Back in the rolly hills of Huichol Indian country, down a narrow two-lane corkscrew road, eight kilometers from a friendly pueblo by the same name, lies one of the cleanest and prettiest lakes in
La Laguna Santa Maria del Oro lies in a steep volcanic crater believed to be at least 328 feet deep and 2 km around. It is reputed to be gorgeous and clean and I was ecstatic to find that to be true. A rubble road circumvents the lake, with dry brushy, brown, terrain from the months of November to mid May, then lush and green from June to October during the rainy season that conveniently brings high-drama thunder, lightening, and downpours, predominantly during the night.
Dawn breaks with a yellow warmth that steals the overnight chill from the water making a swim before breakfast refreshing. As the day progresses, the colors of the lake change from deep green to turquoise followed by a late afternoon silvery slate color before the sun sets over the hills.
What’s doin’. . .Outdoor activities, and lots of them! Birding for over 200 species, hiking around the lake or to an abandoned gold mine, fat tire biking around the lake and up to the Huichol villages nearby (a good workout), fishing for perch and bass, and if you’re into rowing, a ragtag flotilla of assorted kayaks, rowboats, and other beached floatables are for rent for US$10 per hour from the Koala Campground. Or you can bring your own and put in just about anywhere as the lake is easily accessible with the exception of a few private estates on the north shore.
Looking to kick back and just savor this idyllic and pristine paradise instead? Consider lazing by the lake watching it change with the light, swimming in particularly clean and warm water with small fish darting around your feet as you walk out, or snorkeling and exploring the underwater part of the volcano. Be advised the lake drops off appreciably within the first 6 feet and the lake bottom is a bit silty.
Evening hammock hanging (bring your own) and swapping tales over potluck meals with other visitors is a great end to a perfect day. Weekends and holidays are a lot livelier with mariachis, boombox music, more open restaurants to choose from, and often crowds of campers and full bungalows.
Where to stay. . .A left when you get down to the lake will provide you with a limited choice of bungalows and campsites. The Koala Campground and RV Park firstname.lastname@example.org is the largest and most popular hangout with tent sites from US$4 per person with no facilities to US$8 per person—if you want electricity, clean bathrooms, and warm showers. There are a few spacious and clean bungalows with two queen size beds and no kitchen at US$35 per night, or with adequately equipped kitchens US$40 per night, both include bottled water and daily maid service. Behind the bungalows and under the trees are a few dusty trailer spaces with hook-ups, but without a view of the lake. Reservations for weekends and holidays are a must but weekdays are quiet and tranquilo with good availability.
Christopher, a friendly and hospitable Englishman He and his Mexican wife own the Koala Campground, Spanish and English are spoken. Security is provided by Eugene the hunky chocolate Lab. Other dogs are welcome, pending Eugene’s approval.
What’s to eat. . .A right turn when you get down to the lake will lead you to a handful of decent to good palapa restaurants picturesquely perched on the grassy banks of the lake, serving a very limited menu of mostly seafood any way you like it. The meals come with a small salad, rice, tortillas, and entrée and will all be within US$10. A few will even cook breakfast for about US$3. There is a small Abarrote (mom and pop grocery) and a Mini Superette. Campers should bring groceries with them or be prepared to make the 8 km drive up to the village for food if you don’t want to depend on the restaurants.
The predominately Huichol village of Santa Maria del Oro, 8 km. above the lake, is pleasant and friendly with a pretty rose garden plaza, interesting Iglesia, internet cafes (be sure and agree on the time and price before starting out) tamales and pollo asado stands, mercados, medical clinics, and phone service. Down at the lake, however, there are no medical facilities, no cellular access or phone lines, and the closest gas station is back up near the highway, approximately 18 km. from the lake.
Getting there. . .Nearby international airports are Guadalajara (3 hours) or Puerta Vallarta (3 ½ hours) with well built and maintained multi lane toll (cuota) highways. Regular first-class buses to Tepic charge US$17.50 from Guadalajara and US$13 from Puerto Vallarta. Frequent taxi/vans make the one-hour trip to the lake and back from Tepic and regular bus service from Tepic to the village is available, inquire at the bus station in Tepic. Inexpensive cabs may be hired in the village for the 8 km. trip down to the lake. To get there by car from Guadalajara or Puerto Vallarta take Highway 15 and take the turn off at the sign La Laguna Santa Maria del Oro about 40 km. SE of Tepic. The village of Santa Maria del Oro is about 10 km. from the highway. Driving through the village, follow the “La Laguna” signs another 8 km down to the lake.