Exploring Atlantes de Tula in Hidalgo

México contains many archaeological sites located throughout the country. Chichen Itza and Teotihuacan are two of the most famous and visited sites in the country, but many less famous and less visited archaeological sites can be found everywhere. One of those sites is called Atlantes de Tula.

Entrance to Atlantes de Tula archaeological site

Atlantes de Tula is located in the Mexican state of Hidalgo, adjacent to the state capital of Tula. This archaeological site is unique in the region because of the giant stone warriors that sit on top of the pyramid. Visitors can climb the steps of the pyramid to get a closer look at the stone warriors. But fair warning, it is a bit high so those with a fear of heights should proceed with caution.

Atlantes de Tula stone warriors

In addition to the stone warriors, stone columns fill the portico area in front of the pyramid. These columns are similar to those found at Chichen Itza on the Yucatan peninsula, but unlike any of the other archaeological sites located in the area surrounding Atlantes de Tula. The Palacio Quemado next to the Pyramid is also filled with stone columns in each of the three large chambers of the ruins.

Stone columns at Atlantes de Tula
Stone columns at Palacio Quemado

Two large ancient ball fields have been excavated from this site. The fields form the shape of a capital I. Visitors can walk through the largest of these fields. At the smaller field, people can climb the steps on one side and look down into the playing area. This ancient game involved the use of stone rings and a rubber ball. Players were only allowed to hit the ball with their hips, elbows, knees, and waist, but not with their hands or feet. Sometimes, the player who scored the first goal in these ancient games was sacrificed to their gods.

Excavated ball field
Placard of one of the excavated ball fields.

The Atlantes de Tula archaeological site has a beautiful trail leading from the entrance to the pyramid. Several plant and animal species can be found in this natural area. Because this site does not see as many visitors as the nearby Teotihuacan, this is a pleasant place to explore pre-Hispanic Mexico. A trip to this archaeological site requires only one or two hours to see everything.

Red flower on nopal cactus

Atlantes de Tula is an archaeological site located off the beaten path, about a two hour-drive from Mexico City, but it is well worth a visit.

Panoramic view from the top of the pyramid at Atlantes de Tula.

Glimpse of Chinatown in Mexico City

As I started walking in Mexico City today, wandering along Paseo de Reforma and into Centro Histórico, I saw many familiar landmarks. But as I wandered around further, I took a different route back to my hotel and found something that I vaguely remember hearing about before this trip.

Entrance to Mexico City Chinatown

Mexico City has a Chinatown! It’s called Barrio Chino and it is decorated with the iconic Chinese paper lanterns hanging over the pedestrian street. The shops that line the street are full of Chinese products. The restaurants all serve Chinese foods and even the street food stalls serve a variety of dumplings and other Chinese finger foods.

Mexico City Chinatown

This neighborhood was amazing and so marvelously unexpected that I had to walk through to explore and smell the lovely, mouth-watering scents of meat and dumplings.

Mexico City Chinatown

The lesson I learned from this experience is that taking a different, unknown path can lead to unexpected surprises.

Mexico City Chinatown

The Mexican Monarch Butterfly Reserve

What Is the Monarch Butterfly Reserve?

The Monarch butterfly is an iconic insect species in the United States and Mexico. More and more people from both countries are working together to create better, more effective conservation of this beautiful butterfly species. In Mexico, the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve was created in 1980 as part of the drive to provide a protected habitat for the species. This Butterfly Reserve was also designated a World Heritage Site in 2008. It covers 56,000 hectares, spanning two states, Michoacán and Mexico, and contains eight out of the fourteen Monarch colonies that migrate to Mexico.

100 peso view of the butterfly mountain. Photo by Angela Grier.

How Can I See the Monarch Butterflies in Mexico?

The Monarch butterflies arrive at the Reserve in November and leave in early March. The best time to see the butterflies is in February. Many tours are available to guide people to one of the five colonies of Monarch butterflies that are open to visitors. Most tours leave from either Morelia in Michoacán or Mexico City and require driving a few hours to reach one of the colonies. The roads into the reserve are not the easiest to navigate so it is highly recommended that international visitors schedule a tour with a guide. In addition, most of the colonies require visitors to have a tour guide lead them to the colony location.

