Lush jungle, cascades, petrified waterfalls and aquamarine water that almost glows – the beauty of La Huasteca Potosina has to been seen to be believed.
Travel Guide for La Huasteca Potosina
|About La Huasteca Potosina|
|Best time to travel La Huasteca Potosina|
|Top things to do in La Huasteca Potosina|
|Is La Huasteca Potosina safe to travel?|
|How to get to La Huasteca Potosina|
|Where to stay in La Huasteca Potosina|
Top Picks for La Huasteca Potosina
|Edward James’s surrealistic garden in Xilitla will likely become a once-in-history construction, given the cost of more than USD 5 million. The whimsical sculptures feel like you’re in a jungle dreamscape.||Cascada de Tamul, at 105m, is Huasteca Potosina’s most spectacular waterfall. The surrounding canyon adds to the beauty, plus provides hidden swimming spots.||Jump into the large cavern of Puente del Dios and get massaged by several waterfalls. Then enter a secret tunnel to see the water glowing from sunlight that filters through and reflects on the rocks.||Cascada El Salto, Meco and Minas Viejas are located near each other, so you can visit them in the same day. These out-of-the-way waterfalls usually means less people.|
La Huasteca Potosina at a Glance
|The traditional food in La Huasteca includes Enchiladas Potosinas, bocoles (stuffed corn tortillas), zacahuil (giant tamales), molotes (stuffed fried corn batter), and cecina (a thin marinated steak).|
|Local specialities include coffee, oranges and fresh sugar cane juice, plus pottery, woven and embroidered products, and hammocks.|
|Xantolo is the version of Dia de Muertos observed in many small towns in La Huasteca Potosina. There is also a summer festival El Festival de la Huasteca.|
|There is limited public buses and shared mini-vans (colectivos) between the smaller towns. From Mexico city to Ciudad Valles, it is about nine hours.|
|There is no airport in the La Huasteca Potosina region. The closes airports are San Luis Potosi, Queretero, and Tampico.|
|In the height of rainy season, typically July and August, some places may close if there is intense rainfall. The high season is in the drier months, when the water returns to being transparent blue.|
About La Huasteca Potosina
This is one of Mexico’s best oases and a natural-lover’s treasure trove: Emerald green jungle, turquoise blue water, and glittering waterfalls in every direction. La Huasteca is a sub-region of San Luis Potosi – with parts of it entering into the states of Veracruz, Tamaulipas, and Hidalgo – with its unique water landscapes owing to the slopes of the Sierra Madre Oriental. Its blue waters almost glow with an aquamarine hue due to the high calcium content from surrounding rocks.
Best Time to Travel La Huasteca Potosina
To see the bright blue and transparent water, it’s best to visit La Huasteca during dry season (from November to March). Although, the further you get into dry season, the less chance you have of seeing the waterfalls at full force. September to November can be an ideal time, although it can be warmer for swimming in February to April.
Wet season brings heavy rain, which can make the water look brown and muddy. Some sites are also closed to swimming if the current get very strong (usually around July or August) – but you will see the waterfalls in all their glory, so it’s not a total loss.
Semana Santa is one of the busiest times, and you won’t be able to avoid hundreds of people at each site. Weekends can also fill up during the warmer months, so if that bothers you, go during the week or when there isn’t a public holiday.
Things to Do in La Huasteca Potosina
Puente del Dios
This giant sinkhole lives up to the grandeur of its name, ‘God’s Bridge’, with gushing waterfalls and luminescent blue water. There’s even a secret tunnel and cave you can pass through where the sunlight makes the water look like it’s glowing from below. You can easily spend half a day swimming, jumping off various rocks, hiking up and down the river, or getting massaged by the waterfalls. On either side of the sinkhole you can following the river streams to find the spring’s source, mini waterfalls and private pozas (swimming holes). Heading downstream will take you to other, calmer swimming areas known as Paso Ancho (wide pass) and Playita Amor (Love beach), which are part of the camping area of Cabanas Adventuras.
Life jackets are mandatory in the main cenote, and it fills up quickly on weekends and holidays. In rainy season, they generally prohibit swimming in the cenote.
