The colorful Xilitla city sign, located in the centro.

The Death Defying Road to Xilitla

We almost turned around. There were a few miles that we were on a dirt road on the way to Xilitla. I think it was due to road construction.*

The Sierra Gorda mountains are beautiful. They are also huge. I thought maybe my perception was off because I haven’t driven through mountains in awhile. However, I just read on wiki that “[t]he area is extremely rugged with high steep mountains and deep canyons.” This describes it exactly. Many of the straightaways don’t have guardrails and you are only about 4 feet from death.

However, even that wasn’t the scariest part of the trip.

*We believe the dirt road section is where they are creating a link between two paved highways. On the return trip, we discovered it’s only around 3-4 km in length, but it seemed so much longer on the trip over.

A few of the very steep mountains in the Sierra Gorda mountains.

Disclaimer

This post contains affiliate links. If you click them and make a purchase, I’ll receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. These payments help reduce costs of running this site. I appreciate you visiting today! Regarding my views on the hotel and town, they were not sponsored in any way by the hotel or anyone else. We paid for this trip in its entirety.

Grumpastic & (almost) regretting my choice to visit Xilitla

On the drive over, my husband was grumpy. He has nerves of steel and even so, he did not enjoy the 5+ hour drive to Xilitla. He was disappointed to find out our hotel room did not have its own tv, either. Since we were all hungry upon arrival, we went to the closest restaurant for food. While it was nice and the food was okay, I will neither recommend nor discourage people to try it. It was rather expensive (more than double the price of our dinner the second night and less for me to eat, as it had more western style food). That disappointed him a little, too.

I completely understand. I’m still in love with Mexican food, so I prefer to eat locl food when we go out to eat, not western-style food. We cook a lot, so we eat American food often.

Wide stone "stairs", with artwork on the wall in the background. It is a large, purple octopus.

There is a little street art on these steep walkways. The steps lead up to the centro. If you can handle steep stairs, the hotel is located well.

The “home” of Edward James

Though the towns in the Sierra Gorda mountains have some tourism, Xilitla is a tourist destination for a different reason. The reason is Las Pozas (“The Pools”), and that is due to Edward James. I thought he was an artist, but he is described in his wiki biography as a British poet and supporter of Surrealism. He sponsored Salvador Dalí for a couple of years. After doing various things with his life, he moved to Xilitla and created Las Pozas. He hired Plutarco Gastelum as his guide. Gastelum settled down in Xilitla, married a local woman, and built a home. This home is really kind of a castle and is now a hotel called Posada el Castillo. It is run by his granddaughter.

a mural on a wall, next to an open arch to the garden of the hotel.

This is some of the original artwork on the wall, but I am unsure who painted it.

Edward James visited with the family long enough to be called “Uncle Edward.” So, though it wasn’t officially his home, it sounds like it was a second home to him, while he lived his surrealist dream (source).

a stone walkway, with raised foot "prints".

What greeted me at the entry of the hotel. My children loved the whimsy.

Posada el Castillo

I loved our hotel. It took me 10-15 minutes to figure out how to enter it, but once I was in, I thought it was great! The garden entry has artsy feet sculptures on the ground, parrots in the small, jungle like garden, and also a beautiful cat.

Yes, I was all about the cat for a minute. My cats still live in the US and I miss them!

a mostly white calico cat yawns.

Mid-yawn! She’s a pretty baby.

But the downsides of staying in an historical building are that it’s not great for those with mobility issues. We were warned to be careful on the spiral staircase with our kids (who naturally loved it). The room itself had gothic windows and 15 foot or higher ceilings. It was also close to Xilitla’s centro… up some steep steps, but still close. I had coffee from the centro the first morning, because we were awake well before breakfast was served.

The Centro of Xilitla

The woman’s table was at the top of Ocampo (the name of the street of steps, I think), but across the street. Her coffee canister was marked “decaf coffee.” I could not remember the Spanish word for caffeine. Given that people generally seem to reuse things, I figured she purchased the canister used.

I can attest that the coffee contained caffeine. As I walked back down Ocampo, enjoying the wind in my face and the spritzing rain, I was reminded of my trip to Bellingham (Seattle), Washington a decade ago. With coffee in my hand and at the physical exertion of step climbing and descending, I felt peaceful.

