If you have never heard of Huasteca Potosina, that wouldn’t surprise me. During the time we spent exploring, I don’t think we saw a single gringo, and frankly if we hadn’t been driving directly through it, I’m not sure I would have ever heard of it either. Mexico’s best kept secret? I would say so.
Huasteca Potosina is a sub-region found the eastern part of the state of San Lois Potosi. Sitting amidst the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range, the region is lush with forest, caves, sinkholes, and loaded with some of the most breathtaking waterfalls and beautiful aquamarine rivers you have ever seen. Now, throughout my life I have heard it countless times. Don’t do it they say, don’t go chasing waterfalls, but this place was just too amazing, we just couldn’t resist. Our first stop didn’t feature any water though, instead we stopped to check out one of Mexico’s natural wonders, El Sotano de Las Golodrinas.
El Sotano de las Golodrinas
After all the time we spent in Mexico, I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t heard about the list of 13 natural wonders until I got to El Sotano de las Golodrinas. If I had known, I would have certainly been tracking them down. When I saw the entrance sign to this sinkhole presenting it as one of the 13, I immediately looked up the other 12. I was pleased to at least discover that I had actually visited three of them, unknowingly.
This particular natural wonder was a massive sinkhole, about 350 meters deep, with a ~50 meter opening at the top, and opening up to a cave about five times that diameter below. Besides being one of the largest cave shafts in the world, the real highlight of this giant hole happens at dawn and dusk, when thousands of swallows and parakeets make the journey in and out of their cavernous home. Hence its name, El Sotano de las Golodrinas, or The Cave of the Swallows.
We arrived mid-day and made the hike down to the edge of the hole before sunset to witness this wonder of nature. Sure enough, as the sun fell in the sky, flocks of these lightning fast birds began to circle the mouth of the cave, eventually tucking in their wings and dive bombing down into the hole. We watched hundreds, maybe thousands of birds make this journey home over the course of an hour or so.
In the morning, the same happens in reverse, but to exit, they fly in concentric circles inside the cave as they work there way higher and higher towards the opening. Oh, to be a bird. Certainly a unique nature experience and a great intro to the region, but we were ready to get our feet wet and chase down some waterfalls.
Edward James Surrealist Garden, Las Pozas
Before heading to Huasteca Potosina, I did minimal research on the region, but one thing I did read about was the Edward James Surrealist Garden, otherwise known as Las Pozas. In reading about it, I was intrigued learning about the story of Edward James and how he began building this compound of surreal concrete structures in the mid 1950’s spanning until the mid-80’s.
Amidst the dense tropical forest, James created a wonderland of strange structures, sculptures, pathways, bridges, and even some cages which used to house exotic animals. In the early 2000’s, a Mexican ran charitable foundation acquired the estate and began restoring it to create a unique tourist destination.
We spent a couple hours wandering through the jungle maze, admiring the oddities James created. Now, 40-50 years after it was originally built, the place has become part of the forest, overgrown and embedded into the surrounding nature creating what I imagine to be an even more surreal landscape than that of which James had got to enjoy before his passing.
As you meander deeper and deeper into the this dream like place, you eventually stumble upon a series of waterfalls and swimming holes which are incorporated into some of the creations. Considering it was mid-July in the Mexican jungle, cooling off under a crisp waterfall was just what the doctor ordered.
I’m not sure what his future vision of this mystical place was when he was creating it, but something tells me he wasn’t thinking it to be a future tourist attraction. Whether knowing what it became would please him or not, I certainly appreciate his work and am grateful I can explore it today. Its like stepping into a Salvador Dali painting, the mind of a surrealist artist is really something to be admired.
Next up on our aquatic adventure was a popular spot with the Mexican tourists, Cascadas de Tamasopo. Granted we arrived here on a sunny July weekend, but even so we were surprised at how packed the place was. Once again though, we were the only gringos in sight, surrounded mostly by large Mexican families out enjoying their weekend in the natural aquatic park.
Although crowded, this place was still fantastic. The centerpiece of the park was two magnificent waterfalls that cascaded down into a large basin, great for the big crowd. Tucked away to the side, you found another smaller waterfall that crashed down into a deep swimming hole, perfectly set up for some decent cliff jumps over the falls. On the opposite side of the large falls were some smaller cascades and pools where the park had set up some aquatic fun like a rope swing, zip line and some other fun stuff.
The area surrounding the water features was well developed with a couple restaurants, food stands, and souvenir shops. While I enjoyed every minute of the water activities, the highlight of this place was the outstanding Micheladas. As we had learned throughout our travels, there are many renditions of this popular Mexican cocktail. It all depended on the region you were in, and they all claimed to be the “right” way to do it.
