Here comes yet more proof that Guadalajara lies at the center of a Magic Circle of natural wonders.
Although the city is just about a mile high, you need only drive 45 minutes from the northern ring road to find yourself in a lush, tropical jungle. Hey, Denver! Can you match that?
This apparent miracle is due to the 500-meter-deep Santiago River Canyon which wraps itself around most of the city. The Spaniards, of course, figured this out a long time ago: Live in the cool comfort of a pine forest and grow your tropical fruits down in the barranca.
Many campsites in western Mexico are delightful spots reachable only via horrendous dirt roads filled with rocks, ruts and mud. Not so the Parque Ecológico Huilotán, located just off Highway 23 which connects Tesistán to San Cristóbal de la Barranca. A drive of only 3.3 kilometers on a well-paved blacktop road brought us from the highway to the park entrance.
Here we met the owner of the park, Francisco “Paco” Castro, who collected the fee and offered to take us around the place. At the entrance 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,” 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 regularly helps liberate rescued wild animals such as 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 warm 30 degrees Celsius, 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 did just that and we were not disappointed.
We now hiked across the park, past two more pools and numerous campsites to check out a sheer rock face which is also the site of a beautiful waterfall and shallow pool during the rainy season. This, Paco told us, is a favorite spot for local rock climbers, one of several high walls at Huilotán. “And up at the top of the cliff,” he added, “you can see guacamayas (macaws) nesting.”
Although the macaws are probably the most spectacular bird you’ll see in this area, the word Huilotán means Place of the Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura, Huilota in Mexican Spanish. In addition, many other birds can be seen in this park, as well as some of the biggest and most beautiful fig trees you could imagine. And should you want a mango, you have only to open your hand and one will probably fall right into it. And are they ever tasty!
We ended our visit to Huilotán Park feasting on excellent ceviche and the most delicious pescado dorado, fried fish, I’ve eaten in years ... and the price is very reasonable. I should mention that the restaurant is normally open only on weekends but you can make arrangements for them to prepare a meal for your group on a weekday by phoning them in advance. The phone number is 331-342-5610 (cell) and yes, they speak English! You can also arrange this via a message on their Facebook page, “Parque Ecologico Huilotan.”
Huilotán is open every day of the year from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The entrance fee for adults is 60 pesos, 30 for kids and golden agers. Camping here costs 80 pesos for adults, 60 for kids, but note that you may have to lug your stuff a long distance from your car, unless you have a high-clearance vehicle.
While you might find a lot of people here on Sundays (in very hot weather), there won’t be many on a Saturday and without a doubt you’ll have the whole place to yourself on weekdays.
How to get there
Check out the driving route from Highway 23 to the ecopark on Wikiloc.com under “Huilotan Park.” Note that it is easy to get there from anywhere by asking Google Maps to take you to “Huilotan Ecological Park.” Driving time from Ajijic is about two hours. From downtown Guadalajara it’s an hour and a half.