Travelling through the Sierra Gorda is a joy in itself, but really doesn’t prepare you for the picturesque small town of Xilitla, sprawled over the eastern foothills some 320km northeast of Querétaro. Hemmed in by limestone cliffs, it’s set in a dramatic location, and at 600m, it’s warmer than the rest of the Bajío, with a lusher feel. There are tremendous views over the surrounding temperate rainforest, which is thick with waterfalls, birdlife and flowers, particularly wild orchids. It is mainly of interest as a place to relax, though you might devote a few minutes to admiring the beautifully preserved interior of the sixteenth-century Ex-Convento de San Agustín, which overlooks the central plaza, Jardín Hidalgo.
The real justification for the lengthy journey to Xilitla is to visit Las Pozas (roughly 9am–6pm; M$30; wwww.xilitla.org), some 2.5km east of town along a dirt road: head down Ocampo on the north side of the square, turn left and follow the signs. It is a pleasant walk downhill on the way there, or you can grab a taxi for around M$60. Having lived here since 1947, English eccentric Edward James spent the 1960s and 1970s creating a surreal jungle fantasy on the site, full of outlandish concrete statues and structures. Sprouting beside nine pools (“pozas”) of a cascading jungle river you’ll find a spiral staircase that winds up until it disappears to nothing, stone hands almost 2m high, thick columns with no purpose, a mosaic snake and buildings such as the “House With Three Stories That Might be Five” and “The House Destined To Be a Cinema”. Only one is in any sense liveable, a hideaway apartment four storeys up where James spent much of his time. With so little complete, there are all sorts of unprotected precipices: take care. In 2007, the Fondo Xilitla consortium (which includes CEMEX and the San Luis Potosí state government) bought the site for US$2.2 million, with the aim of turning it into a world-class attraction; plans are still at an early stage (and any development is likely to be slow-moving), but check the website for the latest.
For now at least you can see everything in an hour or so, but plan to spend the better part of a day here bathing in the pools and just chilling out; the restaurant is usually open Wed–Sun. You can also take a guided tour (in English M$250; 1hr 15min), which can be a good way to get to grips with what’s on display.
Back in town, call at the Museo Edward James, behind the Posada El Castillo (nominally daily 10am–6pm, but actually open when they feel like it; M$30), which showcases James’s life and particularly his work here. Photos of the construction are particularly worth perusing.