They look like something you might find in a botanical gardens display. Six-sided columns, jutting out of the earth below, arranged in seemingly perfect order, alongside a beautiful lake fed by a tranquil waterfall; their formation looks almost too intentional. But the Basaltic Prisms of Santa María Regla, a collection of striking rock columns jutting out the side of a valley in Mexico, are no man made creation.

The prisms, made of igneous rock formed in the ice age when erupting lava was cooled rapidly by the cold ground, are located in central Mexico. Despite being the only phenomenon of its kind in the American continent (there are similar formations in Hawaii, New Zealand, Japan and Ireland), they are still relatively unknown amongst foreign tourists. Those who make the journey from Mexico City, about 2.5 hours by car, are rewarded with a unique experience of seeing one of the most incredible natural formations in North America.

Where the Basaltic Prisms are located

The Prisms reside in the municipality of Huasca in the state of Hidalgo. They are located in the Barranca de Alcholoya canyon, with the surrounding tourist site developed by enterprising locals who decided to turn the former grazing land into a tourist spot. Now the site is complete with a swimming pool, zip lines and plenty of places to get food and drink. At night, you can take an ‘Enchanted Forest’ tour and hear about the myths and legends of the area over a campfire and toasted marshmallows (the tours are only in Spanish, though). You can also take a boat ride on the lake or go for a horse ride around the park. Just down the hill from the park entrance is the former Hacienda San Miguel Regla, now a luxury hotel, which you can use as base for exploring the area.

But the site isn’t just for waterfall seekers. If you’re fascinated by geography or volcanoes, or just love checking out natural sites that haven’t been completely overrun by tourists yet, the Basaltic Prisms are more than worth a stop on your next trip to Mexico. Once onsite, you can rent an ATV for about $16 per hour and explore the grounds surrounding the prisms themselves. A horse rental is about $2 per hour, and the zip line also costs about $2.

How to get there

Mexico City is the nearest major city. If you’re coming from the United States or anywhere outside of Mexico, fly into Benito Juarez International Airport. Once in Mexico City, the fastest way to reach the site is to rent a car, although public transit is also an option. First, go to the Terminal Norte and take a bus to the city of Pachuca for about $5. You will arrive at the Pachuca Central bus station, where you will then need to take a bus or taxi for just over $3 to the Mercado Benito Juarez. From there, buses (known as colectivos) will leave for the prisms and drop you off right at the entrance for just over $2. The area is built to welcome visitors, and as such stairs, paths, and hanging bridges have been installed to provide easier access to views of both the waterfalls and the basalt columns themselves.

The entrance to the park costs about $4, with a small upcharge for access to the pool. There is no ATM on site (the nearest one is in Huasca) and payments are in cash only, so remember to bring enough for the duration of your trip. Like a lot of tourist spots in Mexico, it can get crowded on weekends and public holidays, so it’s best to visit mid-week.

Where to stay

Because there are plenty of things to do at night, stay for at least one night if you can. The Prisms park has some lovely chalets on-site which can be rented for about $50 (for two people) upon arrival, as long as there is vacancy. You can also camp with your own gear or with rentals from the park. It can get extremely cold at night so remember to dress appropriately and bring extra blankets. A number of hotels are available in the surrounding area, ranging from $30 to $100 a night.

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