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.

Altar Angangueo mexico ©Kim Smith 2014

Angangueo is located in the far eastern part of the state of Michoacán in the central region of Mexico in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. In 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.

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 for dinner to meet my fellow travelers 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.

Hotel Don Bruno Restaurant ©Kim Smith 2014 copy

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, including and combining a fabulous array of local fruits and vegetables. The proprietors and hotel staff could not have been more friendly and accommodating.

Chef Jean Gabriel Salazar López Hotel Don Bruno Angangueo © Kim Smith 2014.

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 2014Mural in the town plaza

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 further 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.

Angangueo ©Kim Smith 2014Despite 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 murders are 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 2014San Simon Parish Church

Inmaculada Concepcíon ©Kim Smith 2014Inmaculada Concepcíon

Next installment: Day 1 at the Monarch Colony

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

  1. Fernando Hernández

    Dear Kim,
    I was looking for a hotel in Angangueo and I found your blog. What a lovely description of Angangueo! Thank you for writing this way about my country. I sometimes feel sad too for the crimes and murders in my country. I feel sad to see how desperately these people try to protect the Monarch Butterfly reserves while keeping on with their lives. They depend on tourists like you and me. Your prose makes me feel proud of my country and is like a ray of light in these dark days. Kind regards from Mexico 🙂

    Reply
  2. Kim Smith Post author

    Thank you Fernando for your thoughtful note. I was so so deeply touched by the ernest, and seemingly monumental, efforts by the local people to preserve the reserves. I hope to come again very soon.

    Reply
  3. thegraceway

    Wonderful post! I traveled to Mexico this February to view the over-wintering monarchs and stayed in Angangueo (Don Bruno). There was only one other couple staying at the hotel. It was a Sunday night and I’m sure the hotel has more visitors during the week, but I couldn’t believe that there were not more guests! Even at the sanctuaries the number of visitors was much lower than I thought there would be. It was nice not being crowded, but anyone that is any where near the monarchs should visit! It’s an indescribable site!!
    As for the safety of central Mexico, I never felt in any danger. The city, the people, the hospitality – all were perfect. 🙂

    Reply
  4. Rebecca

    Wonderful post! I traveled to Mexico this February to view the over-wintering monarchs and stayed in Angangueo (Don Bruno). There was only one other couple staying at the hotel. It was a Sunday night and I’m sure the hotel has more visitors during the week, but I couldn’t believe that there were not more guests! Even at the sanctuaries the number of visitors was much lower than I thought there would be. It was nice not being crowded, but anyone that is any where near the monarchs should visit! It’s an indescribable site!!
    As for the safety of central Mexico, I never felt in any danger. The city, the people, the hospitality – all were perfect. 🙂

    Reply
  5. Brian

    I too came across your blog as I was researching online for an upcoming trip to the monarch reserves. Enjoyed your blog and the photos – makes me glad I’ll be going in a few months! Quick question: I am trying (so far unsuccessfully) to figure out how to contact the Hotel Don Bruno to make a booking. Do you (or anyone reading this) know how to reach them? Please reply if you can help. Thank you!!!

    Reply
      1. Brian

        Thank you, Fernando. I found a phone number for them and managed to make a booking at Hotel Don Bruno, so we are all set. We leave in 2 weeks! Thanks again.

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