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Hidden paradise in Mexico remains unknown to most travelers

The mix of diverse landscapes begins to pass through the car window 30 minutes after departure from San Luis Potosí , capital of the Mexican state of the same name. Sturdy pine trees grow tall alongside desert cacti, appearing through a blanket of fog that adorns the Sierra Madre mountains .

Passing the towering peaks as you head east is committing to at least a few hours of scenic drive – the only way for international visitors to reach the surreal lands and waters of La Huasteca Potosina, in east-central Mexico.

It's no wonder that this mountainous region – a collection of around 20 municipalities and small towns – has evolved into an epicenter of outdoor adventure in an area traditionally inhabited by the Huastec people (also known today as Teenek). The remote landscapes of La Huasteca Potosina include a vast desert, lush mountains and rainforest corners with turquoise rivers and waterfalls.

How to get to La Huasteca Potosina

Renting a car in the city of San Luis Potosí offers greater flexibility for visitors to chart their own paths through the La Huasteca region of the state. Private bus or van tours are also available for a guided and curated trip. Corazón de Xoconostle and Auténtico San Luis offer personalized tours from the city.

Or from Ciudad Valles, the region's center, about four hours east of the state capital, day trips are available to the region's gems. A favorite is paddling down the Tampaón River to the base of the spectacular Cascada Tamul, the largest waterfall in the region, which typically flows during the second half of the year. Here are more landscapes and wonders hidden in this destination:

A surreal garden

Las Pozas is a surrealist garden hidden in the jungle in the city of Xilitla.

If the idea of ​​crawling inside a Salvador Dali painting sounds fun, you might fall in love with Edward James Sculpture Garden , in Las Pozas. It's located in Xilitla, just under two hours' drive south of Ciudad Valles and without a doubt the most magical city in the region.

The fusion of wild jungle and sculpted material was the brainchild of English surrealist poet and artist Edward James in the mid-20th century. The garden is today considered one of the most important surrealist monuments in the world. Fittingly, James was Dali's friend and financier as he carved out his secret garden in this “magical city.” He designed and constructed his surrealist buildings and structures at the site for many years between the 1960s and 1980s, with the help of local workers.

“He studied literature, not architecture. But he was an architect of imagination”, says the tour guide Obed Zumaya Márquez . A guided tour – which must be booked in advance – takes you up and down huge stone stairs, beneath bamboo concrete walls imitating forest vegetation and through other fantastic indoor areas.

Two hours' drive from Ciudad Valles , there's a whole other buffet of adrenaline-pumping adventure options: rafting, zip lining, and rock climbing or rappelling. Even the most relaxing rowing trip turquoise river Tampaón offers a stop at a beautiful cenote (cave similar to a sinkhole) to swim inside a mountain. It's worth the excursion even when the tamul waterfall it's dry.

Media Luna Lagoon

Traveling about two and a half hours east of the town of San Luis can take you to the spring-fed Media Luna lagoon – or 30.5 meters below it, if you're an experienced diver.

That's right, one of Mexico's most unusual dive sites is just more than 100 miles from the ocean .

It is close to the city of Rioverde, in the central region of the state. Although not technically part of La Huasteca, it is the perfect stopping point for a swim and a fabulous meal at Don Juan Merendero a restaurant that has been delighting visitors since its opening in December.

Inside Media Luna, six springs keep the water warm a little above 28 degrees during the year. The constant flow recycles the water every 24 hours, providing spectacular clarity, especially early in the day before splashes from visitors stir up the sediment.

The thriving ecosystem is home to many turtles, birds and unique vegetation. Well-informed divers have been flocking here for half a century, thanks to Juvencio Martínez Flores. “Media Luna wasn’t really known,” says the Rioverde resident, who became one of the founders of diving in Mexico when he opened his dive shop about 50 years ago. “The store started attracting people.”

Today, you can still find him behind the counter at the “ Vamos a Bucear ” store, along with his son and co-owner, Saul Martínez Ramírez, whose children are third-generation divers. The company is linked to Hotel Media Luna also family owned and operated.

