Mexico often receives a bad reputation, especially if what you hear is coming from the U.S. When I decided to travel here by myself the majority of people were immediately concerned for my safety and did not quite understand the appeal of this wonderful country. Luckily I have an openminded and adventurous mother who encouraged me to visit Mexico and gave me plenty of ideas of where to go. It's been seven weeks since I've embarked on my travel adventures and my mom, who inspired the beginning of my travels in Mexico City, has now joined me for ten days traveling through Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve!
Before grabbing our rental car and hitting the road, we spent one night in Mexico City at the outstanding Red Tree House B&B in Condesa. I saw for myself the appeal of this hotel and why it is so highly praised. The staff is exceptionally friendly and are often interacting with guests. The inclusive evening happy hour encourages interactions between guests, creating a friendly and engaging atmosphere. I found my self seated by the fireplace with a glass of wine talking to several other guests throughout the evening as I waited for my mom to arrive. I was even invited to dinner by a very kind Canadian couple. A hotel that encourages this type of interaction between guests is rare but extremely special. I had the greatest time meeting other travelers and enjoying the marvelous space. It felt like luxury after being in a hostel for 7 weeks. If the atmosphere wasn't incredible enough, the breakfast was absolutely splendid, as you can see above.
Our first full day in Guanajuato happened to also be my birthday. We had a large breakfast on our apartment's rooftop terrace in the morning sun. We spent at least an hour enjoying the space before exploring town. Guanajuato is a colorful colonial town with a notable silver mining history and today is a vibrant university town. The brightly colored buildings appear to be built almost on top of one another as they are situated one above another, climbing up the mountainsides. It is an extremely walkable town where you can see the highlights (Plaza de San Fernando, San Roque Square, Basilica de Nuestra Señora, and The University of Guanajuato ) in one full day. After seeing the sights we grabbed a bottle of wine to enjoy on the terrace only to discover our wine opener was a faulty one. After a half hour trying about ten different techniques we were able to open the bottle and enjoy a well deserved glass. We had the dinner at the highly rated Los Campos where my mom and I shared corn and jalapeño fritters to start and I had an ancho chile stuffed with braised pork in ancho salsa on a bed of creamy pearl barley with huitlacoche topped with grilled corn and nopal. I would recommend this place for its creative preparation of traditional Mexican ingredients. It was a great day and an excellent birthday that I was lucky enough to share with my mom.
Our second full day was spent strolling through the city and relaxing in the Reforma Garden surrounded by mature, full trees. We waited until closer to sunset to take the funicular up for a gorgeous panoramic view of the city when the light was just right.
San Miguel de Allende
We decided to stay only one night in San Miguel knowing that it was much more touristic than Guanajuato. However, before we could leave Guanajuato we had to the task of retrieving our license plate from the police. We received a parking ticket and to ensure you pay the fine the police remove your license plate which you then have to retrieve at the station. It wasn't immediately obvious that we were missing our plate. We saw that we had a ticket but it wasn't until later that we noticed the took the plate! Knowing the police station was difficult to find we took a cab to pay our ticket and retrieve our license plate. We got our plate back but then we had another problem...we didn't have our car for them to screw back on our license plate. We decided that at the first service station we saw we'd stop and see if they had a screw driver to reinstall the plate. Luckily we didn't have to even go that far, as soon as we drove the rental car out of the garage there was a young boy on the sidewalk, with a screw driver in hand, removing rims from tires. We stopped in the middle of the road, asked him if he could help us, and one minute later he had a few extra bucks and we had our license plate back on our car!
After and hour and a half drive through arid farmland dotted with cattle and cacti, we made it to San Miguel. There is a large number of retired Americans and Canadians who own property here so it feels less like an authentic Mexican town but the architecture is beautiful nonetheless. The uniformly warm toned buildings and their well kept state means just simply strolling the streets makes for an enjoyable afternoon. As the sun began to set, people came by the hundreds to gather by the Jardín Principal, in front of La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, for a live orchestra performance honoring the revolutionist Ignacio Allende. The present moon hung overhead and 500 people seated in chairs and throughout the garden proudly listened to the music, often excitedly singing along if a Mexican favorite was played. It was a very special moment to witness Mexican patriotism and pride for their down as they celebrated their town's revolutionary hero that helped Mexico gain their independence.
Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve
From San Miguel we left for the butterfly reserve in the western state of Michoacan. Here is where the millions of monarch butterflies from all of North America migrate every winter. This is the world's largest monarch migration and the monarchs all come to this and only this location to spend winter. I didn't really know what I signed us up for when I decided we'd go to the lesser known part of the reserve, but it turned out to be one of the most adventurous experiences of my trip so far. It was not an experience for your average traveler. My mom braved conditions that people my age would not have. It started off with us almost getting lost at dark in the Sierra Madre mountains and in my head I was already planning the worse case scenario where we'd have to sleep in our car until the sun came up. Luckily it didn't come to that and the next morning we dove in to the next part of the adventure which included riding horseback for an hour and a half up the incredibly rough and steep mountain side to reach a meadow where thousands of butterflies fluttered past in waves. We stayed in a tiny town with only one restaurant and one B&B which organized the tour and is doing some incredible things for both the butterflies and the people that call these mountains home. I'll be writing about this beautiful and exhilarating experience in more detail because it really needs its own post to fully share just how enriching of a time it was.