By Rocio Gonzalez Reynaga
El Cerro del Mono, also known as Monkey Mountain, is a hiking trail, popular among locals and tourists in the Banderas Bay area. This route is considered to be moderately challenging, primarily due to the steep uphill segment at the end of the trail. However, don't be discouraged! I promise you that reaching the peak will be worth it. Imagine the fresh air gently caressing your face as you become enraptured by the melodic sounds of singing birds, the soft murmuring leaves, and the breathtaking, and far-reaching views of the Pacific Ocean, the Punta Mita peninsula and Sayulita.
If you are interested in exploring this trail and want to know more about where to start or what to expect, keep reading, because I have prepared a complete guide about everything you need to know before embarking on this exotic outdoor exploration in Riviera Nayarit.
Where to start the Monkey Mountain Hiking Trail?
There are two main routes to reach El Cerro del Mono: one by way of Sayulita and the other via Higuera Blanca, a small town at the foothill of the mountain. Even if you haven't visited either of these towns, you have probably heard of Sayulita. After all, Sayulita is more popular online and on TikTok for its charming streets, chic boutiques and thriving surf culture.
While you can start this hike from the west end of Sayulita, beginning your adventure along the Niños Heroes road at the fork with Loma Alta Road, this route is significantly longer than the other routes. It totals around 18 km with an estimated loop time of 5 hours. But if you are looking to spend a few extra hours outdoors, this could be the route for you. What is particularly awesome about this longer route, is that you can add a stop at Patzcuaro Beach, a beautiful unspoiled beach near Sayulita. Just make sure you pack enough water and supplies!
However, you can cut the Sayulita route by more than half if you skip a few kilometers ahead to what is known as the Monkey Mountain Patzcuaro Trailhead, located along the Playa Patzcuaro road, south of Sayulita. This route is very similar to the Higuera Blanca route in terms of duration, distance and difficulty, which we will discuss ahead.
Via Higuera Blanca
To get to Higuera Blanca from Puerto Vallarta, head north on the Federal Highway 200 (which is the main road connecting the Banderas Bay) towards Punta de Mita. Right before reaching Punta de Mita, you'll come to T-intersection where you'll turn right towards Higuera Blanca. About 4 kilometers ahead, you'll reach Higuera Blanca, easily recognizable by the huge arch at the entrance.
To start your trekking escapade from the Higuera Blanca trailhead, simply head north along the Juan Escutia road, located on the far east side of the town. Don't be shy to ask for directions if you can't find the starting point. The locals at both of these towns are very helpful and happy to help!
How long is the Trek?
Personally, I have only tested the route starting from Higuera Blanca, which is roughly a 7km roundtrip hike. But as I mentioned before, it is very similar to the Sayulita route if you are starting at the Patzcuaro Trailhead.
The duration of this trail depends vastly on your pace and physical condition. Someone in great shape may effortlessly skip up to the zenith in about 45 minutes. But if you are like me, and the rest of us muggles (non-magical folk) doing our best to keep a good pace, it may take you about 60-70 minutes. Even with a short break to take in the mesmerizing views and recover from the steep climb, you'll only spend about 3 hours in total from beginning to end. This makes the Monkey Mountain Hike a perfect half-day activity to do around Punta Mita and Sayulita.
On the other hand, if you are feeling energetic and adventurous and want to hike the trail from Sayulita, prepare for a 6-7 hour expedition. Kudos to you!
What is the best time to hike Monkey Mountain?
The best time to hike El Cerro del Mono will depend on the time of the year. Usually, during winter and spring you will be able to comfortably hike this trail anytime during the day, just make sure you have enough sunlight to make it back because you are going on an off-road adventure. Now, during the summer months I strongly recommend that you start this trail as early as 30 minutes before sunrise so you can walk during the coolest hours of the morning. Otherwise, be prepared to endure high levels of heat and humidity. It's not impossible, but maybe this is not something you want to do if you are not familiar with local weather.
What can you expect to see?
First and foremost, along this trail you will be able to relish in the dense and exuberant vegetation. The long branches of the big, beautiful fig trees and the leaves of the tall and lush palm trees stretch out over the path, blanketing hikers with a soothing shade to walk on. As you make your way up the mountain, and your senses become heightened, you can admire abundant avian fauna such as black vultures, different types of hawks and falcons, a variety of hummingbirds, colorful woodpeckers, and beautiful magpie jays- just to name a few. This is not only a great birdwatching adventure, you can also see all types of interesting wildlife like scurry lizards, friendly geckos, majestic green iguanas, frogs, and so much more.
