16 Apr Benito Juarez: Jewel of Los Tuxtlas, Veracruz
Benito Juarez is a gorgeous village, tucked away in the rain forests of Los Tuxtlas. Nestled between volcanoes, filled with spectacular waterfalls and lush foliage, its biodiversity is rivaled by few places in the world. It is one of the most important destinations for environmental education and ecotourism in Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve. (If you haven’t read our article about the natural paradise, Los Tuxtlas, click here.)
If it’s not clear from my intro, we’re obsessed. And it’s worth obsessing over; community-run cooperatives are working with universities and the government on crucial conservation efforts, all the while providing ecotourism and environmental education services to visitors. If I can live in a world where people think like this, then I’m done. All dreams completed.
When we traveled in Los Tuxtlas, we started in Nanciyaga (another key area for conservation in the region), found our way to Dos Amates for a beautiful camping experience that included the mangrove and beach portions of Los Tuxtlas and Catemaco. From there, we learned about Benito Juarez and decided to visit. It’s quite small, but not difficult to find. The people we encountered were more than hospitable; we felt looked-after and welcomed. They showed us a a few options for lodging and we chose a secluded cabin surrounded by tall trees. The cabin was connected to the main house by a path lined with colorful jungle plants which took us past a few farm animals and over a creek before opening onto a grass clearing and the cabin, with a view of the valley below.
Our first encounter in Benito Juarez was Joaquin, a guide from Anolis, the village co-op. A young guy with great energy, we asked if he’d be our guide for the next few days. We were so glad we did! He turned out to be very knowledgeable and taught us all sorts of things about flora and fauna of the area.
He took us hiking in Reserva Ecologica Del Ejido Benito Juarez, which was an incredible jungle with babbling brooks running through it, medicinal plants at every turn, and waterfalls of crystal clear water, clean enough to drink (I bet when you read that you said to yourself, “yeah, right”. But I actually did and there is video footage …). Basalt rock formations, forced up in the mash of tectonic plates, tower over the hiking trail on one side. As we walked, Joaquin informed us about the life around us, like endangered snails and a progesterone-replacing plant naturally occurring in the forest.
Perhaps the coolest part was when he fed the recently re-introduced Macaws, and asked if we’d like to see it. The Macaw reintroduction program is in partnership with the UNAM, and these recently introduced flying rainbows were still in the phase of getting acclimated. We waited quite a distance away, as Joaquin, the one designated to feed them daily, raised a platform to them in the trees with fresh fruits and seeds on it. Watching them fly around was spell-binding to say the least.
Joaquin also took us to the famous Cola de Caballo (Horsetail waterfall),tucked away in the mountains. 40 meters tall, the waterfall cascaded into a small emerald green lake; the poignant beauty of its color was beyond enticing. Certainly, we had to take a dip! Warm even in December, the air was light and fresh around us. Both the hike through the forested mountains and the spectacular waterfall that awaited us were well worth it, despite the prickly Chocho palms at every turn.
We visited another stunning waterfall, Velo de La Novia (Bride’s Veil), and natural pool, Poza Reina (“Poza Reina” could we translated as the “Queen’s Swimming Hole”). A series of waterfalls and dreamy, transparent lagoons are connected by the Cuetzalapan River. This area is almost unknown to outsiders, and locals consider it a crown jewel of their region. Their enthusiasm is not unwarranted! It’s truly incredible. Climbing the rocks from one waterfall to the next, we found ourselves alone, arriving at Velo de La Novia. We learned that most visitors stay at the lower pool, choosing not to climb through the river rocks and forest paths. A phenomenal view and crystal clear teal waters made this one of our absolute favorites in Veracruz.
Whereas Veracruz once focused all of its tourism budget on the most popular places, local government has recently decided to invest in rural communities. Arnulfo Castillo Xolo, president of the Anolis Cooperative and sustainable management leader of the ecological reserve of Benito Juarez, called the current administration inclusive. The co-op is committed to making people fall in love with the rivers, lagoons, lakes, waterfalls, plants and animals the same way they have. Xolo said, “I love my region, I try to make every visitor fall in love with it so that they don’t come once or twice, but many times.” Their passion and the government’s willingness has helped the area’s ecotourism grow from 450 visitors a year to 2,000. This growth in ecotourism is a critical economic factor in their continued ability to preserve the rain forest.
From Catemaco, take the detour to Sontecomapan, passing the towns of Coyame and Tebanca, to arrive at Ejido Benito Juarez and learn about the work of the Sociedad Cooperativa Anolis.
Both Cola de Caballo and Poza Reina can be accessed by way of Miguel Hidalgo village, though we highly recommend going with an Anolis guide as they are not easy to find on your own and it’s crucial that we support ecotourism in the area, making their conservation efforts economically worthwhile.