Many cities in the world end gradually, petering off into suburbs followed, in turn, by a never-ending succession of small towns. Guadalajara, instead, ends suddenly, bounded to the east and north by the serpentine windings of the Río Grande de Santiago and its 500-meter-deep canyon, and to the west by the sprawling Primavera Forest, almost as big as the city itself. Although it is the country’s second largest city, Guadalajara is on Mother Nature’s doorstep.
Beyond these natural borders you can easily find peace—and a silence broken only by the rustle of leaves in the wind or the burbling of a nearby waterfall. You will, in fact, find it very difficult to believe that you are only a few minutes’ drive from the roar of traffic, blaring Banda music and loudspeakers announcing the passing of a gas truck.
In this article I will describe three eco parks where you can test the veracity of my claim. Each of them offers hiking, camping and swimming in very different environments, and if you show up on a weekday, you are likely to have the place all to yourself. Best of all, none of these beautiful, natural sites is more than a 45-minute drive from Guadalajara’s northern Ring Road, and you can reach them all in an ordinary car.
This park is located just 25 kilometers from town and features spring-fed pools, rocky crags and all the mangoes you can eat.
The first time I visited Huilotán, I was met at the entrance by its owner, Francisco “Paco” Castro. Here at the gate we also saw a big sign listing the campground rules and explaining its ecological orientation. “Even though we have three swimming pools here, we don’t allow the loud music you hear at most balnearios (spas),” Paco assured us, “and we don’t allow pets either.” The reason for this, he explained is that the very presence of dog droppings, for example, will automatically scare off many local species. This eco-park, in fact, regularly helps liberate rescued wild animals like squirrels, iguanas and possums.
The first pool is only a few steps from the entrance gate. “The analysis of our water showed it was so pure we could commercially bottle it as mineral water,” said Paco. This water bubbles out of the ground at a nice, warm 30 degrees Celsius (86 F), but in the pools, which it runs through continuously, it cools down to “room temperature,” meaning neither hot nor cold, but just right all year round.
Next to the pool is a fish farm where tilapia are raised in enormous tanks. “If you want ceviche and fried fish for lunch,” said Paco, “you can order it now and it’ll be ready when you finish your tour of the place.” We signed up on the spot.
The park has good hiking trails along which we saw several colorful guacamayas(macaws). We also came across some of the biggest and most beautiful fig trees you could ever imagine. And should you want a mango, you have only to open your hand and one will probably fall right into it.
We finished our visit to Huilotán feasting on the ceviche and the most delicious pescado dorado, fried fish, I have eaten in years… and the price was very reasonable. For more information, check out their Facebook page, “Parque Ecologico Huilotan.” To get there, type in the same words to Google Maps.
The Waterfalls of Huaxtla
Beautiful Jaguar Canyon, with its seven waterfalls, is located only 22 kilometers north of Guadalajara, near the little town of Huaxtla. In the past, only serious canyoners or rock climbers could appreciate the area, but just a few years ago local entrepreneurs constructed a proper foot path embellished with arrows and signs, making it possible for anyone—even four-year olds—to make their way down the one-kilometer-long trail to the river.
Note that I said it was possible, not easy! No, no, it is still plenty steep, so much so that ropes have been installed at key points for visitors to grab onto as they scramble up and down. So. you are guaranteed to work up a sweat whether you are coming or going.
Down at the bottom, local guide Leonardo Orozco informed me, you can find several big waterfalls. “You can also enjoy camping up here at the entrance where you will have a great view of a star-lit sky. Of course, we also have security and toilets and we sell cold drinks también.”
Water flows at Huaxtla all year round, “but,” said Leonardo, “the river and falls look their best during the dry season when the water is almost crystal clear. However, I should mention that whatever time of the year you come here, the water is always ice cold.”
This being the case, I suggest you visit Jaguar Canyon in May, the hottest month of the year in these parts. Whatever you do, stay away from this canyon during the rainy season (June to October), when a flash flood could easily sweep you away.
To get here, ask Google Maps to take you to: WJP3+JHQ Huaxtla, Jalisco. This will get you to the parking area and trailhead. Do not ask for “Cascada de Huaxtla,” as you might end up at a boutique hotel on the other side of the canyon! Driving time from the northwest end of Guadalajara is about 40 minutes.
For more information, you can consult the Cascadas de Huaxtla Facebook page. If you would like to have a personalized camping experience here, call Leonardo at 331-398-9937. He can arrange for you to enjoy a nice hot cup of pajarete (coffee with hot milk straight from the cow’s udder, plus, of course, a shot of tequila) to get you going early in the morning!
Eco Park El Jabalí
Wild Boar Park lies just 20 kilometers north of Guadalajara’s city limits alongside highway 54, right in the middle of the majestic and picturesque Barranca del Santiago.
An ad for this park asks: “When was the last time you saw a firefly?”
That question made me realize that I could practically count on my fingers the number of fireflies I have seen in the last few years and I easily found friends interested in visiting a place where we might see an abundance of luciérnagas, as they are called in Spanish.
The entrance to El Jabalí Park is only a 24-minute drive from the city’s Ring Road. Next to the entrance is a large parking lot from which you can walk to two spring-fed swimming pools or beyond them to a campground or, farther beyond, to a gorgeous little lagoon where the fireflies come out at night.
I should mention that the lagoon is also worth visiting by day when you can appreciate the size and beauty of its 500-year-old Montezuma Cypress tree, locally known as an ahuehuete (Old Man of the Water).
For more information on this jewel hidden away in a gorgeous canyon, see their FaceBook page which goes by the name of “El Jabalí; Parque Natural.” To visit the park, ask Google Maps to take you to Eco Parque “El Jabalí”, Juchipila – Guadalajara.