El Cóporo, a hike through Pre-Hispanic Mexico in the Sierra de Lobos

A short, one-and-a-half hour drive from León through the Sierra de Lobos mountain range will take you to El Cóporo, an archaeological site of pre-Hispanic Mexico. This site is a mess of structures scattered all over the mountain that juts up above the small town of Ibarra in Ocampo. A bus will carry you from the Visitor’s Center to the start of the hike. From there, you wind your way along a path that takes you to several structures. As you walk, you can see the remnants of the civilization that still remain. Shards of pottery and stone tools can be found everywhere along the path. Note: Please leave these items at the site for future visitors to see. Many of the structures have not been excavated. Just like the pre-Hispanic ruins at Cañada de la Virgen, archaeologists are saving future excavations for improved technologies in archaeology that will eventually be developed. 

The hike around El Cóporo takes around 3 hours. It is challenging because of the steepness of the terrain and the rocks that need to be scaled at a few points in order to reach some of the structures. If a strenuous hike is not a possibility for you, do not worry because there are still structures that you can see at the beginning of the hike prior to the strenuous climbing. Your guide will inform you of when the hike will become more difficult so that those individuals that do not wish to hike the challenging portion can return and wait for the bus. 

The landscape of El Cóporo is rugged and beautiful. It is well worth the trip, and the drive through the Sierra de Lobos to reach the site is also beautiful. 

Things to note: 

  1. Tickets are 39 pesos for adults and 12 pesos for children under 12.
  2. The tour is given in Spanish.
  3. All of the informational signs throughout the hike are in both Spanish and English.
  4. Take a picnic lunch. There is not much to choose from out there except the hotel restaurants and occasional roadside stands.

Slow down and watch the hummingbirds

I need to remember to slow down and enjoy the moments in between our travels. I think I get so focused on planning out the journeys and then enjoying our travels that I do not spend enough time enjoying our in-between moments too. My husband and I have decided to take more time this year to sit, relax, visit with our resident hummingbirds, and enjoy our life here in Mexico. And not crazily rush around so much, unlike our hummingbirds.

 

A Return to Zona Piel, the Leather Market, in León, Guanajuato

After visiting Zona Piel in León, Guanajuato for the first time last year, I have returned several times since then with family and friends. As a result, I have become more familiar with the layout of the area and have discovered some really great places to shop. I will share those with you and I hope that you find the same success in your shopping trip that I have enjoyed. I recommend reading my previous Zona Piel post for some additional tips about shopping here.

 

Where do I park?

I always park in the parking garage at the bus station (see the location on the map below). It is centrally located in the shopping area. However, there are two things to keep in mind. First, if you arrive after 12:30-1 PM, especially during the holiday season or other busy shopping times, it will probably be full. Note: During the holiday seasons, trying to drive down this street is very difficult, so I recommend avoiding it during those peak shopping times. Second, you have to pay for parking at the cashier window before you leave, which is a little tricky to find if you don’t know where it’s located (it is a window under the garage stairwell). Parking at the Hotsson Hotel garage a few blocks away on Blvd. Adolfo Lopez Mateos is also available if the parking garage on this street is full.

Parking Garage
Location of parking garage. Courtesy of Google Maps

What will I find in Zona Piel?

You will find a ton of leather products in a wide variety of colors and styles – purses, backpacks, bags, shoes, boots, belts, hats, ball caps, gloves, vests, jackets, coats, shawls, wallets, billfolds, makeup bags, etc. This is by no means an exhaustive list. There is also a wide variety of non-leather products of the same items above for sale too. If you cannot find the leather product you are looking for here, it probably does not exist (I’m only half joking).

Where do I start?

I always start my shopping trip at the far end of the shopping area (see map location below), further down the street from the parking garage. This warehouse full of shops typically has the best prices, maybe because it is further away than the other shops. If I am looking for something specific, I can usually get the best price for it here. After looking around the shops at this location, I wander back up the street towards the parking garage and shop in the warehouses and shops that line the main street (see second map below), on the opposite side of the street from the parking garage. There are also great shops located on the side streets and one block off of the main street that have a huge selection of bags, purses, shoes, boots, etc. 

My starting location for shopping in Zona Piel
The warehouse where I start shopping in Zona Piel. Courtesy of Google Maps
Areas I have shopped in Zona Piel
Areas I have shopped in Zona Piel. Courtesy of Google Maps

What if I do not speak Spanish?

