monarch butterflies in winter

MONARCH butterflies travel 4,500 km from Canada to spend the winter in Sierra Chincua Sanctuary in Mexico — an incredible feat for such a small creature.

In the past, the people of Michoacan, Mexico thought the monarch butterflies were a plague and proceeded to cut down the oyamel trees, where the butterflies cluster, to get rid of them. Nowadays, a sanctuary protects the butterflies and ensures that they have a place to migrate to in the winters.

Carnaval in Oaxaca is beautiful

I learned about the existence of the carnival at San Martín Tilcajete from a bunch of pictures I came across just a couple of years ago. The faces portrayed in those pictures were impressive: men, women, and children characterized as demons and other weird entities with costumes made of oil, paint, and pieces of carved wood. The result was magnificent, even a little macabre, and it didn’t look like anything I’ve seen before. This year I decided to make a trip to Oaxaca during carnival week and witness this parade with my own eyes.

San Martín Tilcajete is a small town less than twenty miles from Oaxaca City. It’s in the so-called Ruta de las Artesanías (the craftsmanship route) and is widely known for its alebrijes (traditional sculptures portraying fantastical animals). Wood carving, painting skills, and great imagination are required for the production of alebrijes, and these same skills are exploited to manufacture the costumes that set the town’s carnival apart from any other celebration in Mexico.

These are the photos I took during this year’s carnival. I hope they encourage you to visit this and other towns around Oaxaca and Mexico.

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They call themselves aceitados (the oiled ones) because their body is completely covered in oil. They go around the town doing mischiefs and they are the most colorful part of the parade.

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Some of them have changed the oil for paint of different colors.

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Masks are made of carved wood by the town artisans. Many of the costumes are meticulously planned and their bearers have been perfecting them throughout the years.

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Improvisation plays a huge role in some of the costumes. Did you notice what this little aceitado’s helmet is made of?

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The bells around the waist are important for the costume. When you first set foot in town, the sound of these bells will be the first sign that something extraordinary is going on somewhere.

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The parade revolts around a wedding parody with the participation of the community’s youngster and some local authorities. All of these is a comic display that sets the tone of the whole event.

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Of course, the local band is present.

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There are no strict guidelines for what kind of costumes people should be wearing. Some paint their faces with bright colors, some carve their own masks and some others even wear latex masks. The only constant: the brighter the better.

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The tradition starts taking hold at a very young age…

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And it is maintained as part of the town’s identity.

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Aceitados of all ages roam the streets.

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There are a few common elements, but most participants give their costumes their own unique touch.

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Hanging around the town plaza is quite a spectacle, but it can also be an invitation to receive an oily hug from one of this guys.

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Some costumes draw a lot of inspiration from traditional alebrijes.

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Once the parade is over, everyone returns to the mayor’s house.

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Food and drink are freely distributed among the assistants, it doesn’t matter if you’re a local or a tourist.

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The parade’s monsters take a break from the midday sun and drink some mezcal and horchata while they wait for the food.

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The festivities continue for the whole day. During the evening the town authorities organize a contest to reward the best costumes.

The festivities continue for the whole day. During the evening the town authorities organize a contest to reward the best costumes.

After visiting San Martin Tilcajete, we made a little stop in Zaachila, halfway between San Martin and Oaxaca. A more traditional carnival was taking place here, but a picturesque one nevertheless. These are some photos for the second carnival of that day.

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The Zaachila carnival begins in the Barrio del Niño. From here, a parade departs to the main square to get the festivities officially started.

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Adults and children participate in the parade. These are costumes used in the Danza de la Pluma (the feather dance), a traditional dance of Zapotec origin.

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Small kids disguised as demons march with the parade. They carry flour filled eggs that will be used to terrorize every little girl that crosses their paths; they also carry a piece of embroidered cloth as a gift for that special girl.

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This parade just marks the beginning of the carnival in Zaachila. Unfortunately, I was here for just a couple hours so a complete essay will have to wait for next year.

All photos by author.

Best spots in Mexico

OUR HISTORY IS INEXTRICABLE from Mexico’s. We’ve traded people, cultures, and goods for the entirety of our joint history. We’ve gone to war and we’ve been allies. The current hostility towards the country on the other side of the wall is nothing new. But most of that hostility comes from a place of ignorance. Mexico is as vibrant, diverse, and beautiful as the United States.

If you love the outdoors, Mexico is home to deserts, mountains, oceans, and jungles. If you love cities, Mexico City is one of the biggest on the planet, and is home to some of the coolest architecture, best food, and craziest sites (Punk Rock Flea Market, anyone?) in the western hemisphere.

Wall or no wall, our history will remain intertwined with Mexico’s. It’s one of our favorite countries here at Matador, and we think people would be a lot less scared of the country south of the border if they’d buy a plane ticket and fly on down themselves. So we’ve dipped into our Travelstoke app and have selected just a few of the spots you’ve gotta check out in Mexico.

