Explorations in the Aztatlán World


Explorations in the Aztatlán World

March 30 - April 7, 2020 

The Aztatlán culture was one of the major cultural developments in late prehispanic northwest Mesoamerica (A.D. 900 to 1350+), but due to the scarcity of archaeological investigations over the past 50 years, it remains a little-understood cultural phenomenon. Evidence indicates that the Aztatlán culture was a significant factor in some social changes in northern Mexico and the American Southwest, including at Paquimé and Chaco Canyon. Understanding the dynamics of far west Mexico after A.D. 900 can shed light on long-distance connections to other Mesoamerican cultures to the southeast, such as the Toltec and Mixtec. This tour explores a range of archaeological and natural wonders in far west Mexico, taking you back in time over 1,000 years to explore the prehispanic social, political, economic, and religious developments that shaped the region and its far-flung cultural connections. The tour comprises two stages, the first based around Puerto Vallarta (Nayarit/Jalisco border) and the second based in the highlands and coastal lowlands around the capital city of Tepic, Nayarit. Both stages also offer opportunities to savor the culinary delights of the region.


  • Visit off-the-grid archaeological sites that are not open to the general public in the broader vicinities of Santiago Ixcuintla and Banderas Bay; experience rock art, Mesoamerican-style ballcourts, and monumental earthen-mound architecture.
  • Traverse the San Blas estuary in small boats to Isla del Rey to visit a cave shrine dedicated to Haramara - the Huichol goddess of the sea.
  • Indulge in culinary endeavors as you visit Planeta Cacao, a new educational garden, for a hands-on tour of contemporary smallscale cacao production and Rancho Verano Distileria de Tequila/ Mama Lucia to learn about the process of distillation of alcohol, including tequila.

Explorations in the Aztatlán World

  1. Scholars
  2. Accommodations
  3. Is This Trip for You?
  4. Terms & Policies

travel_abroad Michael Mathiowetz, Ph.D., is an archaeologist specializing in the prehistory and history of indigenous people spanning the US Southwest, north Mexico, and west Mexico. Over the past two decades, he has participated in archaeological fieldwork both in the United States and in Mexico, including in California, Arizona, Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Nayarit, and Jalisco. His expertise includes the Aztatlán and Casas Grandes cultures and their relation to Pueblo III to IV social dynamics in the Southwest. His ongoing research integrates the archaeology, ethnohistory, and ethnology of multiple geographical regions and examines long-distance interaction between ancient Mesoamerican and Pueblo societies and the present-day continuities. Recent field experience includes a 2014–15 postdoctoral research fellowship at Centro INAH-Nayarit that entailed leading excavations at a prehispanic elite residence near Ixtlán del Río, Nayarit.


John M. D. Pohl, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor in art history at UCLA and lecturer in anthropology at California State University, Los Angeles. He has received numerous fellowships and grants for his research on the Nahua, Mixtec, and Zapotec civilizations of south Mexico and is now investigating the roles they played in a Pacific coastal exchange system that linked Oaxaca directly with west Mexico. In addition to his academic pursuits, Pohl has had a prolific career as a writer, designer, and curator for major museums and exhibitions around the country, including Sorcerers of the Fifth Heaven: Art and Ritual in Ancient Southern Mexico, for Princeton University; The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire, for the Getty Villa Museum; and The Children of the Plumed Serpent: The Legacy of Quetzalcoatl in Ancient Mexico, for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Art.

Hotels for this trip are subject to change; however, a hotel of similar quality, location, and rating will be substituted if necessary.

Hotel Cielo Rojo

In the heart of cobblestoned San Pancho and only a short walk from the beach lies this small boutique hotel famous for its stylish accommodations and eclectic, original artwork. Hotel Cielo Rojo strives to use only the finest local, organic, and sustainable materials for everything from its cotton sheets to the coffee. Guests can immerse themselves in a truly authentic experience at a hotel that takes pride in its community and the people who live there.

Fray Junipero Serra Hotel

With an unbeatable location in the heart of Tepic, this hotel prides itself on exceptional service. Points of interest are just steps away, with spectacular views of the cathedral and the main square from the rooms. Modern amenities and elegant decorations make the rooms feel like a home away from home.

Santa Maria Resort Boutique Collection

Located adjacent to the picturesque Laguna of Santa María del Oro, this resort is a quiet, special place forging bonds between luxury and nature. The decor and climate make it a place of relaxation. Modern amenities are coupled with cozy appointments and fine dining featuring Nayarit cuisine.

San Blas Hotel Garza Canela

This family-owned and operated hotel focuses on comfort, attention to detail, and a personalized touch. The property is surrounded by large gardens and by trails, and there is a pool to cool off in. Enjoy the space, details, and privacy that the rooms have to offer!

Villa Premiere Boutique Hotel & Romantic Getaway

Overlooking the waters of Bahía de Banderas on the Pacific Ocean, this upscale adults-only hotel features contemporary rooms with colorful accents and private balconies with sweeping views of the bay. The beachfront location is walking distance from both town and the boardwalk - providing ease of access to many popular sights. Relax at the end of the trip with multiple pools, a swim-up bar, optional yoga and meditation classes, and a full spa. 


Some days of this program will involve hiking on uneven and rocky trails. While staff members are available for assistance, you should be comfortable using your hands to steady yourself and should be able to take steps higher than a standard staircase step to navigate around varying terrain and to board boats. Humidity and hot weather are common, so it is recommended that you give yourself time to adjust and bring appropriate clothing to regulate heat.


The elevation for this trip ranges from sea level to approximately 4,000 feet. Adequate hydration is recommended to accommodate for elevation changes as well as the heat and humidity of the area. If you have any questions, please contact your physician.

Remote Facilities

Facilities and amenities will be available for the majority of the trip. Anticipate bus rides of up to three hours on some bumpy roads, with planned restroom stops whenever possible. You will be visiting some rural areas where the facilities may be limited; however, effort will be made to keep the trip as comfortable as possible.

Cultural Sensitivity

This trip includes visits to rural areas where some facilities may be very simple and rustic, as well as areas with fully modern amenities. Please know that we practice “visiting with respect” with each and every stop, regardless of provided amenities. We will traverse a sacred landscape—the ancestral homeland of descendant communities. Guidelines will be provided to help you prepare for this journey. Also, while some English is spoken and our outfitter is available to translate, any effort to converse in Spanish is always appreciated by locals.

For further information on the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center’s Terms, Conditions, and Cancellation Policies please click here. You will find details on tuition, cancellations, travel insurance, accommodations, medical information, and more.