Visit Cuatro Cienegas - 'The Galapagos Of Mexico'

It's not for nothing that Cuatro Ciénegas ("Four Marshes") – a tiny but beautiful municipality in the northern part of Coahuila México – was awarded the category of "Pueblo Mágico" (translated 'Magic Town') by the country's tourism department. Pueblos Magicos towns have been designated so by the Mexican government and the "magical" qualities can be related to their natural or structural beauty, historical significance, surrounding legends, and more.

The entire municipality is a designated Mexican Biological Reserve and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. "World Heritage is the designation for places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy." The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also recognizes the reserve for it's diverse ecosystem.

Tortoise walking on sand above a Cuatro Cienegas marsh

The environmental conditions are so unique that NASA has speculated about using it to study the early development of life on Earth. It's safe to say that there's nowhere else quite like Cuatro Cienegas and that no visit to Mexico would be complete without it.

The abundance of animal and plant life of the region have also earned it the titles "The Galapagos of Mexico" and "The Desert Aquarium." It's not hard to see why – clear, glassy rivers give way to mounds of pure white sand, delicate scrub brush and sheer marbled walls of rock. Wind and weather mean that the dunes and pozas (desert pools) shift constantly, so no two visits will ever be completely the same. The ever-changing landscape is stunning in its beauty – but fragile too.

The Cuatrocienegas Biosphere Reserve is located in a 'bolson', meaning a flat, arid desert valley surrounded by mountains. 'Bolson' means 'large purse' in Spanish. Natural springs and rainwater collect in the 'bolson' resulting in a wetlands with around 500 bodies of water. The color of the 'pozas' can vary between deep blue to turquoise.

The area is also home to the second largest dune field in the Americas, made of pure white sand, resulting from high gypsum content.

Cuatro Cienegas lake with mountains

More than 800 species of flora and 360 fauna species call Cuatrocienagas home, and include aquatic, semi-aquatic and terrestrial organisms.

Although the region is accessible by bus, many of the more spectacular areas require the use of a car. Not-to-be-missed sights include Poza Azul – a well-known wetland environment with crystalline blue waters and a series of self-guided trails – and the ubiquitous white dunes, which you'll find in any of the wetland preserves. Also of note is the Sierra de la Campana, a mountain range marked by a gigantic crater, which has become a prominent tourist attraction over the years.

Situated just three and a half hours by road from Piedras Negras and four to five hours from Ciudad Acuna, both of which are on the border with Texas, there are few regions that are both as accessible and as suffused with peace and quiet as Cuatro Ciénegas. There's enough to see in the area that you may wish to extend your stay for longer than a day. If so, inexpensive camping is available in Poza Becerra, or you can book a room in one of several small hotels in the main town of Cuatrocienegas. While the Four Marshes are likely to be a breathtaking experience for any visitor to Mexico, they are without doubt an essential stop for any ecotourist or nature lover.