You'll be pleasantly surprised to encounter other fellow hikers enjoying an early morning hike, like Rocky, the most popular four-legged hiker on this route. Rocky is a friendly local dog that lives near the entrance of the Higuera Blanca trailhead. He usually waits for the first hikers of the day and joins them on the excursion up the mountain. He loves to lay on the rocks at the peak for a while, enjoying the fresh breeze and gorgeous views.
What to pack for this trail?
There are many things you can pack for a hike in general, and a lot of it depends on your personal preferences, experience, and quirks as a hiker. Therefore, I will stick only to what I consider to be essential and helpful for beginners.
- Small backpack
- Eco-conscious sunblock
- Eco-conscious bug spray
- Phone or camera
What to wear?
If you are an experienced trekking junkie, you know exactly what you like in terms of hiking attire. However, if you are not familiar with the area or with tropical sub-humid climates, you might want to keep reading.
The terrain of this trail varies, from flat dirt road to loose gravel and rocky patches. Having the right kind of footwear can help your feet enjoy this experience as much as you. Wearing comfortable walking shoes, preferably with slightly textured soles, is recommended. Don't worry if all you have are regular flat sneakers, you can still conquer this trail. Just be mindful of your steps.
Breathable, light clothes go a long way on this trip. Athletic attire made of thin materials works great too. During the summer/rain season, it gets HOT. Personally, I choose my outfit depending on the time of year. In winter/spring, I wear thin yoga leggings or quick-dry, breathable hiking pants for the bottoms and sports bra and thin cotton t-shirt for tops. During summer, I go for shorts, and a breathable, quick-dry hiking t-shirt. Essentially, you want to be as comfortable as possible. Whatever that means to you, maybe you like to hike barefoot and bare-chested. Just be prepared to sweat!
What to do after?
After a nice, moderately challenging but beautiful morning hike, you are going to be ready to eat or at least grab a quick bite. In town, you'll find some local Tienditas where you can buy a quick snack and more water. If you are feeling more peckish, there are many options to eat in the surrounding areas.
The closest to Higuera Blanca is Kilometro 5, a cool restaurant popular among surfers and locals. Here, you can enjoy some succulent tacos, delicious pizzas and juicy burgers. You can also head over to Punta de Mita and stop at Cafecito de Mita for a healthy Quinoa Salad or hearty Chicken Burrito with a frozen Tropical Smoothie. If you started in Higuera Blanca and are looking to extend the adventure, then you can head to Sayulita, where there are tons of delectable and affordable lunch options. My favorite lunch spots there are Mary's Traditional Mexican Cuisine, where they serve the best bowls with veggies, rice, beans and your choice of protein, and Yeicame, another tiny local restaurant with a few tables on the street serving mouth-watering Mexican food like chiles rellenos, tortilla soup, and a variety of tacos (my favorites: huitlacoche and cochinita pibil).
Lastly, my absolute favorite thing to do after a nice early morning hike to El Cerro del Mono is brunch at the Farmer's Market in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. Available only from November through April from 9am-1pm, this market is, in my opinion, the best place to grab lunch with many international options to choose from. Plus, you can cool off at the stand serving Aguas Frescas or visit the ice cream booth offering artisanal sherbets with original flavors like my favorite, Pineapple Basil.
A few more recommendations
Download a hiking app and make sure you save this trail in case you get lost on the way. It's not hard to find your way back, but having a hiking app with GPS tracking makes navigating the trail a lot easier if you miss a sign along the way. There are tons of popular choices out there. Personally, I use Wikiloc, but I have heard good things about AllTrails too.
Whether you are planning to begin the journey before the sun rises or later in the afternoon, I recommend that you carry a flashlight or a headlamp. This little gadget comes handy in unexpected low light situations.
There you have it, everything you need to know before embarking on the Monkey Mountain adventure. From where to start to how long it lasts and best time to do it, what to pack, and what to wear, you are now well-informed and equipped with a ton of tips and tricks to conquer this peak and enjoy a great day out in nature. I hope you've enjoyed reading this guide as much as I loved writing everything I know about it. If you've mastered this trail I would love to learn about your experience. How did you like it? What would you add to this guide?
Share your pictures, videos and comments in social media, and tag us for a feature on our channels! Instagram @livepuntamita and Facebook Live Punta Mita. Can't wait to see and read all about your explorations. Happy hiking!