Clients can experience Class III rapids along the Tampaon River. // © 2017 Getty Images
Feature image (above): Visit the gardens designed by artist and poet Edward James. // © 2017 Getty Images
As I passed through “purgatory,” a zigzag gate located in the surrealist garden of British poet, artist and billionaire Edward James in Xilitla, Mexico, I felt spiritually refreshed, as if all of my previous sins had washed away.
To dispense with my past, I had to pass from the “negative” side to the “positive” — never the reverse. (At least, that’s what my guide told me.)
A pioneer in cultural and adventure tourism in the Huasteca Potosina region of San Luis Potosi, local tour operator Huaxteca engages travelers with this type of natural excursion.
The operator’s experienced guides work to connect guests to San Luis Potosi’s landscape and the area’s rich history. Following are four heart-pumping adventures that clients are sure to love.
James’ symbolic gate in the surrealist garden — also known as “Las Pozas” or The Pools — became a good omen for the rest of my time in San Luis Potosi. After a beautiful drive through the jungle, our group arrived here, a cement wonderland built with inspiration from James’ creative and surrealist background.
In the 1960s and 1970s, James worked with locals to construct his dream home, which includes fantastical cement orchids, an airplane-shaped building and Salvador Dali-esque mustaches functioning as buttresses. Turquoise waterfalls and natural pools also surround the property and are accessible to locals.
As we wandered through the plaza, past a pair of two statues shaped like hands and into what resembled animal cages, our guide shared James’ life story with us, which we found to be as fascinating as the dreamlike garden he created.
Working with dozens of local workers on any given day, James constructed his home until his death in 1984. Now, according to our guide, up to 800 visitors travel to Las Pozas each day to stroll through the jungle paths and climb his “Staircase to Heaven.”
The Cave of Swallows
After leaving Las Pozas, our group drove about 90 minutes to another exotic destination: the Cave of Swallows.
Every day, colonies of white-collared swifts fly in tight circles here, getting higher with each turn until emerging from the 1,000-foot-deep cave in search of food.
We arrived at sundown and watched the birds in the midst of this ritual. Then, every minute or two, dozens would break off from the flock and dive straight into the opening — sometimes at speeds of more than 130 miles per hour, according to our guide. The migration sounded like a heavy downpour, and my heart beat faster as I looked over the edge and watched the birds dart like shooting arrows to the cave’s bottom. Amidst this frenetic re-entry, green parrots flew calmly in formation around the contours of the cave. As darkness fell, the last of the swifts left and we headed home.
Rafting the Tampaon River
Our adventure with Huaxteca continued the next morning with a rafting trip on the Tampaon River.
After listening to the safety instructions, our group split into two groups with two separate rafts. With helmets and life jackets in place, we floated out into the warm, robin’s-egg blue water, preparing to traverse a series of 13 Class III rapids.
Practicing our strokes as we aimed for the first rapid — which our guide called “Good Morning” — I noticed that the steep canyon walls, covered with jungle vegetation, formed a narrow trail for the deep and fast river.
I also saw that the limestone along the water’s edge had eroded to create vertical rocks that seemed to resemble guards watching us navigate the river.
As it turned out, I would have been grateful for some real watchmen — I flipped out of the boat twice. Luckily, the rocks were on the sides of the river, not in the middle of the rapids. As we ran through “the Claw,” our last rapid of the day, I managed to remain in the boat. And as the water flattened out, we floated by fishermen and families enjoying their picnics, and we reached our take-out point tired, hungry and happy.
Leaping off waterfalls may sound like fun to some, but for me, it incites sheer terror. I awoke early the following morning from nerves as I mentally prepared for the day.
As the moment arrived, I found myself inching closer to the edge of the first of many waterfalls on the Micos River in Micos National Park. Our Huaxteca guide held my hand, counted to three and let go. It seemed like minutes until I could connect my brain to my shaking legs, but I finally made my feet take the running leap. Suddenly, I was in the air, then underwater. I came back to the surface, patted my helmet to give the “OK” sign and heard my group’s cheers over the roar of the river.
We repeated this process for many more waterfalls; others practiced what looked like aerial acrobatics, but I needed to gather my courage to take the plunge each time. I stood on the edge, pushed past my fear one last time — and jumped.