Day tripping on the south shore of Lake Chapala

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At this time of year [tourist season, December-March] when the north shore is more congested than ever, you may feel as if the noise, commercialism and traffic are everywhere. But just an hour south of Lake Chapala you will find peace, serenity and soul-cleansing on the “Eco-Tourism” route called the “Sierra del Tigre.” This is a special scenic route that winds up into the breathtaking mountains, into the pines and crystal-clear air. The winding asphalt roads are excellently-maintained, well-marked and painted frequently. On the way back you will have amazing vistas of Lake Chapala.

The Sierra del Tigre eco-route is designed as a nice one day driving loop, with picnic and viewing sites at the side of the roads and quaint little villages along the way. If you love a twisty mountain road, all you need is the map and your car for a great adventure. Or go directly to Mazamitla, the star of the route which bears the designation “Pueblo Magico” or Magic Town. This designation by Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism brings additional dollars to the area for infrastructure (such as the beautiful roads into town) as well as strict adherence to architectural and other requirements.

Mazamitla has been compared to the Swiss Alps, but it reminds me more of mountainous Santa Fe, New Mexico with its uniform architecture. Virtually every building in Mazamitla is white stucco top, red stucco bottom. All business signs begin with a red first letter, and the rest of the print is black. The only variation is natural wood, used extensively in the windows, doors, trim, and ceiling beams (vigas). Outside of town, thousands of wood or log cabins or “cabañas” are available for overnight rental.

A program called “Mazamitla Intenso” highlights many extreme activities available to families and teens, including zip lining, paint ball, mountain climbing, and an off-road ATV park. In the summer there are horseback or hiking trips to the waterfalls. Bus tours to all these places are available from many vendors around the plaza.

My favorite Mazamitla-area destination is the natural hot springs at Spa Las Jaras, about 20 kilometers southwest of Mazamitla on the Sierra del Tigre route. A spa day pass is only 100 pesos, allowing full access to the grounds, large jacuzzis of naturally heated spring water, and large natural steam rooms. The Jacuzzi area extends into an interesting labyrinth of interior rooms where you can swim, soak or relax and cool off out of the water on many different perches. Massages are available in the beautifully decorated spa area for about 400 pesos an hour. Rooms are available for about 1200 pesos. Private in-room jacuzzis are an additional 200 pesos a night. There is a natural juice and snack bar, a full indoor restaurant, and a separate water park for kids and families to romp around in. It is under new management so prices and information are subject to change.

Important: If you accidentally turn off the excellent Sierra del Tigre Eco-Tourist asphalt roads, you will quickly be on rutted and poorly-marked dirt roads. I have had many good adventures on those dirt roads, but that is for a future column.

MORE INFORMATION:

If you don’t read Spanish, use Google Chrome browser for automatic page translation:http://www.google.com/chrome/

Eco-Tourism Route Sierra del Tigre:http://www.sierradeltigrejalisco.com.mx/indexesp.html

Printable Map of Sierra del Tigre Route: http://www.sierradeltigrejalisco.com.mx/mapa-tigre.jpg

Mazamitla Intenso: http://www.apsmac.com/site/?page_id=48

Adventure World Ecological Park:http://www.cabanasenmazamitla.com/mundo_aventura.html

Originally published in El Ojo del Lago, http://www.chapala.com/elojo/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1958%3Aview-from-the-south-shore-february-2013&catid=126%3Afebruary-2013&Itemid=156