A distinguished chef with French training and years of international experience, Betty Vásquez helms the famous restaurant at Garza Canela Hotel, her family’s establishment in San Blas, Mexico—a destination for any foodie worth their salt. Here she offers up her top tips on indigenous art, sailing with whales, and escaping the bustle of Puerto Vallarta by adding authentic flavors and a slice of serenity to your next Mexican adventure.
What is your most cherished possession?
A cookbook that my grandmother gave to me after it was passed down to her by my great-grandfather. The book is signed by my grandmother the day my father was born with a legend that says, “I hope this will be a good guide for one of your daughters.” And it has been.
What is your favorite thing to splurge on?
Travel. I was lucky to be born in a family that likes to travel to a different place every weekend (we visited almost all of Mexico before I was 20). When I turned 20, I travelled with my younger sister to Europe for two months, allowing me to experience a culinary enlightenment of a variety of flavors and cuisines, which inspired my passion for wanting to become a chef.
Describe the perfect weekend in San Blas.
You arrive at my Garza Canela Hotel in San Blas on Friday and I’ll spoil you with an authentic Mexican meal at our El Delfín restaurant, accompanied by a shot of tequila and sangria, of course. Then head out to town and grab a drink at Billy Bob’s to make friends with the friendly locals.
Saturday morning, head off early to Isla Isabel, a small island only 43 miles off the coast of San Blas created by underwater volcanic activity. A nature reserve, Isla Isabel is noted for rare and beautiful birds that flock to this natural sanctuary. During the mating season, it is possible to sail past whale sharks and large manta rays, even northern humpback whales! Then, return to San Blas and catch the sunset at Las Islitas beach. All along this beach you will find palapas serving up a variety of delicious fresh-prepared fish and seafood.
La Tovara, Riviera Nayarit | Photo courtesy Visit Mexico
On Sunday, take an adventure to La Tovara National Park and hire a small boat to tour the mangrove swamps, which is home to over 250 species of birds, including the black-bellied tree duck, great blue heron and roseate spoonbill. The guides are so passionate about our country, its proud history, and Mexican culture that they transform a scenic tour into an unforgettable memory. End your stay with us with a visit to the port, the fort and the town center. While you explore the streets, you can relive the events of years past that have marked the history not only of the state of Nayarit but of the entire country of Mexico.
If you had to give a visitor one keepsake from the destination, what would it be?
Something made by the Huichol tribe. Huichol are the indigenous people of Nayarit, and may be one of the last purely indigenous groups in the country as they were one of the very few native cultures in Mexico to remain unconquered by the Europeans. They work with small crystal beads to make amazing works of art ranging from masks and bowls to figurines with intricate, colorful designs and symbols.
What do you dislike most about the destination?
The mosquitos when the full moon is out. Although, when you understand nature, you are thankful for them too, they are part of this beautiful environment, and thanks to them we have other things like the best Mexican shrimp and the best place for birding.
Who is your favorite local?
Rebeca Méndez Jiménez, “La Loca de San Blas.” There are different versions of her story, some more romantic, others more dramatic. The version that inspired Mexican rock band Mana was that, in her youth, she fell in love with a fisherman. He went out to sea, promising to return to her soon and marry her. Rebeca was so excited that she put on her bridal clothes and waited for his return. Unfortunately, the fisherman fell victim to a hurricane, never to return to his love. Since then, Rebeca had been spotted roaming the streets at the port of San Blas without any direction, sometimes sitting before the lighthouse and listening to seagulls. She always wore a white dress, with a veil covering her head. Rebeca died on September 18, 2012. Her ashes were scattered on the beaches of San Blas, according to her wishes. Some people believe she has been reunited with her love.