December 2019: For a new Years weekend trip, Paula and I flew to Leon in central Mexico and rented a car to drive around the States of Michoacán and Guanajuato over the course of 4 days. This was our itinerary:

Day 1

Depart Tijuana to Leon Pick-up rental car and drive 4-5 hours to old San Juan Parangaricutiro to see the ruins of a church that is all that remains of the town after a volcanic eruption.  Spend night in old city of Uruapan.

Day 2

Visit Aztec pyramids of Tingambato, Visit, visit monarch butterfly reserve in mountains, stay in Angangueo old city

Day 3

Visit monarch reserve, drive to San Miguel de Allende, colonial hotel.

Day 4

Drive to Leon, depart afternoon.

Old San Juan Parangaricutiro

Our first stop was the old town of San Juan Parangaricutiro, a small Mexican pueblo that was decimated by the nearby active Paricutin volcano in 1943. Nothing in the town survived except for a small church that struts out from the middle of a vast volcanic flow. To get here we had to drive through small roads, driving in central Mexico is always madness as we passed small indigenous villages in the mountains. One of them had several men with ski masks standing at the entrance of the village holding sawed off shot guns with nearby banners proclaiming Narcos are not welcome. We visited some of the indigenous markets being held for the New Years celebration.

Village market

Mexican cowboy in a small pueblo

The whole area around the church and volcano is volcanic rock left over from the massive flow of lava from the 1943 eruption. A volcanic road in rough shape leads to a trail where hikers can access the church remains. A villager asks for a small price of admission to all visitors. Village guides will take hikers even further to the cone of the active Paricutin volcano.

Paricutin volcano

Last surving structure from village of San Juan Parangaricutiro-a small church

Last surving structure from village of San Juan Parangaricutiro-a small church

Paula perched on a lava rock overlooking the church. The chapel is a pilgrimage sight for people that come to pray at its altar

Paula resting

Tingambato Aztec Pyramids

After spending the night in Uruapan, our goal was to drive all the way to an old mountain mining town of we drove to Angangueo old city and a monarch butterfly reserve. Along the way we stopped at the westernmost located cluster of Aztec pyramids-Tingambato. When we arrived early in the morning the pyramids were closed and fenced in and there didn’t seem to be any hope that they would open on New Years weekend, so I hopped the fence and snuck in but when I saw staff arriving to open the gate, I decided to walk back over the entrance gate and enter officially. Paula and I had the pyramids to ourselves. Inside the complex were several tombs likely belonging to nobles buried with dozens of others that were believed to be servants sacrificed and condemned to an eternity with their master.


Tingambato Aztec Pyramids

Paula on top of Tingambato Aztec Pyramids

Map of Guinea

Paula on top of Tingambato Aztec Pyramids

Angangueo old city

Paula and I stayed in the old mining village of Angangueo old city established in the late 1700’s. We stayed in a small cabin with wood stove and explored the colonial Centro with its old Spanish churches and small family run eateries.  We used Angangueo as a base to explore the nearby monarch butterfly reserves in the mountains.


Angangueo Streets at night

Paula at Angangueo 

Monarch Butterfly Reserves

The mountain forests to the north of Mexico City are the migratory grounds of the monarch butterfly, a butterfly that is significant to me because I grew up in Minnesota in awe of the beautiful monarch, which in my childhood neighborhood was very common in the summertime. Monarch butterflies migrate from northern USA and southern Canada to Mexico to mate and it can take several generations for the migration to ocurr. The migration is so specific that the monarchs are believed to return to the same tree to mate that their descendant were spawned from. The forests of central Mexico combine to form the perfect temperature, humidity, environment and food source required for the butterflies to reproduce but climate change and illegal logging has decimated their populations in the last few decades. Indigenous conservation activists have even been brutally murdered by illegal logging interests many of which are run by narco Trafficante’s. We visited two monarch reserves. The first one was Biosfera mariposa Monarca and the 2nd was Rosario. When we went to the first reserve conditions were too cold for the monarchs and the monarchs, we saw were all still, too cold to move. When we went to Rosario the next morning, temperatures were much warmer and the monarchs were extremely active and we finally saw what we came to see, clouds of monarchs fluttering around within the towering pine trees, forming mating clusters in the leaves and bark in stunning colorful formations.


Forests of the monarch reserve

Monarchs that were stunned from the cold and unable to move. They weren’t dead just temporaily stunned until temperatures could rise. 

Paula Horseback riding in Rosario reserve to the mountain top to see the monarchs

Rosario reserve-clouds of monarchs

Me admiring the monarchs

Monarch up close

Monarch up close

Mating cluster of monarchs

Forest full of monarchs

Colonial Village of San Miguel de Allende

We drove via some off the beaten path village roads through small villages to San Miguel de Allende, where we planned to spend new Years Eve in a small homestay. The hilltop colonial town of San Miguel was beautiful with incredible architecture, old churches and restaurants and was a great place to spend the night, but it was a bit too Americanized, expensive, commercialized and touristy for my taste.

San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende

Old Cathedral where we attendedmidnight mass on new Years Eve-San Miguel de Allende

From San Miguel de Allende we drove back to Leon and flew back to Tijuana and returned home to San Diego.


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