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Out of This World

Getting There: From Reynosa, on the Texas-Mexico border, the drive to Xilitla takes about eight hours. Continental and American fly to Tampico for $219 from Houston or $462 from Dallas, respectively, with advance booking. Rent a car for the three- to four-hour drive to Xilitla or arrange for a van from El Castillo hotel (see below) in Xilitla to pick you up (round trip $150). Round-trip bus fare from either Reynosa or Matamoros to Xilitla is $44 on Omnibuses de Oriente (Reynosa 011-52-89-22-17-19; Matamoros 011-52-88-12-07-11). If you're studying a map, Xilitla is approximately forty miles south of Ciudad Valles.

Accommodations: In Xilitla the place to stay is El Castillo, a wonderfully whimsical inn that was once the family home of Plutarco Gastelum, Sr., James's manager. The present operators are Avery and Lenore Danziger. All seven rooms are quite attractive, with stucco walls and cool tile floors. Rates for a double are $35 to $70 (phone 011-52-13-65-00-38; fax 011-52-13-65-00-55; or make reservations through El Castillo's great Web site, www.junglegossip.com. Be sure to get a map of Las Pozas at El Castillo; there often aren't any at the site.

Directions to El Castillo: From the main highway, Mexico 85, turn right onto Mexico 120. After about fifteen minutes, as you come into Xilitla, you will see a new Pemex station with a Goodyear sign. Curve left, go over some speed bumps, and take the first right, in about one hundred feet. Follow this narrow, curving street (which has houses on the right). Cross three more sets of speed bumps, then turn left on Ocampo at the stone wall. Go up Ocampo one block (it's a hill) and park at the little store on the right with a sign reading "Amadeus." Continue upward on foot about fifty feet to the hotel, Number 105, on the left. Shout, or ring the doorbell located inside the gate on the left side at eye level.

When to Go: Spring and fall are good times to visit Las Pozas; the rainy season -- mid-May into September, usually -- makes the rock steps slick and treacherous. Winter -- late December through February -- is foggy and cold. In any case, take nonslip shoes and be prepared to climb a lot of stairs. Birding in the area is good year round, but don't go during Semana Santa, the week before Easter, unless you love hordes of vacationers.

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