I am a big fan of the classic Michelada with lime and soy sauce, but this place took it to another level. They begin with a big cup and start by filling it with lime juice, then add the Mexican version of Worcestershire sauce along with soy sauce, then tomato juice, a little bit of Cholula hot sauce, and a sprinkle of chili seasoning. They then pour in two full beers, cap it, and then load an assortment of nuts and bar-like snacks on the lid, topping it all off with a squirting of hot sauce.
The finished product was pure magic, and being Mexico and all, it came with a hefty price tag of a whopping two dollars! What a country! Leaving this place was upsetting, not knowing if we would ever experience this life changing beverage again. Lucky for us though, we came to discover that the entire region featured this version of the Michelada, each with its own minor twist.
La Hacienda Gomez
After enjoying our day exploring Cascada Tamasopo and its wondrous adult beverages, we located an overlanding campsite near by that turned out to be our favorite stop in the region, and one of the top campsites of the entire trip. Thanks again to the incredible iOverlander app, which I obviously can’t say enough great things about, we set up for a couple days in what seemed like our own private lush field surrounded by beautiful aquamarine waterfalls and crystal-clear rivers.
When we first pulled in, we were greeted by a couple small cascades and small swimming holes and what looked to be a campground. We assumed it was the extent of the place and figured it was good for the night, but then we kept driving back into the massive property and realized we had found a gem. We passed through some thin woods and entered a huge meadow that extended a few hundred meters before banking right and extending for another hundred meters or so. The place was big enough to host a large music festival, and there was only one other group beside us in the entire place!
We scoped out the area and settled into the perfect spot, tucked away in the back corner, out of site from the other group. On one side of our secluded meadow was a medium waterfall that filled an outstanding swimming hole that’s color looked as though it was created on Bob Ross’s magic easel. On the opposite side a wooded area gave shade to a wide river that curved its way through the trees and eventually drifted out of sight beyond the property. We immediately decided we had to stay a few days.
Breakfast next to the falls each morning, a bit of reading, maybe a little writing, the occasional break to jump off the falls into what felt like our own private swimming hole, not a bad way to spend the day. Our favorite part was blowing up our janky tubes and rafting down the river through the trees and down the little cascades. Our little rafting course only took a couple minutes to cruise through, but it was great, we couldn’t get enough!
Unlike some of the other off the beaten track spots we had found along our central American travels, I feel this place is fairly accessible from the states. Probably only a 6-8 hour drive south of Texas, I would like to think I will be back here one day. At least that’s what I told myself as we were packing up and heading out. Another tough place to leave, but it wasn’t so bad knowing we had a few more stops ahead of us.
Puente de Dios
Only a short drive from La Hacienda Gomez, also close by Cascada Tamasopo, Puente de Dios is one of the most popular spots you will read about if you do any research into Huasteca Potosina. There wasn’t much of an option for camping out nearby, so we planned on an early visit, giving us enough time to drive to our next destination where we could camp out with the truck.
We arrived around 10am and the place was starting to get crowded already. To access this one, you had to pay your entrance fee, then hike down into a valley where trails led you along a river. The river featured a handful of smaller cascades and swimming holes that you could stop at along your hike for a little cool down session.
You continue down the stone path through the woods and as the sound of cascading water intensifies, the crowds follow suit. Even at 10am, mid-week, the place was as packed as Tamasopo was on the weekend. The difference was that Tamasopo was large and spread out. Here, the crowds are funneled into the somewhat tight space surrounding the main waterfall. While large crowds can sometimes hamper an experience, this place was too impressive to let that bring us down.
When you finally reach the main event, the path opens, and you are looking down onto a beautifully blue pool surrounded by dense jungle and canyon walls covered in mossy vines that hang from the walls like tinsel on a tree. At one end, the power waterfall dumps into the deep pool with incredible force, creating strong current through the canyon. There were a few cliffs to leap from, or you could enter the water down below. To aid swimmers, they installed ropes across the top of the water you can hold so to prevent bodies from being forced out the other end or piling up against the rocks like river debris. While slightly dangerous, it also provided a bit of a thrill, making the swimming experience unlike any other.
Opposite the waterfall, the water runs in and through the rocks, and you find a small passage way you can swim through that opens to a large cave. Inside the cave, the sunlight reflects off the bottom of the river, creating a greenish glow and leaving only silhouettes of swimmers visible. Again, this place was too impressive to let large crowds impede on a fantastic experience. Very cool, very unique, and worth stopping through for sure.
