Checklist: San Luis Potosi, Mexico

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Checklist: San Luis Potosi, Mexico

Located 250 miles north of Mexico City, the quiet former mining hub of San Luis Potosí is quickly becoming a popular destination for adventure junkies, spiritual types, and anyone seeking a taste of real Mexico. This Mexican state offers a mind-bending number of experiences: the mystical desertscape of Real de Catorce, the surrealist gardens of Salvador Dalí’s financier, the beautifully preserved colonial architecture of the capital city, and the aqua waterfalls of Huasteca Potosina are just a few.

Please peruse our top picks for things to see and do in Mexico’s newest adventure playground.

1. Get Lost in Las Pozas, The Surrealist Garden of Edward James

Las Pozas courtesy of SLP Tourism Board.jpg Photo courtesy of the SLP Tourism Board

In the 1940s, British poet and benefactor of the surrealist art movement Edward James ventured into Mexico in search of a place to build his own Garden of Eden. Inspiration drew him to a location just outside the small jungle town of Xilitla, where over the next 40 years he would build Las Pozas, a vast interconnected network of pools, waterfalls, and zany concrete structures with names like “The House on Three Floors Which Will in Fact Have Five or Four or Six.”

The gardens, now operated by a local foundation, are open to visitors year-round and offer hour-long guided tours for 200 pesos ($10). You can make the most of your surrealist adventure by staying in your own nest at nearby Hotel Tapasoli.

2. Jump, Raft, or Rappel Down Waterfalls

Huasteca 1 courtesy of the SLP tourism board.jpg Photo courtesy of the SLP Tourism Board

From your base in Xilitla, you can also discover some of the mountainous Huasteca region’s best water adventures. Let tour operator be your guide as you descend next to the 105-meter Tamul waterfall with nothing protecting you from the rocks below but the rope in your hand. If the thought alone gives you vertigo, first try rappelling down the 50-meter Minas Viejas waterfall and reward your bravery with a series of jumps into seven smaller waterfalls in the turquoise waters of the nearby Micos river. The area is also home to some top-notch Category II and III whitewater rafting.

3. Fill Your Tank on Highway 57, Mexico’s Route 66

Tortas El Vagon BNJ.jpg Photo by Bridget Nurre Jennions

Stretching 800 miles from Mexico City to the U.S. border, Mexico’s Highway 57 offers everything you want in a cross-country road trip: vast expanses of arid land, sleepy rural towns, and truck stop food that you won’t soon forget. The main thoroughfare from the capital of San Luis Potosí to the Pueblo Mágico of Real de Catorce is also home to the region’s best tortas, served in a converted train car. Located just off Highway 57 near Matehuala, La Estación is your stop for gas, a surprisingly good artisan market, and a creative selection of Mexican sandwiches served hot to your train car table. Can’t get enough? There is another location 80 miles south of San Luis Potosí that features a whole locomotive.

4. Make a Mezcal Pit Stop

Matehuala courtesy of the SLP tourism board.jpg Photo courtesy of the SLP Tourism Board

Just before arriving in the small transit city of Matehuala, do yourself a favor and take the turn off onto Highway 63 for a taste of mezcal: tequila’s older, smokier cousin. While the most popular versions of the potent spirit come from the state of Oaxaca, Laguna Seca offers some of the best in San Luis Potosí. The distillery, opened in an old hacienda in 2012, draws from the area’s two centuries of experience in making mezcal by hand. Come for the aged Real de Magueyes, stay for the traditional hacienda feel and the heavy-handed mezcal aficionados.

5. Ride through Magical Real de Catorce

Real de Catorce BNJ.jpg Photo by Bridget Nurre Jennions

One of the first cities to receive the designation of Pueblo Mágico from the Mexican government, this once-prominent mining town is now the stuff of legends: a ghost town to some, a major pilgrimage site to others, and a favorite location among Hollywood filmmakers. Come in October to join the throngs of Catholic pilgrims crowding through the one-track tunnel into the city for a chance to lay their wish at the feet of St. Francis of Assisi in the city’s cathedral.

Or… contact Operatour Potosina to schedule a desert ride with Cristino Rodriguez Hernandez and his fleet of World War II-era Willy Jeeps. Sit on top and hold on tight for the best views of the abandoned mines scattered throughout the valley as you make your bumpy way to his home in Estacio?n Catorce. Once there, his wife Chiquis will be waiting to serve some local delicacies: handmade tortillas filled with cabuche (tangy buds from the biznaga cactus) or sweet roasted pork known as asado de boda (literally, “Wedding Roast”).

6. Celebrate Mother Earth

Huichol people singing ceremonial songs BNJ.jpg Photo by Bridget Nurre Jennions

The spirituality of Real de Catorce also calls to the Huichol Indians, who make the 25-day journey by foot twice a year to connect the two ranges of the Sierra Madres: from their homes in Jalisco and Nayarit to Wirikuta, the desert below Real de Catorce. The tribe, and indeed Real de Catorce, became famous in the 1960s and 1970s for the part of the pilgrimage that involves collecting and eating the hallucinogenic peyote cactus. While it is against federal law in Mexico for any non-Huichol to eat peyote, the tribe’s shamans are willing to share their way of life with visitors. Contact Corazón de Xoconostle to join a Huichol shaman for a traditional Mother Earth ceremony, which draws the energy of the four cardinal points.

7. Toast Your Trip with Craft Brews

La Internacional Cerveceria in the capital BNJ.jpg Photo by Bridget Nurre Jennions

Having wandered the disparate corners of the state, a visit to San Luis Potosí would not be complete without a nightcap in the old city. Start your evening near the Jardín de San Francisco with some killer asado de boda on the rooftop terrace of Los Frailes, or take in some traditional Potosina music with your margaritas next door at La Oruga y La Cebada. Either way, make sure to head down the street to La Internacional Cerveceria for a great selection of local craft beers and pages of brews from around the world. Keep the party going with a visit to La Piquería, a cozy bar with tasty mezcal cocktails downstairs and a jumping live music scene upstairs.

Getting There

Flight Rates: $317-$880
Airlines: United offers flights via Houston, American via Dallas, and Delta (on codeshare partner Aeromexico) via Mexico City to SLP International Airport. Deals are also available from select cities in the U.S. on Mexican airlines Interjet and Aeromar via Mexico City.
Currency Exchange: 1 USD = 20 Mexican Pesos
More Info: For more information, head to the official website of the San Luis Potosí Tourism Board.

Breathtaking Balkans columnist Bridget Nurre Jennions is an Emmy-winning TV journalist and an international development specialist in Kosovo. Follow her travels on her blog, Bridgekrieg.