Travelling through the Sierra Gorda is a joy in itself, but really doesn’t prepare you for the picturesque small town of XILITLA (pronounced Hee-leet-la) sprawled over the eastern foothills some 320km northeast of Querétaro and 55km beyond Jalpan. Hemmed in by limestone cliffs, it’s set in a dramatic location, and at just 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's a lovely 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, however, is to visit Las Pozas, some 2.5km east of town along a dirt road.
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Museo Edward James
Before heading out to Las Pozas, visit the Museo Edward James, behind the Posada El Castillo (it shares the space with the hotel restaurant), which showcases James’s life and his work here. His handmade wooden moulds and photos of the construction are particularly worth perusing.
Having lived in Xilitla since 1947, English eccentric Edward James spent the 1960s and 1970s creating the surreal jungle fantasy of Las Pozas, 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 bought the site for US$2.2 million (then M$24 million), with the aim of turning it into a world-class attraction; restoration has been slow since then, but check laspozasxilitla.org.mx 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 Wednesday to Sunday. You can also request a guided tour, which can be a good way to get to grips with what’s on display.