Last updateSat, 22 Jun 2019 1pm

Las Pilas: the picturesque pools of Ahualulco, but beware the chiggers!

Ahualulco is a small town located 55 kilometers west of Guadalajara. Never heard of it, you say?

pg7aWell, in 1810 it was the home of Jose Maria Mercado, a priest and co-conspirator with Miguel Hidalgo in instigating Mexico’s revolution against Spanish rule. Without the help of Mercado, Hidalgo would never have acquired all those big cannons with which he somehow ended up losing the Battle of Calderon Bridge. How those two padres managed to touch off a successful war of independence never ceases to amaze me.

Ahualulco … still doesn’t ring a bell? Well, just think of megaspherulites. Yes, Ahualulco is the home of the world famous Piedras Bola, the giant stone balls whose exact origin still has geologists scratching their heads.

All of this, however, is beside the point, because today I’m writing about Las Pilas (The Pools), which lie five kilometers northwest of Ahualulco.

For some time, my friend Chris Lloyd has led canyoneering trips down this series of waterfalls, but I learned from local birder Julio Alvarez that Las Pilas is also popular among the townspeople of Ahualulco.

“Don’t tell me they’re into abseiling?” I asked Julio. “No,” he replied, “there’s an easy path that will take anyone to a set of natural pools further down from the big waterfalls and here people love to bathe and in some cases they can even swim a bit.”

I heard about all this months ago during the dry season and decided to wait until August to go and have a look, even though Julio warned me that I might not see much. “This year very little water is coming down the river. I’m not quite sure why that is,” he tried to explain.


pg8aThe drive from Ahualulco to the trailhead would best be done in a high-clearance vehicle. Park in the suggested spot to avoid a big mud puddle. From here it’s a short 225-meter walk to the trail head, at which point you can either plunge into the river, working your way upstream (and getting plenty wet in the process) or you can look for the convenient trail which parallels the river on its east side.

If you have the Wikiloc app, just download “Las Pilas near Ahualulco” and you’ll find it easy to follow the trail, which, of course, switches to the other side of the river several times.

After making your way north 350 meters, the land on both sides of the river develops into charming, rolling meadows or pasture that my friends and I found very attractive and inspirational. There were all sorts of birds flying about and we even came upon a friendly tarantula. It would be a great place for a picnic even if there were no pools at all.

The pools, however, add much to the beauty of the place. They are nicely sculpted by Mother Nature and, despite the paucity of water in the stream this year, some of these pools were close to two meters deep.

From a distance, the pools look dark with an orange tinge, but closer inspection reveals that the water, which is constantly 

changing, is crystal clear and perfectly clean. 



The temperature is refreshingly cool, not cold. The color possibly comes from algae on the rock walls. At last I jumped in and I liked it — and I suspect you will too.

There was, however, an unexpected price to pay for our jaunt in the hills above Ahualulco. Twenty-four hours after the event, I began to feel very itchy around my waist and discovered I had eight red welts marking almost perfectly the location of my belt ... and just begging to be scratched.


I texted the friends who had accompanied me: “Did you get any chiggers from our hike? I have eight very itchy red spots.”

Back came two immediate replies:

“You only have eight? I have a thousand!”

And, “Those are from chiggers? I thought they were the worst mosquito bites in the world!”

All three of us had been boarded by Trombiculid Mites (güinas or coloradillas in Mexican Spanish, chiggers in English), probably while we sat on the ground meditating on the pastoral beauty of the Pilas. I had “only” eight red spots because I was the only one who applied insect repellent before leaving home. But the prevention and treatment of chigger “bites” (they aren’t bites at all) is too complicated to go into here. Watch out for my article on this subject next week!

How to get there

What? You still want to go? OK, from the Guadalajara Periférico, take Highway 15 (towards Nogales and Tepic) 25 kilometers to Highway 70, which heads southwest toward Ameca. Go about 18 kilometers and turn right onto the road heading for Teuchitlan and Etzatlan. From this turnoff, it’s 27 kilometers to Ahualulco. Just past the town, turn left onto the scenic highway to Ameca, marked by a big Piedras Bola sign. Drive 2.8 kilometers and turn right onto a dirt road heading west. Now it’s time to follow my Wikiloc.com route “Las Pilas near Ahualulco.”  Driving time from Guadalajara: one hour. Make that two if you’re coming from Ajijic.

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