As one of the more developed and accessible sites, it can come off as touristic and expensive, although it is still a beautiful site. Tamasopo comes from a Huastecan word meaning the “place that drips”, but you’ll see plenty more standing under the wall of Tamposo’s cascades. Falling from 20 meters high, the main waterfalls fill up a shallow pool with clear blue water, which is a family favorite. You can also swim behind one of the waterfalls and watch the water rain from calcified structures. Father down you can find places to jump, smaller cascades, and large calcium pools for swimming. It’s a family favorite, so it easily gets packed with people. Nearby, you can also find the calm swimming pools of El Trampolín, which also has some grills and rustic tables, or Ciénaga de Cabezas or de Tampasquín is known for its diverse animal and plant life. Hikers can head to el Cañón del Espinazo del Diablo, where a Wall of 600-meter rocks that almost looks like a vertebrae. If you’re around on March 19, Day of Saint Joseph, check out the local fair.
Cascada de Minas Viejas
Even in dry season, these 55-meter waterfalls still hold their power. The bonus is the small camping area right next to the waterfalls, giving you a spectacular sound and view all day. You can also rappel down one part into a swimming hole, swim in the several swimming pools with amazing turquoise water, or jump from mini terraces.
It is mandatory to wear life jackets if you want to swim near the waterfalls. If you’re not camping, a good place to base yourself is in El Naranjo, which doesn’t offer a lot, but is in the middle of Minas Viejas, El Salto and El Meco.
Cascada de Golandrinas
This is an off-the-beaten adventure where you can finally find yourself alone. Relatives take you on a guided tour through their family property, where you can visit a waterfall, jump in… and emerge in a calcified cave behind the waterfall. Besides being home to hundreds of sparrows, you can admire the stalacmites and calcified formations. Being a relatively new discovery, it’s bare-bones tourism at its best, as if you were wandering with a friend that is showing you their favorite hidey holes. If you give them notice, you can arrive early to see the sparrow exodus. There is also camping on the grounds.
Cascada de Tamul
Powerful and pounding describe this gigantic aquamarine waterfall – the biggest in the area – and also means it is prohibited to swim or get too close. The sight is still spectacular, having carved out a canyon and unusual rock formations in the valley.
The main access is by boat at the dock called “La Morena”, but in the drier months rapids and rocks means the boats can only get around 200m from the waterfall. A private boat is around 1200 pesos, or you can share and wait until the boat is full (be prepared to row, or tip the guide a little extra). Along the trip, you can see curious sand rock formations, small waterfalls, gentle rapids, a cenote called ‘Cueva de Agua’ (often full of people), and you can hop onto a rock for a photo in front of the fall. River shoes are recommended, because at one point you have to get out of the boat and walk along the side. The round trip can take around 3 hours, depending on who you have to help row.
If you hike, you can get much closer, although the descent down is via a steep wooden staircase. Via the hiking entrance, you also walk along the river that serves the waterfall, where you can find several emerald green water holes to swim in.
If you have time, farther down the river is another Puente de Dios (de Aquismon, so you don’t confuse it). You can get there by boat, after which you enter a cave to see the river passing through, jump off a cliff, and take a (chilly) swim. There are small waterfalls and pools, although they don’t usually exist in the drier months.
Sotano de las Golodrinas
Seeing a 500m limestone sinkhole in the side of a mountain, almost perfectly circular, is a rare sight to start with – one of the deepest in the world. That’s before you notice the hundreds of sparrows, and some fluorescent-green parakeets, that call this cave home. After sunrise, they perform a mass exodus, flying around the cylindric form to give them enough aerodynamic to fly out – a feature that also keeps bigger birds out who can’t get enough speed to exit. As the sun goes down, they start to re-enter by nose-diving straight into the cave. Guides wait at the cave rim, ready to tie up visitors who are brave enough to crawl to the edge and peek into the dark depths of the cave. There’s more than 500 steps, but going slow it’s doable with a medium fitness.