 MismaloyaJalisco, MexicoFishing at Mismaloya beach. Join the locals at sunrise or sunset for an incredible opportunity to fish from the shore.
Take a wander along the beach and any local with a boat will approach you for a day out on the water.
Ask for Adrian, he is the fish-whisperer.
#fishing #fishingtown #mismaloya #familyfriendly #beach #mexico

 Playa AticamaAticama, MexicoAticama is a small fishing and farming community with plenty of quaint restaurants in the town, and along the waterfront.
Wait for the fishermen to come back, you may be able to buy some fresh fish directly, or organise a trip out the following morning for a small fee.
This is a gorgeous little town that hasn’t been spoilt by tourism, true and authentic beach living in Mexico.

 CentroSan José del Cabo, MexicoIf you can get yourself to a high point in the Centro around sunrise or sunset, you won’t be disappointed. During the winter, almost every day is clear and the pinks, oranges and purples are out in full force. This photo shows the moon setting over the mountains in the distance.

 Lago de Camécuaro National ParkTangancícuaro, MexicoLago de Camécuaro National Park is located east of the city of Zamora de Hidalgo, Michoacán. The Park consists of 9.65 hectares of protected area including Camécuaro Lake.
You will find the most crystal clear spring fed waters, great for swimming.
A perfect family day out, to take a boat ride, listen to the mariachi musicians, eat at one of the many cheap restaurants and submerge yourself in the Mexican culture.
#playground #camping #picnic #culture #photography #familyfriendly #mexico

 Barra de la CruzSan Pedro Huamelula, MexicoBarra de la Cruz is one of the all-time sickest spots in Mexico (tempted to not even share it) but the fact that there’s no Wi-Fi, no AC, lots of mosquitoes, only rustic accommodations, and nothing to do besides #surf will keep most people away. 

You can get there by taking a pescadera from Huatulco. It takes a swell of at least a meter for the point to work. Unbelievably fun and pumpable wave.

 UniversumCiudad de México, MexicoThis is one of our favorite places in the city. Part of UNAM (National University), this science museum requires at least one full day of exploration. They have lots of cool exhibitions and workshops for kids. My children never want to leave! Tip: Bring your own snacks (there are picnic tables outside). The food at the cafeteria is terrible and the restaurant’s is super overpriced and… horrible too 😂. #kidslearning

 Chichén ItzáTinum, Mexiconot overrated #free #pyramid #mexico #archaeology

 Capilla del RosarioHeroica Puebla de Zaragoza, MexicoYes, this is all real gold! A friend took me there: “You have to see this chapel It’s my favorite place in Puebla…. And in Mexico!” Photos can’t do justice to the richness and the complexity of this unique piece of Baroque Mexican art. There are so many angels!!! I might move to this chapel soon… 👼🇮🇹

 Parroquia de Santa PriscaTaxco, MexicoBeautiful parish church in downtown Taxco, the silversmithing capital of Mexico #free #history

 Templo San Francisco AcatepecSan Andrés Cholula, MexicoNot a huge fan of churches but this one is cool: the facade is made of talavera. Pretty badass.

 Pyramid of the SunSan Juan Teotihuacán, MexicoAnother incredible archeological site that you must visit in Mexico. Close to Mexico City. 1h40mins from Puebla.

 Misol-HáAltamirano, MexicoWaterfall Misol Há is located a bit before getting to Palenque.

 Corredor de los volcanesCiudad de México, MexicoAmecameca, Tlalmanalco and some other small towns south from Mexico City are the best spot to be dazzled by two of our highest volcanoes: Popo and Izta.

 UnamCiudad de México, MexicoThe central campus of UNAM is a world heritage site. Take a walk around the main buildings to admire the murals, visit the Universitary Museum of Contemporary Art (Muac) or just spend the afternoon in one of its multiple gardens.

 Teatro DegolladoGuadalajara, MexicoBeautiful architecture in Centro Historico. Check in advance for any performances going on during your visit to truly experience the venue. If visiting late August-early September, try to get tickets for the International Mariachi Festival performances in the theatre together with the symphony. 🙌🙌

 Agua AzulChamula, MexicoOn the way to Palenque or on the way back, hit Agua Azul. You can go for a swim at the top.

