In Mexico’s Surrealist Secret Garden

The ruins of Edward James’ forest hideaway, “Las Pozas,” and the region’s waterfalls make Huasteca Potosina a jaw-dropping destination.

By Liliia DeCos


We spent three months road-tripping through Mexico last winter. We drove all the way from Delaware to Texas and crossed the border at the Falcon Dam Port of Entry. It was our last big trip before Covid-19 hit the world, and I keep thinking how lucky we were to have had that experience with our kids. 

In three months, we managed to see tons of amazing cultural and natural landmarks: We hiked the volcano Nevado de Toluca; admired monarch butterflies overwintering in the national reserve; spent Christmas in San Miguel de Allende and New Year’s in Cholula; visited Mayan pyramids in Chiapas; and soaked in the laidback vibe of Oaxaca. 

We’ve seen truly extraordinary stuff. But Huasteca Potosina still tops all our experiences in Mexico. It’s a little-known destination, even to many Mexicans, and it should be on every traveler’s bucket list.

We use all sorts of resources when we plan any trip: travel articles found on the Internet, Instagram and various hashtags (#visitmexico, #mexicomustsee), video vlogs on YouTube, and, of course, good ol’ Lonely Planet. When we were planning a road trip across Mexico, we followed those same steps. In as little as a week, we roughly knew what we wanted to see and what states we wanted to visit—and guess what? Huasteca Potosina was not on our list.

I have no idea why neither Lonely Planet nor travel articles like “Best Locations to Visit in Mexico” never mentioned this place. We actually learned about Huasteca Potosina thanks to Google. Apparently we were searching so much about things to see and to do in Mexico that Google realized what we were into, and subsequently offered us a place that we still believe was the highlight of our trip.

Huasteca Potosina is a region within the state of San Luis Potosi, just northeast of Mexico City, and it is a part of the bigger region of Huastecas, named after the pre-Hispanic people (Huastec people) who lived and still live in this region. The area is vibrantly green, mountainous, and filled with waterfalls, swimming holes, caves, forests, and ancient ruins. And the waterfalls look as though they have been photoshopped because of how rich their turquoise hue is, thanks to the high level of calcium in the rocks. This place is a true paradise, and yet it’s still unknown to most international tourists. During the whole week we traveled across the region, we met only one other non-native of Mexico, a guy who was 100 percent intrepid traveler. 


The Good Stuff

There are several waterfalls in the region, as well as some caves and a surrealistic garden built and designed by Sir Edward James, a British poet known for his patronage of surrealist art.

Since we were coming from the north (we crossed the border in Texas near Falcon State Park), we started exploring the region from its most northern waterfall and slowly made our way down.

El Salto  We really loved this waterfall, despite its drying up in the winter. Winter in Huasteca Potosina is a dry season, and the hydroelectric company located nearby uses all the water by deviating it from its original fall. Even though there wasn’t any falling water here, there were numerous natural aquamarine pools that made the location look truly magical. 

As the most remote waterfall from Ciudad Valles, a gateway to the region’s caves and cascades, we missed all the crowds and had this beauty to ourselves. And lucky coincidence, it happened to be my birthday! Seriously, there couldn’t have been a better birthday present than being able to spend it in such a magical place with my family.


El Salto del Meco  This waterfall is a 15-minute drive from El Salto, so it’s easy to see both of them in one day. There is a lookout point (mirador) that allows you to enjoy El Meco from above, and there is also an option to take a short boat ride to the waterfall and see it from below.

We went on the boat ride and our daughters couldn’t have loved it more. Our boat came very close to the waterfall and all four of us were screaming in excitement. (It’s comparable to going on the boat in Niagara Falls, if you’ve done that, but it’s on a much smaller scale.) Since we were the only tourists that day, our boat guide led us to the waterfall several times so that our girls could have as much fun as possible. And they did! 


Minas Viejas  Minas Viejas is another splendid waterfall where you can easily spend the whole day, especially if you are up for a swim. Expect to climb down the stairs. Some reviews say it is a strenuous hike down (and then back up), but we didn’t find it bad at all. Even if you sweat a little bit, it’s absolutely worth it.

