Quietly nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains, Las Pozas (The Pools) was built by the British eccentric, poet, artist and supporter of the arts, Edward James. This strange fantasy world is filled with huge sculptural buildings that took 40 workers 25 years to build and is rumoured to have cost $5 million to create.
Originally Edward James wanted to build a “Noah’s Ark”, a space for animals to live safely to help preserve wildlife, what he created however is far more amazing! While he lived here there were exotic animals and birds from all around the world in pens throughout the area. One of the most recognizable buildings with towering spiral staircases was originally intended to hold a cage with monkeys and one of the buildings was to reach 7 stories high with pillars massive enough to have full sized trees growing from their tops and an aviary whose gates would be opened once the birds had bred enough to repopulate the jungle.
The first time I entered the surreal magical world dreamt up by Edward James I immediately felt like Alice after sipping the bottle labelled “Drink Me”. The massive leaves on the plants, the enormous strange building scattered though the sub-tropical jungle was intoxicating and made me feel very tiny. Without a doubt I knew I was no longer in a place anything like the land I’d called ‘home’ for so long yet somehow it was familiar and disorienting in a very delicious way! Winding though the labyrinth of paths there was always something new to sit and wonder at, so many secluded spots I could sit and think for hours.
In the warm, humid and dense sub-tropical jungle tower concrete spiral staircases leading to nowhere, buildings that are almost like mazes, unfinished towers and thick columns reaching to the sky. Some of these are up to 90 feet high, and most are heavily inspired by the local flowers and trees. Everywhere you look there’s some detail that will amaze and are almost missed if you don’t keep a very open eye for them… flower reliefs carved in the stones, eyes watching over people as they pass through one of the many metal gates, columns appearing to hold up massive stones by the waterfall and paths that are almost totally obscured by the abundant plant life in the area.
Amazingly, a local told me that James was careful not to disturb the local landscape, cutting down no trees or clearing the forest, and being sure not to disturb the natural flow of streams other than to “borrow” water to fill pools on the way downstream.
Nature is taking back Las Pozas, as Edward James said he knew it would. The combination of so many unfinished works along with the moss, humidity, vines and plants fighting to take it all back to the earth only adds to the surreal brilliance of this place.
Knowing that it was never expected to last forever and would be swallowed up by time made it even more special that I was lucky enough to visit. I spent a lot of time thinking about the temporary nature of life and how so much can change (including me) in such a short time. I have however heard that it is going to be restored soon, and did see some people working on some of the massive sculptures. Part of me is happy for that and hopes that Edward James’ wishes to have a unique animal sanctuary will be fulfilled, and oddly part of me wants to see nature win and reclaim the area as Edward James expected.
There are guides available to take you though Las Pozas, but I decided to head in alone so that I could sit, take it all in and think whenever I felt like it. The area is quite massive and many areas are very slippery, crumbling and covered with damp moss, it’s also extremely steep at spots and there are no guardrails except in very few areas… but if you watch your step and have a decent sense of direction, going without a guide can be a lot of fun.
Seeing everything for the first time and without knowing what the stories of each of the buildings and sculptures were, I enjoyed letting my mind wander and fill in the details on it’s own. Later I read about the history of the place, watched the documentary “Edward James; Builder of Dreams” by Avery Danziger and went back in, both experiences were very different but magical!
The nearest town to Las Pozas is called Xilitla and is only a few minutes by vehicle and around 30 minutes or so to walk. There are quite a few decent hotels in town including Posada El Castillo, the house Edward James stayed at when he wasn’t off in his surreal fantasy gardens. It is more expensive than most hotels in the area (prices vary with the type of room), but does offer a pool, terraces high above the town with amazing views and comfortable rooms complete with a bathtub. Another unique option is an area right in the jungle with brightly painted teepee’s (150 pesos / night) that also gives you access to a kitchen, washrooms, showers and some very friendly people.
There’s really a lot to do in this area including zip-lines so you can fly though the treetops and get an amazing view of the landscape (they aren’t terribly high, but it is a lot of fun and it definitely made me want to go try higher, longer zip-lines in the future!), many waterfalls and streams to play in and mineral caves to explore. My advice is to plan to stay at least a few days to take it all in.
Photos From Las Pozas
On my way to Xilitla I was lucky enough to catch sight of this gorgeous double rainbow arching over the Sierra Madre Mountains. Nature perhaps giving a hint of the beauty I was about to see.
Donkey on the Side of the Road
Yes, they really do have quite a few donkeys in some areas of Mexico, this one waited patiently for us to pass by in the bus.
Landscape Near Xilitla
This was one of the most scenic rides I’ve taken so far in Mexico, here’s another shot of the view as we climbed the winding road to Xilitla.
Spiralling Staircases Towering over the Jungle
I tried very hard to get a good photo of this, but the lighting, weather and my camera just wouldn’t get along. If I understood right, this was to be a cage to preserve local monkeys to ensure species survival.
Sculpture at Las Pozas
One of the many sculptures lining the main path by the entrance to Las Pozas.
Inside Las Pozas
Here’s a photo to give you an idea what it’s like inside the unique buildings of Las Pozas, this one reminded me a bit of Escher with it’s odd staircases leading to nowhere.
A Waterfall Feeding Some of The many Pools
Here’s one of the main waterfalls inside Las Pozas, the water flows into a cascade of small pools and back into a river. Notice the unexpected columns appearing to strain to hold up the mountain side, just one of the many little touches that makes this are so unique.
Inukshuk – Rock Stacks
An unexpected sight at one of the small brooks in the area, there were many stacks of rocks in the middle of the water. When I saw them I thought there must have been other Canadians here, later I found out that’s exactly how the miniature Inukshuk got there. :)
Egyptian Inspired Relief
In the lower part of one of the buildings I found a small, dark room with this amazing Egyptian inspired relief on the wall!
One of the many ‘firsts’ for me this trip, seeing wild plantains growing!
Waterfall Outside Las Pozas
This waterfall I would have missed had a nice local not told me to follow the (almost invisible) path for a few hundred metres. Seeing this gorgeous waterfall was well worth the hike!
While I’ve seen very few pictures that can possible do justice to this place, the ones above are a few I took during my days wandering the area.