A first-timer’s guide to climbing at Potrero Chico, Mexico

Potrero Chico has been an international climbing destination for years, but if this is your first time, here’s your step-by-step guide to checking it off your list.

Just try your best not to get sucked into staying here for four to five months at a time. It happens.

Getting there

Potrero Chico
Enter the canyon of Potrero Chico. Photo: David Sandel
You have a few options here. You can fly into Monterrey and take a bus to Hidalgo for approximately 40 pesos or a taxi for 400. It will take about an hour. This is best for short trips and deeper pockets.

Driving from the southwestern U.S. is cheaper than flying, sets you up for luxury camping, saves you money once you get there and allows you to explore the surrounding area. The downside is the amount of time it takes to get there.

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One person we met at Potrero Chico took a charter bus from Austin, Texas. If there are buses from Austin, there may very well be buses from other places too. This is probably cheaper than flying and less stressful than crossing the border in your own car, but it has none of the advantages of the other two methods and all of the downsides. Your call.

Camping

Potrero Chico Camping
Campers Row. Photo: David Sandel
There are currently three major campsites (Homeros, La Posada and La Pagoda), all of which offer kitchens (with multiple stoves and refrigerators), bathrooms, showers, Wi-Fi and pools (how clean they are and how much water’s in the pool depends on the time of year).

There are small campgrounds available as well, but you’ll just have to walk in and see them for yourself.

If camping isn’t your thing, each of those places has rooms to rent with kitchens separate from the general use area, and there are a couple of other hotels nearby.

What to bring

Tent Glow
A night view of El Toro. Photo: David Sandel
You’re obviously coming here to climb, and most everything is bolted sport routes. Leave all your trad gear at home except maybe some extendable alpine draws.

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You can do most routes with a single 60-meter rope, but I’d bring nothing less than one 70-meter. If you intend to link pitches to save time, you’ll want at least 25 quickdraws as well as anchoring gear. Toss in a harness, shoes, chalk bag and belay device and you’re good to go.

For camping, you’ll need the usual gear — tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag — but leave your two-burner stove, propane cylinders and 5-gallon water jugs at home. Bring your own cooking and eating utensils and spice box. The campsite websites will claim they have all that stuff, but they really don’t — at least nothing you’d want to use.

Bonus tip: Bring earplugs for sleeping. The locals like to party as much as (or more than) the climbers.

Groceries, shopping and food

Black Cat Bone Potrero Chico
Want to summit Black Cat Bone? You’re gonna want to take a walk into town first for supplies. Photo: David Sandel
The town of Hidalgo is only about a mile from the campsites. There is a market on Tuesdays and Fridays until 2:30 p.m. and it’s significantly cheaper than going to the grocery store (which is still cheaper than grocery stores in the U.S.). You can find pretty much anything you’d need at the market, including gifts and souvenirs.

There are several grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and bakeries throughout town, although they all carry roughly the same items.

If you don’t have a car or don’t feel like walking into town, there are several restaurants and places to buy beer within the campsite area, which is about a three-minute walk from anywhere you are to anywhere you want to go.

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