The best show is in the morning, although what time you need to arrive is arbitrary. The viewing area is small and rocky – if there are several tour buses on any particular morning, you might not find yourself crowded out from getting a front-row view. For this reason, people start to head down at about 5–6am. However, the birds don’t usually exit until between 8–10am (up to midday), so it can be a long uncomfortable wait. Arriving at 9am (when the early risers start to leave), can still mean you get a decent view. The bird mate around March to May, so you tend to see more bird from July to February. In August, the babies begin to hatch and the exodus becomes even more spectacular. However, the sparrows don’t leave if it’s raining, cold or cloudy (or they might leave later in the day), so drier months are more guaranteed to see at least some birds exit. People may offer to guide you, but there’s only one path so you can easily do it on your own.
Nearby you can double up by visiting Caves of Mantezulel, around a 45 minute hike in total. There is also a natural spring called Balenario de Tambaque, which is short detour from the road to Aquismón.
Sotano de las Huahuas
Equally impressive as the Swallows’ Cave, this 478-meter sinkhole offers much the same experience, although usually with less tourists. Its access is a little trickier – a 1km walk through the jungle – but it’s nice to see the cedar, local tree and bird species. It’s also a great place for rappelling.
Edward James Gardens
If you only have enough time for one stop, you’ll get a bit of everything in this surrealist garden by eccentric British poet and artist Edward James: a touch of history, huge sculptural spaces hidden in the jungle, swimming pools and waterfalls. As you move between fantasy and reality, you get a glimpse into the artist’s mind, once described by Salvador Dali as ‘crazier than all the Surrealists together’. Some sculptures reach four-stories high, with some 30 structures you can scramble over – stairs that lead nowhere, arches with no purpose, and giant concrete columns holding nothing. It’s mostly unfinished, even after almost 40 years of construction and most of James’s fortune (in the millions), until James passed away in 1984. You might recognize James from René Magritte’s paintings, Not to be Reproduced and The Pleasure Principle: Portrait of Edward James. You can walk to the gardens from town, but if you’re coming by public transport, there is a few kilometers of dirt road until the entrance. Don’t forget your swimmers! There are beautiful waterfalls and swimming pools to spash around in.
There are also a couple of waterfalls before the garden entrance: Cascada Cebolla and Cascada Comales. There’s a restaurant inside, plus some small food stalls outside.
Nearby is the town Xilitla, which was designated as a magic town; it’s not the nicest town, but you can find room with views across the valley. If you’re into hiking and have extra time, you can stop by the tourism office to ask for routes into the Sierra Madre.
If you’re travelling to or from here from Ciudad Valles, you can visit the birthplace of Xilitla’s natural springs – the Nacimiento de Huehuetlan.
Cascadas de Micos
Adventure tourism is the highlight of these waterfalls – you can jump down seven waterfalls (from 2–8 meters high), hide in a cave behind a cascade, take a boat ride, cycle over the canon, go ziplining or walk on a suspension bridge. There is a lake underneath the main waterfalls, which dribbles down into numerous cascades and pools to sit and enjoy a natural spa.
It’s also one of the more visited sites. Camping is allowed inside the natural site, although on holidays it gets full of tents, especially at Easter. Down the road, another option is to camp in the grounds of Aldea Huaxteca; they offer cabins, but also allow camping if you book in advance. In the drier months, the waterfalls aren’t as spectacular for jumping, while in wet season the blue-green color is harder to see. Life jackets are mandatory to swim in the main lake area.
Cascada El Meco
El Meco has that ‘wow’ factor with its kaleidoscope of cascading water over 35 meters of jutting rocks and calcium formations. From the mirador you can see two sets of cascades, tumbling into a giant, vibrant blue river that disappears into the horizon. Near the mirador, there is also restaurant to eat or drink with the sound of crashing water (opens around 2pm). There’s plenty of adventure, too, with boat rides, tubing, rock jumping, kayaking, rafting, or camping. It’s not generally possible to swim near the waterfalls due to strong currents, but you can head to “La Playita” or the Centro Ecoturistico for calmer waters, with bathrooms and change rooms. If you continue to the CFE facility, you’ll see a dirt road on the left side. It takes you to a deserted waterfall, which has cascades in the rainy season, while in the dry season you can see the waterfall’s petrified wall. There is also a hotel offering bungalows and rooms with water views, otherwise, El Naranjo is less than 15km away. If you’re using GPS, type ‘El Salto Del Meco’.
