Much like our Havasupai Falls, Grand Canyon trip, this roadtrip through northeast Mexico turned into a waterfall trip.
This looks remote… and is remote… But car rentals are cheap, and it was all easily accessible (except for the part only available via canoe). I really feel this would be a great group/family trip for anyone and it’s very cheap!
The car was cheap, the food and lodging were cheap, and the entertainment was mostly nature and swimming in waterfalls. To get into some of these parks and swim, it usually costs 10 to 20 pesos ($0.50 to $1).
This post includes many pictures (and video) of the waterfalls and sites we saw, along with a few logistics for driving and renting a car.
Plus, I’ll show you the better route you should do, and give a few extra suggestions on where to stop that we missed.
The Route We Did
Like I said, I’ll give an alternative route, which includes some destinations we had to skip due to a family emergency causing us to drive to Mexico City early and cut our trip short.
Here’s what we did:
- Started in Monterrey (I don’t recommend doing a oneway like we did)
- El Meco Waterfall
- Cascadas de Minas Viejas
- Micos Waterfalls
- Puente de Dios (amazing!)
- Tamul Waterfall
- Las Pozas
- Peña de Bernal
Then it stopped.
If you want to bookmark places, it might be easiest to do it from the map I’ll share in the section on “My Recommended Road Trip Route”.
So let me first review what we did see…
El Meco Waterfall
We didn’t get in the water here, and it’s a smaller area… Plus, it’s the furthest north. So it’s the most obvious skip for how I would route it coming from the south (not a oneway car rental).
I mean, it’s nice, but there are waterfalls ALL over, and bigger/better ones on our trip.
Cascadas de Minas Viejas
This place was awesome. It’s a nature playground.
But it is the most remote, by far. Which means it’s a little out of the way…
But there were no people there!
All the waterfalls were just for the 3 of us!
Bridges and walkways above the big waterfall and then all along the bottom.
It’s not as crazy of an experience as the upcoming Puento de Dios or Tamul Waterfall, but it’s beautiful and we were completely alone. It was just a great experience.
I have a bias against this waterfall because we were in a rush to Puente de Dios and I didn’t get to properly experience it.
With this one, you can not walk right up to the waterfalls, and it appears people rent little canoes to go out and then jump off the waterfalls.
They did look prime for jumping… But it was a little more crowded and out of the way.
Puente De Dios
An experience of its own.
So much so that we made a video just of this one small area.
Here’s the video (which probably is the best way to explain what it is):
More or less, it’s a series of waterfalls along a river, with one part that is more like a cenote, and then it sweeps you into a cave.
Does that make sense?
Just like other cenotes in Mexico, there is a pit of water. However, the walls all the way around are waterfalls.
It’s amazing to jump into this pool and be completely surrounded by walls of waterfalls.
It seemed that the only way out was climbing up to where we jumped in. Then a lady who had just climbed out informed us that there is a cave.
I had noticed the current and the ropes, but hadn’t made the connection. The current was taking you into a small hole, which opened up into a cave tunnel area. And the rope went all the way through the tunnel, back to where you jump in.
You jump in. You swim or drift into the small cave opening and into the cave tunnel. What’s neat is that the cave is kind of glowing from the light spreading in the water, reflecting off the white sand below… at least that’s the only way I know how to describe or explain it. The cave corners are dark, but the water appears lit up, bright blue, all from the light at the entrances.
Unfortunately I couldn’t bring my phone into the cave or to the other side. But on the other side, there were smoothed rocks at the base of yet another smaller waterfall.
Then you swim or pull yourself out with the ropes.
Easily a highlight, and close to my second favorite “Tamul” Waterfall.
Two other notes about Puente De Dios:
It’s a nice area with other waterfalls nearby. We skipped the nearby “Cascadas de Tamasopo”, which looks great but were again short on time.
