few years ago we discovered paradise at the bottom of 400-meter-deep
Barranca de Tamara, in Los Altos, the Highlands of Jalisco. On the
banks of the Río Verde, beneath towering red cliffs, we swam in
delicious pools fed by cascades of hot water and we swore we would come
back again and stay in one of two beautiful cabins which are available
Since it’s Paradise we
are talking about, Susy and I had no problem convincing two of
Jalisco’s most celebrated painters, Jorge Monroy and Ilse Hable Taylor
to join us.
We headed east and then
north from Guadalajara toward Tepatitlán, the “capital” of Los Altos
which is so-called because the elevation is around 2000 meters above
sea level. Along the way, we passed El Puente de Calderón, where Miguel
Hidalgo and 100,000 Indijenas fought (and lost) a
major battle for Independence
from Spain. This picturesque site is now a popular picnic spot on
weekends, but practically deserted on weekdays and well worth a visit.
We exited the toll road
at Acatic and drove eleven kilometers northwest along a well-signposted
dirt road to Rancho el Venado (Deer Ranch). Here we produced proof that
we had deposited 50% of the rental cost of one of the two cabins down
at the bottom of the canyon. After paying the other half in cash,
waterproof paper bracelets were placed on our wrists and we continued
on our way. If you don’t plan to stay overnight, by the way, you can
pay 50 pesos per person and spend all day enjoying the canyon and balneario.
Just beyond the ranch
house, there’s an awesome lookout point where you can
appreciate the majestic sweep of the barranca’s
red walls. When you begin the drive to the bottom, you will see the
money you paid at work. Two bulldozers are on duty every day,
maintaining the steep road in such good condition that any sort of high
vehicle can use it.
Two kilometers down
this twisting but wonderfully scenic road, you come to a fenced-in
deer-feeding station on your left. At certain times of the day, you can
see the tiny deer which give the Rancho its name.
Soon you will reach a
bridge over a stream that feeds into the Río Verde farther below. In
the rainy season, however, this “stream” turns into a wild and frothing
torrent so scary we had a hard time convincing a certain member of our
party that it was actually safe to go on. Just beyond the bridge
there’s a great mirador where you can appreciate
the extent of the river’s wild rapids as well as a tall, beautiful
waterfall not visible from the bridge.
You now proceed through
gently rolling hills and will notice a high metal watchtower at 5.4
kilometers from the Rancho. Visitors are allowed to climb to the top,
from which the view is fantastic.
The road leads to two roomy
wooden cabins, each of which has drinking and washing water,
electricity, a kitchen, a fireplace and two bedrooms, each with two
double beds. Note that the beds have blankets and sheets but you have
to bring along your own towels and soap. The kitchen has a fridge and
gas burners but very little in the way of pots, pans, dishes and such.
We did, however, find a very loveable (and speedy) mouse in the
kitchen, which seemed delighted that visitors had shown up.
A five-minute walk from
the cabin takes you to the south bank of El Río Verde, where two
swimming pools have been built beneath a network of small, natural
waterfalls whose temperature is 37 degrees (98.6 F, body temperature).
The water in these pools is incredibly clear and the towering red
cliffs above the river and the hot streams trickling down the rocky
walls are all so mesmerizing that our friends Ilse and Jorge
immediately set up their easels and only when darkness fell could we
lure them back to our rustic cabin. Rental of one cabin is 1500 pesos
per night on weekdays, 2000 on weekends. For reservations, call
36-71-3647, 36-71-2123, 36-71-2807 (FAX: 36-71-3882) in Guadalajara.
The road is kept in
very good shape, but a relatively high vehicle (like a station wagon)
is recommended… and don’t be surprised if the caretakers, Rosalio and
María Victoria come knocking on your cabin door with a stack of hot,
homemade tortillas. You are in Los Altos de Jalisco, after all, famed
for folks who are both friendly and efficient.
to get there
Near Tonalá take the
Tollroad-Autopista heading for Mexico City. Fifteen minutes later the
road divides. Take the left fork (signposted Zapotlanejo). Again the
road divides and again you take the left fork, this time for
Tepatitlán. You should now be on Autopista 54D heading northeast. A
half hour later take the Acatic exit. Drive straight north through
Acatic, exiting the town on Calle General Andrés Figueroa. Keep a sharp
eye because only 412 meters from the edge of town you will see signs
for Rancho El Venado and you must turn left onto an easy-to-miss dirt
road at N20 47.280 W102 54.702. Now follow the signs (or in case of
doubt, the more traveled road) to Rancho El Venado (N20 48.410 W102
56.715), which is 51.2 kilometers from the eastern side of Guadalajara.
Driving time from Guadalajara to the cabins: about an hour and a half.