Cascada El Salto
Just 20 minutes from El Naranjo, and next to El Meco, you can find yourself in this turquoise paradise with the backdrop of a 70-meter towering waterfall. Its various swimming pools underneath are naturally formed with rocks and calcium, and there is a 10-meter rock jump for the daring. You’ll have a better chance of seeing the waterfalls in the wet season (June to September), plus a better water flow through the pozas. There’s a hydroelectric plant above the waterfall, which means that out of high season (Semana Santa and rainy season), access may be restricted or the water blocked. The access road is a little rough for small cars, but it’s worth the drive.
This thermal, natural spring keeps an average 28 degrees (82F) year-round. Its six springs flow enough to fill a deep lagoon – shaped like a half moon (media luna) – and several kilometers of swimming channels that feed off of it. The blue crystalline water is just the icing on top. With visibility of up to 20m (60 feet) in the lagoon, it has become a popular freshwater diving spot (you’ll find dive centers in town). Even snorkeling, you can see underwater lilies, an ancient petrified forest, and several fish species. It can be an interesting dive, with fossils and unique species, although the lagoon’s popularity has degraded the fish species, turtles and plant life that once thrived. This is a popular family camping spot, where you can camp right next to the channels for a few dollars per person; there are also cabins, plus some hotels nearby. It fills up with thousands of people on weekends and holidays, but with a bit of luck, you can almost have the whole place to yourself during week days, or the colder and rainy months (October is a good balance). If you rummage through the bottom, you may even find fossilized shells or coral. If you go in November, you can also visit the local fair.
Nearby in San José de las Flores, you can find the Grutas de la Catedral (combined with Grutas del Angel and de Los Cristales), which are caves with curious formations. There are also other termal springs, such as Los Anteojitos, El Presidio and Charco Azul. Around 40 minutos from Río Verde you can also find the Manantial de Los Peroles.
Get information here, or if you’re using GPS, make sure you put in ‘laguna’ or ‘manantial’ in front of its name to arrive at the actual entrance. If you’re driving from San Luis Potosi, you can also stop into the or the ‘Ghost Valley’.
Tamtoc Archaeological Site
For something to do other than waterfalls, pass by Tamuín, where 20km south sits Tamtoc (Mon–Sun, 9am–5pm). Although not the most preserved site, it holds an interesting place in Mexico’s history. Tamtoc is the only settlement found from the pre-Hispanic Huasteca region, with around 70 structures characterized by rounded corners. Interestingly, an Olmec-esque monolith was found at the site, prompting scholars to reconsider their views of Mesoamerican history. The Olmecs – considered the origin culture of pre-Hispanic Mexico potentially dating back to 1200BC – were previously not thought to have travelled and mingled so far north.
Safety and Travel Tips for La Huasteca
La Huasteca region is mostly a safe area to travel and drive, although some parts are safter than others. For example, accessing the La Huasteca region via San Luis Potosi or Queretaro is generally considered safter than entering via the Tampico, Tamaulipas airport, where there is some reported cartel activity. Read our guide about which states are safe, and the types of crime: Is Mexico Safe to Travel? In any case, it is generally advised not to stop for any suspicious road-side activity, for example, an unofficial roadblock or a broken down car trying to get your attention.
The more likely problems you will encounter are the potholed backroads, and the lack of petrol stations between towns. Make sure you never get to less than a quarter of a tank of petrol.
Other travel tips include:
- In rainy season (especially July and August), some sites may close if there is too much water, or visitors will be restricted from swimming in the waterfalls and rivers. During this season the waterfalls are particularly beautiful. In dry season, the waterfalls are not as full and spectacular, but the off-set is that you can swim almost anywhere.