We were in and out in a few hours with plenty of time to make it to our next destination before sunset. Next on the list was a couple hours north, a spot called Cascadas de Tamul.
Cascadas de Tamul
From the research I did on this spot using iOverlander, I found that there were two ways to experience Cascadas de Tamul. You could either drive to the main entrance where you take a boat trip up river to view the waterfall, or you could drive around, a bit off the beaten path and through some private properties, and wind up close to the waterfall where you could camp out at the river bed. While our typical choice would have been to do the off the beaten path option, we decided to go to the main entrance this time, and I am glad we did.
We pulled into the large lot at the main entrance in the late afternoon and parked to scope out the area and figure out where we could camp for the night. After asking around, we found a dirt road that lead down to the river, paid one of the employees a few bucks for overnight camping, and set up shop. Once again, we found ourselves camping at the edge of a vibrant blueish-green river with the place to ourselves.
The next day we walked over and got set up to paddle down the river to the waterfall. The boats were long wooden launches that held 20 people or so, so unless you came with a large group, which many did, you had to wait until there were enough small groups and couples to fill a boat before heading out. Fortunately, it didn’t take long before our boat was full and ready to go. We got our vests on, paddles in hand, and we were off.
The trip up the river was the best part of this place, hands down. It was a 3-hour journey on a beautiful sunny day. The river ran through a lush green canyon, and the water was so perfectly blue it didn’t even seem real. Many boats filled with tourists were being paddled up and down stream, and each time we drifted passed other boats, it broke into an all-out splash war, so much fun!
At the halfway point, the boat pulls off for a pit stop in the middle of the canyon. Here, a handful of locals set up stands selling all the best Mexican street treats like Mexican street corn, fantastic tostadas, and of course those unforgettable Micheladas.
As we approached the waterfall, the canyon walls began to climb higher and higher around us. After battling through a few more splash wars, the massive waterfall finally came into view, and it was stunning. The tallest of all the waterfalls in the region, Tamul stands 105 meters high. The light brown cliffs peppered with rich greenery and coupled with the bright aquamarine river at the base create an absolute gorgeous landscape, almost surreal.
The ride back was just as fun as the way out. Beyond the splash battles, our guide let us hop out of the boat into the river to drift down in our life vests and swim through some of the light rapids. It was really a super fun experience all around.
As much as I would have enjoyed secluded camping near the base of the falls, I am extremely happy we went in for the full river paddling experience. Being that its Mexico prices, I can’t imagine a cheaper adventure anywhere that was that much fun and that rewarding. A+ to Cascadas de Tamul, a must for anyone visiting the region.
Cascadas de Minas Viejas
On our way north towards Monterrey, we made one last stop to enjoy one last waterfall, Cascadas de Minas Viejas. Its one of the northern most in the region, and a great way to end our little aquatic adventure. We pulled up late in the afternoon and set up shop for the night at one of the road side restaurants that allowed camping in their big lot out back. The area was small, probably two or three little restaurant/camp grounds along with a handful of souvenir shops.
To access the falls, you pay a couple bucks at the ticket booth and descend down the path into the valley towards the river. It’s a bit of a walk down with a nice vista about half way. At the bottom, the trees clear and give way to another impressive turquoise lake. The back drop of this small lake is a prominent double water fall, not quite as high as Tamul, but just as impressive. Maybe it’s the contrast of the colors or the sheer force of the water blowing your hair back, but starring up at the falls and the cliffs that surround it truly leave you in awe.
Since we had arrived with a bit of sunlight left in the day, we made the trek down to the waterfall that evening as well as the following morning. That evening, the crowd down at the water was decently thick with families BBQing and enjoying the afternoon. The next morning on the other hand, we got to enjoy one of the best perks of overlanding and had the place to ourselves. You can’t beat waking up in a popular tourist spot with early access, beating the crowds and feeling like the spot is all your own. Definitively going to be one of the things we miss most after we start backpacking on the next leg of our journey.
Its hard to rank any of these spots and say which is my favorite considering they all had something unique that made them special. This one, beyond being a spectacular sight, also features a handful of pools that formed as the water from the falls flowed down stream and eventually reformed into a river. A stroll into the woods along the river leads you to small cascade after small cascade, and lovely natural pool after pool.
It’s a wonder this place has kept such a low profile, outside of the Mexican tourists. The entire region is unbelievable, a place I look forward to taking my family to for a summer road trip at some point down the line. I think its safe to say, this is Mexico’s best kept secret.