Sunday, September 25, 2016


Welcome to El Charco del Ingenio in San Miguel de Allende, one of my two favorite botanical gardens and reserves in Mexico.  My other favorite botanical garden is the Vallarta Botanical Garden in the Cabo Corrientes (Cape of the Currents region just south of Puerto Vallarta.

These two botanical gardens are diverse, unique, wonderful, and could not be more different. They are not only a total delight to the senses, but an education to the wonders of the natural world.  I will be sharing the beauty of the Vallarta Botanical Gardens in a future separate blog posting. Until then I want to share with you the wonder of the Altiplano (high plain) landscape at El Charco del Ingenio. If you are ready, let's go check out "El Charco"!

Located above the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, El Charco offers a fabulous view. Recommended:  take taxi UP to the botanical gardens and walk DOWN to return to town.

In the heart of the central highlands of Mexico, El Charco del Ingenio includes over 170 acres of natural preserve above the historical colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, a World Heritage site since in 2008.

This environmental conservation project was established and privately funded in 1991 as a community initiative of San Miguel de Allende. El Charco, a non-profit organization, has been recognized nationally and inter-nationally for its special efforts in conserving this amazing habitat.

El Charco del Ingenio (roughly translated to mean "the pool, pond, or puddle of ingenuity") is an extraordinary natural monument endowed with amazing biodiversity. Its name is believed to come from the natural pool/pond/puddle at the bottom of its imposing canyon. This pool/pond/puddle was believed by the indigenous people to have been surrounded by spirits and legends dating back to the pre-Hispanic period.

If you like cactus and succulents as I do El Charco is definitely your kind of place!

El Charco is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of Mexican flora and propagates species in danger of extinction from encroaching development. Many rare species of cacti have been transplanted from other surrounding regions in this effort.

Can you believe the size of these cactus paddles?

Departing from the visitor center, a network of walking paths allows the visitor to discover the preserve’s highlights which includes plants displays, scenic lookouts, bird sanctuaries, vestiges from the past, and an interactive children’s garden. El Charco is also a wonderful place for strolling, jogging, hiking, meditating, or simply enjoying nature. 

A visit to El Charco was definitely in order while our daughter visited us in San Miguel de Allende.

El Charco (the pool, pond, or puddle) is, according to surveys, home to 535 species of flora including cacti from 85 botanical families plus an additional 51 species of lichen.

Here is the charco (pool, pond, or puddle) which is the heart of El Charco del Ingenio Botanical Gardens and preserve.

Much of the flora flourishes in the dry scrub land that makes up most of the garden, while the dam that created the reservoir, built in the late 19th Century, offers habitat for 156 species of resident and migratory birds.

Nearly 170 acres make up the site where El Charco is located which includes three important types of terrain: canyon, dry scrub land, and wetlands. The wetlands are the result from the creation of a dam in the late 19th century which provided hydroelectric power to the downstream town of San Miguel de Allende.

School children, residents, and visitors from around the world can enjoy the incredible diversity and beauty of El Charco thanks to the dedicated group of people that support this special environment. With sincere appreciation, I say thank you and bravo to you all!

The Charco del Ingenio Botanical Gardens and its pond/pool/puddle as seen in the dry season.  I find this environment magical in its quiet and serenity.

Along with its primary mission of study and conservation of natural resources, El Charco and its connecting Landeta Park also serve as community gathering places. Talks, courses, workshops, guided visits, meetings, camps, astronomical observations, races, concerts, dances, ceremonies, and various festivities take place continuously. There are also opportunities for mountain biking, rock climbing, bird watching, camping and horseback riding.

Cactus is tough. But the succulent family is actually fragile. In too many instances a great number of the cactus species in Mexico are endangered due to factors both natural and man made. El Charco is dedicated to saving, protecting, and propagating Mexico’s wild cactus specimens.  Bravo!

