Set high in the arid Sierra Madre Oriental, Saltillo is a large and fast-growing place with the normal endless sprawl of any big Mexican city, but the center maintains a relaxed small-town feel. Founded in 1577, it’s the northeast’s oldest town, boasting fine colonial buildings and cracking cultural surprises (some leading art galleries and museums).
Tamaulipas is a diverse destination. It stretches from the Gulf coast, with several quiet but up-and-coming coastal towns, high into the Sierra Madre mountains, where the bird-watching is world-class, and then runs up the Río Bravo to grab the northeast’s major border crossings.
The serene and remote frontier town of Cuatro Ciénegas is bespeckled with adobe and colonial buildings and a handful of hotels and restaurants. It’s a pleasantly out-of-the-way spot to enjoy the natural world of northern Mexico, and the perfect base for exploring the Área de Protección de Flora y Fauna Cuatrociénegas.
A graceful and historic oasis town in the heart of the Coahuilan desert some 160km west of Saltillo, Parras has a beautifully cared-for center of real colonial character and a delightfully temperate climate, both of which have contributed to its reputation for being one of northern Mexico's next big things.
Part of Monterrey’s charm has always been the awe-inspiring nearby scenery, although be sure to check the local security situation before embarking on a trip outside the city. Right outside town is a stunning mountainside section of the Parque Nacional Cumbres de Monterrey, Parque Ecológico Chipinque.
Reserva de la Biosfera El Cielo
The main attraction of Tamaulipas in Mexico’s far northeast is the Unesco-listed biosphere reserve of El Cielo, encompassing 1445-sq-km of steep-sided forested mountains ranging from 200m to 2320m. Marking a transition zone between tropical, temperate and semidesert ecosystems, its diversity is incredible.