Study abroad reflections – Venturing to the Sierra Gorda & Xilitla, Mexico

By Kim K., Executive Assistant, API Texas

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” – Aristotle

I recently came across this quote and it sure did remind me of my study abroad in Mexico! While abroad, I quickly realized that learning about people, places, societies & cultures from a textbook was one thing, but absorbing this information first-hand was a whole different ball-game!

We were able to have this experiential learning opportunity by not only living and going to school in a foreign country, but also by taking many excursions around Mexico in order to better orient ourselves with the rest of the country.

So with that said, please enjoy the following blog post I wrote after returning from a weekend excursion to the Sierra Gorda, Mexico:

Our last official excursion before returning to the states (yikes, time has flown!) was to the Sierra Gorda / Xilitla, Mexico. Here is a map to show you our journey!

A = Queretaro, B = Xilitla.

We took off on Sat. at 7 am to begin out 5 ½ hour bus trip to the Sierra Gorda – worth every second of the ride! The view along the entire ride was amazing. We drove hours through winding roads through the mountains with the most breathtaking views of hillsides, valleys, pueblos, and forests which seemed to continue for miles…

Took this photo from the bus – check out the intense fog – felt like we were driving through clouds!

We arrived in Xilitla which is a town SO different from Querétaro – much smaller and rural. Loved the architecture – lots of structures built right into the mountain side!

Here is a view from where we stayed:

We explored the small town a bit, looking into little stores, people watching in the plazas, etc. These cowboys passed us at one point!

After a quick (delicious) lunch, we headed to the beautiful garden/jungle/wildlife of surrealist Edward James. That place was nuts! The architecture was phenomenal, the waterfalls were so serene and the greenery was so beautiful. Felt like being in the middle of a jungle!

Before I show you the following pictures, I must say how absolutely wonderful it was to have Regina, our Art History professor, accompany us on this excursion. Regina is honestly one of the best professors I’ve ever had. She is so knowledgable and has an amazing way of teaching us ESL (Español as a 2nd language) students in a way that we actually understand.

Regina is a very hands on teacher – we do many many field trips and many art projects so that we can apply what we’ve learned into something either experiential or tactile. Before coming to the Sierra Gorda, Regina spent quite a bit of time teaching us about Edward James, the surrealist art genre, the historical context behind Las Pozas, etc., so when we finally arrived, the experience was that much more meaningful.

…and with that said…

Here’s the entrance to Las Pozas:

Here I am in the middle with a few other students in my group – we’re at the entrance of the jardín!

Trekking along – breathtaking views! Who knew this was located right in the heart of Mexico??

The architecture really was mind-blowing:

The waterfalls were magical and the water was clearer than any water I have ever seen:

You can see just how massive the waterfall is in comparison to the guy in the pic below:

We walked around the waterfalls…across the waterfalls… (I’m on the left in the picture below…)

THROUGH the waterfalls!!! The water was SOOO cold! So worth it though – here are a few of us swimming!

We did alot of hiking in the garden as well! I’m the one on the far left in the pic below:

WOW. Wow wow wow.

On Sunday we left Xilitla and went to visit the various Franciscan Missions of the Sierra Gorda. Again, words can’t describe what we saw, so I suppose I will try to share with some pictures I took:

Check out how ornate the facades are:

Here I am with some friends in front of one of the missions!

Beautiful mission with a beautiful sky backdrop. Gorgeous.

Inside one of the missions:

And perhaps one of the most humbling things I’ve seen in my entire life, right outside one of the missions:


There was a wonderful market a block or so from one of the missions. So much fun to walk through. Again, these smaller towns really put into perspective the more “modern” vibe of Querétaro.

We arrived back to Querétaro around 7:30 pm. I came in the door and was immediately introduced to my host family’s family who is here visiting from Suiza (Switzerland)! I think I have said this a time or seven before, but I seriously have the best host family. They are so so so wonderful and well…their extended family is just as wonderful!

After chatting with them for a little while, I had to head back out to the centro to work on my final project for Pati’s class! My final presentation is in just a few days, classes in general are coming into the home stretch. ¡Ay caramba!

Other than that, time is FLYING. Tonight we went running at the school right next to Gabi’s school, afterwards I went out to coffee with a friend. We went to an Italian Coffee Company on the outskirts of town. One entire wall of the building was glass so from where we were sitting, we had a perfect view of the city lights of Querétaro. Ah. I love this beautiful city and wish I had a year here. I cannot believe in 12 days I will be back in Oregon. Unbelievable.

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  1. Jeramy Johnson says

    Amazing! And to think that all of that is literally in our backyard!

  2. James Morgan says

    It is really beautiful. Good educational experience for anyone.

    It would be nice if more people could take advantage of it.

  3. Leslie Vertes says

    For many, this is a life-time adveture. Every picture you took is an art itself, and the way you told the trip, I feel I have to go there. To learn firsthand is a great pleasure. Go Kim, go! Leslie.

  4. Absolutely phenomenal photos! I had no idea that such scenery and architecture were to be seen in the country of Mexico. I always had thought of Mexico as a very drab country that didn’t have much to offer other than the typical tourist traps. But your article has also caused me to have some interest in the programs that API has to offer. I’m wondering if participation is limited to college students?

    • We do have programs for many types of students – for more information, I encourage you to contact our office! (

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