San Miguel De Allende, Mexico

The ruins at La Canada – San Miguel cont.

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When you think of Mexico a few things come to mind: Mariachi’s, parched deserts, lush jungles, sandy beaches, tacos, and ancient ruins. There are 29,000 archaeological sites in Mexico. Obviously, not all are open to the public.  There are the well-known sites such as Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Coba.  Then there are the smaller, hidden gems.  La Canada de la Virgen is one such site.

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()Top left is the main pyramid called The House of 13 Heavens. Top right is The House of Wind. Bottom picture is the amphitheater of The House of the Longest Night.

The archaeological site of La Canada de la Virgen is located on a private Hacienda, or ranch, just 20 minutes outside of San Miguel. Because it’s a working ranch, you will hear and see cows that wander around the site. It is believed that the Otomi settled here after the fall of Teotihuacan, around 300 AD, because of the rich resources and abundant water supply.  Archaeologists think that the depletion of these resources is the reason that the city was abandoned 600 years later.  The city falls along a trade route so they have found jewelry, stones, and shells from other parts of Mexico. La Canada consists of two pyramids, a large pyramid and a smaller spiral shaped pyramid, an amphitheater and a garden. The garden was added by the caretakers of the site to display the plants that were used by the ancient people for their medicine, paint, food, and textiles.  They also use the garden to display the thousands of pieces of broken pottery found at the site. The guide leads you around the garden, the small pyramid, the outdoor amphitheater, and then the main pyramid, stopping frequently to explain the significance of the buildings.

Not all of the known buildings are uncovered. When you are at the top of the main pyramid you can see what looks like little hills or mounds of dirt, but are actually buildings they haven’t excavated yet. As a result, they keep finding new artifacts and learning new information.   I’ve been 3 times and every time I go they’ve added something new to the little museum at the visitor’s center.

(Pictures of the House of 13 Heavens)

My favorite part is seeing the view of the hills and little canyons from the top of the large pyramid. And there’s always a cool refreshing breeze at the top.  There’s a courtyard at the base of the pyramid that has great acoustics.  You can hear a conversation taking place at the other end of the courtyard.  They believe it was designed like that so they could talk to the people and not yell. The pyramid is designed to track the sun and moon.  During certain times of year, such as  during the summer and winter solstices, the sun or moon will be exactly in the center of the pyramid. During the Spring, the cactus are blooming. Those bright patches of color look so out of place, like butterflies trying to avoid the prickly stalks.

At the visitor’s center you pay, about $3, and then get on a bus.  The bus takes you a couple of miles and then you walk the rest of the way.  The guide takes you about a half mile, uphill, to the ruins. Then you walk around the site and it’s a half mile back down.  It’s about 2.5 miles all together.   The tour is in Spanish so go with a translator or just enjoy the ruins and read about them online later. La Canada is closed on Mondays. It is open Tuesday to Sunday 9am – 6pm.

GENERAL NOTE: Go in the morning so you don’t get too hot.  Wear sunscreen and a hat. The whole tour takes about 2 hours so use the restroom at the visitor center before you leave on the tour.  You can’t bring any bags or purses with you on the tour.  You can bring whatever will fit in your pocket; like a water bottle and cell phone.

NOTE FOR CHILDREN: Strollers are also not allowed so make sure your kids can walk at least 2 miles or else you’ll be carrying them for 2 miles. The hike up the hill is rocky and strenuous.  The guide will tell you over and over that you absolutely cannot take anything from the site.  Not even a pebble from the path. Make sure your rock collecting little boys and girls know this very strict rule.  And again, no bags, including diaper bags.

NOTE FOR THE ELDERLY: As previously mentioned, the hike can be a little bit tough.  My mother and father-in-law can’t do it because they can’t walk too much or be on their feet for the amount of time this tour takes.  My 70-year-old mother could do it, but she had to take a few breaks.  She couldn’t go up the steep steps of the pyramid so she just waited for us at the bottom.  My dad had no problem.   Take the elevation into consideration. San Miguel de Allende is about 5500 feet above sea level. This can cause some shortness of breath even for people who are in shape.  This site is NOT handicap accessible.

San Miguel De Allende, Mexico

La Gruta – San Miguel de Allende continued

A local favorite just a few miles out of San Miguel de Allende is La Grutas or The Caves.  This park has harnessed the warm springs in the area to create a beautiful, peaceful, oasis with several shallow warm pools and lush green vegetation that makes it easy to relax. The flowers and fountains on the property make a tropical atmosphere.