Monarch butterfly at the Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Michoacán, Mexico. Photo by Angela Grier.

How Difficult Is It to See the Butterflies at the Reserve?

All of these tours require a hike into the mountains to reach the butterfly colony and some colonies are more difficult to reach than others. In addition, the butterfly colonies change their location within the reserve from one year to the next, which means the difficulty of the hike may change each year. One year, the hike might be relatively easy but the next year, the hike may be more difficult. Some locations offer horseback rides for an extra cost for part of the hiking trip; however, horses are not permitted anywhere near the butterfly site, so hiking up and down the side of the mountain is still required. Visitors should also be in pretty good physical condition because the butterfly colonies are located at a high altitude (10,000 ft).

As hikers approach the butterflies’ location, they must be silent. Photo by Angela Grier

What to Expect From the Butterflies When Visiting the Reserve?

The behavior of the butterflies is determined by the amount of sun and the air temperature. On cool, cloudy, or rainy days, butterflies do not move around as much. On warm, sunny days, the butterflies move a great deal more. Sometimes, the butterflies may be very close to the hiking path, near the ground, and visitors can get a good look at the colony. Other times, the butterflies may be high in the trees and visitors need binoculars to get a close-up view of the colony. The behavior of the butterflies cannot be predicted well in advance of a visit because the weather conditions cannot be predicted.

Which Butterfly Colony is the Best to Visit?

The Sierra Chincua is the best butterfly colony to visit because it is more easily accessible to people of all ages. This colony has the least challenging hike and benches are dotted along the route for people who require rest as they traverse the mountain. The hike should not be attempted by visitors who are not acclimated to high altitude or in pretty good physical condition, especially because medical facilities are quite far from the butterfly colony. Horses are available for an additional cost to help less able people get closer to the location of the butterflies. However, hiking up and down narrow, dusty trails on the side of the mountain is still required because horses are not permitted near the butterflies.

Butterfly-related merchandise and artisanal crafts are available at the Sierra Chincua site. These items include mugs, pens, jewelry, keychains, scarves, hand-embroidered napkins, handwoven baskets, and more. Traditional Mexican foods are also available for purchase such as quesadillas, Menudo, tacos, atole, Mexican sodas, and more. Bathrooms are available at this site for 7 pesos per person. In addition to the small artisanal market at Sierra Chincua, there is a larger artisanal market located in the center of Morelia, a few blocks from the main plaza, Mercado de Dulces y Artesanías. This market contains many Monarch butterfly-related merchandise, colorfully embroidered clothing, ponchos, scarves, copper jewelry, copper plates, and many types of sweets unique to the region.

Christmas Lights at Parque Bicentenario, Silao, Guanajuato

One of the fun things my family and I love to do at Christmastime is see Christmas lights. We found a fantastic place just outside of León in the small town of Silao that has a beautiful display of Christmas lights. Parque Bicentenario is a neat park to visit during the day with children. They have exhibits year-round geared towards kids of all ages. But after dark at Christmastime, this park is magical and festive.

Elephant display at Parque Bicentenario, Silao, Guanajuato. Video by Angela Grier

At Christmastime, the park sets up a fun light exhibit outside. Scattered throughout the light exhibits are food vendors that sell snacks, ice cream, tacos, quesadillas, burritos, tortas, alcoholic beverages, and more. The best food vendor though – the guy that sells churros! Churros are a delicious fried pastry that should not be missed. You can buy them plain or filled with something sweet like chocolate, cajeta, or a fruit filling.

During Christmas in Mexico, one of the many unique traditions is watching a Christmas play called a pastoral. It is a story about the fight between good and evil, angel and devil, and each pastoral is its own unique interpretation of the Christmas story. The pastoral that we watched at the park was very funny and far different from other pastoral plays we’ve seen.