Ask about the prized 20,000-year-old mammoth skull and dozens of pre-Hispanic figurines on display alongside the diving equipment. The elder Martínez said he discovered the ancient artifacts at the bottom of the lake in 1971 and recovered them with the help of archaeologists.

Puente de Dios

About an hour east of Rioverde, Puente de Dios warrants several hours of exploration for a proper introduction. Or perhaps a night in the cozy town of Tamasopo, on the western edge of La Huasteca Potosina.

After paying the entrance fee of about US$5 (about 83 Mexican pesos) and descending hundreds of stairs, there is a ring of waterfalls pouring out of the mountains to fill a churning green pool. And that's just the beginning.

The park's namesake land bridge leads to another entry point upstream on the river. Enter and float through a cathedral-like cavern, spotting silvery fish below and dark tunnels in the limestone walls. Follow the current and slip through a small opening in the rocks to enter the vast main pool.

Safety lines in the water help stabilize swimmers against the current. You can swim from one torrent of water to another, feeling the energy of countless liters of water flowing through rocky channels and the surrounding forest.

The crystal-clear pool exceeds 18 meters in depth in some points. Brave visitors climb the edges of the rocky perimeter to jump off the cliff. Life jackets are mandatory for all swimmers and are available for rent.

Sótano de las Huahuas

An hour's drive south of Ciudad Valles and less than an hour north of Xilitla (one of Mexico's lauded Pueblos Magicos), you can walk to the crater-shaped spectacle of Sótano de las Huahuas .

Words, photos and videos cannot capture the daily phenomenon of thousands and thousands of birds descending steep cliffs to the huge circular hole in the forest. Mainly white-breasted swifts along with green parakeets put on the daily show at dusk and a similar show every morning with an epic climb from the attic.

Witnessing this ritual from the rocky edge is a full-body experience that floods the senses with awe – and a bit of vertigo for those sensitive to heights. You can book the experience with a Teenek guide at the entrance to the site. A moderate walk of about 30 minutes takes you to the dizzyingly large cave.

“At the bottom of the cave it is the size of a football field,” says Estela Martínez Santiago, Teneek guide from the local community of San Isidro, in the municipality of Aquismón.

For context, this “bottom” is about 460 meters below when you are on the edge. With extra planning, you can afford to repel from the side. The steep cliff walls between the top and bottom provide safe havens for the countless swifts, parakeets and other creatures.

“It’s an ocean of birds,” said Elena Nilova, a first-time visitor to Chicago. This feeling of the sea speaks to the sound of their wings as they pass overhead at dusk. Cutting through the air like lightning, they generate the sound of waves crashing across a distant shore.

If you want more, you can access a similar, more developed site, Sótano de las Golondrinas, less than a 30-minute drive from Sótano de las Huahuas.

The city of San Luis Potosí

The city of San Luis Potosi is a starting point for a trip to La Huasteca

Most visitors will depart for, or return from, La Huasteca via the bustling capital of San Luis Potosí, where the international airport offers frequent flights to Mexico City and beyond.

Although La Huasteca's waterfront begins nearly a three-hour drive east, the charming capital is worth exploring at the beginning or end of a trip.

The historic center is filled with ornate squares, cobblestone streets and Old World architecture. Elements of the deep religious roots and the city's long history of mining gold, silver, and other materials sprinkles the urban center with wow factor, starting with the baroque towers of the opulent municipal cathedral.

Next door, the historic municipal building from 1602 is open for free weekly tours. One room features five ornate ceiling murals framed with hundreds of pure gold eggs, each worth more than $5,000.

Going down the street, the National Mask Museum of Mexico features stunning historical creations from the ancient and modern world. The city presents an evolving culinary range, starting with countless food stores. artisanal chocolates like Costanza, which sells irresistible travel gifts.

The emerging craft beer scene includes Callejon 7 Barrios , which serves citrusy José Gosé and summer beers. And at El Rincón Huasteco, dishes include 10 varieties of regional Huasteca enchiladas and the famous gigantic zacahuil, also known as the biggest tamale you've ever seen. The flavors offer a small taste of everything that awaits you in the mountains to the east.

Source: CNN Brasil

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