If you’re not from Mexico, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Huasteca. Americans tend to stick with the tried and true vacation spots they’ve heard of such as Cancun and Cabo when traveling to Mexico. More intrepid travelers might visit Oaxaca, Mexico City and San Miguel Allende. However, one of the most beautiful spots in the entire country is only a two-and-a-half hour drive from Tampico or a 12-hour drive from Houston. This secret oasis remains almost unknown to American tourism. It is called Huasteca, San Luis Potosí.
The word “Huasteca” comes from the Indian tribes of the same name who lived in the Gulf region of Mexico. Technically the area extends from the Texas border to Veracruz. However, it's the area in the state of SLP that most locals refer to when they use the word Huasteca. The area is green, mountainous, full of waterfalls, caves, forests, and ancient ruins. It is the Bali of Mexico and is full of incredible sites that awe its visitors.
Many tourists stay in Ciudad Valles and use it as a base to visit the various attractions scattered throughout the area. Ciudad Valles is the second largest town in the state of San Luis Potosí and has the best choices of hotels and restaurants in the area. You could easily spend a week hiking, canoeing, and visiting all this tourist Mecca has to offer and still not see everything.
Tamul Falls is the poster child for Huasteca and the biggest attraction in the area. It’s about an hour-long drive to the village of Tanchachin from Ciudad Valles. Once you’ve arrived in this small village, you can organize a trip down the river with a local who will navigate and help row you up the river. The journey takes about an hour each way and will blow you away. It seems too perfect to be real, with turquoise colored water and perfectly sculpted boulders along the river’s edge. The price to rent the boat is about $40 and includes a life jacket, your guide/boat owner and a DIY oar. Yes, you get to row, row, row your boat.
The journey to visit the cascade is as beautiful as the actual 105-meter falls. There are smaller waterfalls on the way, a cenote, and a cavern with a lagoon you can swim in. The water is warm all year round so you can hop out of your boat and float downstream if the urge takes you.
The nearby Sótano de las Golondrinas (Cave of Swallows) is the largest hole in the world. A perfect opening in the earth’s crust that is so deep and wide, if you had the means, you could put the Empire State Building in it and still have room to spare. The pit takes its name from over a million swallows who have made the cavern their home. The biggest attraction is observing the birds flying out by the thousands early in the morning, or watching their return to their home in the evening. The hole is a straight shot down, so the only ways to visit the inside are by rappelling or BASE jumping.
The BASE jump needs to be arranged in advance and has a 12-second free fall. Rappelling takes about 20 minutes of being lowered in the hole and then pulled back up (hopefully).The cave is almost as steep as the price. The price is $200 per person and can be arranged near the entrance and ticket booth. To see the cave opening, there’s a 10-minute descent on stone steps. There ARE some barriers to keep dumb tourists from accidentally killing themselves as well as a guide who will tie a rope to you and help you teeter to the edge of the rim (without barriers) for a tip.
Las Pozas is a 45-minute drive from the Cave of Swallows and is as difficult to describe as it was to create. It's the creation of Edward James, an English poet who was a big supporter of the Surrealist art movement, as well as friends with such notables as Magritte and Dali. In his later life, he sold his collection of Surrealist art, bought some land in the Mexican jungle and spent $5 million creating whimsical concrete towers and buildings connected by walkways through the forest. Best described as a cross between Gaudi and Dr. Seuss, the overgrown buildings look like something Indiana Jones might have stumbled upon in an alternate universe. Crowds wander through the property, snapping pictures and wondering why someone might create such a place, but the attraction is beautiful and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a boring functional building anywhere on the property.
The Huasteca people didn’t leave a lot of ruins behind, but Tamtoc is the biggest and best of what’s left. 45 minutes east of Ciudad Valles at the end of a dirt road is a largely unexcavated site showcasing a partially unearthed pyramid, lots of small mounds, fertility symbols, and a few stone carvings that illustrate the importance of women in the Huasteca culture. The attraction gets very few visitors, so you can still see bits of clay pots and stones that were used by the ancient people scattered on the ground. There’s no telling what surprises might be under the soil, because no one is really digging anything up here. Nearby is another smaller set of ruins that can be visited on the way back to Ciudad Valles.
Tamasopa is about an hour west of CV and offers two amazing attractions: Las Cascadas (the waterfalls) and El Puente del Dios. The Cascades is a collection of “drive-up waterfalls” (no hiking or walking involved) and will wow you as soon as you arrive. You can swim in the beautiful water, wander around the various falls, or just hang out and admire the beauty. There are vendors on hand selling everything from hammocks to micheladas. I counted at least seven waterfalls, but there’s likely many more that I missed.
El Puente del Dios ("the bridge of God") is everything the name promises. Imagine the most beautiful oasis you’ve ever seen in a Hollywood movie, add some jaw-dropping waterfalls and then multiply it by three. Nature truly outdid itself. Words can’t describe the place and the long walk back up the steps is a small price to pay to behold such beauty. Near the entrance is a small stand selling micheladas “on steroids." Not only is the drink twice the size of a normal michelada, but the lid is topped with peanuts, cubes of imitation crab and hot sauce. It’s a meal and a drink in one. And as odd as it sounds, it’s delicious.
Micos is just north of Ciudad Valles and offers some truly beautiful falls that resemble the Cascadas in Tamasopa. Wherever you go in this area, you won’t be disappointed. There are very few places in this world that offer so many natural attractions packed into a 50-mile radius. If you’re coming from SLP, the desert literally transforms into a lush jungle as soon as you arrive into the Huasteca region. The closest airport is Tampico, but you can also drive from Monterrey or Mexico City in a few hours.