You can fly into Tampico, via Houston, Mexico City or Monterrey. There are several flights into Tampico daily, and we suggest that you plan on arriving there before 5 P.M. You can also fly into Queretaro or Leon (both conveniently near San Miguel de Allende) and rent a car or car and driver in San Miguel and drive up to Xilitla (6-8 hour drive).
You can either rent a car in Tampico or make arrangements to be picked up buy your hotel.
You may also fly to Brownsville or McAllen, Texas where you are only eight hours from Xilitla by first class bus.
Xilitla is approximately 40 miles south of Ciudad Valles in the state of San Luis Potosi, between Ciudad Valles and Tamanzuchale just off the main road to Mexico City.
Xilitla was founded in the 1550’s by the Augustinians who, in 1557, built the convent of San Augustín de la Gran Xilitla. This convent / chapel is the oldest of its kind in the state, and currently serves a population of more than 10,000 people. The town is perched on a hill at 1,050 meters (3,340 feet) above sea level, and is overlooked by a distinctive mountain peak, in the shape of a thumb and is called the Cerro de la Silleta. Market day is on Sunday.
Places of Interest in the Area
Most visitors are drawn to Xilitla to visit Edward James’ extraordinary surrealist sculpture garden, Las Pozas. Many of our visitors are unaware that this part of Mexico, the Huasteca Potosino, is rich in cultural and scenic attractions. For example, within walking distance of the Posada El Castillo is a fabulous huge cave that is visited daily by a flock of Green Parakeets. Nearby are mountains, waterfalls, and traditional villages. A great day trip is visiting one or more of the first five missions built by Friar Junípero Serra, known to most North Americans for the missions he founded in California.
Las Pozas -The gardens are open daily from about 9 am until sunset. A small entrance fee is charged. There is a restaurant inside that is usually open from Wednesday through Sunday. The quickest route from the Posada El Castillo is to go down the big steps that pass in front of the entrance to the first street and turn left. You go about 2 blocks and when the paved road takes a sharp U turn to the right, continue straight on a dirt road for about 1 1/2 miles (about a 20 minute walk).
As the road winds down to Las Pozas, you will pass a slate stone quarry and later a large long building on your right that serves as a Catholic retreat center. A little further you will begin to see some of the concrete structures peeking out of the jungle on your left, then you will come to the entrance and parking area. There is usually plenty of room to park on the side of the road. If you’re walking, remember to bring a hat, because it can get hot walking back up the hill. During the summer there are mosquitoes, but surprisingly, not too many.
The Parrot Cave – This is a huge cave that is home to a large family of brilliant Green Parakeets (about 10 to 12 inches in length). It takes about 5 minutes to drive (or 15 minutes to walk) to the parking lot for the cave, and then its a 10 minute walk, downhill through a field, to the entrance. Good walking shoes are recommended. It’s best to get to the cave an hour or so before the sun sets in order to witness the parakeets raucous arrival. To get there, go past the Pemex station (on the main road) and continue down the hill, a few hundred meters further the road curves to the left, look on the right for a small parking lot in front of a fenced corral. If you don’t have a guide with you from your hotel, it’s best to ask one of the kids who live in the nearby house to guide you down to the cave. There is a small admission fee.
Huichihuayán – At this lovely nacimiento (birthplace of the river) you will find a large pool of cold, clear-blue water, bordered on one side by a cave-like opening from which the river emerges. A perfect place for swimming or wading on a hot day! The surrounding rocks can be wet and slippery so be careful! From Xilitla, it takes about 30 minutes to get there via Highway # 85, going towards Ciudad Valles. As you enter the town of Huichihuayán, look for a sign on the left to the nacimiento (river birthplace) then follow the signs. Market day in “Huichi” is on Sunday.
Tambaque – Tambaque is another nacimiento swimming area located on the Tanute River. The water here is shallow and very clean. Tambaque can be reached in about an hour from Xilitla.