Pastoral play at Parque Bicentenario, Silao, Guanajuato. Video by Angela Grier

Last minute Christmas shoppers can visit the Christmas Bazaar at the park. It’s a lot less crowded than the malls and the prices are better too. There are also rides and other entertainments for kids – inflatables, bumper cars, and several carnival rides.

Christmas tree at Parque Bicentenario, Silao, Guanajuato. Photo by Angela Grier

I highly recommend a visit to Parque Bicentenario for a fun, family-friendly Christmas activity near León, Guanajuato.

Diego Rivera Museum, Museo Anahuacalli

Diego Rivera was a well-known Mexican artist who is famous for the murals he painted in Mexico and the US. He was married to Frida Kahlo, another famous Mexican artist. Both Diego and Frida were dedicated to improving the lives of the Mexican people and used their art and international standing to influence positive change. They are celebrated historical figures in Mexico.

Museo Anahuacalli, Coyoacan. Photo by Angela Grier

I explored Diego Rivera’s museum, Museo Anahuacalli, with my family and our tour guide. There is a small fee to enter the museum and a separate, additional fee that allows you to take pictures while you are visiting. Pay the fee and take pictures – it is worth it.

Diego Rivera was an avid collector of Pre-Hispanic artifacts. He wanted to create a place where he could display his vast collection of sculptures. In a previous post, I toured the Frida Kahlo Museum, Casa Azul. There are some Pre-Hispanic artifacts on display in Casa Azul, but the majority of Rivera’s collection is on display at Museo Anahuacalli. For a more complete understanding of the lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and their contributions to Mexico, it is important to visit both museums. I highly recommend using a tour guide for a more comprehensive look into their lives and contributions to Mexico.

Museo Anahuacalli. Photo by Angela Grier

Museo Anahuacalli is a large stone structure built to resemble various aspects of Pre-Hispanic architecture, specifically those aspects found in pyramids like the ones at Teotihuacan. Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, is an important part of Teotihuacan culture and is represented throughout the architecture and artwork in this building. 

As you wander through the small and large galleries of sculptures on display, and up and down the stairwells from the first floor to the rooftop, pay attention to the mosaics on the ceilings and floors throughout the museum. These mosaics depict different parts of Pre-Hispanic culture and beliefs.

In the largest gallery, sketches of some of Diego Rivera’s famous murals, including one on display in Bellas Artes, cover the walls, mixed in with the displays of Pre-Hispanic sculptures. 

Diego Rivera’s collection of Pre-Hispanic sculptures is impressive. This is a must-see museum in Coyoacan. It is not far from Casa Azul and these two museums can easily be seen in one day.

After visiting Diego Rivera’s Museo Anahuacalli, Teotihuacan and the National Museum of Anthropology should be on your list of additional places to visit as you discover more about the culture and history of Mexico.

Running around Mexico

Before I moved to Mexico three years ago, I was a runner. I ran in several fun races a year – 5k, 10k, 21k. I even participated in a sprint triathlon, just to see what it was like. (I hated the swimming part, so I’ll never do that again.) But I really enjoyed signing up for the fun runs that offered something fun for after the race – hot apple cider, chocolate, beer, doughnuts – I mean who doesn’t love a cold beer after running 4 miles on a brutally cold and windy St. Patrick’s Day or taking home a pumpkin pie after running a few miles on a brisk Thanksgiving Day morning. Those fun perks and prizes added to the enjoyment of running in fun runs with my family and friends. But I knew that when I moved to Mexico, that would all end.

We ran the BJX21K in León in April 2019. My children ran the kid’s 1k fun run, my husband ran the 10k, and I ran the 5k. Photo by Angela Grier.

I was an idiot (insert facepalm). After a couple of months of settling in, I realized that the city shuts down major streets for a marathon at the end of September. And from what I could see, there were a lot of runners participating. So I decided to figure out how I could participate too. It turns out there are many races that take place in León and in the surrounding towns and cities, not to mention races all over the country. My mind was blown. Race entries for the various races can be purchased at local sporting goods stores; which one depends on the store that is sponsoring the race. Race entries can also be purchased online through the Márcate app.

