Since 1985 I’ve been exploring country roads in western Mexico, inevitably discovering delightful, out-of-the-way places to hike, camp or just get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
By now, I should think I would have seen every attraction inside what I call The Magic Circle around Guadalajara.
And then along comes word of a waterfall, mountain or hot spring that I’ve never heard of. The latest such surprise is Parque el Jabalí — Wild Boar Park — which lies just 20 kilometers north of Guadalajara’s city limits alongside Highway 54 — but I could swear it wasn’t there the last time I drove down that road, less than a year ago.
“Not so,” says the owner of Parque Natural El Jabalí, Juan Barrera. “This wonderful place has always been here, hidden by the jungle. For years I’ve been working on making it accessible to visitors and finally we opened our doors six months ago.”
An ad for this park asks: “When was the last time you saw a firefly?”
That question made me realize that I could practically count on my fingers the number of fireflies I’ve seen in the last few years and I easily found friends interested in visiting a place where we might see an abundance of luciérnagas, as they are called in Spanish.
The entrance to El Jabalí Park is only a half-hour drive from the city’s Ring Road. Next to the entrance is a large parking lot mainly for the benefit of people who come for the park’s firefly-viewing night hike. People who come for camping have the option of leaving their vehicle in the (guarded) parking lot or driving 470 meters along a rough, rocky “car-eating” dirt road.
We were in a Jeep and bounced along to the campground which features nicely shaded flat spots for pitching tents, a shower, toilets that actually flush and electricity. Nearby are two “luxury” tents (each with a cama matrimonial) for those who prefer glamping to camping. A five-minute walk from the campsite will take you to a picnic area next to the parking lot, featuring two swimming pools filled with clean spring water at “room temperature.”
Once we set up our tents, a young attendant named Felix suggested we have a look at La Presa (the dam), just 170 meters away.
We followed an ever-narrowing, rock-paved path through exuberant foliage and suddenly … there it was! I’m afraid I shocked visitors up ahead when I shouted “Holy shit!” at the top of my voice.
That produced a lot of chuckles, but I couldn’t help myself. The huge, beautiful Montezuma Cypress tree which had suddenly appeared at the end of the trail was truly magnificent and had astonished me. Felix said that venerable tree was over 500 years old. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s certainly healthy, happy and oh-so-majestic. With or without fireflies, it’s worth a visit to this park just to experience that awesome ahuehuete (Old Man of the Water in Náhuatl).
Right behind the tree there is a picturesque lagoon where you could spend hours just watching a surprising variety of dragonflies.
At this point, the owner of the place, Juan Barrera, appeared. He told us he had first seen this amazing tree 30 years ago. “The property belonged to a friend and after discovering how marvelous it was and how badly it had been neglected, I told him ‘Someday I will own this place and you’ll see how I’m going to fix it up.’
“Well, my friend laughed because I was just a kid then. But 11 years ago I found him and convinced him to sell me this little paradise and since then I’ve been making trails and installing amenities. By the way, I’d like to show you one of the footpaths I’m most proud of. I call it The Stairway to Heaven.”
“I feel like I’m in paradise already,” I told Juan, “but lead on.”
Heaven turned out to be the peak of a very high hill offering a great view of the barranca. “To get to El Cielo you must climb 500 stone stairs,” Juan told us.
After climbing those stairs, I suspect some people might joke that you can only get to heaven after going through hell, as many of the steps are twice as high as what goes for a stair in most places.
“Are there really 500?” I asked Juan.
“Actually, I have no idea,” he replied, “but someone told me that’s how many it felt like.”
Well, the vertical distance from the lowest to the highest step is only about 50 meters, but the typical warm temperature of the barranca made sure we were all sweating by the time we reached the grassy peak called El Cielo where we were welcomed by a delightful breeze and a great view.
On the way down I counted the stairs and found out there were only 150, but they make for a fine workout!
The culmination of our visit was a night hike to the presa where we did see plenty of fireflies, but not the huge number I had been expecting. “Desgraciadamente,” lamented Juan, “we no longer see the huge numbers that were here in the past.”
Juan Barrera has made it a policy to use no pesticides at El Jabalí, which produces great quantities of mangos, sugar apples (Annona squamosa) and other tropical fruits. “But all the other fruit growers in the area use insecticides and as a result we see fewer fireflies every year. I fear the very same thing is happening all over the world.”
Like so many other places of outdoor beauty, Parque El Jaballí suffers from its share of problems caused by human beings, in this case in the shape of truck drivers who seem to be competing to see who can make their engine sound more like a rocket. Unfortunately, a deafening truck or motorcycle might come down the highway at any moment of the night or day.
That could put quite a wrench in your camping plan. I was able to sleep because I brought along my Howard Leight Max earplugs, but my compañeros had a hard time of it.
Another little problem at El Jabalí is chiggers. They are so little you can’t see them, but you’ll certainly notice the itchy red welts they produce. You can avoid the problem by dousing yourself with plenty of repellent … but that’s likely to keep away the fireflies as well!
Whatever the case, Parque el Jabalí is a welcome addition to the many outdoor attractions just minutes away from the city of Guadalajara.
Speaking of attractions, there is a restaurant called La Magueyera just an 1-minute drive from the park. It’s perched at the edge of a cliff and offers a stupendous view of the barranca and Guadalajara’s celebrated Cola de Caballo (horsetail) waterfall. Their specialties are sizzling hot molcajetes (stone mortars) filled with shrimp or arrachera (flank steak).
As for the Jabalí that the park is named after, Juan Barrera told me he has spotted both peccaries (small wild pigs) and true boars as well … but this is disputed by naturalists who say you can only find real boars in northern Mexico. If you’d like to settle the argument, bring along your camera and binoculars … but watch out for the chiggers!
The writer has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, for more than 30 years and is the author of A Guide to West Mexico’s Guachimontones and Surrounding Area and co-author of Outdoors in Western Mexico. More of his writing can be found on his website.