Jurassic Park: A Family Camping Adventure in Mexico

Before we came to Mexico I assumed that the entire country was either desert or coastal. Discovering Mexico diverse terrain�mountains, jungles, pines, plains and more�has been an absolute delight, and one of the things I love best about living at Lake Chapala is that this area is like the hub of a wagon wheel with many other fascinating and beautiful destinations just a few hours away: Colima, Guanajuato, Puerto Vallarta and Michoac�n, to name a few.

Just recently my mom and dad suggested we go to the state of Colima, a few hours away, and check out a place they found on Google Earth with a waterfall. There are rivers and springs all over the place spilling beautiful waterfalls off the rocks.

We all piled in the car: my husband, Joel, and our three kids and Ruby the Great Road-Trip Dog. If you’ve traveled in close quarters before, you�ll know this was an adventure in itself. Let me just say that after an hour on the road, the kids weren’t the only ones saying, “Are we there yet?”!
Hobbit houses
We finally found the road up the mountain that took us an hour away from the beach and as the car began to climb, the temperature steadily dropped until it was 10 degrees lower than the sweltering coast�whew! The road was a two-lane black snake cutting through the green of the trees. If you go, you’ll feel like you’ve gone back millions of years in time. Around every turn you expect to see a dinosaur right out of “Jurassic Park.” Getting there is half the fun–driving through jungles and tropical rain forests, on a winding mountain road where you cross the river several times. You’ll pass several little Mexican pueblos, or villages (with speed bumps), so don’t be surprised if you see people riding burros, and keep your eyes peeled for cattle, dogs, goats or pigs in the road. It was spectacular scenery and by now we were excited to be there.

Let me save my readers some time by telling you right now that I will not spill the beans about where this is located because I am doing my part for this pristine gem in the jungle-y, green mountains with a cool breeze and a camping spot with fresh-water swimming pools. For the sake of future generations who will stumble on this beautiful place by accident and be in as awe of it as we were, though, I will call it Jurassic Park.

As you turn right down a cobblestone drive, you’ll see huge Parrota trees, adorned with strangler vines you can swing from (if you’re the Tarzan type). There is a 10-peso charge per person (one USD or Canadian dollar) that goes to benefit the poor through DIF, which is a government-sponsored, social assistance program for Mexican families. This included the use of the park and pools for the whole day and camping. This place definitely appeals to my frugality!

Our Jurassic Park looks like a well-kept jungle with many different types of trees and flowering shrubs. The most prolific are the coffee trees (beans change from green to red-brown to black). Colima coffee has won awards world wide for their rich coffee beans. Behind one of the small stands selling Chiclets is a living “gum” tree. If you ask to see it, you’ll get a sample of raw Chiclet gum. (Not very tasty, but interesting.) Another tree of interest is the “gringo tree.” This tree has red, peeling bark, just like–you guessed it–a sunburned tourist!

The next step was to set up our Tent City. We are a family of five, and since I think we have a tent for everyone in the family, we strike quite a presence when we set up. We collected a small crowd gathering around offering advice and suggestions as we struggled with the tents. Soon, we had little boys right alongside us good-naturedly pulling ropes and helping us hammer the stakes in the ground.

Once we had our camp in place, we explored our campsite and Noah found crayfish, crabs and bullfrogs (case in point to the left) in case we needed to go into survival mode. They were even raising Tilapia in a couple of tanks near a pound, as fresh as it comes, and they cook it for you too. Fortunately for me, I have a husband who loves to camp and cook, and we sometimes eat better when we�re “roughin� it” than we do when we’re at home.
Our campsite, which we had to ourselves, was in a copse of enormous trees with amazing roots that were so big that some formed natural two-three foot walls.

We were all in awe of some of the trees which had lacy, I felt as if one of those little guys from The Hobbit would come creeping out any second telling her to get out of his house!

Once we had out Camp Town set up the kids were scrambling to go swimming! Believe me, as a woman who used to fancy herself a land-locked mermaid, I was right behind them.

The campsite had three large, round pools on three levels all fed by the crystal clear, cool streams that come straight from underground springs that rushed in through clever channels and fed the pools and recycled back out. Two of the pools were deep and the third was a shallow “kiddie pool.” One had a high diving board and then the other deep pool had a slide that looped around and dumped us happily screaming in the water.

Can you imagine the pleasure of swimming in a fresh water pool without chlorine? (This water is recycled back into the creek below after flowing through the pools by gravity feed.

After the park officially closed for the day and the other families left, we were the only ones camping and we had the park to ourselves. I doubt any of us will ever forget sliding into the pool after dark. Bathrooms were available but we had to bathe in the pools. We just waited until everyone left and because the place was powered by gravity the pools stayed on with water rushing and the water slides working all night long so we took the kids for moonlit night swims and slid like little kids and washed our hair and had the place to ourselves except for the bullfrogs and fireflies.

The real draw for our going to Jurassic Park, though, was the waterfall. I am a sucker for a great cascade and this was one I had not seen before. The next day, we walked down to see the cascada. A new, wide concrete staircase winds down and around the rusty canyon walls. Cool canyon breezes rushed my face and carried a fine mist to settle on us. The fall comes flowing, crashing and splashing down through a rock crevasse that has been carved by the water over time and then rushes into a river that is perfect for riding lazily on an inner-tube and relaxing. People were diving off the cliffs and into the river and soon Joel was joining in the fun and whooping all the way down.

We floated down the high-walled canyon to the other side to yet another pool.
After the canyon, is a small grotto to explore, and about 1,500 feet further down the creek is another smaller waterfall. The first waterfall was far too turbulent to stand underneath but the second one was a full-blown fantasy experience. That is, if you fantasize about waterfalls in paradisiacal locations, which I do.

When we climbed the rocks and then crested the hill my breath was taken away; I felt like I was stepping into a postcard because it was so magnificently beautiful and untouched. I couldn’t resist standing under the waterfall it as cool water pounded down on my back and my head. It was a completely exhilarating feeling.

There were also numerous caves (way too many for us to explore in one trip) and beautiful trails to hike. The caves were really fascinating and cemented the whole Jurassic Park ideal.

If you love to hike, fish, camp, tube down rivers, stand in trees and under waterfalls, swim in fresh-water pools and water slide in the moonlight then I can’t think of a better place to go.

This place is not a tourist trap and the only people there besides us were Mexican. On weekdays, it is possible to find the park completely empty-but the pools, falls and river are still running! It’s one of the few places still left untouched by civilization, and is a must to see when you visit Colima, which is just a couple of hours from Lake Chapala and Ajijic.
We camp every chance we get! It is so safe and inexpensive and beautiful here that there is every reason to enjoy camping and the outdoors in Mexico. We live within such close proximity to other wonderful and exotic places that I will be exploring camping on the beach next, if Karen gives me the go-ahead. :o)))

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