Monarch Expedition: Part One ~ Angangueo Michoacán, Mexico

Angangueo Mexico ©Kim Smith 2014After the four-hour drive from Mexico City, across a wide valley of rustic farmland and over and around volcanic mountains, we arrived in the early evening at the sleepy town of Angangueo. Pitched on a steep mountainside, the narrow streets and closely packed buildings with shared stucco walls immediately reminded me of southern European villages. Especially lovely were the modest and many handmade outdoor altars gracing townspeople’s homes and gardens.

Angangueo is located in the far eastern part of the state of Michoacán in the central region of Mexico within the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. During the late 1700s minerals were discovered. Large deposits of silver, gold, copper, and iron ore brought a rush of people into the area. Today, Angangueo is noted as home to two of the most beautiful Monarch Butterfly Biospheres, El Rosario and Sierra Chincua.

Altar Angangueo mexico ©Kim Smith 2014 copy

Hotel Don Bruno Angangueo Mexico ©Kim Smith 2014Our guesthouse, the Hotel Don Bruno, was utterly charming. As with many of the buildings we passed on the way to Angangueo, a cheery row of glazed terra cotta pots brimming with red and pink geraniums lined the hotel entrance. Through the entryway door and past the front office, guests entered the beautiful inner courtyard garden. All the rooms faced into the courtyard and mine had a delightfully fragrant sunny yellow rose just outside the door. I quickly changed to meet my fellow travelers for dinner in the hotel’s second floor dining room. A long dining table arranged family style, running the length of the room, had been set up for our group, with a view onto the flowering courtyard below.

Chef Jean Gabriel Salazar López Hotel Don Bruno Angangueo © Kim Smith 2014.As he did that evening, and every dinner and breakfast, Chef Jean Gabriel Salazar López had prepared an elegant feast of many different entrees, mostly native Mexican dishes, and including and combining a fabulous array of local fruits and vegetables. The proprietors and hotel staff could not have been more friendly and accommodating.

Dinner was followed by a discussion led by Dr. Emmel. Tom Emmel is the Director of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, which is part of the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History. He is also a professor of zoology and entomology and the author of 35 books (more about Dr. Emmel in the next installment). I recorded several of Dr. Emmel’s lectures and an interview atop the Sierra Chincua Biosphere and will be posting all on youtube.

Mural Angangueo Mexico ©Kim Smith 2014 copyMural in the center of town

At daybreak the following morning, I climbed the central outdoor stairwell to the top of the hotel to film the sleepy town awakening. Roosters crowed and the hotel’s freshly washed and drying sheets whipped to the wind in the crisp mountain air. The morning light did not disappoint. Kitty corner across from my rooftop vantage point was one of the small town’s several churches, with a walled courtyard and red and white banners fluttering in the breeze.  The village’s main road leads up to the mountains and is lined with red tiled roofed-homes and sidewalks swept immaculately clean. The sun was just beginning to peek through the mountains when I had to leave to hurry down to breakfast.

Despite the beauty and well-kept appearance of Angangueo, and especially of our charming guesthouse, the town and the Hotel Don Bruno were nearly empty of tourists. Reports of mayhem and murder in Michoacán have drastically reduced the number of people traveling to Angangueo to see the Monarchs at the biospheres.

The gang violence is taking place on the far western side of Michoacán, near the Pacific Coast. Angangueo is located on the far eastern side of the state, bordering the state of Mexico. Not traveling to Angangueo for that reason is as uninformed as if someone decided not to travel to San Francisco because of the gang violence that takes place in Los Angeles! The people of Angangueo have stopped logging to protect the Monarch’s habitat and have come to rely heavily on income from tourism. I was deeply saddened to see the lack of visitors, at this time of year especially, when the Monarchs are at their peak activity at the colonies.

San Simón Angangueo Mexico ©Kim Smith 2014 copySan Simon Parish Church

Inmaculada Concepcíon ©Kim Smith 2014Inmaculada Concepcíon

Next installment: Day 1 at the Monarch Colony

16 thoughts on “Monarch Expedition: Part One ~ Angangueo Michoacán, Mexico

  1. Wowzers the place looks beautiful. Grounds incredibly manicured. I pictured a dusty scene out of an old Clint Eastwood movie. This place looks almost touristy compared to what I had envisioned.


    1. Very beautiful and very well maintained. Even the most modest shops were meticulously clean, with shopkeepers sweeping the area in front of their stores several times a day. Tourism accounts for about 25 percent of the municipality’s economy.
      The drive to Angangueo took us through a valley of very rural farmland. No washing machines or dryers here! The women wash laundry by hand in large stone cisterns and all is hung to dry. Many of the fields are plowed by horse, and we saw one man maintaining an entire field by hand, with a sickle.


  2. What a treat! Of course you’d be thorough and allow place to be central, too. Thank you for bringing us along, giving exactly the impressions you see, smell, taste, study–from sunny yellow rose to embellished plaza walls. Despite the warning that you may be detailing a disappearing population of monarchs (and way of life for the town ) am eager to continue. -Catherine


  3. This is wonderful. I’ve travelled quite a bit in Mexico and find that the gringos tend to stick to the beaches, while the towns in the interior are travelled by people from all over the globe (and yes, the perceived gang situation has been a problem, which is sad because it really knocked the tourist revenues way down). We took the bus system down there many times and it allowed us to pass through–and sometimes stop–in a wide variety of places. And no, there aren’t many places like you’d see in a Clint Eastwood movie. Lot’s of colonial architecture that does indeed make you feel like you’re in Europe. My personal favorite is Guanajuato. So beautiful. I’m really looking forward to your upcoming posts! You’re making me crave some Mexico soon!


  4. Thank you Chris! My visit was way too brief–just enough time to get a tiny flavor and fall in love. I would return in a heart beat. Just gorgeous in every way. Gooled Guanajuato looks gorgeous too, similar geography located in the Trans-Mexican volcanic region. Would love to hear more about your travels to Mexico–are you from Texas, too? I was wishing the entire time that I was traveling on a motor scooter rather than bus so that i could stop and photograph every five seconds!!!


  5. Thank you very much for this post!!! I had traveled to Mexico, last year I did a backpacking trip in the south and this year I am coming back!!!…I am Guatemalan and I do agree with you that we can´t stop living life, just common sense. I was planning a trip to see the butterflies this year, unfortunately I was going by myself and they just advice, I thin that the right time would be next year 🙂 now that I got more involved and know more people.

    !Buena suerte¡


    1. You are very welcome. I think that was a wise decision Gabriela; go with a group. I wouldn’t go alone either. I hope you go next year–it will be an experience of a lifetime. Do not wait.


  6. What a wonderful tour you have us of your first day. The sights, the smells, the atmosphere! I dream of making this trip someday, maybe with some of my fellow Facebook monarch enthusiasts that I’ve met through my page! Thank you forsharing. I am looking very forward to hearing about the rest of your trip!


    1. Thank you for your very kind words Nancy. I wholeheartedly encourage you to GO!!

      I am working on editing the interview with Doctor Emmel at present and will be posting that soon hopefully.


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