Taking Adventure to the Next Level in Hidden Huasteca, Mexico
Story and photos by Tim Leffel

Rafting, rappelling, and waterfall jumping in a region of Mexico that sees few foreigners means San Luis Potosi is the perfect spot for bragging rights.

Huasteca adventure

The water is cascading down from 125 feet above in a deafening roar as the expedition leader Vicente shouts out instructions about how to swim to the other side of the river. We cling onto whatever handhold we can each find on the sheer rock wall, while squeezing together on the narrow ledge where our feet are resting. The life jackets and helmets provide some safety comfort, but the churning water just to our right under the raging waterfall doesn't look very friendly to swimmers.

Huasteca Secreta

The instructions involve swimming diagonally as fast as possible against the current in order to get to the right spot on the other side of the river to get out and rest. There we will gather together again before launching ourselves back into the water to float downstream. "Don't worry," Vicente says. "We'll have a rope to throw to you on the other side if you don't swim fast enough."

We're riding a natural "lazy river" eddy to what seems like the mouth of death and back next to Hotel Huasteca Secreta. This is just one of five heart-pumping adventure activities our group is trying out in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Millions have experienced Mexico's adventure activities near the beach resorts, but inland states like this are a mystery to most foreigners. On a list of "most Instagrammed places around the world," the Huasteca region would probably not even make the top 1,000. Unless you have a lot of friends living near this region and follow them on social media-in Spanish-you've probably never seen a photo from here. An adventure destination like this offers a rare experience these days: exploring a place without any sense of déjà vu.

We start out rafting the Tampoan River, through a canyon where Blue Morpho butterflies flit around and the thick jungle vegetation rises up the steep mountainsides. This is a Class 3 river, which means great bouncy fun and some challenging rapids, but plenty of flat stretches for recovery. Nobody launches into the air and needs to be rescued. It's a good introduction to the region, with gorgeous scenery between the bouts of paddling quickly in unison between the boulders. We watch screeching parrots fly overhead and see some large caves in the cliff walls, one looking like a keyhole. On a calm section we pass an underground spring where the water separates into two colors, one much colder than the other. About two-thirds of the way down the river we have to transport the rafts across a hill and put them back in: the river goes underneath the ground and then back up again.

Tampoan River rafting

At one point we see square and rectangular rocks that look like nothing else on the river. They are remains of an ancient pyramid crumbling on the riverbank. The river's path has moved over the years and has edged closer to a structure that was once set back from the water. Nearby is the Huasteca region's most important archaeological site, the city of Tamtok. Parts of it date back to the B.C. age and it thrived between the years 200 and 1,000 A.D. During the summer or winter solstice, looking back at this river from there, the sun drops down into the narrowest canyon.

Jumping Off Seven Waterfalls

The rafting and a few jumps into the water are a warm-up for the more intense activities on the menu from Huaxteca Adventures. The next day we set out early from Ciudad Valles and head to the countryside for waterfall jumping. A one-kilometer stretch of the Micos River contains seven waterfalls in a row. Our objective is to travel down this river using only our bodies. We're going to jump from the top of each waterfall into the water below, then proceed to the next one and do it again.

Micos waterfall jumping

We've been told to wear good shoes for walking in the water and the crew double-checks our life vests and helmet straps. The website warns that this activity is not suitable for "persons with heart problems, pregnant women, people with spinal problems, and people over 110 kilograms." One guy in our group though, who actually works for the state's tourism bureau, is wearing red espadrilles and striped shorts that make him look like he's ready for the yacht club. How dangerous can it be if he's outfitted like that?

The first one is the hardest though. After telling us at the top of the hill that the idea is just to plant your feet and then jump, this very first one requires us to get a running start of a few steps. In the flowing current. Stepping on rocks under the water.

For the most part though, waterfall jumping sounds scarier than it really is. After getting over the mental block of launching into the air from the top of a cliff, the soft landing below in the churning water is pretty easy. The hardest part is walking along the edge to get to the jumping point, sometimes holding hands in a line.

Huasteca waterfalls

Fortunately the highest one is last, looking from the top like the setting for a climactic scene from an action adventure movie. The part of the movie, that is, where the hero has no choice but to fight what's chasing him or jump off to what seems like certain death.

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