If visitors look carefully, you might catch a glimpse of any one of the 110 species of butterflies that inhabit or visit the area along with the 18 different types of reptiles and amphibians, or the 11 species of dragonflies or damselflies that call El Charco their home. Wow!


The activities, ceremonies, and special events offered at El Charco del Ingenio are truly outstanding. The following were some of my favorite offerings which should not be missed!

Full Moon Ceremony which takes place every month in the Plaza of the Four Winds starting at sunset.The purpose of this ceremony is to bring nature back in balance on earth. Included in this ceremony is a bonfire, incense, chanting, and drumming. This ceremony is definitely up there in the "woo-woo" category, but it is quite lovely.

From the Full Moon Ceremony at the Plaza of the Four Winds ....

to yoga classes at the Plaza of the Four Winds there is something for everyone at El Charco.

Fiesta de la Santa Cruz del Charco del Ingenio (The Festival of the Holy Cross of El Charco del Ingenio) is celebrated during the first fifteen days of July in El Charco Botanical Garden and Landeta Park.

The ceremony starts in the Plaza of the Four Winds and the cross is carried to the four cardinal points of the Botanical Garden where the protective shrines are located. It finishes with the installation of the cross in Parque Landeta where the fiesta continues all day with ritual dances, music and more.

The Fiesta de la Santa Cruz is a popular festival directed by the indigenous communities of San Miguel which includes a candlelight vigil, raising of the standing offering súchil (an offering in the form of a tall construction made from local plants), a procession of the Holy Cross, dances of the rayados (striped dancers), concheros (shell dancers) and locos (the crazies, disguised as women and political caricatures), as well as a public dance and huapango arribeño (traditional music from the neighboring Sierra Gorda). 

Since its beginnings in 1991, this celebration is held every year in July to commemorate the foundation of the Botanical Garden as well as the rescue of this magnificent ravine, a project that not only preserves El Charco as an ecological reserve, but also as a ritual space for local indigenous communities of San Miguel. 

The image of the Santa Cruz (the holy cross) goes back to the wars of Conquest of the 16th century and the foundation of San Miguel de Allende. Consequently, Charco del Ingenio is a sacred territory for the communities of the Santa Cruz, urban as well as rural, who come to the annual festival.

The Spring Equinox Concert, held annually near the date of March 21, takes place in the Charco del Ingenio canyon with its rocky formations which create a naturally sculpted acoustic space. Every year a different musical group performs in this fundraising concert which benefits the botanical garden. 

This "Festival of the Sun" is usually celebrated with a concert in the garden's natural amphitheater. It usually begins at 5:00 pm and many stay after the concert to watch the sunset. 

We were living in San Miguel during El Charco's 20th anniversary which was celebrated by a very special concert for the Spring Equinox with a 90-member symphonic orchestra. The concert was in collaboration with the well known Festival of Baroque Music. Our stars were definitely in alignment for this occasion!

Insiders tip: You'll be literally sitting on the rocks, so bring a cushion, a hat, and cold water!


A temazcal ([temasˈkal]) is a type of sweat lodge which originated with pre-Hispanic indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica.  It was used as part of a curative ceremony thought to purify the body after exertion such as after a battle or a ceremonial ball game. It was also used for healing the sick, improving health, and for women as an aid in giving birth. It continues to be used today in indigenous cultures of Mexico and Central America that were part of the ancient Mesoamerican region for spiritual and health reasons.

On the weekend nearest the full moon, one or two sessions of this ritual and curative ceremony using aromatic herbs and steam takes place in a sweat-lodge located in the ruins of the Hacienda Las Colonias in the northern part of the garden.  This relaxing steam bath is a ritual of healing and purification and is available every month for both men and women.

The following are more of my favorite photographs taken at El Charco del Ingenio Botanical Gardens:

The El Charco greenhouse contains the second largest collection of succulents in Mexico.

A fence of Saguaro cactus is certainly a detriment from wandering off the path!

