Sunday, June 16, 2024

Jalisco water park offers delightfully warm swimming fed by geysers

Here’s another wonderful place that makes you feel like you’ve arrived in the middle of nowhere when you are actually a mere 45 minutes from the crowded streets of a big city.

As you head out of Guadalajara on Avenida Alcalde, the noise and congestion suddenly end, and you find yourself driving straight down into the maw of El Cañon de Oblatos, probably the most spectacular of the deep canyons surrounding Mexico’s second-largest city.

Just before you reach the canyon floor — and slightly before reaching the banks of the Santiago River— you turn off to the quiet village of Ixcatán. Now you’re on cobblestone for six kilometers, until you reach a bridge crossing Río Soledad, a.k.a. The River of Solitude.

From this point downstream, the river passes through what could be called a miniature version of Yellowstone Park. It’s truly miniature, covering a stretch of only 500 meters, but within that small space, lies a steaming wonderland.

Jalisco's Rio Soledad
These small, picturesque pools lie a few minutes’ walk downstream from Rancho Avila’s.

Thirty years ago, I heard rumors that there were geysers along the Soledad River and when I first laid eyes on them, I was truly amazed.

There they were, side-by-side, two geysers spraying hot water high into the air, with loud hissing, but what really grabbed my attention was the fact that each geyser was spouting out of a kind of cone perhaps a meter and a half high, somewhat shaped like a stovepipe. These cones looked very thin and fragile, and they were gaudily colored: bright reds and golds mixed with a brilliant white, all the colors melted together as if Antonio Gaudí himself had sculpted them.

This was one of the loveliest sights I have ever seen, but those cones were all too fragile. The next time I paid La Soledad a visit, they were gone.

Local people told me the sad story:  “Some kids came along, saw the geysers and climbed up to the top of the cliff behind them. From there they threw stones to see which of them would be the first to knock down the cones.”

Jalisco's Rio Soledad
Curious gypsum formations produced by the thermal activity.

In a matter of minutes, the kids were able to destroy two of Mother Nature’s masterpieces that had been built up over who knows how long a period of time.

Although the geysers stole the show, the base of the cliff behind them was hissing and steaming with great vigor and you could have spent hours looking at what was going on in each vent and fissure, where all hell seemed to be trying to break through, creating bizarre mineral formations in the process.

Supercharged with minerals, the boiling hot water bubbling out of this mini-Yellowstone flowed down the hillside, displaying a melange of colors, to two small round pools built by the owners of this land — and more delightful hot tubs you are unlikely to find anywhere.

To our surprise, we discovered another set of big, noisy geysers 500 meters downstream, creating a huge cloud of hot vapor right at the river’s edge.

Jalisco's Rio Soledad
The rustic pool at Rancho Avila’s features deliciously warm water. Franky Alvarez

All of these wonders I have described are located on private land. Over the years, the owners have made valiant attempts to turn their steamy wonderland into an attraction that others might enjoy, but none of those projects ever bore fruit. Today, this thermal area — perhaps the most picturesque in the state of Jalisco — is off limits to the general public.

But if these descriptions have given you a yen for immersing yourself in a delightful pool of hot mineral water, don’t despair: the River of Solitude will not fail you!

A short distance upstream from the bridge (remember the bridge?) there are other thermal delights — not quite so flamboyant as those geysers, mind you — but these are open to the public.

Cross the bridge and head west for just over a kilometer and you will be at the entrance to a balneario (water park) called Rancho Avila’s.

Jalisco's Rio Soledad
The lowest set of geysers are located only 494 meters west of the Santiago River.

An English speaker might wonder what the apostrophe is doing at the end of “Avila.” Well, just consider this a would-be appendage of classiness inspired by such well-known establishments as Chili’s and Macy’s: a sort of Chez Avila, Mexico style.

Drive 300 meters into Rancho Avila’s and you will come to a parking lot next to a big roofed dining area with nearby restrooms and changing booths. As for bathing options, the owners have taken full advantage of the many hot and cold springs all along this stretch of the Soledad River. Here you can choose between a spiffy modern pool with its own mini-island or a rustic swimming hole.

I would take the rustic swimming hole any day. It’s bordered by a picturesque canyon wall covered with ferns and gnarly tree roots and it’s filled with deliciously warm water which comes from a tall stream of hot water tumbling into the pool.

Once you are standing under this delightful hot shower created by Mother Nature, you won’t be able to step away!

Jalisco's Rio Soledad
This cold-water swimming pool at Rancho Avila’s comes with its own rocky island.

Almost all the visitors to this balneario spend their time frolicking in one of the pools, but if you are a bit adventurous, just follow the river downstream a bit. This involves jumping from rock to rock for a while but leads you to a truly magical place with small, interconnected, natural pools, two of them fed by streams of water pouring down from the cliffside.

Yes, here are two more natural showers and if you find them, you will probably have them all to yourself: clean, crystal-clear water, deliciously warm, but not hot … ahhh, pure bliss!

Rancho Avila’s is open from Wednesdays to Sundays. Admission is 80 pesos for adults, 50 for kids. They don’t allow camping, but they do have a cabin that sleeps eight for 2,000 pesos (about US $100) a night. Whoever rents the cabin automatically gets the whole water park to themselves — and you will especially appreciate the hot pool at night!

For more info, you can call Gaby at 331 022 5837 (WhatsApp). To get to the place, ask Google Maps to take you to “Balneario Rancho Avila s” — spelled with a mysterious space instead of that classy apostrophe. Driving time from the north end of Guadalajara is about an hour. Double that if you’re coming from the Lake Chapala area.

Jalisco's Rio Soledad
A roadrunner visiting the geysers of Rió de la Soledad.

The writer has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, since 1985. His most recent book is Outdoors in Western Mexico, Volume Three. More of his writing can be found on his blog.


Jalisco's Rio Soledad
Inside the cabin at Rancho Avila’s.


geyser along Jalisco's Rio Soledad
The highest geyser along the Soledad River now produces only hot air.
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