Some pools are knee deep (perfect for little kids), others waist high.  The pool that leads to the main Gruta is close to 5 feet deep.  All the pools are surrounded with lounge chairs, so lie down, read a book, and watch the kids play in the shallow pool. There are tables with umbrellas if you are looking for shade. The pools have a ledge in the water to sit on and relax.  Several people will sit there in the pool with their drinks.

 

For a more invigorating experience walk through the tunnel to the main gruta, or cave and stand under the hot water pouring into it from the ceiling.  My father-in-law says it relaxes his muscles. It can get pretty hot and steamy in that cave.  I can only be in there for 10 minutes max. Then retreat to the cooler pools and your lounge chair. It’s a lovely way to spend a day.

The park is $7 and they do take credit cards.  It closes at 5pm.  There are bathrooms, changing rooms, and lockers available.  It also has a restaurant (the food is pretty good), snack bar (sodas, chips, candy, etc), swim shop, and a spa on site. Go early in the day.  Wear sunscreen.  Don’t go on the weekend, it’s very crowded. La Gruta is closed on Tuesdays for cleaning.

San Miguel De Allende, Mexico

San Miguel De Allende – the party’s at the Zocolo!

 

Wow. Just got back from a long, fabulous adventure and I don’t know where to begin.  My niece came to visit us here in San Miguel de Allende Mexico, so we had to show her and her boyfriend as much of the country as possible in 2 weeks.  Here’s where we went: San Miguel de Allende, Tolantongo, Tula, Teotihuacan, Acapulco, Xochicalco, Xochimilco, Mexico City. Whew!  I’m going to tackle them one at a time so that my blog post is not as long as War and Peace.  So look for several blogs over the next few weeks.  Here we go . .  .

SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, GUANAJUATO, MEXICO

 

A beautiful, colorful, colonial town nestled against the rolling hills. I love to walk the cobbled streets and take pictures of the doors (many are carved and painted) and iron work that adorns the houses and businesses.  My favorite thing to do is to go to the Zocalo (or city center) on a Friday or Saturday evening.  I walk around the park that is in front of the pink Parroquia (church) and just watch.  There’s always a party, or 2 or 3, going on.  People are having their pre-wedding party, or celebrating their wedding, quincinera, or birthday. I watch the brides come and go from the church.  I listen to the procession of party goers march around town accompanied by their band and marionettes or mariachis.  Mariachi bands also hangout in the park and you can pay them to play for you.  Music always fills the air. The streets are blocked off, so there’s lots of room for dancing.  TIP: The only public restroom I know of on the Zocalo is in the courtyard by the Starbucks.  Bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer with you because sometimes it runs out.

The famous pink Parroquia, or main church in town, is a must see on the Zocalo. It is truly the heart of San Miguel De Allende. It’s unique in that it was built by an Albanil, or someone without any education or training.  Zeferino Gutierrez was a self-taught bricklayer and architect who was inspired by the Gothic churches in Europe. He combined that inspiration with his imagination to create the current façade.  An architecture student can pick out the flaws, but most people only see the ethereal beauty of this, the most photographed church in Mexico.  The detail on the outside is amazing and the gold ornamentation on the inside is breathtaking. It feels like a cathedral to me. You can go inside even if they are conducting Mass, just be quiet and respectful.  Within a couple of blocks off the Zocalo are 3 other churches with spectacular exterior stonework you’ll enjoy checking out.

And of course, there’s the shopping.  Artisans from the nearby towns have shops on the streets surrounding the Zocalo.  There are also art galleries and clothing boutiques.  Every Sunday there’s a market where you can engage in the age-old game of bargaining. You will usually win taking home your treasure for the price you want.

Don’t forget the food.  Oh the food!   I can’t resist the spicy and sweet smells that are all around me. There’s nothing better than a big cup of fresh mango that is sweeter than candy or a taco Al Pastor with just enough heat to make you sweat a little. And beware of the bakeries.  If you catch one whiff of the freshly baked deliciousness wafting in the air, you will come out of there with a bag full of treats. The street vendors have the best tacos and elotes (corn on a stick smothered in cream and cheese). Want to sit? Find one of the many casual restaurants and enjoy dining in their open courtyard. Two of our favorite rooftop restaurants are Momma Mia’s (homemade Italian) and Pegasus (authentic Mexican cuisine).  Both are one street over from the Parroquia and both restaurants offer spectacular views of several church spires. And then there’s always the bar scene.  Just walk around and you’ll hear a variety of live music coming from the bars. NOTE: Momma Mia’s also has live music on the ground floor of their restaurant.

View from Momma Mia's rooftop

The food, the music, the churches, and the historic buildings all introduce you to the people and the town. There are other things to do in and around San Miguel De Allende, but to feel the essence of the town and experience its soul; your first stop must be the Zocalo.