On Highway #85, heading for Ciudad Valles, take the turn-off for Aquismón ( about a half hour past the town of Huichihuayán) and follow the signs through the town of Aquismon, from there. Once you arrive, don’t miss the nacimiento itself. Just before the bridge, which crosses the river, is a flagstone path that follows the river to its source. This is a beautiful spot where the water leaves the earth from an opening in the hillside above and cascades over mossy rocks to a series of pools below.
Sótano de los Golondrinas – This is a huge vertical opening into the earth, over 300 meters (1000feet!) deep. In the early morning and at dusk, large flocks of golondrinas (swallows) leave and return to their nests in the sótano, giving it its name.
To get there, take Highway #85, heading for Ciudad Valles, then take the turn-off for Aquismón and follow the signs through the town from there. It takes about 2 1/2 hours to get there and a little less time to return. The dirt road out of Aquismón is steep and full of potholes, passable only by 4-wheel or high-clearance vehicles. Once you arrive at the settlement of La Union, there will be a path that winds through the jungle to the sótano. A crowd of children will most likely appear to guide you there.
The following waterfalls can be reached by taking Highway #85 to Ciudad Valles (about 1 1/2 hours from Xilitla) and then just before entering Cd. Valles, taking Highway # 70 (to your left) toward Río Verde and San Luis Potosi. Watch for sign posts within the first 20 kilometers out of Ciudad Valles.
Micos – The River Salto creates this set of cascades of transparent waters that flow over high terraced steps to form a series of placid, natural swimming pools.
Tamasopo – There are a number of spectacular falls on the Tamasopo River, the most spectacular being Puente de Dios (loctaed at the El Cafetal train depot), where water flowing into a vast sink hole passes beneath a natural rock bridge.
Head for the village of Tamasopo, the turn off is to your left just after entering the village. There is another much more comercialized waterfall (with picnic areas etc.,) just after the town. If you get lost, ask for directions to this and other falls in the area.
Tamul – This is the biggest and most impressive waterfall in the state. The Río Gallinas tumbles 105 meters into the Río Santa Maria to form a cascade that reaches a width of 300 meters. To visit these falls, you hire a boat and boatman at the village of Tanchanchin (which can also be reached on a rough road via Aquismón). He will take you on an incredible journey upriver, which due to the strong current, can take about 2 hours going up (which includes several stops for swimming etc.) and the return is about 45 minutes. It is best to make this trip from October to May to avoid the rainy season.
Towns of Interest
Apezco – This is a small mountain village to the west that offers spectacular views of Xilitla and the surrounding countryside. The hike up to Apezco is on a fairly steep, dirt road and can take from one to two hours depending on the walker.
Tancanhuitz de Santos (Ciudad Santos) – The Tenek name for this town means “Place where the love flower blooms” and was dedicated to Pedro Antonio Santos, a martyred revolutionary born in Tampamolón. Here you can see the indigenous villagers dressed in the typical Huastecan style. In the center of the town, just off the square, you can visit the local jail where you can buy handicrafts made by the inmates. Also near the square, you can climb the steps of a lovely church which was built on top of an ancient Huastecan pyramid. Santos is about 40 minutes from Xilitla on Highway #85 going towards Ciudad Valles. Look for a turnoff to the right about 20 minutes after you pass through Huichihuayán. Market day in Santos is Sunday.
Huehuetlán – This is one of the prettiest towns in the area. It is perched on a hilltop and the church and plaza are reached by climbing up a long, broad flight of stairs. Stately, old trees shade the church courtyard and trails of bright flowers and vines adorn the walls along the streets that descend away from the main plaza. To get there, drive through the town of Ciudad Santos and take the first turn to your right, cross the bridge and turn left.
Aquismón -This is a pleasant, typical Huastecan village located in the foothills of the Sierra Madre. It has a shady plaza which includes an ancient Tenek temple with a simple facade. Saturday is market day, and is a particularly good time to get a glimpse of Haustecans in their traditional dress. It can be reached by taking a left turn off of Highway #85, shortly after you pass the turnoff for Ciudad Santos.