Once the pandemic hit and in-person races ended, many of the local races became virtual. All I had to do was record my time with my fitness watch and submit my data in the Márcate app. The race packets were shipped to my house after my race data was received. Virtual races opened up many more opportunities for me to participate in some of the fun runs that are found in other parts of Mexico. And some of those races offered some pretty cool race swag that was also shipped to my house – beer, tequila, wine, cool medals, and beautifully designed shirts or jackets. I love that I will have fun clothing to wear when we return to the US that will remind me of how much fun I have had running here in Mexico.

We ran 21k for the BJX21K in April 2021. The race was virtual this year and we decided to run around a large, beautiful lake in León’s Parque Metropolitano. A lot of other runners for this virtual race had the same idea and it was fun to see so many others running while wearing the race shirt. Since this is a local race, I picked up my race packet before the virtual race weekend instead of having it shipped. Photo by Angela Grier.

I finally ran the León marathon myself this year. I had planned to run it in 2020, but of course, that didn’t work out. So I continued training for another year, determined to run in 2021. Luckily, the Covid numbers dropped enough that they decided to have an in-person race – the first in-person race in León since the pandemic started. My husband and I ran with some friends and a few thousand other people. It was glorious! Everyone was so excited and there was so much positive energy in the air. It was wonderful to be there. The race culture in Mexico is truly amazing and the support I received when I ran through the city streets was incredibly moving. So many people that I didn’t know, and a couple that I did, stood along the 42 km route for hours with signs and noisemakers, just to show their support for the runners. At one point, around km 26, a small boy and his grandfather ran beside me for a little while, shouting encouragement and cheering me on. The race was magical and I am so happy that I was finally able to run in the full León marathon. It’s just one more thing I love about living in Mexico. Now I’m ready to train for my next fun race – perhaps the 10k trail run in the Sierra de Lobos….

Viva Mexico! Three important observations about Mexican Independence Day, September 16th.

As I write this, my family and I are enjoying a beautiful Mexican Independence Day celebration at home, away from any crowded places. With the pandemic still raging on, we continue to take precautions and limit our exposure to others as much as possible. So in light of our reduced ability to go out and celebrate, I decided now would be a good opportunity to describe our experience with this holiday.

After three years of celebrating Mexican Independence Day, we have learned a few things. First, food is a very important part of Independence Day celebrations. While food is an important aspect of all of Mexican culture, it is also very regional. What may be popular in one part of Mexico may not be commonly found in another part. We live in the state of Guanajuato. The most popular traditional food in Guanajuato for Independence Day is Chiles en Nogada. You can find this food everywhere in the weeks leading up to September 16th. It consists of a poblano pepper stuffed with a mixture of meat, nuts, and spices, giving it a slightly sweet flavor. A creamy, white sauce is poured over the stuffed pepper and pomegranate seeds are sprinkled over the top. This signature dish of Independence Day includes the colors of the Mexican flag, red, white, and green. It is only seasonally available, so foreign visitors can only try this dish in the weeks leading up to September 16th. It is delicious and worth trying at least once…or several times.

Chiles en Nogales in El Pagaso. Photo by Angela Grier

The second observation we have made is that clothing and decor is an important part of the celebration. Children and adults wear the colors of the Mexican flag on September 15th and 16th. Many cars and trucks display Mexican flags flying from their windows. Houses and yards, plazas, parks, and public buildings all display Mexican flags, banners, and other decorations. Everywhere you go, there are carts full of Independence Day clothing and accessories, toys and balloons, flags and other decorations available for purchase. These carts are found scattered throughout the traditional market areas, the plazas, and even outside the Walmarts and other big retail stores. It’s a big business, and everyone participates. There is so much energy and anticipation on September 15th. It’s a fun day to be out in public spaces.