The gothic style windows with peach colored curtains.

These windows, though. The ceilings were at least 15 feet high, too.

Though my husband would’ve preferred to know there wasn’t a tv before staying in the hotel (he said he would’ve packed a laptop, for instance), he finally came around and said he enjoyed the hotel.

But the hotel was just kind of like the cherry on top, because the reason we went to Xilitla was to see Las Pozas.

A green parrot with a yellow face, climbing around its cage.

This brings us to the scariest part(s) of the trip for me

In total, there were three moments that I found more nerve wracking than being able to see down the mountain from my seat in the car.

First, we decided to take a taxi from our hotel to Las Pozas. It was  just under a 2 km (just over 1 mile) trip from our hotel, but it wasn’t a safe walk. The hotel owner called us a cab.

There weren’t any seat belts in the backseat.

Let’s repeat. There weren’t any seat belts.

The person who wrote this about car seat safety (me) took a cab without seatbelts. This counts as two events because we also had to return from Las Pozas in a cab. The second cab only had a working seatbelt for the driver.

The last event that was scary was in a short section of the Las Pozas park. From the entrance, you can turn left towards the “pools” or turn right into the park. We chose to visit the pools first (I recommend going in that order also). There is a section of steps that has a rope railing and a sheer drop. That is when one of my children decided that jumping and flailing around would be a good idea. I held tightly onto his arm, because falling from there would definitely mean death. I am not exaggerating for dramatic effect. It was terrifying.

a blue, natural pool on the left and steps on the right. An orange life preserver hangs on a wall in the foreground (there is a tunnel to get to the stairs, on the far right)

See those stairs? They continue up. It doesn’t look like it is that far of a drop until you’re climbing down.

Las Pozas is getting its own post because it was amazing (other than slightly scary parts for those of us with kids).

There is more than Las Pozas

If you want more to do than seeing Las Pozas, there are also day tours available. The tours I looked into took you to Las Pozas and then to other waterfalls (out of town) and the swallow cave. The options vary. The only tours we could find last for 12 hours. This didn’t seem like a very good choice for us. After driving through the Sierra Gordas with my husband at the helm, watching the busses and semis fly around blind corners, I’m positive I made the best decision for our family.

However, we saw a family of 6 heading out on a tour on the 2nd day of our stay. Their youngest child looked under 1 year. So, there are family friendly options available.

Cement artwork that resembles a fountain, surround by the jungle at Las Pozas.

Here’s a teaser of Las Pozas.

Finally…

Xilitla has a nice centro. It had a busy market atmosphere while we were there, even at closing time. I could tell there was much more to see during the days, though. Otherwise, I didn’t explore much of Xilitla. It wasn’t as “cute” as I expected. I did feel content and peaceful while there and maybe that’s why I liked it so well.

Las Pozas is.. well, it’s getting its own post because it deserves it. It’s neat and it was worth the (scary) drive. Even my husband wants to visit again!

Go forth and travel!

What cool places have you visited that were a difficult journey? Do difficult journeys make a place feel more special than it would otherwise be?

About Posada El Castillo

Posada El Castillo is a great hotel with free wifi in the first floor common area and continental breakfast included. I ordered a full breakfast every morning because I can’t eat the continental breakfast due to my celiac disease. I had huevos rancheros both mornings because it was delicious and I didn’t get sick. The owner speaks English. The hotel doesn’t accept credit cards and we had to wire the full amount the same day we made our reservation (this might be a good time to consider travel insurance, if you haven’t before).

As is somewhat normal in Mexico, the pool wasn’t heated. This time of year, it felt very cold! Also, as is also common in Mexico, home don’t have central heat or air-conditioning. Our room was equipped with fans and extra blankets. I believe artists would be especially intrigued with this hotel, but it’s interesting even for me! It’s also close to Las Pozas, the main attraction of Xilitla.

32 thoughts on “The Death Defying Road to Xilitla

  1. noel says:

    I’ve heard about this fascinating place, I would love to see it in person one day – it really is exotic and surreal as you say. But that’s me, I love quirky and one of a kind places that exude real artistic and environment into one

  2. Melanie says:

    I didn’t know these places before. I have been to a town in India that I didn’t enjoy at all. But you’ll always see something nice. The hotel sounds nice, glad you had a good stay there and the breakfast sounded delicious.