Many of the people that work in Zona Piel speak some English, so if speaking Spanish is a problem, don’t worry. Everyone is willing to try to communicate with you even if they don’t speak English and there is always someone close by who they can call on that does speak English. I know I say this in all of my posts, but the people here are very nice and patient, even when you have no Spanish speaking skills. 

 

How do I shop for bargains or get a better deal on price?

All of the vendors are willing to make a deal, so the prices are negotiable. You simply have to ask for the discount price. Oftentimes, they will call or text someone else to ask about the price you are offering and they will negotiate with their “boss.” They are also very willing to give you a discount when you are buying more than one thing from their shop. So if you want to buy purses for everyone in your family, buying them from the same vendor will get you a great price. 

 

How do I find shoes in my size?

Mexican shoe sizes are different than the US and European sizes. Knowing your approximate shoe size in Mexico can be helpful, but I have found it is not necessary. Oftentimes, the shoe vendor can simply look at your foot and know whether or not they carry shoes in your size. In my previous post about Zona Piel, I had mentioned that I could not find shoes in my size. During my last few visits to Zona Piel, I have successfully been able to find shoes and boots in my size from several different vendors in a variety of styles! Perhaps more vendors have started carrying larger sizes because people have been asking for them. Who knows?

Cute shoes
Cute shoes! Photo by Angela Grier

Anything else I might want to know before I go?

When you are shopping, you will notice that many of the shops are quite small, especially in the warehouses. If you see a pair of shoes or jacket that you want to try on, most likely, your size will not be in the shop. A salesperson will literally run out of the shop to their storage location to find the size you want. This can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes, depending on the distance they have to run, but this is pretty standard practice. Patience is necessary, but window shopping at other shops located next door is acceptable as long as you return to try on whatever item you had requested. I feel bad for the vendors when the people who asked to try something on wandered off and did not return after the salesperson sprinted to get the item for them. I know it’s an occupational hazard, but please don’t be that person. 

 

What is my only rule when shopping in Mexico?

Zona Piel is a fantastic place to shop and I always find something new when I go. The first visit can be overwhelming because there is so much to see, but you are guaranteed to find something you like. I have one rule that I always follow in all of my shopping travels:

*If I really like it, buy it. Don’t wait because chances are, I will never see that exact same item again. That is part of what makes shopping in Mexico such a cool adventure. 

If you want more information about Zona Piel, check out my original blog post from last year that contains some helpful tips and suggestions.

A Horseback Riding Adventure at the Hacienda La Alegría

My family and I visited the Hacienda La Alegría, located outside of Quito, Ecuador in Aloag. The wonderful couple that owns the Hacienda host people from all over the world and take them on horseback riding tours of varying lengths throughout the Andes Mountains or the cloud forest. It’s also a nice place to stay if you just want some peace and quiet away from the city. The Hacienda is a working farm that raises horses, cattle, llamas, rabbits, and chickens.

The food that is prepared here is amazing. The cook prepares three-course meals which are nutritious and flavorful. A huge favorite with my children are the excellent soups that start almost every meal.

My children have been taking horseback riding lessons in anticipation of this trip so that they would be comfortable and confident while riding. We were excited to take short trail rides around the area to see the countryside, and I knew that my children were probably not ready for a day trip or more. But spending our mornings riding with friends and our afternoons petting rabbits, bottle feeding calves, riding llamas (who doesn’t love llamas?), and hiking through caves to see some bats was definitely a good way to spend part of our Ecuadorian vacation.

Follow Hacienda La Alegria on Facebook to see posts about the amazing rides they take and the majestic landscapes they see on those rides.

The Middle of the World

We visited the “Middle of the World,” located in Quito, Ecuador. At the 0° latitude line, there are supposed to be some interesting scientific phenomenon that occur. As a former middle school science teacher, I was excited to see those demonstrations. However, we discovered that there is some discrepancy about where the “Middle of the World” is actually located.

There are two tourist destinations claiming to be located at the 0° latitude line. Logically speaking, there are an indefinite number of points along that line that can be visited by anyone, but there are two well-known spots that tourists can easily find and visit. The first location, Mitad del Mundo, is where people historically thought the 0° latitude line was. There is a large monument there to pinpoint the spot.

Mitad del Mundo monument
The inaccurate, but historical site of the Middle of the World. Photo by Angela Grier.

The second location, Museo de Sitio Intiñan (Inti-ñan Museum), is the actual place where GPS says it is located. We decided to visit the Museo de Sitio Intiñan, the actual location, where all of the strange phenomenon are said to occur.

