Hey Vallarta… What Is Tonala?

Before the conquistadores invaded Tonalá in 1530, this city was ruled by a woman, Cihualpilli. A chapel dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, located at the high point of Cerro de la Reina (Queen’s Hill), where Cihualpilli lived, ruling over her people, has a monument built in her honor. A flagpole also can be found in this location, waving one of the highest banners in all of Mexico. The name Tonalá comes from the indigenous Nahuatl Tonallán, which means “this is where the sun rises.”

We highly recommend a visit to Tonalá if you are visiting Puerto Vallarta. Tonalá is a municipality of Jalisco, bordered by Juanacatlán, Tlaquepaque, Zapotlanejo, El Salto and Guadalajara. Tonalá has a huge tianguis (flea market), which includes every possibility of purchase from pottery to antique furniture. The tianguis is open only on Thursdays and Sundays, with as many as 4000 craftsmen and vendors to choose from, especially during the Christmas holidays when tourism is high. Aptly named for her sunrises, this is when the heart of the city comes to life in the early morning hours, with tables set up and spread with millions of handcrafted items. Incredible ironwork is available, either off the shelf or made to order. Simple or ornate, it can be created and delivered to Puerto Vallarta for a very reasonable price. In darkened doorways, glassblowers form goblets, bowls, chandeliers and tiny dollhouse items. Paper flowers materialize from ingenious hands; all colors, shapes and sizes. Objects made from tin and brass, and the famous Mexican cartoneria (colorfully painted dolls, animals, clowns and toys) is everywhere. The selection of woodworking and furniture is overwhelming and must be given a complete day to itself for proper selection. Since pre Hispanic times, Tonalá has been widely known as a popular ceramics center and even boasts its very own design, the Flor de Tonalá (Tonalá flower), which can be found on bowls, vases, platters and many other ceramic pieces.

Tonalá is not just for shopping. Before heading back to Puerto Vallarta, one should see the exhibition hall and the museum at the Puebla-Museo. An astonishing collection of antique ceramics and contemporary designs is not to be missed, as well as the compellation of miniatures. Another essential stop is the Capilla de la Cruz (Chapel of the White Cross) where the first mass was presented by Franciscan monks; and the Santiago Apostal Parish, built in 1830 and one of the oldest standing churches in the country.

Tonalá has some very nice small hotels but they fill up fast during tourist season. We usually stay close by in Tlaquepaque, where the night streets are quiet and there is an abundance of places to stay. Guadalajara is where we reside when we plan to do a bit more partying and stay out late. It’s the Tonalá sunrise that we don’t want to miss.

Que es cómo es.


 Thanks to our Guest Blogger Adam Garcia for this great article!


Harriet Cochran Murray, Director of Cochran Real Estate, is a seasoned Real Estate professional both here in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and in the United States. Harriet has served in many capacities as a board member and President for the local Real Estate Association AMPI (AMPI is the national association of real estate professionals). She is also a member of FIABCI and NAR in the United States. Harriet’s expertise and experience in the Real Estate and especially in the Mexican market makes her Viewpoint blog articles both informational and intriguing. Harriet is a Buyer’s Agent who specializes in getting the best deal on the right property for her clients.