Surrealism in Xilitla, Mexico

Las Pozas, Xilitla: The Enchanted Gardens of Edward James

At a place known as Las Pozas, only a few kilometers outside of the town of Xilitla, San Luis Potosí, in the heart of Mexico’s La Huasteca region, Englishman Edward James conceptualized and built an astounding showcase of surrealistic structures in the lush jungles of this coffee-growing region of northeastern Mexico.


A word about Edward James, known as a builder of dreams

Born in England 1907, Edward James was a man obsessed by the surreal, keeping company with and giving substantial support to the Surrealist movement and such artists and luminaries as Salvador Dalí, Leonora Carrington, René Magritte, and Aldous Huxley.

James left England in 1940 with the intention of making the United States his home; however, in 1944, he instead moved Mexico with the idea of creating a “garden of Eden.”

While visiting the Xilitla area and discovering the refreshing pools at Arroyo de la Conchita (Las Pozas) with Yaqui photographer and acquaintance, Plutarco Gastélum, Edward is said to have been engulfed in a mass of butterflies that came down through the canyon, the cloud so dense that it momentarily cut off the rays of the sun. Edward took as a sign that he was to make this his home and thereafter set about transforming Las Pozas into his enchanted garden, a task that occupied him from 1949 all the way through 1984 and his death.

Plutarco Gastélum became Edward’s construction foreman for his monumental, artistic structures in his enchanted garden, as well as the builder of the house in Xilitla in which James lived, now converted into the El Castillo Guest House.

A Walk through the Enchanted Gardens of Edward James

After having heard fascinating stories from friends about Edward James’s enchanted garden at Xilitla, we first made a visit to this magical spot in 2000 and have since returned to visit it again (and it won’t be the last time, either).

The ravine and chain of pools at Las Pozas are natural aspects of the mountainside and jungle. Surrealistically imposed on that lush terrain are ornate concrete structures that sprouted around us as we scrambled up and around the site. Paths beckoned in all directions, leading to stands of aged concrete bamboo stalks, platforms perched on crenelated pillars, winding staircases urging us up or down into the unknown, massive floral fountains, concrete images, and columns that seemed to hold up the mountainside itself. Fantastic figures and wondrous structures leaped out at us as we came around each curve on the paths that wound through the estate.

The paths were bordered with luxuriant vegetation; some were lined with undulating, open-mouthed concrete snakes and mushroom-like structures.

Las Pozas structures

Each turn brought us new visual delights: tall, swaying (but concrete) bamboo shafts that blended into the surroundings; stone steps that twisted into the undergrowth; phantasmagorical towers and structures that rose out of the damp ground and the vegetation that grew closely on all sides.

We ascended open, unprotected stairways to the flat tops of giant pedestals not unlike toadstools. These platforms afforded us incredible views of the ravine, with its sculptures poking into the sky like ancient ruins, and glimpses of the waterfall that feeds the turquoise and crisply cool pools or pozas that were Edward James’ inspiration.

It is a magical, fantastic experience, and it was sad to see on our second visit several years later how the structures were deteriorating under the hot and humid conditions of the rainforest. Eventually, I suppose, the jungle will engulf and obliterate everything that Edward James designed and that was built with human hands, but surely the natural magic and mysticism of the place will remain.

The gardens are open to the public for a small entrance fee. The clear, cold pools of Las Pozas are enjoyed by cavorting children and adults alike.

Photo Gallery

Sources and more information:

About Edward James,,

Wikipedia contributors, “Edward James,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed May 19, 2014).

Michael Kernan, “One man’s fantasy stands tall in a jungle in Mexico,” Smithsonian Magazine (via,

“Surrealism,” Encyclopedia Britannica,