Museo de Intiñan
The Intiñan Museum at the GPS-accurate location of the Middle of the World. Photo by Angela Grier

We took a short, guided tour in English through the museum property. We learned about the head-shrinking natives that live in the rainforest and that they stopped shrinking human heads only about 70 years ago. Nowadays, they only shrink animal heads. Fun fact: the size of your closed fist is the size your head would be if it was shrunk.

We visited some reconstructed rainforest homes that showed how these natives lived, complete with a cuy paddock inside (cuy are Guinea pigs and they eat them).

Reconstructed rainforest home
Reconstructed rainforest hut. Photo by Angela Grier

We saw symbolic totems from countries all over Central and South America as we walked to the 0° latitude line.

When we reached the painted red line at zero latitude, there were interesting science demonstrations set up for the groups of tourists that were visiting. We saw the sundial that is used at the equator and how it is different from our traditional sundials.

We conducted an experiment to balance an egg on a nail (which I managed to do and earn my Egg Master Certificate!). We tried walking on the red line with our eyes closed (which turned out to be very difficult). We watched water fall straight down a drain on the equator line, and swirl down in opposite directions on the north and south side of the line (I’m not sure that was a very “scientific” demonstration of the Coriolis Effect, but it definitely looked cool). Our tour guide also tried to demonstrate how much “weaker” a person is while standing on the line versus standing off of the line. My daughter was impressed by that one.

I know I used a lot of quotation marks in this post, but I wanted to emphasize that one should use some skepticism regarding the “scientific” nature of the demonstrations on the zero latitude line. The Middle of the World was definitely a great cultural and learning experience for both children and adults, and visiting that imaginary line that my kids can see on a globe was definitely a cool experience for them. All in all, it was well worth visiting for a couple hours while we were staying in Quito.

An Adventure in Quito, Ecuador

After living in León for over a year, we decided to get on a plane and travel to Quito, Ecuador to visit a friend. Our first day in Quito was extremely exciting! Not only are we on a new continent, we are also in the southern hemisphere for the first time. Our kids are thrilled with this fun, geographic part of our adventure.

Our first day, we decided to tour the Basilica. It was definitely not what I expected.

They were having Sunday services when we arrived but we quietly climbed up to the giant rosette stained glass and looked down, hoping not to disturb the service.

The height from there is dizzying. We thought that was all there was to see but my friend said, “Wait, there’s more. Let’s go higher.” And so we continued to climb up.

We walked across a rickety, wooden walkway that looked like it was not made to hold the numbers of tourists that were walking across it. Falling from there, I thought, would probably not kill me though.

When we reached the other side of this rickety bridge, there was a tall ladder that we climbed that led outside onto the base of one of the Basilica spires. At this point, we were very high and the view was spectacular. But my friend said, “Let’s go higher.” And sure enough, there was a set of steep ladders that had no safety bars to catch you if you slipped and fell backwards, that led up to the top of the spire.

As we started climbing, I tried not to notice the parts of the ladder where rust had eaten holes through it. I also tried not to notice that the small platform where we switched to another ladder seemed to shift under my feet as though it was not attached to anything. But we made it to the top and the view from there was breathtaking.

The city was spread out below us. The mountains surrounding Quito still dwarfed the Basilica, but we could see so much of the city from where we stood. As the spire became more crowded, we decided it was time to climb back down. How do you not look down when you have to see the rung of the ladder as you descend? Unfortunately, looking down was the only safe thing to do. We eventually made it back down all of the steep ladders and back into solid ground. But it was an exhilarating experience climbing that high without the safety features we expect in the US. The places we visited afterwards were very tame in comparison, but no less beautiful.

There was a cathedral where the entire inside was covered in gold leaf. We’ve never seen anything so shiny. We visited a museum that showed us the history of Quito and my children really enjoyed their permanent exhibits.

We walked around La Ronda and then ended our day at the market near our hotel where we bought beautiful blankets with llamas for only $20 apiece.

Overall, our first day in Quito was a wonder. We are looking forward to seeing what else the city and region has to offer as we continue to explore.

An Archaeological and Anthropological Adventure at Cañada de la Virgen

We have visited the pyramids at the Cañada de la Virgen site several times. It is one of our favorite places to take visitors when they come to see us for two reasons: because of its close proximity to León (where we live); and because of the impressive large pyramid that we can climb. It is definitely a favorite for our children to visit because they like to pretend that they are mountain goats as they navigate the steep, narrow steps of the pyramid.