Have you heard of agave azul (blue agave) tequila from Mexico? Just a little photo enhancement for fun!  

A good place to chill while exploring El Charco del Ingenio!  

Enjoying the annual benefit concert can be challenging for those with issues of height, but not a factor for these folks.

A water "feature" at the entrance to the Botanical Gardens which I find especially nice.

Our daughter standing up and taking measure of the tall cacti at El Charco.

El Charco del Ingenio overlooking San Miguel de Allende.

Time to say adios to El Charco and much gracias for the wonderful visit. We will be back!

I certainly hope you have enjoyed our excursion to El Charco del Ingenio Botanical Gardens.  Believe me when I say I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this amazing habitat and only wish I were closer so that I could visit on a more regular basis.  Please scroll down to the link for my entire El Charco photograph album.

I remember hearing many years ago that a picture is worth a thousand words and many memories.  Those words definitely contributed to and inspired me in the creation of MEXICO AND BEYOND: LAURA'S PHOTO JOURNEY.

Laura with "her" cactus and the original photograph from El Charco del Ingenio below:

I sincerely appreciate hearing from my readers with their questions, comments, and suggestions so don't be shy!  Until then, gracias and safe travels! Laura

                                   Adios from a blooming cactus.

Saturday, September 3, 2016


Still walking the jungle where it all started twenty years ago!

My husband and I are often asked why we have chosen to live full time in Mexico. Since we have been living in and exploring not only Mexico, but many other wonderful countries in Latin America over the last twenty years, it is not a question to answer easily. My primary answer is that I feel most at home in Mexico, both in my heart and my soul.

I don't completely understand where this feeling comes from since my family heritage is English to the core. My husband is of Mexican descent. He was born to parents who immigrated to the United States as children and who became naturalized citizens of the country they loved. His upbringing in Southern California was typically American and the family joke was that I am more Hispanic than he is!

We have lived in four different locations in Mexico including Merida, Oaxaca City, San Miguel de Allende, and Puerto Vallarta. All four are wonderful and unique in their own right. We have decided recently, however, to settle down in Puerto Vallarta where our nomadic journey began twenty years ago. Here are some reasons why I choose to live in Mexico, this large, diverse, and beautiful country.


The Mexican people are so welcoming that they make me feel immediately at home.

Without a doubt the people of Mexico are the very essence of this amazing country. I love their passion for life, their kindness, and their friendliness. They make me feel welcome to their country and life and without them, my love affair with Mexico would not be the same.

Different generations and still enjoying each others company in Mexico.

The Huichol people struggle to maintain their culture and traditions, but enjoy visiting the beach from their home in the Sierra Madre mountains.

Happy faces of our happy and talented workers in Puerto Vallarta.


Three generations of the Don Pedro family enjoying the summer in PV!

The hope of the future is in the next generation and these children in Merida are preparing for the challenge.

Mexicans place a high value on hierarchy and structure in family matters. Especially outside of cities, families are typically large and Mexicans are very conscious of their responsibilities to immediate family members and extended family such as cousins and even close friends. Parents are treated with a high degree of respect as is the family in general. Typically, generations of families live in the same neighborhood or in the same house which reflects the dedication to supporting family members and displaying loyalty no matter what.

In my opinion, this face could sell anything including a horseback ride!

Teaching English to the enthusiast primary students in Merida was great fun.

Meeting local senoritas at an outdoor evening concert in San Miguel de Allende.


Oaxaca City definitely knows how to celebrate and their fiestas are outstanding!

Mexico is a country of celebrations and fiestas. They run the gamut from patriotic holidays to religious holidays. Some have jokingly said they do not know how any work gets done in Mexico with the Mexican calendar so full of holidays and celebrations. But believe me when I say that the Mexican people have mastered how to balance work and celebrations and they do it superbly! Some of the most special Mexican celebrations include the following:

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on December 12th and is a major Mexican holiday celebrating the appearance of the Virgin Mary to an Indian man in the first years of Spanish rule. She is the patron saint of Mexico and this celebration is one of the most special occasions on the Mexican calendar.

The Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 2nd and is a day set aside to remember and honor those who have died. Carnival is also celebrated in many communities throughout Mexico to mark the period before Lent.

Independence Day marks the country’s separation from Spain in 1810 and is celebrated on September 16th. It is celebrated with parades throughout the country and in Puerto Vallarta the parade of cowboys (and cowgirls) is especially colorful. Cinco de Mayo, which marks a Mexican military victory over the French in 1862 is more widely celebrated in the United States (as a beer promotion) than it is in Mexico.

There is nothing like a parade in Mexico!


Checking out the amazing geography of Mexico with a friend!

Mexico is a land of extremes, with high mountains and deep canyons in the center of the country, sweeping deserts in the north, and dense rain forests in the south and east.

Popocatépetl is an active volcano, located in the states of Puebla, Mexico, and Morelos in Central Mexico and lies in the eastern half of the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt. "El Popo" has been recently "showing off"!

Mountains cover much of Mexico. Between the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range in the east and the Sierra Madre Occidental in the west lie small mountain ranges on the Central Plateau.

There is no shortage of water in the sub-tropical areas of Mexico which includes the magnificent Cascadas de Agua Azul (Blue Water Waterfalls) near the archaeological ruins of Palenque in the state of Chiapas.

The Altiplano (Spanish for "high plain") region of Mexico is both stark and lovely as seen in El Charco del Ingenio nature preserve above the town of San Miguel de Allende.

The spray of a rushing waterfall is definitely refreshing after hiking the jungle trails!

The rain forests and coastal wetlands of eastern Mexico are home to thousands of tropical plant species and elusive animals like jaguars and the RESPLENDENT QUETZAL and were a wonder when visiting San Cristobal de las Casas in the state of Chiapas.

The sighting of a quetzal is a very rare experience.

The northern region and the high central desert region of Mexico are full of plant and animal species that have found ways to survive the harsh environment.

I love cactus and the El Charco del Ingenio (Botanical Garden Preserve) in San Miguel makes me very happy!


The lovely colonial city of Xico is located in the central part of the state of Veracruz. It produces coffee, tropical fruit, wine, handicrafts, and other products and is a delightful place to visit.

Colonial cities were built in Mexico after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. Many of them were built on routes which enabled the transport of silver and other commodities to the capital of the country, Mexico City, in the central highlands of the country.

The plaza in San Miguel de Allende all dressed up for the holiday season!

When the Spanish arrived in the New World they not only brought their language and religion. They also carried with them the Spanish architectural design layout for creating towns which would eventually became cities in the colonial world. This design footprint was a straight grid system where streets were perpendicular to each other and which radiated out of the town center which was known as the plaza (public square) or zocalo. The plaza was also anchored by the Spanish Catholic Church. This pattern was repeated throughout Mexico and most of the other countries in Latin America where the Spanish established their presence.

The canary yellow church in the colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas is certainly an eye-opener.

Mother and daughter visiting the charming town of Villa de Etla outside of Oaxaca City in the state of Oaxaca.

We have lived in three colonial cities in three different geographical areas. They were all different and unique and we loved our experiences in each of them.  Our first experience living in a colonial city was in Merida, the capital of Yucatan, after returning from living in Argentina. We were ready to get back to our "dear Mexico" and Merida, commonly known as the "White City," turned out to be one of our favorite living experiences.

The parades of Carnival in Merida are stunning as are the lovely ladies of this friendly city.

Merida is known as the "White City" because of its white clothing which is in response to the hot tropical climate of the Yucatan. At least that is my unofficial theory!

From Merida we moved to the colonial city of Oaxaca City which was in total contrast from Merida and we loved it. The proximity to nearby traditional villages and their respective weekly market days were one of the highlights of living in Oaxaca City.

