Local canyoneers have known about them for many years, but — until now — most members of Guadalajara’s general public had never seen or experienced the many beautiful waterfalls hidden in a gorgeous canyon located only 22 kilometers due north of Mexico’s second-largest city.
Like so many other natural wonders at the edge of the City of Roses, such as the monoliths of El Diente, Colli Volcano and the hot pools of the Santiago River Barranca, Jaguar Canyon is silent and solitary, leaving an explorer with the impression that he is communing with nature in the middle of nowhere, far, far from civilization.
In the past, the problem was access. The falls were there, all right, only 300 meters from the well-paved road leading to the pueblito of Huaxtla, Jalisco, but getting down to that river required serious mountain climbing skills and rappelling equipment.
All this changed just three years ago when local entrepreneurs began to construct a proper footpath embellished with arrows and signs, making it possible for every Teo, Dora and Hildelgardo to reach the place in one piece — and I include Doras and Hildelgardos only four years old!
None of this implies that the one-kilometer-long trail is easy. No, no, it is still plenty steep, so much so that ropes have been installed at key points for visitors to grab onto as they scramble up and down.
So you are guaranteed to work up a sweat whether you are coming or going.
The canyon, and the town of Huaxtla, can be reached via Highway 23, which takes you from Guadalajara to San Cristóbal de la Barranca. As soon as you turn off this carretera, you realize that you have just entered a magical place.
The views of the canyon from the road are breathtaking, and in the rainy season, their beauty is further enhanced by a spectacular waterfall 100 meters high that cascades down the most distant canyon wall.
All around you, the cliffs and hills are covered with strangely shaped rocks, some of them almost perfect spheres, reminiscent of Jalisco’s famed Great Stone Balls. Like those rocks, these are of volcanic origin.
Five kilometers from the main highway, we saw some rather shabby signs directing us to turn left into a long, flat field. At the far end, we came upon a number of parked cars alongside a big stand covered with a tin roof.
Here you can buy water, rent a life vest, if you wish and, of course, pay the 50-peso entrance fee.
Under the tin roof, we also found guide Leonardo Orozco, who informed me that the local name for the site where these waterfalls are found is El Cañon del Jaguar, or Jaguar Canyon.
“We have seven big waterfalls here,” Orozco said. “The trail is well-marked for you to visit the biggest three of these falls.”
“Besides hiking, swimming and canyoneering [i.e., the sport of exploring canyons by climbing, rappelling or rafting], you can also enjoy camping here, where you will have a great view of a starlit sky,” he added. “Of course, we also have security and toilets, and we sell cold drinks también.”
He told me that during the process of renovating this trail they removed three tons of trash both from the path and from the river. Now the entrance fee pays for regular maintenance.
“Water flows here all year round,” he said, “but the river and falls look their best during the dry season, when the water is almost crystal clear.”
“However, I should mention,” he added, “whatever time of the year you come here, the water is always ice cold.”
The new trail turned out to be smooth and well-constructed for about 800 meters, weaving its way through wildflowers and papelillos covered with red strips of paper-thin bark and popularly known as “tourist trees.”
Every five minutes, we would stop and gasp at the gorgeous views we kept getting of the picturesque canyon below us.
And I must mention — as many other visitors have noted — that the trail, river and hillside are really clean, just as Orozco told us.
Along the way, we also saw patches of black basalt in the mainly rhyolite walls. After 800 meters, the path changes. It is now steeply inclined and rocky but still easy to follow, thanks to plenty of bright-yellow arrows.
At last, we reached the river. Signs pointed in two directions towards Fall No. 1 and Fall No. 2.
The first is 22 meters high, elegant and thin. You get to the large pool at its base by scrambling over some huge boulders.
Whether you swim here may depend on your tolerance for cold water and the time of year you visit. I suspect the cold water would be deliciously inviting in May, the hottest month of the year in these parts.
To get to the second waterfall, you need to cross the river and make your way 100 meters downstream. This waterfall, only 10 meters high, has a wide, wispy shape — just the style a watercolorist would love to paint.
Here, most of the walls around the pool are vertical, as if saying to the visitor: “Jump in or beat it!”
The trail continues on to a third waterfall farther downstream: La Cascada de San Lorenzo, at 25 meters high.
It’s followed by several more falls that can best be appreciated by watching Luigi Medina’s YouTube video on Las Cascadas de Huaxtla.
While the first three falls can be reached by just about anyone, if you want to see all of them, you will need to link up with an organization of experienced canyoneers.
The season for visiting Jaguar Canyon’s waterfalls is roughly from November to the first week in June. Stay away during the rainy season (June through September), when a flash flood could easily sweep you away.
To do this hike, ask Google Maps to take you to WJP3+JHQ Huaxtla, Jalisco. This will get you to the parking area and trailhead. Don’t ask for “Cascada de Huaxtla,” as you might end up at a boutique hotel on the other side of the canyon! Driving time from the northwest end of Guadalajara is about 40 minutes.
For more information, you can consult the Cascadas de Huaxtla Facebook page. Or if you’d like to have a personalized camping experience here, call Leonardo Orozco at 331-398-9937.
Leonardo can arrange for you to enjoy a nice hot cup of pajarete (coffee with hot milk, straight from the cow’s udder, plus, of course, a shot of tequila) to get you going early in the morning!
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.