Mexico is a big country with a lot of wonderful landscapes. One of its regions is particularly famous for its rivers and waterfalls: the Huasteca Potosina. It is a popular holiday spot for Mexicans, but not so famous among foreigners.
Caroline had discovered this region the first time she went to Mexico, a few years ago. It was a brief stay and she absolutely wanted to go back and explore more. That’s how we made it our last destination before coming back home.
Arriving to the Huasteca Potosina
First, you have to know that the Huasteca Potosina is quite a big region to visit. Every attraction is far apart and there are not many big cities in the area. The easiest place to make base is Ciudad Valles. However, you could also find some tours leaving from San Luis Potosí, the capital of the homonymous state.
San Luis Potosi
To go from Guanajuato to Ciudad Valles, we were forced to stop in San Luis Potosí. We then decided to take one day to explore the city. We had a nice stroll in the historic city center, among all the colonial buildings. Even if it was nice, the visit felt a bit like a déjà vu. To be honest, we had just visited several of the most beautiful colonial cities in Mexico (Guanajuato, Oaxaca, Puebla, San Cristóbal de las casas).
However, we absolutely recommend you to visit the Museo Nacional de las Máscaras, collecting masks all regions of Mexico. It gives you a glimpse of the wide variety of traditions you can find across the country. Note that, if you want to take pictures in the museum, you have to pay a little extra at the entrance.
The other thing we enjoyed in the city was the food (as in pretty much every place we’ve been in Mexico!). We tried the enchiladas potosinas and the pozole, a kind of soup. While we loved the first ones, little spicy tacos, we were not so convinced by the second.
Ciudad Valles: the Huasteca’s center
We decided to make Ciudad Valles our base for the exploration of the Huasteca Potosina. We avoided a more nomadic visit because it was the end of the trip and we were tired. Plus, we were both looking for a job to start after the trip. That meant we needed to be sure to have a good connection in case of an interview.
When we arrived in the city, it was only 13°C (55°F). We were quite surprised as we thought it was a warm region with sun pretty much all year long. We were a bit disappointed since we came to spend our days swimming in rivers and under waterfalls. The following day, our taxi driver actually explained that they see this kind of weather only a couple of days per year. We were just so unlucky! But of course, that didn’t stop us to make the most out of it and to have a wonderful time.
How to move around the Huasteca
There are several ways to move around the Huasteca Potosina. You can either rent a car, take a taxi, a bus or join a tour. We quickly saw that renting a car was around the same price as renting a taxi for the entire day. That of course included a bit of negotiation with the taxi driver. Since all the places we wanted to visit were at a 2 hours drive, we decided to rely on both buses and taxis. We are not used to drive that much, and this solution allowed us to fully enjoy all of the attractions. All the tours we saw were just out of our price range or did not go to the places we wanted to visit.
Day 1: waterfalls around El Naranjo
Our first day, we booked a taxi to explore the waterfalls around the municipality of El Naranjo. Although it was cold in the morning, we were optimistic about the weather and took our swimsuits. Unfortunately we were too optimistic…
After a two hours ride, we started the day with the Mirador El Meco. It is a really nice viewpoint on some big waterfalls. The water was falling in several pools of a deep turquoise color. Ernesto, our taxi driver, told us that, just a few kilometres upriver, the water was actually warm enough to swim in it.
He drove us to the waterfalls of El Salto. It is a famous spot that can be quite busy on sunny days. But that day we had the place all to ourselves. The main waterfall was actually almost invisible as most of the water was redirected to the hydroelectric power station close-by. Fortunately the waterfalls were not the only thing to enjoy there. We walked among pools with perfectly transparent and warm water. Even though the water was as warm as predicted, the idea of getting out in the cold after stopped us from jumping in.
We came back to the taxi much quicker than expected so Ernesto offered to add a stop in the city of El Naranjo. He led us to a nice picnic area where the river is passing in the middle of the city. It could have made another a great spot to take a bath as well!
In the afternoon, we decided to head to the waterfalls of Minas Viejas. There were more people visiting this site and we had to pay a small entrance fee. We followed a path downhill until we reached the bottom of a huge waterfall. There were some natural pools to swim in with turquoise water. That day, only a couple of people were actually in the water but it is easy to guess that it is usually much more crowded. While going back up, we took a slippery path down the forest which led to a mirador with an amazing view of the waterfall from above.
Finally, our last stop of the day was in the waterfalls of Micos. There, you can either swim or go on a small boat. Because of the weather, we didn’t try either and just walked around, enjoying the view.
At the end of the day, we came back quite frustrated because of the weather. But we also realized that not swimming at each stop gave us time to visit more spots in one day. And the waterfalls and turquoise pools are as nice to see from inside as they are from outside the water.
