These picturesque cascades are only a 28-kilometer drive from the south shore of Lake Chapala.
I first visited them ten years ago, but I never included them in my books because the road is hopelessly muddy during the rainy season and, secondly, it would have taken 20 pages to describe how to reach the falls from the Mazamitla highway.
Fortunately, Google Maps has come along, and finding some – but not all – of Western Mexico’s outdoor gems is now far easier than it used to be. Mud, however, is just as sticky today as it was in 1882 when La Manzanilla de la Paz was founded. So, read on only if you have a big, high-clearance vehicle ... or clip this article and wait to visit Ocho Cascadas in the dry season (when the roads are fine for any sort of vehicle).
Are you ready to go? Just head for Lake Chapala, swing around to the south side and get on the road to Mazamitla. Turn off when you see the arched entrance to La Manzanilla and drive into town.
Note that in Jalisco there are two towns called La Manzanilla.
This one, in the mountains, can be distinguished from the other one, on the coast, by using its full name: La Manzanilla de La Paz, a good name, I think, because this pueblito is quiet and pretty.
Google Maps should get you through Manzanilla, but even if your smartphone poops out, local entrepreneurs have put up dozens of signs sporting a pine-tree symbol or the word “Cascadas” to guide you on your way.
So, if you get through the mud, you’ll soon be parking next to Waterfall Number One. A few steps from there, alongside Waterfall Number Two, you’ll find a two-story building with a big restaurant-bar on the ground floor and friendly Carmen Diaz de Espinoza, who makes the best ponche de capulín in all the mountains of Mexico. If you are the driver, though, better go easy on it, because Carmen’s ponche packs a real punch.
On my recent visit, I was surprised to learn that Doña Carmen is the mother of two outstanding musicians who have toured the world, singing Mexican songs and playing Mariachi music – and she has the clippings and posters to prove it.
Perhaps because of the Espinoza family’s international connections, the Ocho Cascadas guest book reads like a world atlas. On top of that, the charm of this extraordinary place inspired poet Adela Sánchez to write a two-page song about these:
Mantos de agua cristalina
Que bajan de las montañas
Bajan formando cascadas
y bañando las colinas
Para empapar esa tierra
Que de Dios fue bendecida.
I’m not a poet, but here is the best translation of that stanza I could come up with:
Sheets of sparkling waters
Descending from the mountains
Cascades of shimmering crystal
Creating glorious fountains
A blessing of God’s own creation.
On the second floor of the main building there are rooms for rent and a big balcony where you can pitch your tent for practically nothing, sheltered from sunshine or rain
and with a magnificent view of the river, to boot. Beyond the building are two paths, one following
the river to the eighth and final fall (a big drop which no one has measured) and the other to a mirador or lookout point offering a great view of that last waterfall, and the vast valley far below it.
The Espinoza family has built a wall at the base of one of the waterfalls, creating a big swimming pool, but it’s hard to tell just how clean that water is.
This place is open all day, every day, so if you are interested in adventure and beauty, go visit Ochos Cascadas and don’t forget to try Doña Carmen’s delicious ponche.
How to get there
From Guadalajara, take Highway 54 toward Colima for 12 kilometers and turn off onto Highway 15, signposted “Morelia.” After 20 kilometers, follow the Jiquilpan sign and keep going another 33 kilometers to the Mazamitla turnoff, just past Tuxcueca. Set your trip odometer at zero here. Now drive 20.6 kms to Manzanilla de la Paz. Head south through the town and exit Manzanilla on Calle Francisco Madero. At 22.4 km, turn right onto a country road leading to Concepción de Buenos Aires. At 27.8 km, turn left onto a road leading to the Ocho Cascadas parking area. The exact location is “N19.96657 W103.19511” and this is what you should put into Google Maps to find this place (Don’t put “Las Cascadas Cruz de Tierra.” as shown in Google Maps, as that will get you to the wrong side of the river!) My route is on Wikiloc.com under “Ocho Cascadas Manzanilla.” Driving time from Guadalajara: about two hours.