In our past visits, we have always used the Spanish-speaking tour guides provided by the government. The cost of these guides is included in the price of the tour. The guides we have had have done a great job of explaining things and, after visiting a few times, our understanding of what they are saying in Spanish has drastically improved. However, we decided that when we visited the pyramids with my non-Spanish-speaking sister and her family, they would enjoy the experience more with an English-speaking guide.

 

On one of our previous visits, we had overheard a dynamic, knowledgeable man giving a tour to a couple of people in English. What we could hear was impressive and we were interested in procuring him as our guide. This man,  Alberto Aveleyra with the Artisans of Time Cultural Project, is an anthropologist who is actively conducting research at the Cañada de la Virgen site, among others. He uses the funds from the tours he gives to help offset the costs of his research. This sounded exciting to me because not only would we be able to understand the entire tour at Cañada de la Virgen and be free to ask questions in English, we could also support local research in the area that contributes to the understanding of this region’s cultural heritage.

We had several children in our group of fifteen ranging in age from kindergarten to middle school, thus the range in attention span of the kids was vastly different. Alberto did a wonderful job of engaging the adults in our group as well as the kids. He was very knowledgeable of the site and was able to answer so many of our questions for which the other tour guides we have had could not. It was interesting to listen to the scientific speculation about what happened to those ancient peoples, why they used the materials they did, or what the purpose was of so many of the things we saw. We really appreciated his complete and thoughtful insights and explanations throughout the entire tour. His vast wealth of knowledge made this the most exciting tour that we have had at this site and it greatly enriched our understanding of the culture and the area we were visiting. Additionally, it was incredibly fun to watch how captivated our children were by the things he was describing. He was able to make history come alive with his stories, and the visuals that he brought with him made it easy for all of us to understand. The kids (and adults) were full of questions and his patience with answering these questions seemed limitless.

There were several really cool things that we learned during our tour. First of all, the people that visited Cañada de la Virgen walked through the canyons to get there. There are a lot of canyons that wind through the countryside, hidden from sight, and it’s mind-boggling to think about how they made that trip. The second interesting fact that we learned was that the remains found in the largest pyramid at Cañada de la Virgen pre-dates the pyramid by hundreds of years. Alberto had a photograph with an image rendered that could give an approximation of the appearance of the man whose remains were found there. The third most memorable fact that we learned was that as we looked out over the landscape, in the areas where there were large clusters of trees, there were probably the remains of some kind of structure still existing there. There are many potential archaeological sites that exist just in that small region alone. Mexico owns the rights to explore and research those sites, no matter who the owner of the property may be. A final piece of interesting information that we learned was that we visited the site on a very important day of the year that marked the change in seasons – the end of the dry season and the beginning of the rainy season. The structures at the pyramid are aligned in a way that the sun shines right through an opening on that day at sunrise. We, of course, missed seeing that, but Alberto had photographs that showed the phenomenon happening. 

There were many more things that we learned that day that have stuck with me since we went on that tour. It has made us much more eager to get out and travel to more archaeological sites and continue learning more about the culture and how the native Mexicans lived prior to the Spanish conquest.

Placard found at Cañada de la Virgen
Placard found at Cañada de la Virgen in English and Spanish. Photo by Angela Grier

Everyone in our group really enjoyed the tour and the children were so interested that they continued to discuss some of the things they had learned even after we left the site. I highly, highly recommend using Alberto Aveleyra if you are interested in learning about the history and culture of this beautiful region. We will definitely ask him to lead a tour with us again the next time we take guests to Cañada de la Virgen. I know this post reads like an advertisement, but we had the most amazing experience and I had to share it with everyone. If you have the opportunity, this is one tour that should not be missed. Check out the short video clip below for a sample of the kind of engaging, story-telling that our children especially enjoyed. 

Cost of the tour: 950 pesos per person

What this includes: An approximate 5-hour tour, the cost of a ticket to enter the site, and a ride to Cañada de la Virgen from San Miguel de Allende. 

What you will get: An in-depth look at the peoples that once populated the region and a better understanding of their culture and beliefs. An expert guide with intimate knowledge of those peoples and how they might have used Cañada de la Virgen.  An incredible teacher with a passion for sharing that knowledge and preserving the heritage and culture of the region. 

Contact Information:

Phone: +52 1 415 100 0947

Email: artisansoftime@gmail.com

Website: www.artisansoftime.mx