Day 2: Tamasopo and Puente de dios
For this second day, we decided to take the bus to the Balneario de Tamasopo. We arrived there very early in the morning, unsurprisingly knowing us… While waiting for the air to get a bit warmer, we walked around the entire place. Once again, the place is full of natural pools. Except that here, the current can get quite strong so you have to wear a life jacket in most of them. As soon as we were warm enough to get in the water, we jumped in the only one that didn’t require the life jacket we were not willing to rent.
Once we had explored the balneario from end to end, we walked until the small town of Tamasopo for a quick lunch before taking a taxi to our next stop: Puente de Dios. There, life jackets are mandatory as there is a lot of current everywhere. In this place, the only way to get a full experience is to get in the water. Thankfully, the sun was back!
As soon as we had the life jackets on, we jumped into a big natural pool, reached for a rope and followed it until a small crack in the rock. There was just the space to swim one at a time through the crack. Suddenly we were in a big cave whose only illumination seemed to be coming from the water itself. At the end of the cave, the river was going out again through a lot of rocks that were perfect to rest in the sun. Unfortunately we had to shorten our break as a bee decided to suicide on Caroline’s thigh. Or Caroline decided to sit on a bee, one of the two. She quickly went back to the water to anesthetize the sting.
It was such a beautiful place that we ended up jumping and going through the cave several times. In a way it reminded us of the Cenotes we visited in Yucatan. At the end of the day, we were planning on walking back to the town of Tamasopo to take a bus there. In the end, a Mexican couple that we met while jumping offered us a ride back.
Day 3: Paddling to the Tamul waterfalls
For our third day we decided to do only one thing: paddling upriver until the waterfalls of Tamul. There are no buses to go there. Given that only few cars pass by Tamul off-season, we decided to take a taxi for the day so we would not end up alone in the middle of nowhere. Ernesto, our favorite taxi driver, agreed to take us.
Once at the small village before the waterfall, the boat owners stopped us. They told us that the boats, called lanchas, can take up to 8 people (plus the guide and the lancha owner) and the price is not per person but per lancha. Given that information, we decided to wait for more people to form a group and reduce the costs.
Of course, the lanchas owners were not so happy about that and didn’t tell the next people coming that we could have joined them and split the cost. Eventually, Paolo decided to stand next to the guy giving the explanations and ask to share a lancha to the next group arriving. Lucky for us, the next car that arrived was transporting a group we met the day before at Puente de Dios. They were happy to share the lancha with us. Their guide, Jorge, welcomed us warmly in the group and organised everything. We asked Ernesto to keep our stuff that could not go in the water, took a life jacket and a paddle and headed towards the lancha.
Under the direction of our guide Jorge, and the owner of the lancha, Eusebio, we all started to paddle, more or less efficiently. While paddling upriver, we talked and joked a lot with Jorge and Eusebio. The usual game is to splash any other lancha that you cross so we were all wet pretty quickly. After paddling for more that an hour, we arrived at a gigantic waterfall. That paddling really paid off as the view was amazing.
On the way back, we just had to let the river take us. From time to time, we would get in the water and let us float through some rapids. The water was cold but it was way more fun this way. At some point, we stopped the lancha and walked up until a cavern with a small lake inside. There, the water temperature was a couple of degrees higher than the river: a perfect way to warm up. Finally, after 3 hours, we came back to our taxi and it was time to say goodbye to our new friends. We had a really good time with them. They even made us try the Doriloco, a packet of Doritos open in half with a lot of sauce, spices, mais and cheese. Quite unexpected, but not bad.
Day 4: a surrealistic day
For our last day in the region, we took the bus to Xilitla. We asked the bus driver to drop us at the entrance of Edward James’ surrealist garden. There were a lot of cars on the way to the entrance and we arrived only to find a huge queue. During the two hours we had to wait, we learned from our neighbors that it was a long weekend in Mexico so a lot of people were taking the opportunity to visit the region. While waiting, we also tried some Zacahuil, a gigantic tamal, a famous dish of the region recommended by Ernesto the day before.
When we finally entered the garden, we found a surreal place (hence the name), with columns everywhere, stairs leading to nowhere and all the construction fitting perfectly with the nature around. Discovering this place is quite an exploration. At the end, we went to see the pozas, some natural pools, before heading back to the town of Xilitla to take a bus back to Ciudad valles.
Our exploration of the Huasteca Potosina lasted only 4 days as we were arriving at the end of our trip and didn’t have much time left. But the region is vast and there are many more waterfalls and rivers to discover, and even some adrenaline sports for the daredevils.
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