Since poinsettias are native to Mexico it is quite appropriate to have a Christmas tree of them on the plaza in Oaxaca City!

The Church and former monastery of Santo Domingo de Guzmán in Oaxaca City was begun in 1575 and constructed over a period of 200 years. It is one of my personal favorites.

Visiting nearby indigenous towns around Oaxaca City such as Ocotlán was part of the great experience living in the area.

After living in Oaxaca City we started a new living routine. We spent the "high season" winters in San Miguel de Allende. I fell in love with this charming and lovely town with its history, culture, beauty, and friendly people.

This is one of my favorite photographs which we took just by chance from our bedroom window one morning.

La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, the parish church of San Miguel, is unique in Mexico and is the emblem of the town. It is one of the most photographed churches in Mexico and I found it impossible not to take its picture each and every time we passed by!

 Making amigos in San Miguel de Allende was as easy as walking out the front door!

 Walking the cobbled streets of San Miguel with camera was my thing!

The colors of San Miguel are incredible as are some of the steps!  

After loving and living in San Miguel de Allende during the winter months, we choose to live the "low season" summers in Puerto Vallarta. This was a perfect combination for us and I loved this arrangement for five years.

Free bumper stickers from the tourist office in PV. The contrast between San Miguel de Allende and Puerto Vallarta was perfect for me!

The crown of the Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Puerto Vallarta reminds me of the Spanish heritage of Mexico.

Living a nomadic life was often challenging, but returning to Puerto Vallarta where our journey began has not been exactly tough work!


The soaring jungle-swathed temples of Palenque in Chiapas are a national treasure and one of the best examples of Maya architecture in Mexico.

Exploring the history and culture of Mexico is one of my passions. I love learning about the ancient cultures dating back to Mayan, Aztec and Toltec civilizations. And I simply adore visiting the archaeological ruins in Mexico.

What's not to love about visiting archaeological ruins? Just ask my husband!

My husband calls our visits to the ancient sites "visiting the Old Folks and their rocks." I like to believe that he has found these experiences, if not always his "cup of mate," somewhat interesting. I am so very appreciative of his patience while I indulged my passion and I thank you mucho! Three of our favorite archaeological sites were Palenque (also my husband's personal favorite), Uxmal, and Tulum.

My husband visiting the "Old Folks and their rocks"at Uxmal, Yucatan.

Without a doubt the location of the archaeological ruins of Tulum on the Caribbean Coast is without compare!

The detail of the carved stone in Uxmal is more than just "Old Rocks"!

The incredible jungle setting of Palenque is definitely an added attraction to this amazing Mayan site.

Uh-oh. I think I hear my husband calling it's time to leave Uxmal and go home to Merida.


A sparkling end of the day in Puerto Vallarta on the Bay of Banderias.

Since my husband and I were both born and raised in Southern California it is probably only natural that we have always gravitated to the ocean and its beaches. We discovered Puerto Vallarta on one of our driving vacations from So Cal while we were still employed. We were immediately captivated by its charm and beauty. So it was no surprise when my husband suggested we move to Mexico he suggested Puerto Vallarta. It was the base for the beginning of our "nomadic journey" and now is our base for our "nomadic retirement."

The beauty of crashing waves on a "quiet" beach is magic for me.

Happiness is snorkeling with my husband and having the fish pretty much to ourselves.

There's nothing like an early summer storm to make this stand-up body boarder happy!

El Niño has definitely been visiting us this summer in Puerto Vallarta.

Don Pedro is one of the"locals" who likes to hang out with us!

Yikes!  Some serious summer shore break on our beach in Puerto Vallarta.

Some serious waves down in Zihuatanejo on the coast of Guerrero, Mexico.


The colors of Mexico include a riot of brilliant reds, blues, greens, yellows, oranges, and purples. There is nothing subtle about the colors found in this vibrant country. An example of this can be found on the street art of Mexico which I find very appealing. So much so that I created a blog posting to share this art form.