There is a small hike down, I mean very small – like 5 to 10 minutes down stairs. And then there is a station right at the main area where you can rent life jackets, which are required for the main area. It’s only 10 pesos if I remember correctly.
We drove to a cabin we got on Airbnb in the Tanchachín area and the host introduced us to a boat owner to take us to the Tamul waterfalls the next morning. That’s how it goes. Everyone is looking for the gig, and everyone has a cousin or friend ready to sell you.
It was about $40 (USD) for the boat and it took a few hours, and there were two young guys helping us row (upstream for the first half).
So very worth it.
Even during the drive out the scenery was fantastic!
The scenery kept changing when on the river. There was what looked like a flooded grassy area that poured down into the river from one side creating a very long series of 10 foot waterfalls that were coming straight out of the grass.
Then the rocks along the river turned into extremely sharp pillars, with smooth sides. Just super unique looking.
And then you get to Tamul Waterfall.
*Personal drama begins here*
There were already a few boats parked here, with the small groups of tourists on the river side walking up to the waterfall.
We parked out by a little rock island in the river, 100 feet down from the main Tamul Waterfall (shown above), and took pics.
After a few minutes the boat driver announced that we were going back.
In my best Spanish (which was enough for this conversation) I tried to clarify.
This guy looks like he’s 16, by the way, and he and his buddy are just in a hurry to not be working anymore – is my best guess.
But we took all this time to get here, and now I can’t walk 100 feet to go up to the waterfall?
I just kept asking “why?”, and one of them said that you need a permit (to which the old man waiting at another boat rolled his eyes).
I still can’t believe that I didn’t just jump in the water, swim to the side, and walk up. They would’ve waited 2 minutes – I have the money.
I was as sour as sour could be, but got back in the boat and turned around, but I won’t go into any more than that.
The main point is that you should clarify before heading out that you will get out and walk up to the falls.
*end of personal drama*
On the way back, we stopped and saw a relatively lame cenote, which was actually the source of the water that floods the grassy fields.
Overall, a great canoe ride (like a really long 10 person canoe), great scenery, and a great waterfall. A kid stopped me from seeing the main falls up close, but I’d still recommend it to others. A great family / group activity.
Las Pozas (the surrealist sculpture garden)
We actually stayed in a tree house (which I’ll explain in a minute) right outside of Las Pozas, but a lot of people stay in the town of Xilitla, which is a cute Mexican mountain town, but nothing too special.
Las Pozas, aka “Jardín Escultórico de Edward James, Las Pozas”, is a surrealist sculpture garden in 80 acres of the rainforest.
In short, starting in the 40s a British artist spent decades building a surrealist garden of eden.
They say he worked on 80 acres, but I think we walked across all of the open areas in two hours.
I certainly wouldn’t fly to Mexico solely for this, but an obvious stop along the road trip.
The tree house was on airbnb for cheap and it really drove home the middle of nowhere rainforest feel. The room was very simple, and the bathroom was detached – you have to walk 30 feet outside to use the restroom or shower, which actually was totally fine.
We simply stopped in Bernal for the night and it is a very small city center, but beautiful. I think spending a dinner there was appropriate.
My Recommended Road Trip Route
Click Here to see my Google Maps route.
That way you can save places on your google, or verify where the location is.
We skipped two major things:
1) “Grutas Tolantongo” (a bunch of hot spring infinity pools in the side of a cliff), which I was alright with because it was so far out of the way.
2) Teotihuacan (ancient city and pyramids). Skipping Teotihuacan was more of a loss to me.
The route should NOT be a oneway.
Without going into details, the price of our oneway rental got messed up despite the contract not having a oneway fee. Plus, you should always rent from a major, trustworthy company.
So start at the Mexico City airport and get right out of the city… You don’t want to drive in Mexico City, and you certainly don’t want to even be around it at rush hour.
If you can fly into Guanajuato or San Luis Potosi that would be even easier. However, I love Mexico City, so it’s worth the extra time if you have it.