Minas Viejas is a little bit more touristy than the other falls we’re mentioning here. There are stalls with food and drinks, as well as multiple souvenir shops. There are also several picnic areas, so pack your own lunch if you’re wary of Mexican street food.


Micos  Micos has some of the most developed and popular waterfalls, probably due to its proximity to Ciudad Valles. We were not very impressed with the waterfalls themselves, but you can do all sorts of fun activities here, like going on a boat ride, paddle-boarding, rafting, swimming, and waterfall-jumping, the most well-known and fun activity in Huasteca Potosina. 


Puente de Dios  From the parking lot, there’s a long staircase down to the waterfall and to the impressive rock formation here. The rock creates a very deep lake with extremely high walls, and guess what everyone does here? Yes! Jump into the waterfall! 

I didn’t plan to get wet, but seeing other people, young and old, jumping into the turquoise lake made me change my mind. I changed into a bathing suit and jumped, and it was an incredible experience. The water turned out to be very warm, and I immediately regretted not giving it a try at the other falls we had visited. Our girls didn’t want to jump, so my husband stayed with them and took beautiful pictures of me taking the leap. We also walked along the river and attempted to swim in the natural pools, but our kids got cold fast, so we decided to head back to the car.

If you ever make it to Puente de Dios, don’t hesitate to jump. I promise the experience is so worth it!


Tamul  Tamul is by far the most impressive of all the places we visited. There are two ways to see Tamul: Viewing it from the top or by experiencing it from the bottom via a boat ride. And 99 percent of tourists visiting Tamul do the boat. It’s a beautiful and picturesque ride, and once you finally see the waterfall, it’s hard to believe your eyes. The colors, the landscape, the location … it blew us all away.

To see it from the top is tricky, and there is a good reason why: The road, or lack of it, is 15 kilometers of hell. You need to have a four-wheel-drive truck to drive it safely, but our little city car managed to make it (barely); we were pretty sure that one of our tires or the muffler might break off. Also, there are no accommodations on top of the waterfall. The only option was to pitch a tent for the night, and that’s exactly what we did. Besides us, there was only one other local couple camping. 

To get to the waterfall, it was a 30-minute walk along the river from the place where we parked our car and pitched the tent. But once there, it’s a view you won’t soon forget! For us, it was one of our most memorable adventures—a challenging way to get to the waterfall, a camping experience in the middle of the jungle, and pure joy at having such a beautiful location just to ourselves. But it’s certainly not for everyone.

In the morning, just after we brewed fresh coffee on our little camping stove, it started raining. We were concerned about making it safely to the highway on the rocky and muddy road. We had planned to return to the waterfall and swim in the river that day, but we gave up the idea in the face of the real danger of being stuck in the mud.

Luckily for us, we drove out safely in our little car and headed toward Xilitla. We had driven for about 30 minutes when we saw several cars parked along the highway and dozens of people just standing and talking. The place turned out to be one of the many stops where you can take a boat to the bottom of the waterfall. We hesitated. It was raining, and honestly, after we saw the waterfall from the top, we were sure that nothing else could impress us. 

In the end we decided to go, just because we were already there. And who knew when we’d be back, if at all? Our traveling motto: It’s better to regret what you’ve done than what you haven’t. And the ride was magnificent! The waterfall’s color was unmatched and the rock formations around it seemed like they were from another planet. And guess what? We were the only ones there, at least for a while. Because we had left our campsite super early and it was raining, we were the first ones to actually hop on a boat.

The boat tour took approximately one hour one-way. On our way back, there were dozens of boats full of Mexican tourists. (Once again, we were the only international tourists there.) Our daughters loved the whole experience, despite the rain. They were busy taking pictures, singing songs, and checking the temperature of the water.

Seriously, don’t miss a chance to visit Tamul. 


