January 2005 — Xilitla is a Mexican mountain town in the lush Huasteca region of the state of San Luis Potosi, best known for the surreal architectural fantasy of Edward James, Las Pozas, just outside of town.
We went there to see Las Pozas, but we also took a walk into town. I’d noticed that the tourism literature often uses the phrase “Shangri La” about Xilitla, which is stretching things a bit.
But the setting, naturally jungle with coffee trees and orange trees replacing parts of the jungle, is gorgeous. There is an old church, a lively plaza, and some of the steepest walking streets I’ve seen in Mexico. It population was listed as being around seven thousand people in one of my guidebooks.
Our walk into town was on a quiet dirt road uphill all the way from Las Pozas. I had seen it described as a 20 or 25 minute walk, but it took us longer uphill. We came out on a street which went past El Castillo, a mansion which Edward James’ friend Plutarco Gastelum Esquer had built. It’s run now as a bed and breakfast, and if I were to spend a night in Xilitla, that would be my first choice, even if it were a splurge! I think you may often need reservations. There are plenty of other hotels in Xilitla too.
We climbed a walking street past El Castillo to the town plaza and 16th century church. We stopped at a bakery where an extremely friendly man told us of his years working in the U.S., and how he liked it better there — something we have often heard from Mexicans.
He said the bread would be ready in “un ratito,” (a little while) and when I joked that could mean anything from five minutes to two weeks, he laughed and admitted it would be a couple of hours. We were ready to leave, so we went on back down to Las Pozas, did a little more touring there, said goodbye to the spirit of Edward James, and drove back to El Banito, our home base for the past two weeks. The hot spring was just what we needed after all that walking and climbing!
Getting to Xilitla and las Pozas
We were camped just south of Ciudad Valles on Highway 85, and we drove our little Toyota Dolphin RV to Xilitla. We’d been told it was about an hour’s drive and it took us about an hour and a half. (That’s typical… we pass the overloaded sugarcane trucks but not a whole lot else.) We went roughly south on Highway 85 for most of the trip, then turned right at a well-marked intersection onto Highway 120, which 14 kilometers later goes through the town of Xilitla, then continues on across the mountains toward Queretaro. Just as we were coming into the general Xilitla area, there was a sign pointing to Las Pozas. It also said Edward James, or maybe just James, on it, and mentioned the restaurant. If you turn right there, you will also see a billboard labeled Mapa Touristica, and showing a variety of things to do in the area.
At first, we didn’t make that right turn. We wanted to get a sense of Xilitla a little, so we stayed on Highway 120, which crossed a bridge, went up a long hill, and went through the edge of town. Any rig could do this, assuming the driver was up for narrow and winding mountain roads — the bus lines go this way, as do trucks. We could tell when we were near the center of town, as vehicles were parked everywhere. Once we were on the far side of town, we turned around and went back to that dirt road, and went on it something around a mile to Las Pozas. There we parked, and when we left, we turned around and came back out the same way.
Our Dolphin is about 22 feet long. Anyone hauling a tow car would be advised to park at the sign just off Highway 120 and then take their tow car. For longer rigs, the tricky part would be turning around near Las Pozas. Kelly, who can drive anything (we used to have a 40 foot bus conversion) says it would have been awkward to try turning something that long around, and I’d add it could be impossible depending on where other visitors had parked their vehicles. But rigs under 30 feet with capable and slightly adventuresome drivers would be fine on the dirt road.
This dirt road does continue past Las Pozas on into the town of Xilitla, and we walked it. You wouldn’t want to try it with an RV, as there are some tight curves and when you reach the town, the streets are narrow, steep, and confusing.
Okay, enough about motorhomes — most people will be coming by car or by bus, and that should be fine. There are plenty of buses, good second class ones (likely without bathrooms) and maybe first class ones, from other cities in the region. Some bus tours are offered in English, from south Texas and no doubt other places, combining visits to Xilitla and Las Pozas with stops at other places in the region.
However you go, it’s worth the trip! It’s likely extremely hot in the summer.