The Recommended Route Details:
- Start at MEX
- Grutas Tolantongo (although it adds 3 hours of mountain driving)
- Las Pozas
- Tamul Waterfall
- Puente De Dios (and nearby “Cascadas de Tamasopo”)
- Cascadas de Minas Viejas (adds nearly 2 hours)
Towns/cities to add:
- San Luis Potosi
- Santiago de Querétaro
Other things to add more out of the way:
- Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (adds 2.5 to 3 hours coming back from Guanajuato or Querétaro)
- Real de Catorce (adds 7 hours if you roundtrip from San Luis Potosi) – people love this small remote desert town, but it was too out of the way for me.
- Micos Waterfall (which I visited and mentioned above)
- El Meco (which I visited and mentioned above)
With all these suggestions, you can figure out how many cities and towns you’d like to mix in. I personally felt like the rural waterfalls were most interesting, for me.
In general, my advice is that you don’t need a ton of time in any spot (although some spots would make great camping spots or areas to just hang out in), and to assume the driving takes longer than you think.
Two nights somewhere is too many. Yet, despite things being close together, I might not drive that far before getting to the next stay.
A few logistical tips for this roadtrip:
Everyone told me not to drive at night in Mexico – cattle, pot holes, or whatever – and I held to this. Mostly, I got tired of mountain driving. Going south from Las Pozas was beautiful and tiring. Up and down, winding, with changing speed limits and narrowing lanes.
Only rent cars from trusted brands, and don’t do oneway rentals (or at least read carefully in the terms for oneway fees).
If it’s muddy and had just been raining a ton, do not take the road going from Puente De Dios north towards Cascadas de Minas Viejas and El Meco. It is a dirt road. It rained the day/night before we drove it and we were fine, even in a tiny economy car, but it was muddy. I can’t even imagine if it had flooded the day before. If we had to go around, it would’ve taken forever.
Sometimes I saved a pin on Google maps, not where the thing is labeled to be, but where I think it is.
For example, if you look up “Parque Ecoturístico EL MECO” and find it on Google Maps, you see the little town center (although, it’s not really big enough to be called a town or have a center). However, the main waterfall is up stream a little bit.
I figured that out simply because I had used the streetview to get my bearings and realized the main waterfalls weren’t with the rest of the “El Meco” parque. It made no sense on the map, but because of streetview, I figured it out.
Then with our lodging in the Tamul area (really the town of Tanchachín), we showed up and could not find the place. But it was such a small town that the first person we asked knew where it was and lead us there on his dirt bike. Even though there were only 3 cabins on the property, it’s such a small town that he knew the owner and where the cabins were.
People are friendly, and my guess is that these towns want to grow their tourism and want you to have a good time. Or they’re just all friendly because they’re all friendly.
In the towns and cities lodging is easy, but in rural areas you’re certainly not going to find brand hotels at all. In fact, in some areas you might not have any hotels. Like near “Cascadas de Minas Viejas”, there is really nothing in the area but forest. (Also, apparently you can camp there, which I think would be cool). For that night we stayed in a very cheap, very local hotel in the nearest town (El Naranjo), but there was little else available.
In Tamul we stayed at the cabins/”cabanas” we found on airbnb.
In Las Pozas we found the tree house on airbnb.
If airbnb is a bust, booking.com is often the best place to find small, local hotels.
And you may have to plan your trip around where you want to stay. Stay in the Puente De Dios area and go to the neighboring falls from there.
This part of Mexico is beautiful.
You’ll see all kinds of landscapes. Rainforests to desert and back in a day.
Despite my warnings about driving, it was an easy trip! At least as easy as you want it to be. If you took two weeks to do this route (too much time, imo), then you would be doing very little driving a day.
And unlike a Europe road trip, parking is never ever an issue. We always felt safe. We had no issues on the road or at any site. And everything is super cheap. Plus, you can spend some time in Mexico City, my favorite city in Latin America.