Xilitla  Xilitla is a cute, mountainous town known for Las Pozas, Sir Edward James’ surrealist garden. Sir James was a British poet known for his patronage of the surrealist movement. He came to Mexico in the ’40s and apparently loved it so much he decided to stay, building his home to mimic the forms he found in nature.

It took 40 years to build the garden, and it’s still unfinished! Sometimes it was difficult for me to understand the purpose of the buildings and sculptures: stairs leading to nowhere, infinite paths, and arches, bizarre forms. But I guess that’s the goal of surrealism?

All in all, we really enjoyed the outing, especially the kids. Getting lost in the garden, guessing what this or that sculpture could mean, enjoying the waterfall (again!), and simply walking around was really fun.

We arrived around 9 o’clock in the morning and there were just a few cars parked by the entrance. At noon, the place was packed. So, again, come early to beat the rush! Also, it’s worth mentioning that there are several nearby restaurants. The restaurants are along the narrow road just outside Las Pozas and they offer splendid views of the valley, as well as great local dishes.


The Not-So-Good

Off the beaten path  Huasteca Potosina is fairly unknown to both international and Mexican tourists. The lack of people, the sense of nature, the almost nonexistent Internet connection, and the chance to explore made this place special to us. While these qualities were huge pluses for our family, they could be huge drawbacks to others.

There are very few decent hotels, and dining options are also limited, and as I mentioned regarding the Tamul waterfall, there are many chunks of road that are challenging, to say the least.


Good to Know

A place to lay your head  If you travel by public transport, your best bet would be to stay in Ciudad Valles, El Naranjo, or Xilitla to explore the region from there. Ciudad Valles is known as a gateway to the region’s caves and cascades, and offers the best accommodations. You can get a day tour from one of many of the city’s agencies to see the waterfalls and caves, or you can hire a taxi to explore the area.

Keep in mind that El Salto and El Salto del Meco are located pretty far from the main towns; it takes approximately three hours (if not more) to get to those falls. What’s more, Google says it takes only two hours from Ciudad Valles to the farthest waterfall, Cascada El Salto, but believe me, if you make it in three hours, you’re lucky. So most people who go there on a day tour spend just a few hours at the waterfall before they have to hop on a minivan to come back to the city. I’d recommend hiring a taxi or renting a car if you prefer to take your time.

The optimal solution for accommodations is to spend a night in the little town Naranjo, but once again, hotel options are limited, and during high season they’re hard to get at all. 

Furthermore, when booking a room, make sure there’s hot water! Believe it or not, sometimes you have to ask for it.


Remember the phone? Use it.  If you’re used to booking your sleeping accommodations through a travel website, bear in mind that what you see there is only a fraction of what’s available here. There are many more options, and you can find them on Google Maps. An old-fashioned call to reserve a room can sometimes be the most effective option. The hotels we found were far from top-notch, but they were good enough to spend a night in. Since GoogleMaps is commonly used in the area (perhaps to avoid booking fees?), the comments under each hotel usually explain the price and quality of each hotel, and Google translates all the Spanish reviews to English. To be able to make calls in Mexico, we purchased local SIM cards that worked well throughout the country. (We used Telcel.)

And almost every waterfall has a campground nearby. Honestly, it’s hard to find a more picturesque place to camp. If you gear up, you’ll have one of the most epic camping trips of your life. I guarantee it.


Get wheels  Plan ahead and rent a car in Mexico City so you can explore at your own pace, and you’re not dependent on tour operators.


How long?  I recommend spending at least five days in Huasteca Potosina, allowing yourself at least a day for each waterfall. We spent about five days exploring the cascades and three days in Xilitla before heading toward San Miguel de Allende. 


Liliia DeCos  – July 2021

ROAM Executive Editor

Originally from Ukraine and now based in Spain, Liliia has traveled literally across the world with her husband Jose and their two young daughters. Follow their intrepid walkabouts at bring_baby_abroad and see Liliia’s amazing photos on Instagram at bring_baby_abroad or on ROAM where she won Best Family Photo of 2019

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