Let’s Go To The Hidden Hot Springs

Skinny dipping!
BY: MELISSA HEISLER

The town of Santiago’s claim to fame is its hot springs.  Santiago is a tiny town north of San Jose about 45 minutes. The springs are definitely off the beaten path, but finding the hot springs is half the fun of the adventure.

Getting to Santiago is the easy part. Follow the fourlane, Hwy 1, North from San Jose. It will turn into a two lane about 50 feet past the international airport. Along the way you will pass the tiny hamlets of Las Casitas, Caduaño, and Miraflores before arriving in Santiago. The drive takes about an hour and a half from downtown Cabo San Lucas. Take a left off of the 1 and follow the paved road to the Santiago downtown plaza. A gas station and two convenient stores are there for necessities. Don’t think for even a hopeful moment you are going to get very far from an Oxxo.

hotspringssantiago.jpgFive different hacias, (roads), to mountain springs can all be found within driving range of the Santiago square, if you are alert. Some have government signage although much of the roads are graded dirt. A few are less groomed and can be a bit treacherous and difficult to follow. The hacias include El Chorro, San Jorge/Santa Rita, Sol de Mayo, and San Dionisio.

One of the easier springs to find is El Chorro. For this one, when driving into town continue straight past the plaza and turn left at the end of the plaza. Continue along Boulevard Misioneros until you get to the church. Follow the signs to the zoo and turn right at first T, and left at the next. The Zoo itself is not marked as it is under renovations, but on the right you will see two domed cages and a few parking spaces.  There are not a lot of animals housed here, but it is free and there is some beautiful foliage to view as well.

After you pass the zoo which is not a zoo, hold on, cause it gets a bit bumpy. (You’re in a rental car, right?) You will begin to see large signs for Hacia El Chorro. These are your guideposts. The third sign is in a small village. It indicates you are to go forward, which is confusing due to the two forks, both heading forward. Take the right fork and continue on. The village has some competing super minis, who’s charm is not enhanced by the very loud music blasting out of them.. By the time you reach Restaurante La Cascada you are almost there. You can get a tamale, taco or other local tasty to go or on your way back stop for a late lunch. Down the road from the restaurant, you will see a “se renta” sign, turn left to stay on the trail. Of course all bets are off if they rent the place before you get there, in that case you’re on your own.

The total trip from the Santiago plaza to the hot spring Ejido Agua Calientes at the end of Hacia El Chorro takes about 30 minutes. A gentleman or two will be on hand to ask for 25 pesos a  head to access the hot spring. The land is private property, so don’t resent it. If you want to camp overnight the cost is 50 pesos. Parking is pretty limited and unmarked. Some grills are available to make your own lunch, if you brought charcoal. Be aware, there are no baños.

A large deep pool is directly next to the parking and grills. The water runs about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, which is not that hot unless you’re from Canada and have polar bear blood running through you, in which case, why are you talking Fahrenheit, and not Celsius? This pool is full of fish and the occasional water snake. Don’t worry, the snake is more interested in the fish than your lily white, goose bumped flesh.  Pick your way across the rocks to get over the dam to access the top pool, which runs about 80 degrees and has a rocked-off hot tub  area near the actual spring which runs about 100 degrees. This area is also full of fish, but no pesky Canadians, as they can’t take the heat. (No cards and letters, folks, we’re only kidding, we love our Canucks). Some of the fish may mistake your leg for potential lunch, but no worries, they don’t have teeth.

The amount of rain in the mountains will make the depths of these pools differ, but the hot tub is always full due to the constant spring. If you are a hiker, you can follow the river upspring to find the local waterfall.

If you had taken a right before the zoo, you would be headed toward San Jorge, a much more beautiful spring with three defined pools of varying temperature surrounded by foliage. But the trek to find the spring is a one-lane dirt pass up the mountain. The path is unmarked so it is best to hire a local guide to take you. The cost for this more exclusive spring is 100 pesos and the site includes ample parking, camping, latrines and changing areas.

Too fraidy cat to manage this by yourself? Just contact sustainable entrepreneur and permaculturist Kim Clapham at InCabo Travel and she can arrange for a personalized experience. kim@incabotravel.com

On your way home on the 1, don’t forget to stop at the Tropic of Cancer roadside pullout. Light a candle for Mary, take a picture with the globe showing the Tropic of cancer, and if you’re lucky, you can visit some of the vendors if their stores are open. Usually not. This collection of small retail shops was built by the city to give their trinket sales people an outlet, but there just isn’t enough business to make it feasible for them. Still, pop a shot of yourself standing at the exact spot that is half way between the north pole and the equator. It will look great on your Facebook page.