|The Waterfalls of the Copalitilla
One of the standard package tour offerings in Huatulco is a trip to the local mountain waterfalls, commonly referred to as Cascadas Magicas. While the waterfalls are
advertised in a variety of different ways, they are all part of the same river. A tributary of the Rio Copalita called the Copalitilla
cascades steeply down a mountainside over a couple of miles, through incredibly lush jungle surroundings. The source is a spring called Llano Grande. Years ago local
fishermen hunting for the giant freshwater shrimp called chacales discovered the river hidden in the jungle. The waterfalls range from small ledges to pouring sixty
foot cascades. What makes them so unique is the almost movie-set like beauty of the surroundings, the ferns and moss and jungle vegetation seeming too impossibly
verdant and well-placed. Approaching the Copalitilla from the highway turnoff at Zimatan village and up through Santa Maria Xadani, the first set of waterfalls you reach are called
Llano Grande. These are located near to the former La Gloria coffee plantation, where you can have lunch and a tour of the butterfly garden if you choose.
The entrance to the waterfalls is 50 pesos per person ($4), and 100 pesos more will get you lunch at the La Gloria restaurant. The restaurant is not to be missed, serving huge portions of traditional local dishes, and is one of the best meals for the money you can find in the region. As it has become the most popular of the Cascadas destinations in the last couple of years, the timing of lunch seems to have been pushed further and further back until around 2:30 these days, as they are catering to the larger tour groups and don't have lunch available to individuals before then. Llano Grande remains my favorite of all the Copalitilla locations, even though the waterfalls are not the largest. They're more beautiful though and the hike in is considerably shorter. When you arrive in the parking lot, the river trail is straight ahead of you whereas the high trail is off to the right. Choose the river trail. It's an easy fifteen minute hike along the riverbank through gorgeous jungle, allowing you views of many small ledges and beautiful clear pools. You see a wide variety of butterflies, including the occasional huge white or blue morphos. Toward the end you climb away from the river to meet up with the high trail that also comes from the parking lot, before dropping back down steeply to the river.
The trail ends at a large pool beneath a 25 foot waterfall. Benches are scattered around, and a changing stall, and they have added crude restroom facilities. There is a great rope swing that challenges most people to hold on to it through its whole arc. A variety of ropes run up one edge of the falls, making it easy for people to climb to the top of the falls or out onto them. Wandering downstream there are a few more small ledges to jump off, and more pools of amazing tranquility and lush vegetation to immerse yourself in. Unfortunately the package tour operators seem to only allow their clients about 45 minutes at the falls, before whisking them off for lunch. The whole point of this excursion is to enjoy the waterfalls as long as possible, so it seems better to go in a small group in a van where you can dictate your pace. While the rates for the package tours seem like good value, they're not if you don't get to really enjoy what you came there for after a long difficult car ride.
About a mile further along on the road from La Gloria is the entrance with a big sign proclaiming itself the official Cascadas Magicas location. You pay 50 pesos per person to enter. There is more in the way of onsite facilities here than Llano Grande, including a small restaurant and restrooms. A neat aspect of this location is that you can hike through caves underneath the falls and come out under the falls. There are a wealth of different falls and pools, rope swings, and high jumps. If you bypass this entrance and go another couple of miles down the road, you'll come to the lowest of the Cascadas Magicas destinations, Las Brisas.
The hike does exceed the general half mile rule that eliminates 90 percent of tourists from venturing to some places, so it is more for those who really want to go on a good hike as well as a waterfall jaunt. The hike is truly beautiful, with a huge mango tree offering unlimited fruit for May-June visitors, and painted bunting nests in trees along the trail. The unfortunate thing is that you're so sweaty by the time you get back to your car that you've lost all the refreshing aspect of the cool waterfalls.
A few years ago my friend Marcos did some friends a favor in the mountains by guiding for them when they needed a bilingual guide. Marcos is one of the world's great comedians and storytellers, and though he hails from Guanajuato and spent much of his life in northern Mexico, he can come up with a legend about any community or place in Mexico at the drop of a sombrero. It's relation to reality is usually slim, but the detail and flourishes are impeccable At La Gloria coffee plantation, he spontaneously picked a butterfly out of the cage and handed it to a gringa. She asked "what is this for?" He replied. "It's a tradition. You make a wish on the butterfly, release it, and it will fly up to the heavens and deliver your wish to an angel". Needless to say, the tour group was awed by him and gave him a $50 tip they loved his stories so much. Even the local guides were in awe, and asked where he had learned his stories. "I just made them up right now," he smiled. "Can we tell them?" they asked. He assured they were free to re-tell his stories all they wanted. Most people of the mountains here are Zapotec descendants, and indigenous cultures everywhere are rich with oral history. The thing about cultures with strong oral traditions is that they love a good story or legend. While some history is sacred concerning its accuracy, there are plenty of times it's allowable to play fast and loose to create a more entertaining tale.