City Hall of Leon, Guanajuato. Photo by Angela Grier
Independence Day celebration at school. Photo by Angela Grier
A cart full of Independence Day-themed items for sale. Photo by Angela Grier

That brings me to my third and final observation – an important part that we did not understand when we experienced our first Independence Day. September 15th is a big day as well. It is the day of El Grito, translated as the scream or the yell/cry. It originally happened in Dolores Hidalgo, the birthplace of Mexican Independence, and initiated the Mexican War for Independence in 1810. The way the Mexican people celebrate it is by reenacting El Grito all across the country at midnight on September 15th. That officially kicks off the Independence Day celebrations. The biggest, best attended, and most televised El Grito takes place in Mexico City outside the Palacio Nacional where the Mexican president chants the traditional cheer. At this point, we still have not experienced El Grito ourselves, but we hope to do so once the pandemic is behind us. If we do, you can be sure that I will blog the entire experience.

Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico!

La Casa Azul – Frida Kahlo Museum

Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world. As such, there are many cultural and historical places of interest to visit that are scattered throughout the boroughs of the city. One such borough is Coyoacán. Coyoacán is often pictorially represented by two coyotes on street signs, metros, and other public spaces.

Fountain in Coyoacán Plaza
Fountain located in the plaza center of Coyoacán. Photo by Angela Grier

Coyoacán is well-known all over the world, primarily because it was the home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. I will discuss the Museum of Diego Rivera in another post, but in this one, I will walk you through the Museum of Frida Kahlo, La Casa Azul.

Casa Azul (Blue House) - Frida Kahlo Museum
The Blue House is a vibrant blue color. Photo by Angela Grier

La Casa Azul, The Blue House, is one of the most visited museums in Mexico. It is so popular, in fact, you must reserve your tickets online, well in advance of your visit to the museum. Because of the COVID-19 precautions, fewer people are allowed into the museum during each time slot. If coordinating that does not sound appealing, there are tour companies that will purchase tickets for you and transport you to the museum from your hotel.

Museo Frida Kahlo. Photo by Angela Grier

My family and I used a tour company to coordinate our trip to Coyoacán. Once we arrived at The Blue House, we waited in line with our tickets along with everyone else who had purchased tickets during that time slot. As we wandered from room to room inside the house, we had to follow COVID-19 protocols and maintain distance from others and keep our masks on at all times.

Frida and Diego lived in this house 1929-1954. Photo by Angela Grier

La Casa Azul is a beautiful museum. It is a marvelous memorial to a talented woman whose pain and trauma reflected in her artwork and resonated with people all over the world. Her life was so vibrant and filled with love and pain and the museum has captured some of that in their exhibits.

This may be the most famous portrait of Frida Kahlo, on display in the Museum of Frida Kahlo. Photo by Angela Grier

The exhibit starts with collections of artwork by Frida Kahlo, ranging from sketches, paintings, self-portraits, and photography to scribbles on scraps of paper. Some of Diego Rivera’s artwork is also there, but the rooms are dominated by Frida.

After you wander through the rooms of artwork, you enter the dining room. At this point in the museum, you can see the artwork and sculptures collected by Frida and Diego for their home. As you wander from the dining room, to Diego’s bedroom, and from the colorful kitchen up into the studio, you can see that their home is filled with color and light. Paintings and sculptures fill the spaces on walls and tables throughout. Diego, in particular, collected artifacts from older Mexican civilizations. Most of what he collected is found in his museum although there are many pieces displayed throughout The Blue House.

In the studio, you can not only see Frida’s art studio, but also several bookshelves filled with books in both Spanish and English, covering a wide variety of subjects – art, literature, poetry, politics, science, etc. Off of the art studio was Frida’s daytime bedroom. Located on the canopy above the bed, is the mirror that she used when she painted self portraits. Next to her daytime bedroom is her nighttime bedroom, which is where her ashes are currently located, according to our tour guide, in an urn shaped like a frog. From the daytime bedroom, there is an outside door and staircase leading down into the gardens and patio area.

