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Returning to the Río Caliente Spa eight years on

Anyone searching for a fine, natural, hot-water spa on this continent at the beginning of this millennium would have heard about and perhaps ended up staying at Río Caliente Spa, located inside the Primavera Forest only 12 kilometers due west of Guadalajara.

pg9aThis Mexican spa had it all: pools of alkaline water saturated with all kinds of minerals, even organic lithium; gorgeous scenery; quaint cabins each with a fireplace; vegetarian meals prepared with home-grown organic vegetables plus yoga and Spanish classes. In addition, there’s a completely natural steam bath which they created by excavating a meter below the surface and building a room over the spot.

Yes, you only have to dig a hole a meter deep to find hot water because the hot river is born just next to the spa.  While most Tapatios have taken a dip in the Río Caliente at one time or another, hardly anyone has ever seen the spot where it literally boils out of a narrow canyon.

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pg9bFor a guest of the spa, however, visiting the source only required pushing your way through a veritable wall of tall weeds and suddenly, there you are at the edge of the steamy river, which is bright green with algae, reflecting the extraordinarily high water temperature. Now the problem is to get upstream without being cooked. My solution was to wear high, thermally insulated “Bone-Dry” RedHead boots which allowed me to reach the spot where the water bubbles out the sides of the canyon walls at a temperature of about 70 degrees Centigrade (158 Fahrenheit)—but linger I did not, because I had no idea how long even these fine boots would stand immersion in such hot water before literally disintegrating.

That said, of all the wonderful things Río Caliente Spa had to offer, I would personally say that its most endearing feature was surely its toilets. Believe me, on a cold winter’s day nothing feels more delicious than the steamy vapors of a hot toilet bowl warming your bottom: a unique experience if there ever was one!

For some 30 years, Río Caliente was the spa to go to and even the Discovery Channel was talking about it. Then, in 2011 disaster struck. Was it a forest fire? An earthquake? A terrorist attack? No, none of the above, just a little change in the U.S. government’s Travel Advisory list, shifting Mexico into the same “danger” category as Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.


“Overnight they decided that Guadalajara was dangerous,” the spa’s owner, Caroline Durston told me in 2011. “And overnight all my clients canceled their reservations.”

A month later, this extremely popular spa was forced to shut down.

“Just how many of your former guests had been mugged, murdered, attacked or otherwise accosted?” I asked the soft-spoken Englishwoman.

“Attacked?” she said, her eyes widening. “No one has ever been attacked or accosted in any way, not even once, neither here at the ranch nor on their way to or from the airport – never.”

Río Caliente Spa was spread over ten hectares and had 53 cabins as well as several houses, not to mention the dining hall, gym, sauna, massage rooms and the palapa.

Ah, yes, the palapa. It was a sort of multi-purpose palapa where my wife Susy used to give Spanish classes. One day she came home and said, “Now I’m teaching Spanish to a movie star!”

“Oh, really?” I replied. “And what’s this star’s name?”

“Louise Fletcher.”


“You’re teaching Louise Fletcher, who played evil Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? That horrible creature who had Jack Nicholson lobotomized? That must be terrible!”

“Oh no,” replied Susy. “She’s the sweetest thing!”

Durston still lives at the spa and her staff still maintains the grounds, the pools and the buildings. I visited her recently and am happy to report that she is still up and about even though she now moves very slowly.

“Have you found a buyer for Río Caliente?” I asked her, knowing that the spa is now up for sale.

“No,” she replied, “but I’m looking for one.”

Just in case any reader might want to buy the place, I understand you can snap it up for only a few million dollars. For more information, call Paco at 331-970-6947.

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