How to visit Guadalupe Canyon Oasis Hot Springs in Baja California
Only 50 miles out of Mexicali but a world away from the city bustle of 1 million people lies one of Baja’s most incredible hidden gems, a natural hot spring nestled into a palm-fringed granite canyon where it’s possible to soak in private rock pools as the sun descends over the mountains. And as enchanting as that description or even photos may seem, just know that the magic out here is far beyond what can be captured with a camera— there’s an intangible purity to the rugged landscape and you’ll swear you’ve never breathed deeper than in the crisp air of Guadalupe Canyon.
The journey to get here is no small task, but for those seeking solitude in one of the peninsula’s most magical environment, there’s truly no equal. Here’s absolutely everything you need to know about visiting Guadalupe Canyon Oasis Hot Springs, including driving directions from Mexicali, the cost of a private hot springs, and what to expect at your campsite!
About Guadalupe Canyon Oasis
Carved by powerful river flow into the Sierra Juárez mountains over thousands of years, Guadalupe Canyon is one of Baja’s most spectacular natural wonders, a true oasis nestled within the otherwise harsh and unforgiving Sonoran Desert just outside of Mexicali, Baja Norte.
Driving through cactus gardens and along dry riverbeds under a scorching midday sun, it’s difficult to imagine that a grove of impossibly lush palm trees and crystal waterfalls await, and perhaps even more so that natural hot springs should descend from the mountains, but such is the magic of Guadalupe Canyon.
Every day, nearly 500,000L of steaming hot water runs off the north side of the canyon at 50C (125F)— and for decades, a local family has maintained a rugged campground and piped this natural water into a series of private rock pools, each tucked away in the canyon to offer a unique and completely secluded experience for intrepid travellers willing to brave the somewhat harrowing journey to get here.
What you need to know
- Guadalupe Canyon is a natural feature, but Guadalupe Canyon Oasis (also called Guadalupe Canyon Oasis Hot Springs) is the name of the private campground that operates all of the hot spring pools in this area. To visit any of the hot springs, you’ll need a camping reservation— the cheapest pool is $40/night, but more on that below.
- The nearest city to Guadalupe Canyon Oasis is Mexicali, the capital of Baja California and one of the best places to cross the border into Baja, Mexico. For those travelling from the US, definitely check out this post for more information: VANLIFE BAJA & MEXICO: A GUIDE TO CROSSING THE BORDER + ALL REQUIRED PERMITS (FMM & TIP)
- The route to Guadalupe Canyon is one of the most challenging drives we’ve ever done, BUT we made it in a 2WD Promaster van, so with cautious driving and proper planning, most vehicles should be able to reach the hot springs— in this post, I’ll share what we wish we’d known BEFORE visiting!
Getting to Guadalupe Canyon Oasis
Aside from a very expensive private shuttle coordinated by the staff at Guadalupe Canyon Oasis, the only way to reach the hot springs is in your own vehicle.
The drive from Mexicali to Guadalupe Canyon Oasis takes about 3hrs, following Highway 2 out of town before crossing a dry lake bed and finally winding through the canyon on a narrow, rocky road. There are actually 2 routes to get here, but we strongly recommend the dry lakebed!
Just to say it one more time: this is a ROUGH drive and it’s important to be prepared for some truly awful road conditions! We made it to Guadalupe Canyon Oasis in our front-wheel drive Promaster van, so it’s totally possible to get here without 4WD, but you need to be extremely cautious of deep sand, sharp rocks, and tight turns.
Definitely make sure you have comprehensive Mexican auto insurance before making the drive— we personally use Baja Bound, and you can read a more in-depth comparison of Mexican insurance in this post: VANLIFE BAJA & MEXICO: HOW TO GET THE BEST MEXICAN AUTO INSURANCE FOR A CONVERTED VAN OR CAMPER
Tips for a safe journey
- Although you don’t need 4WD to reach Guadalupe Canyon, we would highly recommend having all-terrain tires, a tire inflator, and a pressure gauge for the journey. Heavy 2WD vehicles will find that airing down tires makes an enormous difference when driving through deep sand and over sharp rocks! This is the exact tire inflator we use, which hooks up directly to our van battery, and we can definitely recommend it:
- Despite what Guadalupe Canyon Oasis advise on their website for first-time visitors, it’s very easy to follow the Dry Lakebed route into the canyon and we’d definitely recommend this (having spoken to other travellers who opted for the dirt road and quite nearly had the life shaken right out of them on the washboard).
- Make sure to download the route map provided by Guadalupe Canyon Oasis (BELOW) that shows the general direction of travel through the lakebed, but otherwise there are plenty of signs and obvious tracks leading you to the canyon, so it would be challenging to get lost.
Driving directions to Guadalupe Canyon Oasis
Driving out of Mexicali, the route follows Highway 2 west towards Tecate for about 15min before turning sharp left onto Laguna Salada (the dry lakebed).
It’s easy to miss the turn onto Laguna Salada from the highway and we ended up having to turn around and backtrack, but once you do get tires on the sand, you can travel pretty quickly along any of the packed routes. Don’t worry too much about which one you follow, they all seem to converge eventually, so just pick whichever track looks best!
After about 45min of driving on the dry lakebed, signs will direct you right onto a sandy route that leads into the canyon. The first section of this drive is fairly easy, but we eventually had to stop and air down our tires to proceed through some of the looser sand— once aired down, our 2WD van had no issues!
- If you want to be extra cautious, let some air out of your tires as soon as you get onto the dry lakebed. For reference, our Promaster van usually runs 65/80psi (front/rear tires) and we managed fine at 45/50psi all the way into the canyon, although in hindsight we could have gone even lower (we’ve found that 35/40psi is great for driving on sand in Baja).
