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Xilitla: Surrealism at its best

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Ask anybody to name a few things they know about Mexico and they will probably tell you about the food, a well-known tourist destination or an artist. These traits have defined how the world views us, and they are correct. Mexico has some of the world´s most delicious food (Mexican cuisine was even added by UNESCO to its “intangible cultural heritage” list), beautiful beaches, towns and cities and has also been home to  many great leaders of artistic movements, specifically muralism and surrealism. There are only a few places, however, where you can find the best of these elements all rolled into one, and one of them, my personal favourite, is Xilitla.

Xilitla is a coffee-growing town in Mexico that was not special in any way until the arrival of Edward James. The story goes like this: Everyone who was anyone in the surrealist movement during the mid-1900s eventually visited and worked in Mexico, and Edward James was no exception. James was a very wealthy British aristocrat (rumor has it his birth father was King Edward VII) who was an active member of the surrealist movement. In the final years of his career he decided to build “the Garden of Eden”, and he set out to find the perfect location. Deep in the mountains of Mexico, in the middle of La Huasteca Potosina, a  region of San Luis Potosí, he found that place. He then bought a piece of land and started building his dream. In Las Pozas, the result of his work, the natural beauty of the jungle collides with surrealist non–functional constructions. Las Pozas became a retreat for artists and friends and after the death of James it was converted into a tourist attraction.

The first time I went to Xilitla was during a road trip through La Huasteca, in the summer of 2005. We only stayed for one night and we were lucky enough to get a room in a hotel inside Las Pozas. When all the visitors departed at sundown we were left to wander alone inside the garden at night. The hotel was far from fancy; there were spiders on the balcony and in the showers, and it wasn’t the tidiest room. The experience, however, was amazing. You could barely see anything with the flashlights, and the sounds of the jungle grew louder and louder as darkness encroached.

Unfortunately, after a couple of years that hotel closed down. When I returned to Xilitla in 2008 I stayed at a small inn in town, and because we were there for three days we had time to visit not only the garden but other attractions in Xilitla as well, like the market and the museum. The walk from town to the garden is really beautiful, and if you ever make it there, I would recommend you take the time to walk from town towards Las Pozas.  

There is a catch, and this is why you won’t find so many tourists in Xilitla. In order to get there from Mexico City you have to drive for 7 hours along a very small, winding road. Once you get there, accommodation is limited, and the town itself is not so special. Having said this, the drive is totally worth it. The road itself is beautiful, and I don’t think you’ll find a place like this anywhere else in the world.

Edward James was right to choose Xilitla as the perfect place for his Garden of Eden. Las Pozas is nothing short of paradise.

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