We had intended to bypass Barra de Navidad, because we knew that we would be sucked in to the lazy, opulent beauty of the marina there, Isla Navidad. Surely one of the most beautiful marinas in all of Mexico, it is attached to a spectacular hotel perched on the side of a hill boasting manicured grounds, swimming pools, tennis courts, and yoga on the beach in the morning.
We rationalized our marina stay by taking a long anticipated road trip to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the state of Michoacán. Starting in September and October, these tiny creatures migrate from southern Canada and the United States to overwintering sites in Mexico where they arrive around November. They start the return trip in March, arriving around July. No individual butterfly completes the entire round trip; female monarchs lay eggs for the next generation during the northward migration and at least four generations are involved in the annual cycle. I had first heard about the amazing migration of the Monarchs years ago on an Oregon Public Broadcasting show, and after recently reading Barbara Kingsolver’s excellent recent book “Flight Behavior” I was determined to see it for myself.
The marina provided a safe place to leave the boat for a few days, and a rental car was easily obtainable form the nearby Manzanillo airport. We had looked at flying to Mexico City and driving or taking a bus the rest of the way, or taking a bus the entire way. The first option proved too expensive, the second option took too long. $20 USD a day rented us a car and all the required insurance, and offered much more freedom. Major routes in Mexico are served by cuotas, or toll roads, which proved to be as nice or nicer, than highways back home.
Traffic was minimal, and we whizzed along at 110 kph (about 70 mph). The route passes through the coastal plainsthrough miles of banana, papaya, and coconut fields. As you turn inland, the road begins to climb, and the fields change to sugar cane and acres and acres of berry farms. We passed Volcan de Fuego, (Mexico’s most active volcano – it last erupted just a few weeks ago) near Colima, and continued to climb up onto the interior plains to Guadalajara which is about a mile above sea level. At Guadalajara, the road turns east towards Mexico City, and continues to gain elevation. Our destination was Angangueo, a small town high in the mountains near the reserve.
Angangueo lies in a steep canyon below the reserve. Situated at elevation 9,500 ft, the nights were cold, but the days pleasant (high 60s). Officially founded in 1792, this area was mined for silver several hundred years prior that and the town is a charming mixture of adobe and brick structures. Good thing I have been working on Spanish, as no English is spoken here. I made the hotel reservation by phone, and credit cards are not accepted.
The drive up to the El Rosario Reserve passes through the tiny village of the same name, which offers spectacular views of the surrounding area.
Once at the reserve, you are assigned a native guide who leads you up (yes, even higher, as the butterflies are above 10,500 ft) a relatively easy 45-minute hike to the site where the butterflies are encamped. Literally millions of butterflies cluster together in the pines weighing the branches down. As the sun begins to warm them they take flight, and there are so many you can hear their wings beating.
If you stand still they begin to land on you. It was an absolutely amazing experience – simply magic.
I am so grateful that we were able to experience this amazing natural phenomenon. It was also a treat to experience inland Mexico. Just as we have encountered everywhere else, the people couldn’t be friendlier. It is a beautiful country. We look forward to more inland adventures farther down the coast, and tomorrow we will set sail south again!