This is honestly a beautiful drive, winding through cactus, yucca, and large rockpiles very reminiscent of Joshua Tree as you approach the canyon. The final section of the route becomes MUCH rougher, so drive carefully across the rocks (another reason to air down!) until you reach the entrance gate.
Here was our major mistake: we reached the entrance gates and, finding the yellow one (pictured below) padlocked and the other open with a sign that said oficina (as well as with a large poster that listed our specific campsite, El Sol), we drove onwards to the left through the absolute WORST section of road.
Only through very careful handling did our van even make it to the oficina, but she was massively overheated and there had been many casualties in the kitchen as food flew from the cabinets and our plant broke free from its wall mount. Worst of all, we had to turn around and drive all the way back to the entrance gates because our camp was on the other side.
Learn from our mistake! I’d recommend parking at the entrance gates and walking to the office to avoid driving up the wrong side of the canyon. Even if you THINK you know where you’re going, it’s still best to walk and confirm— it was unbelievably difficult to turn around and we bottomed out several times on this drive, which ended up being unnecessary anyway.
- If you’re driving a larger vehicle (RV, Unimog, extended van) or are concerned about taking your vehicle over these terrible rocky roads, you may wish to camp here at the entrance gate and just walk to your private hot spring pool. We met a couple who did this, and although they were disappointed not to camp directly at their site, there’s just NO way their rig would have made it through the narrow turns and steep ascents beyond this point. In the end, it’s better to walk than do thousands of dollars of damage to your vehicle!
Access to the left side of the canyon is far worse, in our opinion, but it’s still no cake-walk on the right. After a very slow and stressful return to the entrance gates, we still had an insanely rough drive to contend with beyond the yellow gate!
Again, learn from our mistakes: we were so determined to get our van all the way to our campsite that we floored it up an impossibly steep, narrow, rocky, CURVED access path— and got pretty stuck in the process.
We spent an incredible amount of time trying to get back down from the access path and ended up camping just below our site, where it was more level, less rocky, and still just a 30sec walk to our private hot spring pool. Sometimes it’s better to just accept the end of the journey than try to force it!
- Unless you’re in a super rugged 4WD or you’ve been here before, I’d recommend walking EVERYTHING from the entrance gate all the way to your campsite before attempting to drive it. Not only is this a good general rule when driving through unknown rough conditions, but there are heaps of options to park just below your campsite and save yourselves a lot of stress/potential damage, if you just LOOK.
If that hasn’t scared you off, here’s what you get to look forward to when you do arrive!
What to expect at Guadalupe Canyon Oasis
Guadalupe Canyon Oasis is home to 14 campsites, each with their own spectacular private hot spring pool and unique view of the canyon, as well as a BBQ, a large palapa, and a picnic table.
Sites range in size and price, as well as layout and view, so the best way to choose is to look at all of the pictures provided on the Guadalupe Canyon Oasis website and email to confirm availability. Prices for the smallest 2-person hot springs start at $40/50USD (weekday/weekend) up to $105/$125USD for a 16-person hot spring; view the full price-list here.
Although each campsite is also advertised as having space for a tent and vehicles, that will really depend on your car (whether you can even make it all the way to the campsite) and how large your tent is (our camp had almost zero flat space)— if you really want to park directly at your hot spring pool, I’d recommend emailing the owners to ask for a lower/more accessible site.
Otherwise, you can ask to park just below your site, as we did. This provided a level surface for sleeping and lots of shade, all just 20 metres away from our actual hot spring!
Each of the 14 campsites at Guadalupe Canyon Oasis features a private hot spring pool in various sizes and with different views of the canyon or palm grove below.
These pools are constructed from rock, cement, and occasionally tile, and a hose delivers a steady stream of natural piping-hot mineral water into the tub. If your hot spring gets a bit too hot, simply remove the hose and let it cool in the evening air.
- We stayed at El Sol and were totally blown away by the canyon views! We couldn’t see or hear a single other person the entire time and loved the feeling of complete solitude.
After each guest, Guadalupe Canyon Oasis completely drains and re-fills these pools to ensure cleanliness, so you’re free to bathe naked and bring whatever drinks or snacks you’d like into the pool!
In addition to the basic ammenities provided at each campsite, there are shared toilets and very rustic hot showers available at Guadalupe Canyon Oasis.
There is absolutely no mobile reception, so come prepared to disconnect!
Hiking to the waterfalls
One of the best things to do in Guadalupe Canyon during the afternoon (when it can often be too hot to soak) is venture up into the mountains surrounding the oasis for a little hike.
There are a number of rugged paths and signs directing you to a series of cascadas (waterfalls) that drop into crystal-clear swimming holes, the first of which is just 15min away from the oficina. It’s not a challenging hike by any means, but expect to do a little scrambling!
- The waterfalls only run during the wet season, so you won’t be able to swim in the cold pools below, but it’s still very worthwhile to hike through the canyon and enjoy the views!
Other tips for visiting Guadalupe Canyon Oasis
- It’s best to reserve in advance, particularly during busy periods. Although Guadalupe Canyon Oasis is a hidden gem, those who visit tend to keep coming back— on the day we left, there was a wedding group coming in from California for the entire week and their family has been visiting these hot springs for more than 10 years!
- Packing list: make sure to bring a swimsuit, towel, and sandals for the hot springs, as well as hiking sandals or shoes for the waterfall hike. There’s a small shop available at the oficina, but it’s still best to pack in your own food and drinks— stock up in Mexicali on your way through!
- Definitely make sure you have comprehensive Mexican auto insurance before making the drive— we personally use Baja Bound, and you can read a more in-depth comparison of Mexican insurance in this post: VANLIFE BAJA & MEXICO: HOW TO GET THE BEST MEXICAN AUTO INSURANCE FOR A CONVERTED VAN OR CAMPER
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