    • Natalie says:

      The second night was a little chilly, but they had extra blankets in the closet.

      We managed without the tv and had a lovely time. There is one in the community room.

  3. Kayla says:

    Las Pozas sounds so interesting! I had heard of Edward James before, but didn’t know he created a home like that! Also, I totally understand connecting with animals along your journeys, I miss mine when I’m away!

    • Natalie says:

      I’m glad you understand! My dogs live in Mexico, but we couldn’t bring our kitties. Yes, Edward James spent around $5 million to create Las Pozas. It’s really cool.

  4. Kayla says:

    That’s so neat, Las Pozas sounds so interesting! I had heard of Edward James before, but didn’t know he created a home like that! Also, I totally understand connecting with animals along your journeys, I miss mine when I’m away!

  5. aimee horgan says:

    Interesting! I haven’t heard of this town either, although I’ve spent a bit of time in Mexico – I will certainly be adding this quirky town to our list when we do return.

    • Natalie says:

      No, we didn’t. I feel like we left over half of Las Pozas unexplored. We did climb pretty high. We took some steps down and came to an area that wasn’t where the exit was and had to climb back up and take a different path. It’s kind of crazy (and fun)!

  6. Skye Class says:

    That sounds like quite an adventure. I’ve been in some pretty questionable cabs myself, and was almost killed in on on the streets of Bucharest. The hotel there sounds really nice, and personally I prefer not to see a TV in my room. Perhaps someday I’ll get to explore that part of Mexico.

    • Natalie says:

      The lack of seatbelts was pretty scary for me with my kids in the car. Luckily, both drivers drove really well. I’m an advocate for using car seats properly every time, so getting into a cab like that gave me some anxiety. If it had been any further, we’d have had to drive.

      Also, the lack of TV worked out just fine. I bought my kids some little toys (slime, a neat not quite lego toy that you assemble yourself) and they played. Plus, everyone was tired after visiting Las Pozas.

  7. Knycx.journeying says:

    Everytime looking at a giant mountain I feel humble how great the earth is and how tiny we are. A lot of places to explore and I am glad you enjoyed it! The 15 feet window is surprisingly beautiful, too! Lots of lively places to see in the area! @ knycx.journeying

  8. Supriya says:

    Alright, extremely curious about Laz Pozas now and will be googling it up right after I finish this comment. I’ve begun to accept that not all places will meet our expectations but there are always aspects that make us remember the place 🙂 Guess we can live with that.

  9. Divyakshi Gupta says:

    I had never heard about the Sierra Gorda mountains. Reading your account reminded me of my visit to Kinnaur which has such deadly roads and such rugged terrain with no guard-rails 🙂 The artwork on the walls looks elegant and so does the hotel. The pools of Las Pozas park look amazing! Wish there was more safety though. Love your honest description of the hotel as well as the destination!

    • Natalie says:

      I know the roads through the Sierra mountains aren’t as bad as the ones you describe. They caught us by surprise on the way over to Xilitla! The most dangerous aspect were the drivers who would pass on blind corners and the busses that were going too fast to stay completely in their lanes on said blind corners.

  10. Nisha says:

    Xilitla sounds interesting. You guys are quite adventurous . I am not sure if I would want to drive there. Maybe someone else drives and I will keep my eyes shut. 🙂 It has happened all too often with us that the first meal in a new place is generally ordinary and expensive then you get the hang of the place and make better choices for lunch and dinner.

  11. Cat says:

    Riding in a car without any seatbelts sound scary! We don’t drive much in foreign countries, but I recall some mountain roads in Taiwan are very winding and steep. There was one place deep in the mountains where the roads are narrow and some buses do flip over and fall into the canyons!!

  12. Suruchi says:

    I haven’t heard about Xilitla before this post. You seem to had an adventure. Driving without seatbelts in India is quite common so that doesn’t scare me out. But yes those stairs for sure look risky and riskier is that rope.

    • Natalie says:

      No seatbelts and lack of seatbelt use also seems to be common in Mexico, but given that I’m a big proponent of using car seats and using them properly every time, riding in a car with my kids without seatbelts is terrifying. I understand that chances are low of getting into bad accident, but we have and use these safety measures every time, just in case.

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