- In a scheme that is partly to take advantage of tourism money, and partly for safety, life jackets have become mandatory in some sites. These sites will always have life jackets to rent for a couple of dollars (if you have your own, bring it!).
- Christmas and Easter holidays, plus the hot dry months (March, April, November etc.) are especially busy, sometimes with thousands of visitors. Some sites are implementing visitor restrictions to preserve the natural areas; once they reach capacity, they will typically not allow more people in until other people leave. At the especially busy places (eg. Media Luna or Xilita), visitors may have to wait for several hours to enter during high season, so getting there very early or very late can be a bonus. If you don’t want to see hundreds of bobbing orange life-jackets everywhere, avoid these times altogether.
- Many of the photos you see have amazingly blue and transparent water; in the height of the rainy season, though, the waters tend to get turbid and lose some of that sparkling appeal. The off-set is that you see the waterfalls in all their glory.
- Several places offer lockers to guard your things while you swim, but in cases where there are no such facilities, you can also ask the place where you rent your life jackets to watch your things.
Transport in La Huasteca Potosina
There are no airports within the area of La Huasteca Potosina, but you can fly to:
- Ponciano Arriaga International Airport in San Luis Potosi, and drive around four hours to Ciudad Valles. For direct international flights, check American Eagle Airlines from Dallas, or United Airlines from Houston.
- Intercontinental Airport of Queretaro – the drive is longer (around 6 hours to Ciudad Valles), but there are more international direct flights, such as: United fly from Houston; Volaris fly from Chicago; American fly from Dallas; and Aeromexico fly from Atlanta. Xilitla is also on the way (4.5 hours), plus many other amazing stops in the Sierra Gorda.
- General Francisco Javier Mina International Airport in Tampico, Tamaulipas, but the other states are safer in Mexico. United Airlines flies direct from Houston.
If you’re driving from Mexico City, you can go via San Luis Potosi or Queretaro; via San Luis Potosi is slightly faster because there are better roads, while Sierra Gorda has some windy, mountainous passes.
The ideal transport around La Huasteca Potosina is to drive yourself or take a taxi (around USD 50–70 per day). You could potentially rent a car from Ciudad de Valles for a couple of days to do most of the main sites. The smaller roads are full of potholes, and sometimes will be only dirt, but it is otherwise a safe area to drive. Most cars can handle the roads, but a 4wd or SUV is ideal.
There are public buses and small shared vans (colectivos), which can be an ideal way to avoid the long days of driving from the main cities. But these can also pose some challenges when visiting smaller towns or going off-the-beaten-track because:
- The schedule is not regular between the smaller towns (you can get an overview here). The bigger towns and sites have better access, for example, between Ciudad Valles and Tamasopo. Other times you need to change buses – and that can end up as a time waster.
- In popular sites, such as the Swallows’ Cave, you can find many colectivos at peaks times (like closing) during high season – but there can also be long lines rushing to fill the limited seating (so be prepared to wait – or run faster).
- Some of the sites are out of town and far from the bus drop-off point – the walk from the road or closest town can be quite a trek (taxis are a good alternative to save time).
Some buses companies that travel around La Hausteca Potosina include:
Where to Stay in La Huasteca
Many of the sites allow camping inside the park grounds, and there is usually a limited offering of cabanas and basic hotels nearby. Otherwise, the main towns where you can base yourself are:
• Ciudad Valles – Tamul, Cave of Swallows, Tamasopo, Puente de Dios, Micos
• El Naranjo – El Salto, El Meco, Minas Viejas, Micos
• Tamasopo – Tamasopo, Puente de Dios, Micos, Minas Viejas
• Xilitla – Edward James Gardens, Tamul, Cave of Swallows.
Above we’ve listed the closest sites to each town, but realistically, each town is located no more than two or three hours’ drive from every site. Though, this means backtracking; the better option is to pack up every two days and do a circular trip.
Information About La Huasteca
- Tourist board website: www.visitasanluispotosi.com
- Two popular tours companies are Huaxteca and Mundo Extreme, although the groups tend to be large.
- At most sites, local guides will be offering their services, although in many cases, everything is easy enough to do your own.