Mexico 7: From the City to the Mountains

“Guanajuato to Raices”

I really enjoyed my time in Guanajuato; it’s my favorite city in Mexico so far. Before leaving town we visited Callejon de Besos, and climbed a gazillion stairs to a huge sculpture, El Pípil, of a man the sits high above the city.

[Callejon de Besos (alley of the kiss), the site of a classic love story with a tragic ending. Legend has it that if a couple kisses on the third step their love will last forever (…or they’ll avoid seven years of bad luck. There seems to be some variation in what kissing on the third step will bring).]


[El Pípil, a miner who played a key role in helping to defeat the spanish during the war of independence in 1810 sits high above the city. It’s a lot of steps to get there, but there’s also a great view of Guanajuato.]

Our route out of town took us through mining land, then to a high saddle where we found great camping nestled in a small grove of trees on the ridge.

The next day we continued through patches of forest and open grassy hillsides before dropping down to a small town where we bought a few more supplies. We crossed over a small highway then back into open grassy hills. I was still moving a bit slow with my broken toe so we decided to stop early to camp.

The ride into, and out of, San Miguel de Allende was on busy highways. It’s a beautiful city, but much too crowded for our tastes. We spent one night in San Miguel, and enjoyed great coffee at Cafe Buen Dia in the morning.

There was a lot of traffic, and mostly paved roads, between San Miguel de Allende and Apaseo el Alto, but we still managed to find a nice campsite and enjoy a few quiet rest breaks along the way.

[This dog hung out at our camp for quite awhile.]

[Mudpots on our way into Apaseo el Alto. There were a lot of hot, steaming pools and mud pots for a couple of kilometers. I would have thought an area like this would be a park, but it was mostly abandoned with cris-crossing roads through it.]

We found an inexpensive hotel in Apaseo el Alto that had crazy, narrow, winding stairs up to our room, and doors of a variety of sizes.

We stopped in a little pizza place for dinner and beer. One of the owners sat down a chatted with us for a long time, sharing stories from his time in the U.S. and telling us about cool places in Mexico that we might like to visit.

Our route took us on a paved highway through the town of Jerecuaro, then turned back into the mountains and onto a dirt road, a nice and quiet change from the last few days of noisy highway riding. We found a beautiful campsite between Chilarillo and Puruagua on a small cliff above the road. It was an enchanted little area in a beautiful pine forest dotted with a few cactus, ferns, and epiphytes. We listened to wippoorwills, owls, and other animal sounds as the sky grew dark.

The next day we stopped for coffee in Puruagua, it was instant coffee, but we enjoyed sitting in the town square watching the locals move about their day. We rode pavement out of town until we turned onto cobble and dirt roads that led high into the mountains.

After descending from the highpoint we detoured off the route we had been following, hoping to avoid some of its busy highways. We crossed to the other side of the mountains, then rode a quiet paved road into the town of Tetuxtepec where we found a cheap hotel for the night. We asked around for a place to eat, most places were closed, but we finally found a tiny kitchen that was open. They were hesitant when we asked about dinner, then said they had rice and beans. We smiled and said that would be great. Then the offered us a tostada. I wasn’t sure what it was; it sort of looked like pork or hamburger. Neon asked if it was meat, and they said no, they don’t eat meat on Fridays and explained that it was TVP (soy). It was delicious, made up like a ceviche tostada.

The next day we rode high up into the mountains where the monarch butterflies spend the winters in Mexico. The lower parts of the mountains are pretty populated, but we still managed to find a place to camp out of sight in the trees.

The next morning we finally made it to a high pass, Puerta de Llano, and just in time to roll into a bike race / endurance challenge. It was super fun descending down the other side of the pass with hundreds of cyclists racing by. All the road guards directing traffic just kept waving us along with the other cyclists.

Twenty kilometers whizzed by in what seemed like minutes. Lots of “thumbs up” and double-takes as we rolled through the cycle route.

We followed the cycle route down the highway, then side streets paved in cobblestones, to a dirt road that led into deep green hills before we decided that maybe it was time to look at a map to see how far off of our route we were.

Several cyclists stopped to take photos with us. And the coolest part… …several days prior when we were riding through the small town of Jerecuaro—we were a bit flustered on our way out of town to find a place to camp; we stopped at a bank to get cash, and just then a man driving a bus stopped to say hello to us since he is also a cyclist …now back to the bike race… as we were riding down the dirt road, wondering how much longer we should follow all these cyclists into the hills for which our map didn’t show any roads … a guy stops Neon and says he met us a few days ago in Jerecuaro. It was the bus driver!

We got back on route and found a hotel in Ocampo, the main town for access to the El Rosario monarch sanctuary. We spent the morning at the sanctuary, arriving early enough to catch the monarchs as they took flight from the trees after being warmed by the sun. Seemed not too different from our camping strategy, as we generally don’t emerge from our sleeping bags until the sun shines on them, warming everything in the process.

[…our guide, showing us the black spots on the lower wings. The two black dots mean it’s a male monarch.]

The monarch sanctuary was pretty special for me; I’d always want to see all those monarchs gathered in one place, and I finally did; I only had to ride my bike 5000+ km, but I got there.

We visited some nearby archeological ruins after leaving Ocampo, the San Felipe de Los Alzalti pyramids. Then after too much highway pedaling we finally turned onto a sweet little dirt road heading to the tiny village of Macheros.

We were hoping to visit the monarch preserve at Cerro Pélon, but after arriving in town we were told they had already migrated north from this location. But the countryside was gorgeous and we were invited to camp in a local’s avocado orchard. A bright orange sunset, topped off with a little tequila, clear skies, and a night full of stars = perfect day

After that our route followed busy highways, way too busy for our tastes, but we pressed on, for a couple of days, through Valle de Bravo, to just past Mesón Viejo before finally turning onto a dirt road heading to Raices (a small town at the foot of Nevado de Toluca).


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  1. Love the monarchs Congratulations!

    When I was 15 years old I got lost on a hike near Nevada De Toluca Spent the night at a ranch while my family was worried sick wondering if i died I’ll always remember Nevada de Toluca Lee

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. This is one fully-packed and especially lovely post. Guanajuato looks to be everything my former student said it was. I would very much like to see the Monarchs in their own preserves. Good for you, finding a cycling marathon!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post and beautiful pictures! – This is my first read on your site and I love it! – looking forward to keeping up with your adventures. -Brendan

    Liked by 1 person

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