Very bad roads, full of potholes. High in the mountains and almost completely isolated from the outside world. Cuetzalan in the state of Puebla is one such undiscovered gem, where you will find all the authenticity you are looking for. Just like Chignahuapan is, but completely different. It is a short drive from Mexico City (count on more than five hours in the car), but then you end up in a completely different world. With traditional clothing, unique food, and the fact that it almost always rains, is perhaps the ultimate charm. We were there during the pandemic, but normally you can also witness Los Voladores de Cuetzalan here.
Cuetzalan is a so-called Pueblo Mágico. A magical village. Sometimes the village is completely in the clouds and you can’t even see five meters in front of you. Then liters of water thunder down the stairs. Ten minutes later the cloud disappears again and you can see the green mountains in the background in all their splendor.
The houses are painted red and white to accentuate the magical character, the streets are fabulously beautiful. Narrow, steeply up or down, beautifully paved, and full of typical Mexican activity. The street vendors are aggressive, the village may be beautiful, but the poverty is visible. The views everywhere are to die for. Outside the village, nature is wonderful. The literal rainforest, with countless fantastic waterfalls and plenty of greenery.
The last one and a half-hour drive you go on miserable roads and u-turns. Bad: the roads are full of holes, potholes that cause a lot of damage to an average car. We have an average car and so it is slalom. Not an easy trip when it rains too.
Once in the village, you immediately notice where you are. The prices here are low. A steak for three euros, beers for less than a euro. After dinner in the village, the adventure really begins: to the ecological campsite in the woods. Did I just mention miserable roads? Those were particularly luxurious compared to this one. Narrow, with almost extreme ascents, impossible u-turns, and straight through nature.
Both Google Maps and Waze are vague. We speak to passers-by, who speak to us in a very friendly manner. Another thing: what nice people live here. But they don’t know exactly. However, they know these roads are impossible with our car.
Time is ticking, we absolutely want to be there before dark. After all, it is completely impossible in the dark. But the locations that the two navigation apps give (different!): nothing to be found. And it gets scarier and scarier. We decide to go back to the village. Not a rainforest overnight stay, but a hotel. This one is clean and fine, with an amazing view of the church. Which the next moment is completely gone by a cloud.
Camping La Escondida Ecoparque de Avontura
The next day the adventure begins. Ismael, our 23-year-old guide, picks us up and we start walking. Again those beautiful views and roads with a steep climb and descent. Until we arrive at the entrance of the campsite, which we had indeed passed the night before, but this is it? ,,Yes, we have a sign, we have yet to put it up”, says Ismael. From this entrance, you drive down another six hundred meters, so it is not surprising that we did not find this one.
The campsite La Escondida Ecoparque de Avontura is not very impressive. There are four shelters, where a tent can be put up. In fact, this is the starting point for this nature reserve. We are immediately in love and want to stay there that night. Isn’t it nicer to spend the night in such a jungle than a hotel?
The first waterfall is close to the campsite, about a hundred meters away. Here you can swim a bit and that is what the Mexican tourist does here.
The hike, the waterfalls, the rain
After a short swim in the rain, we continue our walk. No worries, the rain is warm, the temperature is pleasant and swimming is anything but a punishment. First, a zipline of four hundred meters long and then really into nature. It is striking that there are no paved paths and that it is sometimes difficult to walk. Sometimes we wade through the water to the other side, sometimes you have to climb. Yes, there is a path, but it was created by walking it. Other than that it is completely untouched. At times it is genuinely dangerous, especially because of the rain which makes the stones quite slippery.
Ismael sometimes recommends walking in socks so that you have more grip. The falls are much more powerful than usual, he also explains. It is the rainy season, there is a lot of falling. We are not allowed to come close to the highest waterfall, because it is irresponsible. Ismael proposes to jump into the water from about eight meters high. Excellent, because scary. Excellent, because magical. But also crazy, because how responsible is that? The kind I like best: personal responsibility.
Two ladies pass us on a somewhat smoother path. They turn out to be the mother and wife of Ismael, with their newborn daughter. They invite us to have coffee with grandpa. This area is protected by several families. They share the profits, but also the losses, like now with the pandemic. They maintain the area, they live here, and are almost completely self-sufficient.
The coffee comes from their own coffee plant. Ismael’s father picks two bananas for us and gives us a fresh corn cob. No, this is not part of the tour. When Ismael gave some explanation at a coffee plant, I asked him if that coffee is available anywhere in the village. He apparently liked that question, so he invited us.
The sound of the rain
We say goodbye to the family and move on. Nature becomes more violent and violent. Two ziplines, while a very thick cloud appears. Not even a five-meter view. Well, adrenaline. At the mercy of nothing. Nothing. No tree, no sky, just gray. It’s crazy. And then the five-hour tour ends. Afterward, we go back to Cuetzalan with a van. And in the evening, before it is dark, we drive back to the campsite in our own car.
On the terrace of our shelter, we drink tequila and go to bed. We sleep badly there, the tent measures about 1.75 and I am ten centimeters taller. But the sounds of insects and the sound of the rain is beautiful. The next day we take breakfast in the little town and drive back to Mexico. Our tour was full of rain, the way back full of sun. What luck.