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Did you know? An enchanted lake in Veracruz rises every dry season, but falls again during the wet season

Tony Burton

Peculiar, but true. There are several lakes named Laguna Encantada (Enchanted Lake) in Mexico, but this one is near Catemaco in the Tuxtlas region of the state of Veracruz. Catemaco is famous for its witches, so perhaps one of them cast a spell on the lake, making it behave perversely, its level changing in opposition to all the other lakes in the country?

Occupying the crater of an extinct volcano, La Laguna Encantada is a truly beautiful lake, especially near sunrise or sunset. The views are ever-changing on the easy walk of about 1500 meters (slightly under one mile) around its shoreline. As you walk, try counting the butterflies. A study twenty years ago recorded a staggering total of 182 different species in this relatively small area of jungle.

The lake nestles on the southern flank of the San Martín volcano. This dormant volcano is a prominent landmark north-west of Lake Catemaco close to San Andrés Tuxtla. Its crater, 1500 meters across, is at a height of about 1400 meters above sea level, and has two small subsidiary cones inside it.

The basaltic lavas and layers of ash forming the volcano are highly permeable and porous. As a result, despite the heavy rainfall, there are no permanent streams flowing down the upper slopes.

Some distance away from the volcano, though, there are several good-sized lakes including Catemaco and Laguna Encantada. Catemaco is large enough to capture plenty of rainfall to maintain its level. The much smaller basin holding Laguna Encantada (350 meters above sea level), however, does not receive sufficient rain to keep its level high.

Instead, and this is the wonder of La Laguna Encantada, much of its water supply comes from underground. Water that falls on the slopes of the San Martín volcano during the rainy season soaks into the ground and then percolates slowly towards the lake, so slowly that it takes six months to reach it. The result? The lake is unable to sustain its level during the rainy season, but the underground water reaching it in the dry season is more than sufficient to replenish its level. Maybe the witches of Catemaco have something to do with it, but hydrology also plays a part!

Las Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve

Scenically, the entire Tuxtlas region is one of the most fabulously beautiful in all of Mexico. High temperatures combined with lots of rainfall result in luxuriant vegetation and boundless wildlife. Average monthly temperatures range from a pleasant 21 oC (70 oF) in January to a high of 28 oC (82 oF) in May, just before the rainy season kicks in. During the rainy season, from June to October, some 2000 mm (79 inches) of rain falls, often in late afternoon tropical deluges.

The jungle masking the lower slopes of the San Martín volcano gradually merges into tropical cloud forest at higher altitudes. Competing with the Silk Cotton (Kapok) and Ficus trees for light and sustenance are ground-hugging ferns. Overhead, the tangle of tree branches provides support for thousands of non-parasitic bromeliads ("air" plants) and orchids. More than 1300 species of flowering plants have been identified in this classic area for Neotropical ecology.

Bird-watchers are likely to spot the spectacular Keel-billed Toucan, or hear a Tody Motmot. Smaller birds include several species of hummingbird; look for the endemic Long-tailed Sabrewing. About half of all the bird species recorded in Mexico have been seen here, but birds are not the only wild animals inhabiting the jungle. Ocelots and tapirs are regularly seen and you may be lucky enough to see spider monkeys playing overhead in the canopy.

Clearance of the land for grazing and cultivation of the slopes to grow tobacco, bananas and sugar cane have reduced the original jungle to a relatively small number of isolated fragments. Fortuitously, this provides more varied habitats than the original vegetation, helping to enrich the area's wildlife, further enhancing the region's reputation as an ornithological and botanical paradise.

Fortunately an extensive area of this region was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1998, ensuring that conservation programs now go hand-in-hand with human activities. The total area forming the Reserva de la Biósfera "Los Tuxtlas" is 155,122 hectares (380,000 acres).

Salto de Eyipantla

Only a few kilometers from Laguna Encantada is another wonderful natural sight, the Eyipantla Waterfall (Salto de Eyipantla). The water for the falls comes from the Comoapan river, which drains Lake Catemaco. After heavy rain, the curtain of water at Eyipantla is about 50 meters high and 20 meters wide. The sunlight playing on the water creates a dazzling display of magical colors. The Tuxtlas region has been the setting for numerous movies and commercials and the impressive Eyipantla Falls have starred in many of them. The unusual name, Eyipantla, reflects its three chutes of water, and is derived from the Nahuátl words, eyi (three), pantli (trench) and tla (water).

How To Get There

Laguna Encantada is located 3 km northeast of San Andrés Tuxtla. The access road is unpaved. The latest regional tourist plan for this area considers the lake an appropriate location for a future aquarium, zoo, bird sanctuary or sports club (tennis and horse riding). If you're in the area, take a look quickly before it's too late!

Salto de Eyipantla: From San Andrés Tuxtla, follow highway 180 towards Catemaco for four kilometers to the village of Sihuapan. Then turn right along the unpaved road a further eight kilometers to the parking lot (with rustic restaurants). There are numerous viewpoints. The descent to the falls involves more than 240 steps.

Copyright 2004 by Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Published or Updated on: March 14, 2004 by Tony Burton © 2004
Contact Tony Burton

Author of Mexican Kaleidoscope: myths, mysteries and mystique (Sombrero Books, 2016),  Western Mexico, A Traveler's Treasury (4th edition, Sombrero Books, 2013) and "Lake Chapala Through the Ages; an anthology of travelers' tales" (Sombrero Books, 2008), available from all good book stores, and via his author's page at Amazon.com. Co-author of "Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico" (Sombrero Books, 2010). His blog is at geo-mexico.com.

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