 Bahia de la LunaSan Pedro Pochutla, MexicoThis place is paradise. Is the perfect spot to find peace. Out of the city and really far away from any town. Accommodations are really clean, nothing fancy but really comfy. Being surrounded by nature is a great experience. The beach is really calm and clean, perfect for swimming, snorkeling and kayaking. And the food… is just perfect, The chef has his own autor’s cuisine and every one of the dishes are delicious. #fine-dining #free-wifi #free-breakfast #naturalambiance #virginbeach #amazingview

 El PanchanPalenque, MexicoOn my last Palenque adventure with Allie & Arielle, we stayed at Jungle Palace casitas inside of El Panchan. I always stay here & love it. El Panchan is a community at the base of the Palenque national park. There are multiple choices of hostels, food & your services all based out of this spot. The community is inviting–even the resident howler teen, Panchito, wants to give you love. Every night at the delicious restaurant Don Mucho’s, there’s live music & a fire-throwing spectacle. It’s my fave place & you should go!

 Murales en Palacio NacionalCiudad de México, MexicoAt National Palace you can admire some amazing murals from renowned and very famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera. “Epopeya del Pueblo Mexicano” painted on one of the main staircases is simply extraordinary.

 Frida Kahlo MuseumCiudad de México, MexicoThis spot is a “must-see” in Coyoacán neighborhood and one of the most visited museums in Mexico. The “blue house”, as it is known, was the place where Mexican artist Frida Kahlo borned, died and lived for some time with Diego Rivera.

 Museo Mural Diego RiveraCiudad de México, MexicoThis place houses an amazing mural of Diego Rivera where 400 years of Mexican history is covered. Lots of historical Mexican characters are displayed in the mural, among them, Frida Kahlo.

 Mexico City Metropolitan CathedralCiudad de México, MexicoThe Metropolitan Cathedral was built in the mid-16th century and is the largest cathedral in Latin America. It’s considered one of the most beautiful religious complexes on the continent, both for the beauty and originality of its architectural design, and for the artistic treasures that it houses.

 Open-air cinema at Cineteca NacionalCiudad de México, MexicoIf you like art films this is the place to go. Its open-air movie theater is very cool for watching movies on a warm night.

 Punta LagunaQuintana Roo, Mexico#hiking #nature #animals #wildlife #monkeys

 Hierve el AguaOaxaca, Mexico2 hrs drive from Oaxaca city is Hierve el Agua. These are water springs which ‘spill’ over to create rock formatoons that look like cascades. Cool place to take photos / go for a swim / and do some light hiking.

 Monte AlbanMonte Albán, Mexico10/15 mins drive from downtown Oaxaca. This is an awesome archeological site. You’ll need a few hours to explore (bring a hat/water as there is little shade). You have the freedom to climb up and down many of the ruins.

 Museo Nacional de AntropologíaCiudad de México, MexicoMust visit museum in CdMX. There’s a lot to take in and a knowledgeable guide can help make sense of it all. Mexico’s history is epic.

 CantonaTepeyahualco, MexicoThis archeological site in the state of Puebla (close to the border with Veracruz) is relatively unknown so you can enjoy the place to yourself (it’s as big as Teotihuacan). 👊. We picked up a guide who was excellent. Wear comfortable walking shoes and a hat. #hiking #history

 Parque Nacional Cañón del SumideroCañón del Sumidero, MexicoBoat trip through el cañon. Stunning canon. Take a hat (no shade) and water. 1 hr from San Cris.

 Zona Arqueológica PalenquePalenque, MexicoPalenque’s ruins are some of the most lucious Mayan ruins out there. The entire place is surrounded by a mystical closeness to its ancient history. Archaeologists & guides say that the place is guarded by the ancient habitants at night & can be seen in the form of spirits. It costs about 100 pesos to get in, and it comes with dope ruins & waterfalls (but you can’t swim here). Go & linger. Take a notebook to draw the beauty.

 Real de CatorceCiudad de México, MexicoA beautiful old Mexican town in the middle of the mountains and next to the Wirikuta desert. To get here you have to go through a small tunnel (an old mineshaft) and leave the rest of the world behind.

 CoyoacánCiudad de México, MexicoThis neighborhood in the south of Mexico City maintains the distinctive vibe of little Mexican towns. You’ll find a good variety of restaurants, cafes and pubs, but the true star here is the festive feeling that’s always present in its public plazas.

 XochimilcoCiudad de México, MexicoXochimilco is one of the most unique places in Mexico. You can spend the whole day exploring the different canals on your private trajinera. Food and drinks are delivered by boat! Depart from the Nativitas pier for the best experience.

 Playa CareyitosLa Manzanilla, MexicoFinding Playa Careyitos was a great surprise. It can be a little hard to find since there is no road that leads you to the beach and you have to leave your car next to the road and walk from there (just like 200m). It’s a beautiful bay with calm turquoise waters and a little restaurant with great seafood. The boats there can take you to any of the nearby islands.

 Puerto VallartaPuerto Vallarta, MexicoA little Mexican town next to the ocean, Puerto Vallarta is well known for its hotels and nightlife, but also for its outdoor activities. The food and the sunsets here never disappoint.