Las Pozas

Top choice in Xilitla

Take a wealthy English eccentric, an idyllic tract of Mexican jungle and an extremely hyperactive imagination, and you’d still struggle to come up with the audacious, bizarre and – frankly – madcap experiment that is Las Pozas. Situated on the sweeping slopes of the Sierra Madre Oriental, Las Pozas is a monumental sculpture garden built in thick jungle that links a series of concrete temples, pagodas, bridges, pavilions and spiral stairways with a necklace of natural waterfalls.

The surreal creation stands as a memorial to the imagination and excessive wealth of Edward James (1907−84). A drop-out English aristocrat and poet, he became a patron of Salvador Dalí in the late 1930s and subsequently went on to amass the largest private collection of surrealist art in the world. In 1945 James’ adventures took him to Xilitla where he met Plutarco Gastelum, who helped build Las Pozas. It began with 40 local workers crafting giant, colored concrete flowers beside an idyllic jungle stream. Then, for 17 years, James and Gastelum created ever larger and stranger structures – many of which were never finished – at an estimated cost of US$5 million.

James died in 1984, leaving no provision to maintain his creation, which, since 2008, has been in the hands of a Mexican-run nonprofit foundation. The magical labyrinth of surreal sculptures and edifices with swirly stairways leading nowhere and gates opening the way to dead ends covers 36 hectares and is worth a significant diversion for anyone with the vaguest creative inclinations. If you’re in fairly good shape, you could spend the whole day contemplating the lovely swimming holes and mazelike trails.