A chance meeting with Julie, an expat Canadian living in Bucerias, while enjoying a cerveza on the beach the afternoon prior to leaving Puerto Vallarta left us contemplating our initial travel plans. We were heading to San Miguel de Allende with a stop over for a couple of days in Guadalajara to break up the long bus ride. However, our plans quickly changed when told of the rich cultural experiences we would be missing by heading in that direction. Similar to our research, Julie advised that San Miguel was like a Mexican Disneyland for foreigners, (mainly retired Americans) and chilangos (those from Mexico City), with the foreign influence pervasive. Yes, it does have World UNESCO Heritage designation, impressive colonial architecture, and is it a major art Mecca, however there are apparently few sights in the compact centro historico when compared to other cities and towns in Mexico.
The beauty of the type of travel we enjoy is that we can change direction on a whim when potentially more enriching experiences present. Our appetites were whetted with visions of authentic Mexican towns, indigenous arts, crafts, architecture, and history, not to mention the once in a lifetime primo experience of visiting the Reserva Mariposa Monarca. The highlands of Michoacan are invaded annually by millions of monarch butterflies that make their 3,000 mile journey from the Great Lakes to hibernate during the cold Canadian winters.
So with that our travels now see us heading to the west central highlands beyond Guadalajara to explore some of the many ‘Pueblos Mágicos’ and do some butterfly voyeurism.
The Magical Towns Program is an initiative to promote a series of towns around the country that offer visitors a “magical” experience by reason of their natural beauty, cultural riches, or historical relevance. The Mexico Tourism Board acknowledges that Mexico’s magical element, and not only its sun and beaches, is what keeps many tourists coming back. Thus, they created the ‘Pueblos Mágicos’ program to recognize places across the country that imbue certain characteristics that make them unique and historically significant.
“A “Magical Village” is a place with symbolism, legends, history, important events, day-to-day life – in other words, “magic” in its social and cultural manifestations, with great opportunities for tourists.”
Guadalajara is a huge metropolis, with well over 4 million people in the surrounding urban area. It is a cultural center of Mexico, and considered to be the home of mariachi music and sombreros. It is also known for tequila, but more on that later! The city’s economy is based on services and industry and is the communications and high-tech hub for northern half of Mexico.
Staying in the historic downtown core, the oldest section of the city, we strolled through the many beautiful squares and public parks, exploring huge cathedrals and museums. The area is rich with history and was the base of Miguel Hidalgo, a leader in the revolution for the independence of Mexico. A huge fresco that literally stopped us in our tracks adorns the main interior stairway leading to the upper chambers of the Palacio de Gobierno. In one hand Hidalgo brandishes a torch while the masses at his feet struggle against the twin burdens of communism and fascism.
Also known for it’s temperate climate we found mornings and evenings cool and afternoons warm. Similar to other large cities, the downtown core is seething with people during the day, however the area clears out after business hours, except for those unfortunate homeless, and things begin to look and feel a little seedy. With the cooler evening temperatures and being aware of our surroundings we were more than happy to seek the refuge of our nearby hotel.
Next post, all you ever wanted to know about tequila, and then some!!!