Discover the Sierra Gorda and Xilitla

By Sheridan Sansegundo

An impressive one-third of the state of Querétaro is now the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve. It has the greatest diversity of ecosystems of any protected area in Mexico and altitudes that vary between 300 and 3,100 meters. Audubon Eco Journeys has organized a trip to the reserve, to the Sierra Gorda’s spectacular Franciscan mission churches and to Edward James’s eccentric tropical estate in Xilitla.

To Sierra Gorda and Xilitla
By Audubon Eco Journeys
Wed, Oct 24-Sun, Oct 28
US$799 based on double occupancy or 415 152-3644
Payment deadline is September 28

Audubon Eco Journeys has a special connection with El Centro de la Tierra, the organization that manages and maintains the reserve. Through them, there will be an opportunity to get into the heart of this magical area, including a spectacular hike across the high ridge overlooking valleys and mesas at Cuatro Palos.

The reserve was created in 1987 by Martha Isabel “Pati” Ruiz Corzo and her husband, Roberto Pedraza Munoz. They promoted land preservation, reforestation, environmental education and sustainable economic living among the 100,000 people living in small communities through the reserve.

Franciscan missions

Leaving the cactus and mesquite landscape of San Miguel behind, the tour passes through pine forests, live oak forests, a mountain cloud forest and then a dry tropical forest, where trees are deciduous during months of drought not cold. Around Jalpan, the site of the first mission and where the tour will lodge for two nights, bananas are growing.

The group will visit Centro Tierra, attend workshops, explore the Ayutla River, look for birds in the mango orchards along its banks and visit the mission at Conca.

The end of the journey reaches the tropical rain forest of Xilitla, where moss-covered trees are encrusted with bromeliads and common houseplants loom overhead like something from Jurassic Park.

There will be plenty of time to explore Las Pozas, Edward James’s 80 acres of gardens, waterfalls and natural pools on the side of a densely wooded ravine. James, who was born in England in 1907, was the son of an American railroad magnate He was a poet and raconteur, a passionate supporter of the Surrealist movement, a friend of Dali and Magritte and about as eccentric as you can get. Traveling by mule in 1945, he discovered the site of Las Pozas, where hundreds of wild orchids grew in the tropical rain forest. From then until his death in 1984 he built some 36 concrete follies — towers, pagodas, fountains, arches and tunnels, vast sculptures, staircases leading nowhere, precipitous walkways and multi-story birdcages — the flamboyant product of a vivid imagination.

Mighty monolith

The return journey will bring visits to the mission at Landa, the archeological site at Tancama, and Peña de Bernal, the third tallest monolith in the world.

The cost of the trip is US $799 or 10,300 pesos for Audubon members or US$825 or 10,600 pesos for nonmembers, based on double occupancy. This includes transportation, accommodation, guides and most meals. Those interested are asked to contact Colleen Besman at or by phone at 415 152-3644. Payment deadline is September 28.

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