About nine miles (14 km) uphill from Pochutla along Highway 175, the village of San José Chacalapa nestles in the tropical foothill forest. The village’s most inviting roadside attraction is the palapa Restaurant Los Reyes (on the west side, 7 a.m.–10 p.m. daily). Here you can pick from a long menu of soups, seafood (cocktails, fish fillets, shrimp, $3–6), chacales (local river crayfish), meat, tacos, quesadillas, guacamole ($3–8), papa del horno (baked potato), and sandwiches (hamburger, tuna, chicken, and ham and cheese, $2–4). After that, relax in the big blue pool or stroll out into the surrounding forest.
For an extended exploration, ask the friendly family owners for a guide to the nearby cascada (waterfall) and curative sulfur-water lagoon. Also check with Tom Bachmeir at Rancho Alegre (below) or Isidro Reyes Guzmán (restaurantlosreyes [at] prodigy [dot] net [dot] mx or restaurantlosreyes [at] hotmail [dot] com), the owner of Restaurant Los Reyes, for recommendations.
Along the way, your guide will help you spot, besides the locally abundant ardillas, gavilanes, and aguilas (squirrels, hawks, and eagles), some carpinteros, tucanetas, péricos, tigrillos, and coatis (woodpeckers, toucans, parrots, ocelots, and coatimundis). Your guide can also identify plantas medicinales (medicinal plants) in addition to the great forest trees, such as ceiba, guanacastle, caoba, and macuil.
Moreover, you may want to take a look at some of the attractive local for-sale furniture, crafted from big dried bejuco vines by local craftsman such as Agustén Toltepec. Ask at the Restaurant Los Reyes for directions to his house.
You may be so charmed by Chacalapa’s natural delights that you want to stay overnight. If so, nearby mini-paradise Balneario El Paraíso ($30 d) can accommodate you. Get there from the Chacalapa village center, a few hundred yards north of the restaurant. At the presidencia, fork right, off the highway. Within a block, turn right again, at the Alcoholicos Anonimos sign. After exactly one mile (1.6 km) along a dirt road, turn right into the ranch gate. Here, in addition to a big 10-foot (three-meter) deep, spring-fed swimming pool, a kiddie pool, swings, slides, and a shaded palapa for picnics, are a pair of tile-floored cabañas for rent, with hot-water shower-baths.
Although impressive, Balneario El Paraíso’s man-made amenities are only part of the attraction. Friendly owner Octavio Ramos and his wife will provide meals and are happy to show you around their forested ranch, dotted with mango and orange trees and cinnamon and other spices. Later, explore the surrounding luxuriant stream valley and forest for rewarding views of animals and birds in their natural surroundings. (Note: At this writing their pools were filled with water only Thursday through Sunday.)
While you’re at Balneario Paraíso, be sure to visit Rancho Alegre (on the road, just before the Balneario, www.tomzap.com/paraiso.html). Rancho Alegre, sometimes know as Tom’s Garden, is the haven of German expatriate jewelrymaker Tom Bachmeier and his Colombian wife, Nehier. If you’re lucky, one of them will show you around their tropical mini-Eden, lush with bromeliads, orchids, ginger, and a wealth of zapote, cacao, coffee, and mango trees. You may contact them by mail (P.O. Box 73, San Pedro Pochutla, Oaxaca 70900).
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Oaxaca, 5th edition