Axtla de Terrazas / Aguacatitla — Axtla is a small town on the banks of the Río Moctezuma that serves as the entryway to one of the strangest attractions in the area, Aguacatitla. Created by a megalomaniac herbalist, Dr. Domingo “Beto” Ramon, Aguacatitla contains a complex of ornate concrete buildings, reminiscent of the constructions at Las Pozas. Take a camera and some extra pesos in case you want a consultation with the doctor or want to purchase one of his numerous medicinal herbal potions. From Xilitla, go down the mountain to Highway # 85, turn right, and in about 5 miles, take a left towards Axtla de Terrazas. Once you reach Axtla, turn right to go down to the river, where you car is pulled across on a small, hand-powered ferry. Aguacatitla lies ahead a few miles further on a gravel road.
Jalpan – This is a lovely town, and is host to one of the Junípero Serra most beautiful missions. There is also a regional museum near the mission which chronicles Serra’s works in Mexico and California. (Closed on Mondays) The central plaza, across the street from the church and its expansive courtyard, is a wonderful place to sit and relax. Jalpan is located on Highway #120, towards Queretaro, about 1 1/2 hours from Xilitla, (leave town on the main road, go right – head uphill).
The high water mark of the Huastecan culture was reached between the years 600-900 of our era. Two sites well within reach of Xilitla can be visited by those interested in pre-Hispanic history.
El Consuelo has been excavated and restored, while Tamtok is in the process of being excavated. To get there, take Highway #85 to the entrance of Ciudad Valles (1 1/2 hours from Xilitla), turn right onto Highway # 70 (which goes toward Tampico) and continue for about 25 miles.
Along the way, on Highway #70, there is an archaeological museum that is also worth visiting, which is located on the grounds of the Hotel Taninul, famous for its bathing hot springs.
Tamtok and El Consuelo are just after the turn off to the Hotel Taninul, on the right.
There are five missions in the area that were built by the Franciscan friar, Junípero Serra, in the years following 1750. Each one of them is a real masterpiece, constructed in a baroque style that reflects the blending between the Spanish and the Indian cultures. Four of them, in the respective towns of Tancoyol, Tilaco, Landa de Matamoros, and Jalpan are strung out along or near Highway # 120 in the state of Queretaro. There is one other, Conca, which is reached by turning off in Jalpan onto Highway #69, which is the way to Río Verde. Please refer to the map for locations.
Fiestas of Interest in the Area
Xilitla Coffee Fair – The official day for this local festival is Aug. 27th, but there are activities such as Huastecan dance, Huapango music, cultural events and fireworks displays scheduled from approximately the 25th through the 30th.
Day of the Dead Celebrations – All over the area, lovely altars are built and graveyards are decorated to honor the souls of the dead. Visitors to the area are encouraged to join in the festivities which begin on October 31st and continuing through Nov. 2.
Cuidad Santos Feast Day – This is celebrated at the Parroquía de San Miguel Arcángel in Ciudad Santos (see above) on September 29th.
Huehuetlán – Unique, local dance-drama rituals can be seen here during the pre-Lent weekends of February or March, on the Day of the Dead, and on Feb. 12th, in honor of the village’s patron saint, San Diego de Alcalá.
Food Specialties of the Area
Zacahuil is a huge tamal made with corn dough, filled with pork or chicken, soaked in a red chile sauce, wrapped in banana leaves, and baked in a wood-fired oven.
Enchiladas Huastecas are a variation on the enchiladas prepared in other parts of Mexico in that the meat, either chicken or a salty thin slab of beef called cecina, is served on the side, rather than tucked inside the sauced tortillas.
Acamaya or freshwater crayfish are delicious, expensive and available at La Curva, a series of open-air restaurants found on the left, just before the town of Huichihuayán (see above)