The museum created a separate exhibit on the other side of the gardens where Frida Kahlo’s iconic dresses and accessories are on display. In addition to her dresses, the museum has also displayed the corsets she used in order to hold her body together when it started to fail her. This exhibit helps to drive home the amount of pain she was in, especially near the end of her life, and the lengths she went to in order to hide that from public view by dressing in beautifully crafted dresses, jewelry, and hair styles.

This museum is a beautiful testament to the life, memory, and body of work created by Frida Kahlo during her too short life. I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who has any interest in learning more about Frida Kahlo and/or Diego Rivera. Frida Kahlo’s influence is constantly seen and reinterpreted throughout Mexico. Anywhere you travel in Mexico, Frida’s face can often be found on t-shirts, backpacks, purses, blankets, dolls, paintings, etc., in markets, shops, and restaurants. Her lasting memory permeates modern Mexican culture. Because of this, I highly recommend that foreign visitors learn about who Frida Kahlo was and what she did.

Retrying a new fruit – dragon fruit/pitahaya

A local farm that we receive weekly deliveries from, Shambhala #shambhalaorganico, just advertised dragon fruit in their weekly list of available products. We have tried dragon fruit that I purchased from the local HEB grocery store, but we didn’t like it. The flesh was white with tiny seeds like kiwi but not very flavorful. We decided that it was not something we would try again.

However, I know that locally-produced fresh fruit and vegetable products taste far better than products purchased from grocery stores, so I decided that we needed to try dragon fruit again. I bought four dragon fruit from the farm and we cut into one. It was the most amazing fuschia color I’ve ever seen, not the white color that we found from the grocery store.

Cut dragon fruit, no filter. Photo by Angela Grier.

I immediately called in my husband who tried it and found it to be amazing. It has the same texture as kiwi and the same tiny seeds, but a different flavor profile. It’s sweet and refreshing, but not overly sweet. I knew immediately what I wanted to do with this first cut of dragon fruit. Dragon fruit mimosas!

I poured a half glass of sweet Moscato into a glass and then blended a quarter cup of fresh squeezed orange juice with the flesh of one large dragon fruit and poured it into the Moscato. The Moscato immediately bubbled up in a reaction that made it look like a fun science experiment.

Pouring blended dragon fruit into sweet Moscato. Video by Angela Grier.

The resulting dragon fruit mimosa was a perfect balance of sweet and tart, ideal for Sunday morning mimosas.

A beautiful dragon fruit mimosa. Photo by Angela Grier.

This has been my favorite Sunday morning mimosa, thus far, since we started this tradition at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. My take-away lessons from this experience is that we should not immediately write-off something the first time we try it and that locally-grown fruits and vegetables are once again superior to store-bought. With that in mind, support your local farmers, no matter the country in which you live. Happy mimosa day, wherever you are!

Gusanos de Maguey (Agave Worms), a Mexican Appetizer in Leon, Guanajuato

How many times have foreigners in Mexico looked at a menu in a traditional Mexican restaurant and seen some pretty crazy things listed as appetizers or entrées? Outrageously foreign-sounding foods like chapulines (grasshoppers), escamoles (ant larvae), and gusanos (worms) that do not sound appealing to people for whom bugs and other items (like tripe) are not traditionally on the menus in our home countries. But living in Mexico, or any foreign country, should be an invitation to immerse oneself in the traditional foods of that country because so much of the culture and history is wrapped up in their traditional foods. For that reason, it continues to be my goal to sample regional foods from all over Mexico, no matter how strange it may seem to my American palate. With that in mind, here is a short video of my husband enjoying gusanos de maguey (agave worms/grubs) while we dined out at a popular restaurant in our local mall.

I challenge you, dear readers, to try eating something unappealing or unfamiliar the next time you visit a foreign country. Those of you that have done so, what are some of the things you have tried and what did you think about it? Can you recommend some other strange foods that we should try while we travel around Mexico? When we ate a few of these worms, it turned out, they weren’t bad and actually tasted pretty good (We have eaten larger grubs than this. Check out this post for that adventure.) Share what adventurous foods you have tried in the comments below. Happy adventuring!