile. Often, Mexicans will prepare a big pot of steaming pozole when they are expecting guests and dish it out as they arrive. A sope (so-pay) is a sort of miniature pizza, about 4" across, cooked by dipping it in hot oil. Sopes come with a variety of toppings including cheese, onions, and ground meat of various kinds. Although the proprietors seemed a bit astonished at the sudden appearance of a dozen hungry foreigners, they recovered quickly and all of us came away with full and happy stomachs.

Just west of town is a lovely lake, the location of another great restaurant. The lake is less than a mile west of town on Highway 4, the main highway that runs along the northern outskirts of Etzatlán. For a Google map showing the lake's location, click here. Like many of Jalisco's lakes, this one has a large colony of lirio, or water hyacinth, an invasive species. Pretty, but fast growing, it doubles its population every two weeks. One plant can become a million separate plants in an amazingly short time. Lirio is also extremely hard to extirpate. 19th Century hacendados brought lirio into the area as decorative plants for their garden ponds and Jalisco has been fighting it ever since. Even so, the lake is lovely and home to a variety of bird life, most especially white egrets.

La Gaviota is one of a string of restaurants built along the lakeshore. La Gaviota (the seagull) is open-air, with a palapa (palm frond) roof. Our guides from the tourist office recommended this place, and it turned out to be an excellent suggestion. The day was crystal clear and sunny, with the deep blue sky reflecting beautifully on the lake.

Once again, an astonished restaurant staff hustled to accommodate us. We arrived about noon for lunch, but Mexicans tend eat their comida after 2 pm, so the staff had to rush a bit to set up for us. No matter, they were clearly glad for the business of 15 paying customers (our 12, plus 2 guides and an interpreter). Everywhere we went in Etzatlán, we were treated royally. With a little help from us, the staff pulled a long row of tables together and soon the waiter was taking orders. There were lots of choices on the menu, but seafood seemed to predominate. Although most of the food was Mexican-style, I noticed that the ubiquitous cheeseburger was also present. The prices seemed very reasonable.

Above, a silent evesdropper swung on his trapeze. There were lots of fun decorations hanging from La Gaviota's ceiling, including this brightly-painted paper maché macaw. This guy looks like a lot of others I saw craftspeople creating in Tonalá, a major crafts area of Guadalajara.

Getting "the scoop" from our guides. Sharon (lt.) listens intently as Juan Pablo Ochoa (rt.) translates for Etzatlán's official historian Carlos E. Parra Ron (middle). As I was setting up for the trip, I decided to see if the Oficina de Turisimo could help. My email exchanges with Lupita in the office seemed to indicate they would, but my Spanish is still shaky. This being Mexico, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. We were overwhelmed by the response. Not only did they provide Carlos, but Lupita came along to make sure everything went smoothly. I had requested a translator and they provided Juan Pablo on the first day and his sister Ana on the second. Both spoke excellent English and were a great help since Carlos speaks no English, although he is very good on local history. Before we all parted company at the end of the trip, we gave them each a generous tip. We had been charged nothing for their services and they had really gone the "extra mile" for us. I also wrote a nice "thank you" email to each of them and sent another to the municipal president thanking him for providing such fine and helpful staff.

Oh! And about La Gaviota's food... This was one of several styles of shrimp served. It tasted as good as it looks. After munching on the antojitos (appetizers) and consuming the main course, we practically waddled out of the restaurant. 

This concludes Part 2 of my Etzatlán Adventure. In Part 3, we'll take a little tour through the Parroquia church and the Capuchina Convent to see their lovely architecture and some of the 16th Century artifacts preserved in these colonial religious sites. I hope you have been enjoying this series so far, and that it spurs you to visit Etzatlán, if you get down this way. If you could like to leave a comment, please do so in the Comments section below, or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim 


  1. The more you tell us about Etzatlán the more excited we are to go there. We will make a reservation at Hotel Centenario if we can come.
    Inga and Erik

  2. Jim, your blog is wonderful. So informative and the photos are amazing! My sister and I are visiting Ajijic in Feb., staying at friends of Elia. Perhaps we will get to Etzatlan before of after a bus trip to Morelia and the monarch sanctuaries. Do you have suggestions for taking a bus to either area? Hope to hear from you at


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim