Northeast Mexico itinerary
Probably the great unknown, the northeast of Mexico awaits however some of the most authentic landscapes, cities and towns in the country. From the spectacular mountains, forests and waterfalls scattered throughout the Sierra Madre Oriental to the dry landscapes of the huge Chihuahuan desert. To brighten up your palate, “regia” and “potosina” food stand out, with very characteristic and unique flavors of Mexican cuisine. And to please your ears, there will always be a northern band playing on the street, the radio or the nightclub. Come to this less traveled corner of Mexico and give yourself the opportunity to meet the beautiful people of Coahuila, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosí.
MONTERREY AND THE SURROUNDING MOUNTAINS
The capital of Nuevo Leon and second city with the largest population in Mexico can not leave you indifferent. You either love it or hate it. Or both, depending on the day! Although it is not the most beautiful city in the country and the chaos can easily scare you away, it has countless interesting and unique things to do, both in the city itself and a few kilometers away in the proud region of the Sierra Madre Oriental. Not to mention the “conmadres” weyes that live there! And the food: where you can find better arrachera, asada style and pastor tacos than in Mty?
BEST OF MTY CITY:
Cerro de la Silla. Called like that because, seen from the city, it has the shape of a horse saddle. It is one of the most iconic places of Mty, and probably the most famous hill in the country. If you tell a Mexican that you are going to visit Monterrey, the first thing you will likely hear is “go to Cerro de la Silla!”. But another thing is to climb it... These Mexicans are a bit lazy... Not even the locals, who have to deal with seeing it rise above their heads every day. To their credit I have to admit that it is a hard mission. But the reward is worth it. The road takes you to the highest point (1820 m) and will give you magnificent views. Several tips: 1) If you are not in good shape you can go up to the old cable car station, more or less halfway. 2) Please, do not make the ascent in one of those extremely infernal hot days that are so common in the Mexican north.
Photo by María Rodríguez
Fundidora Park. A huge urban park that, in addition to its beautiful footbridges and water channels, offers a wide range of entertainment. There is a cinema (the Cineteca of Nuevo León), a gallery with two exhibition halls, a theater, and an interactive museum about the origin of steel. Regarding the latter, the Horno de Acero Museum 3 (Oven Steel Museum 3) is one of the most attractive and visited sites of Mty (currently considered the only oven in the world open to the public). Fundidora Park is also home to music festivals and other events.
Paseo Santa Lucia. Pleasant walk that runs parallel to an artificial channel with a modern architecture of beautiful footbridges. Dogs are allowed throughout the area.
Museums. Two really good museums stand out in Monterrey, both at the edge of the always lively Macroplaza: the Museum of Contemporary Art (MARCO) and the Museum of Mexican History, precisely at the end of Paseo Santa Lucia. If you are eager of more history go to the neighboring Museum of the Northeast, another interesting focus of knowledge.
Mirador del Obispado. From the top of the homonymous hill you will get fantastic views of the city. As a curious fact, it has the second largest Mexican flag in the country.
Partying at Barrio Antiguo (downtown). There are many bars and clubs full of fun for partygoers. Great opportunity to meet the “regios”. My favorite is the Café Iguana. Do not let yourself be deceived by the name. It is anything but a Café. Without a doubt, the best club in all of Monterrey.
BEST AROUND MTY:
Huasteca Park. Surroundings of spectacular mountains, perfect for nature lovers and climbers. Those tall walls that look like they have been through a surgeon's scalpel are worth seeing. Here the environment is drier, with cacti and plants more typical of desert ecosystems. As you can see these guys have it all!
Chipinque. A giant park that is just outside the city, by the high hills. There are many cool trails to do. Different species of birds and cute coatis will join you in them!
Estanzuela Park. About 15-20 km south of the city lies this green humid area that runs parallel to a river. It is great for hiking or just to relax by the river and have some beers.
Santiago and around. The Magical Town of Santiago, 35-40 km south of Mty, is worth your visit for its colorful houses, its gastronomy, and, above all, its mountains. All the road that leads to them is awesome, wrapped in exuberant vegetation and leaving behind rivers and waterfalls (such as Cola de Caballo). There are many places to see. To be highlighted a couple of waterfalls somewhat further away (and less touristy): El Salto, following the main road; Chipitín, accessible by a secondary road and then on foot (and swimming!). The color of the waters is just wonderful.
Grutas de García (caves). About 40 km from the capital of Nuevo Leon we have these unique caves in the Sierra El Fraile and San Miguel. Enjoy the marine fossils that can be found there and the magnificent rock formations of stalactites and stalagmites.
Cerro de la Viga. This spectacular ascent is actually in the state of Coahuila, in the Sierra de Arteaga. It is one of the highest points of Mexico (3650 m). The way up is as hard as it is beautiful, and the final views are stunning (I guess, because when I did it was raining and foggy!).
Nice town in the north of Nuevo Leon less than 120 km from Mty. It is an ideal place to camp in the countryside (Sierra de Gomas), walk the mountains or along the river in the foothills, and of course take a cool dip in the same river or a water hole that is right there. Not bad, huh? Well, wait, the best is missing. The star attraction are the Bustamante Caves (also known as Palmito Caves), with a great diversity of stalactites and stalagmites in its interior and very little tourist.
If there is a place you cannot miss while traveling Coahuila, that is Cuatro Ciénagas, both a Magic Town and a Flora and Fauna Protected Area in the middle of the Chihuahuan desert. The long trip from Monterrey (or Saltillo) is certainly worth it. In the Protected Area there are very picturesque things to do. For example, contemplate the surreal pools of an impossible blue color in the middle of arid zones with cactus. You can not bathe (at least in the Poza Azul) due to the sensitivity of the ecosystem that lives there, with up to 9 species of endemic fish that do not exist anywhere else on the planet and 10 of mollusks (unusual for such an arid area). But, above all, due to the presence of living stromatolites inside the lagoon. These prehistoric organisms have the honor of being the pioneers in the process of photosynthesis, nothing more or less. Hence, we can not bathe, in order to preserve that unique time machine.
Where you can take a dip and relieve the sweltering heat is in the Mezquites River. Another mandatory activity is the visit to the Gypsum Dunes. A desert made of gypsum crystals! The white of that special place will forever be etched in your eyes.
EL SALTO STATE PARK, GENERAL ZARAGOZA
To the south of the province of Nuevo León is this little gem of nature. A Park full of water: waterfalls, rivers and pools are everywhere. The best plan: come and relax and prepare some meat with their tortillas in the coals between dip and dip. Campers and dogs are welcome.
CIUDAD VICTORIA AND AROUND
The capital of Tamaulipas does not enjoy a good reputation (at least until 2017). Narcos aside, I only found good people and beautiful landscapes nearby that include rivers and mountains. To highlight the area surrounding the Roble River, 40 km north of the city. It is an aquatic oasis perfect for swimming and picnicking. Another place that deserves to be named in Tamaulipas is the El Cielo Biosphere Reserve, about 140 km south of the capital.
SAN LUIS POTOSÍ
The capital of the homonymous state is one of the cities with more history of the country. The most interesting points of this beautiful city are mainly located in the historic center (World Heritage Site by Unesco). There are many plazas (squares) and all of them house impressive buildings and cool things to do: in the Plaza Fundadores, the Sagrario Parish and the Ipiña Building stand out; the Plaza de Armas has the Municipal Palace, the cathedral, the Virreina’s House (a restaurant nowadays), and the Government Palace; Plaza del Carmen houses the Paz Theater, the Carmen Temple, the Mask Museum (a collection of more than 1300 masks from Mexico and the world), the Viceroyalty Museum, and a beautiful fountain (also, a few meters away is the Alameda Cineteca, in whose facilities films are usually projected and several cultural events take place); in the Plaza de San Francisco you can find up to three churches, two catholic and the other Presbyterian, in addition to a beautiful fountain in the center and a bronze statue of Juan del Jarro (a kind of a Robin Hood “potosino”); in the Plaza de Aranzazu there are the stables of what used to be a convent before the Reform Laws were applied (at present the building houses the Potosino Regional Museum). One of the ways in which the Plaza de San Francisco and Aranzazu are connected is through a nice alley colloquially known as "The Alley of the Hippies", in which many artisans install small stands to sell their products. In addition to admiring the architecture of all these buildings, the greatest attraction lies in these lively squares full of people, food stalls and crafts.
Photo by Ana Maldonado
Another cool area to stroll is Avenida Venustiano Carranza, the main avenue of San Luis. Here you can see many old and colonial houses, many bars, restaurants and other locals. On Sunday mornings it is closed to traffic and many people walk around with their dogs and/or on roller skates, skateboards or bicycles. In the Carranza route a good point to stop is Plaza del Jardín de Tequisquiapan, where one can enjoy a little bit of the life of the square, its beautiful fountain, its trees, corn stalls, coffee... Another point of interest in Carranza is "La Casa de la Cultura".
As for the lungs of the city, two parks stand out above the rest: Tangamanga and Morales. In the first one is the El Laberinto Museum, where art is combined with science and technology. This park is giant, and you can do leisure activities of all kinds. Morales is located near different faculties of the Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí and is ideal to relax and buy a delicious “elote” (corn) from "Los Elotes de Morales". Other nice places to visit around San Luis are Cerro de San Pedro (east) and Gogorrón National Park. The latter is a vast wild area perfect for lovers of nature and camping. And for all those who want to die of pleasure in its thermal waters.
REAL DE CATORCE
Magic is served in this very Mexican town. Undoubtedly, one of the jewels of the state of San Luis Potosí and the country in general. At an altitude that exceeds 2700 meters and in the middle of the desert, this population stands, different from everything you know. The days are torrid, lively and colorful. The nights are cold, quiet and full of stars.
Real de Catorce will delight you from the minute one with its beautiful colonial streets with several stalls of amazing crafts and new flavors: enchiladas potosinas, gorditas, nopales with tomato... However, after touring the town comes the best. The traveler who steps on these lands should walk through the mountains and deserts that surround the area. Simply spectacular. From climbing a hill to get the immensity of the desert to hike for hours in search of the sacred plant of the Huichol people: the peyote. Many people come here with the sole purpose of getting wasted on peyote and have and an astral trip. If you do so, do it wisely. Anyway, even if you do not find any of these little cactus (or if eating peyote is not in your mind) do not worry “wey”. In this psychedelic journey you will leave behind spectacular landscapes, ghost towns and small towns that will leave you speechless. I recommend the route that goes through Los Catorce to Estación Catorce, a sensational road of about 13 km (3 hours approximately on foot). Although there is a kind of buggies that take you there, it is worth walking, stopping along the way to enjoy every view and every species of cactus and strange plant that is born in that unique ecosystem.
San Luis Potosí hosts another of the coolest corners of Mexico: the Huasteca Potosina. This ever-green, humid and mountainous region (we continue in the Sierra Madre Oriental) is a must for nature lovers. And for town lovers... And for food lovers! Holy smoke, how amazing the zacahuiles are! There are many places to visit in the Huasteca, these are some of them:
Tamasopo Waterfalls. In the middle of a leafy green vegetation, there are several waterfalls that end in spectacular turquoise blue pools that encourage anyone to swim. Perfect for small hiking trails, soaking up or enjoying roast meats. Campers welcome. They are close to Tamasopo village.
Tampaón River and Tamul Waterfall. Astonishing crystalline waters circulating in the spectacular Santa María River Canyon (this becomes the Tampaón River eventually). Although some parts are accessible on your own, many others can only be reached by paddling with a boat, a kayak or something similar. It is worth hiring a tour, as they are not expensive, and you can get to the impressive Tamul Waterfall (the highest waterfall in the entire state of San Luis). In addition, on this tour there will be other stops, including one to swim in caves filled with transparent waters. Dogs are welcome in these tours!
Photo by Isabel Aguilar
Micos Waterfalls. Other wonderful waterfalls of blue sky waters, northwest of Ciudad Valles.
Sótano de las Golondrinas (Basement/Cave of the Swallows). With the first and last rays of the sun thousands of swifts (not swallows) star in a visual and acoustic masterful show that you can hardly contemplate in another scenario. A cave in the middle of the mountain is the home of all these birds that, after a long “nap” (or after a long and exhausting day over the mountains), leave (or come back) all together forming living clouds that cross the skies. You choose whether to see them leave or enter. This particular destination is located a few kilometers from Aquismón.
Xilitla and Edward James Surrealist Garden (Las Pozas). Magical Town very cool, of colonial architecture where the interesting work of the sculptor (and poet) E. James is located: a set of imposing sculptures rooted among the exotic vegetation and waterfalls of up to 70 meters high.
Castillo de la Salud Beto Ramón. Most travelers do not have time to get to know this other less tourist destination. Whoever does it, however, will find a very different and interesting place. At first glance it looks like a crazy castle made of candies, with so many colors and shapes. Then you will discover the story of a Nahua Indian (Beto Ramón) who in the 70s wanted to capture in these facilities his knowledge about the use of plants and their benefits as alternative medicine. Currently his children are taking care of the place. The visit is free (at least until 2017). It is located in Ahuacatitla village, a few kilometers from the beautiful town of Axtla de Terrazas, where it is worth stopping to eat some tacos, by the way. Yum!