There is something very special about walking down a random street and seeing colorfully painted street art, or murals, by artists who are truly gifted. Street art often reflects social, cultural, and political views and because it is inexpensive to create and to view it is accessible to people of all backgrounds, interests, and persuasions.

Embroidered cotton garments, wool shawls and outer garments with Pre-Hispanic designs, colorful woven baskets, and rugs are some of the common items associated with colorful Mexican folk art. Two of Mexico's most famous artists are Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and their paintings include the vibrant colors and depictions of life in Mexico. Not only is their art colorful, but their personal life and relationship was definitely colorful!

Frida and Diego were icons of their generation and their paintings were definitely unique and interesting.

Frida and Diego were mismatched in appearance and temperament, but they made their contemptuous relationship work and were a living legend in their time.

Frida Kahlo and her life were incredible.  Check out this website:

A mural of Frida Kahlo near Los Muertos Beach in Puerto Vallarta.


Sunrise and sunset are my favorite times of the day which mark the beginning and the end of the day. In the morning the sun reaches up to paint the sky in pinks, oranges, and purples. At sunset the sun slowly disappears over the horizon taking with it the colors that welcomed the day. Simply magical!

A dreamy sunrise welcomes the day over the jungle in Puerto Vallarta.

Another sunrise over the mountains and jungle of Puerto Vallarta.

Oh no!  Can you believe this tropical sunrise????


The incredibly vibrant and shocking colors of sunset are stunning!

The golden glow of a tropical beach sunset.  Another gift from nature.  

An unusually soft and dreamy sunset over the Bay of Banderas, Puerto Vallarta.  Gorgeous!  


Some of the best food in Mexico can be found at the municipal markets in any given town or city. Not only do you find a huge selection, but great local prices.

Mexican food dishes vary widely based on income level and social class. The diet of working-class Mexicans includes staples such as corn or wheat tortillas, along with beans, rice, tomatoes, chili peppers and chorizo, a type of pork sausage. Much of our home meals are based on these traditional food elements.

A great way to learn about Mexican food is to try them all at the local market. It's where Mexicans eat and you won't be disappointed! (They even offer hand sanitizer now - see photo above)

Mexican cuisine is much more than the ubiquitous taco and all of it is DELICIOSA!

Many, but not all, Mexicans love spicy foods full of heat from a vast variety of chilis. (In the USA and Canada, spellings with one "l" are preferred: chile or chili (plural: chiles or chilis.) The diets of middle and upper income Mexicans are becoming more and more similar with the diets of Americans and Europeans and include a great variety of food items prepared in a wide range of culinary styles with regional differences and specialties.

My nightly grilled chile is the yellow Caribe Chile Pepper which originated in the Caribbean and is called Chile Guero in Mexico. Caribes are a 'wax' type chili with medium heat level. I am addicted to them.  Cha, cha, cha!

And for total indulgence just feast your eyes on these culinary delights!

A seafood platter to die for! A picture is worth a 1000 words, si?

A stuffed chili which looks too gorgeous to eat!


I hope you have enjoyed my favorite things about why we choose to live in Mexico. This list is in no way complete, but should give you a good idea why we love our life in this warm and wonderful country. New adventures and experiences in Mexico keep us young in spirit, active, and enjoying life. For us, life cannot get much better! Saludos, Laura

What's not to like about Mexico? Especially the food! 

I remember hearing many years ago that a picture is worth a thousand words. Those words definitely contributed to and inspired me in the creation of MEXICO AND BEYOND: LAURA'S PHOTO JOURNEY. I hope you have enjoyed this visit to Mexico and I look forward to seeing you again in the near future.

Hanging out with a favorite tree in San Miguel de Allende

Please scroll down to the bottom of this page in order to access the posting ARCHIVE and the FOLLOW BY EMAIL link to receive automatic posting notifications. PS Don't be shy! Us bloggers love receiving questions, comments, or suggestions. Until next time, safe trails and travel well. Laura