Immediately west of the city of Guadalajara lie 30,500 hectares (75,367 acres) of rolling hills covered with pine and oak trees — home to hot springs, deep canyons and over 300 species of woodsy creatures. This is Bosque la Primavera, the Primavera Forest, which was declared, in 1980, a protected refuge for flora and fauna and a beautiful, quiet place where tapatíos (citizens of Guadalajara) can escape the noise and stress of the city.
Bicycle riders in particular have discovered just how easy it is to disappear deep into the woods, soaking up the good vibrations. Every weekend, around 2,000 of them head for the west end of town where the forest begins, just six kilometers beyond the city’s Periférico, or Ring Road.
Driving along Avenida Mariano Otero, they first come to a caseta (entrance gate) where forest rangers remind them not to bring pets or alcohol into the protected area.
After another 2.6 kilometers, they come to Estación Estéfano, a secure parking area that can hold 700 vehicles. Here, owner Ramón Estéfano told me that for a fee of 60 pesos, you can leave your car all day and use the toilets and the showers and even a free bicycle wash.
You also have access to several businesses, each housed in a modified shipping container. These include a restaurant, a coffee shop and a bicycle mechanic. My friends and I found the restaurant’s breakfasts excellent and the toilets spotlessly clean.
Estación Estéfano is open every day of the year, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The restaurant, however, is only open Saturdays and Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Most people leave their cars here and pedal up the road for 3.4 kilometers to a delightful place called Check Point.
Here they find a tastefully decorated rustic cabin, a cultural center, a cafeteria, good fellowship and, believe it or not, a gourmet restaurant. Here I also found Yamil Karim, one of three brothers who own and operate Check Point. I asked him what attracts 2,000 people to this neck of the woods every weekend.
“The Primavera Forest is right next to the city,” he told me, “and for a cyclist, the biggest attractions are la naturaleza y los recorridos (nature and the mountain bike trails). Our trails are great fun. Their level of difficulty is intermediate, and there is lots of variety. These trails offer a little of everything.
“If you want long distances, you can cover 60 or 70 kilometers. In fact, we have one route called The Three Towers, which is 100 kilometers long and entirely inside the Primavera Forest. Passing right alongside Check Point, we have really nice trails with very good bajadas (down slopes), and they are well signposted and well-maintained. Some have wooden bridges, and many curves have special ecologically friendly supports.”
These routes are looked after by an association called MTB Pro Bosque, a nonprofit organization of volunteers who work with the support and approval of the forest’s landowners to maintain and improve the Primavera’s bicycle trails. The group depends entirely on donations.
Check Point is located right in the middle of the most important and popular routes, so people can eat breakfast there and then start their tour. I asked Karim what these routes were like.
“Well, for example, right here we have trails called Mosca, Garrison, Toboganes and Espinazo,” he said. “Typically, these are named after the people who created the route or who did a lot of work on it.”
“For example,” he continued, “Mosca, which means ‘fly’ in Spanish, is not named after a fly but after the dermatologist Dr. Mosca. This is an uphill track that is 2.3 kilometers long and takes you to Garrison Trail, which has been around since the 1980s and is named after a guy who had a bicycle shop in Guadalajara. It runs downhill and is about two and a half kilometers long. Other trails with curious names are La Preciosísima and La Vaca Muerta. Each one, of course, has a story to tell.”
Check Point is housed in the same buildings that were once known as Estación Bicicleta, an enterprise that provided food and refreshment to mountain bikers.
“For years, my brothers and I were happy customers of Estación Bicicleta,” Karim told me. “After cycling, we would arrive here dirty, sweaty and half dead. For us, Estación Bicicleta was a true oasis.
“Every weekend, we would eat here, and one day, relaxing here in the shade, my brother said: “I really like it here; I would definitely love running a place like this, in the middle of the woods. Thinking about it, I would make the kitchen bigger, and I’d add tables over there and over there …”
Several years later, Estación Bicicleta went out of business, and the Karim brothers decided that the time had come to turn their dream into reality.
“After great difficulty just to find the owner of the land,” said Karim,” we bought the place, renovated the cabin and installed a cafeteria and a fireplace. It’s really cozy now, and people love to come taste the fine coffees we offer, which we rotate every week. We even bring in experts and hold coffee catas (tastings) here.”
Another Check Point specialty is its exotic fruit juices, including its house version of hydrating drinks.
“Ours is natural and delicious,” Karim told me.
Clients of Check Point enjoy all this surrounded by the paintings and artistic photos of another brother, award-winning artist Ramadam Karim.
“Shouldn’t it be Ramadan?” I asked.
“Yes, it should. We are of Palestinian descent, but here in Mexico, they spelled it wrong on my brother’s birth certificate… and it stuck.”
“It’s been a real challenge to set this place up,” Yamil Karim told me. “People like the result but would never imagine the logistics involved, for example, just to have tanks of gas here. Only to bring our personnel here every day, we had to get a vehicle dedicated to the task. This is because we’re in a nature reserve and there are all kinds of restrictions on what you can do.”
I found the food at Check Point delicious. “Who’s responsible for that?” I asked.
“My novia, Fernanda.” he replied. “She studied to be a chef, and now she invents dishes and drinks and desserts. Today, the dessert of the week is a croissant garnished with chocolate and sprinkled with almonds. Fernanda delights in choosing just the right ingredients for these desserts: le da mil vueltas sobre cada detalle (she mulls over every detail) so that it turns out just right.”
The public response to all this has been muy padre, Karim says, or “very good.”
“People really like this place!” he said.
“Let me mention one other thing,” he added. “We are not surprised to have plenty of mountain bike riders as customers, but we never expected to see so many non-cyclists here. It seems as if word has spread, and now lots of families are showing up — with grandmas and grandpas in tow.
“They come by car, eat here and go for a walk along one of the trails. We’ve had to expand our parking area to accommodate all of them.
“It’s like the general public in Guadalajara is just now waking up to the fact that there are woods here, that we have a kind of treasure right here next to the city.”
Check Point is open from 9 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. on weekends and 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. on Thursdays.
- Where’s your favorite place in Mexico for walking or mountain biking trails? Add your recommendations to John Pint’s in the comments.
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.