Las Pozas – Xilitla, Mexico - Atlas Obscura

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Las Pozas

Extraordinary sculpture garden created by an eccentric English poet. 


Located in Xilitla, a small town of about 10,000 people in the Huasteca region of southern San Luis Potosi state, Las Pozas is the creation of Edward James, an eccentric English poet and artist and patron of the Surrealist movement.

Its origins date back to 1947 when James, living in semi-exile in Mexico at the time, acquired the coffee plantation near Xilitla. He began his life in the sheltered luxury of the English upper class, attending Eton and Oxford, and later becoming a great supporter and collector of Surrealist art, sponsoring both Dali and Magritte in the 1930s.

His English home — Monkton House — is also a dedicated surrealist fantasy. His role as a patron of the arts put him in touch with luminaries of his time, including Dylan Thomas, Sigmund Freud, D. H. Lawrence, and Aldous Huxley. Huxley introduced James to Hollywood types, who in turn introduced him to spiritualist West Coast visionaries, who then introduced him to the wilds of Mexico. A great lover of plants and animals, he was immediately attracted to its jungles with their lush vegetation.

James registered his new property in Mexico in the name of his friend and guide Plutarco Gastelum, who would later become the foreman and overseer of all construction that took place there. For the next ten years, James used Las Pozas as a home for orchids and exotic animals. After an unprecedented frost in 1962 destroyed many of his plants, James started building the extraordinary sculpture garden that sits on the site today. The design of Las Pozas was inspired both by James’ orchids and the vegetation of the Huastecan jungle, combined with architectural elements taken from the Surrealist movement he was so closely involved with.

Construction on Las Pozas began in 1962, and carried on for the next 20 plus years until James’ death in 1984. Las Pozas means “the pools” in Spanish, named for the nine pools on the property created from waters that flow naturally through it. The gardens feature more than 30 structures, ranging from plant sculptures to winding staircases to nowhere, and cathedral-inspired screens — some ornately finished, others seemingly incomplete, although it is unclear if they were ever intended to be “finished.” Most of the construction was done by Plutaco Gastelum, James’ friend and co-designer, who was described in Smithsonian magazine as “part Yaqui Indian, part Spanish aristocrat and a swashbuckling former rancher, boxer, telegrapher and amateur architect.” Gastelum’s home is now the eclectic hotel known as Posada El Castillo, near Las Pozas.

In the 1960s and 1970s, James dedicated more and more of his resources to his “Surrealist Xanadu,” as he referred to it, spending millions of dollars and employing hundreds of masons, artisans, and local craftsmen. By the times James died in 1984, he had built 36 Surrealist-inspired concrete sculptures spread out over more than 20 acres of a tropical jungle.

Over time, Las Pozas became known to artists, writers, travelers, and photographers interested in James and Surrealism. After James died, the Gastelum family took over the running of Las Pozas.

Know Before You Go

You can fly into Tampico via Houston, Mexico City or Monterrey. There are several flights into Tampico daily. You can also fly into Queretaro or Leon and rent a car or car and driver in San Miguel de Allende and drive up to Xilitla.

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