Trip to Valle de Bravo, Toluca and Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary

We just returned from a week in Valle de Bravo and Toluca, which are about 1½ hours from Mexico City. We flew into Toluca on a direct flight from Puerto Vallarta. There were four couples, and upon arrival at the airport, we all went to pick up our rental cars.

George Steensma Toluca 2
George Steensma Botanical Garden, Toluca 3

Our first stop was at the Botanical Gardens in the city square in Toluca. This building was formerly used as a market.

“Completed in 1910 as part of Mexico’s centennial celebration, the former City of Toluca Market boasts over 5,000 square meters of botanical gardens featuring over 400 plant species housed in a building largely made of stained glass – a remarkable spectacle combining sight, sound and environment.

The stained glass, finished in 1990 by Leopoldo Flores Valdes, includes 28 different colors of glass and is considered one of the largest artworks in the world. In the glass, Flores Valdes sought to depict his interpretation of time, movement and the contradictory phenomena taking place in matter, from a cosmogonical perception.

Scattered throughout the gardens are a series of fountains that bubble and gurgle incessantly, creating a sense of peace and tranquillity. And the sunlight filtering through all that stained glass bathes the interior with an eerie but subtle glow all to its own.”

We spent our first night in Toluca, and the next morning, we drove to the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary to see the monarchs. It was about a 2 hour drive.

​The sanctuary is managed and cared for by the Ejido​. The altitude was over 8,000 feet, so we had to decide if we were going to hike 3 km to the top of the mountain, or go by horseback. Donna chose horseback, and I thought I would hike. After less then 10 minutes, I was so out of breath that the guide had to radio back for a horse to be brought to me. Riding was a much better idea.

George Steensma on Horse

​The horses took us the first 2 km and we hiked the last 1 km.

George Steensma Butterflies in Trees 4

The butterflies will only fly when the sun is out. When we arrived it was still very cool, and the sun was just beginning to peak through the foliage. The butterflies were clinging to the trees. There were so many that the trees looked like the bark was very thick.

As the clusters were exposed to the sun, they began to spring to life. What a magnificent sight. These butterflies flew from Canada to Texas, and then to Mexico. It is an experience I will never forget.

George Steensma View of Valle de Barra from House 6

We then drove to Valle de Bravo, a surprise for Donna and I. We did not expect it to be such a beautiful town. We stayed in a large home on the cliff that overlooked the lake and the town. That night, there was a thunderstorm with lots of lightening, that was also a sight to see from the house.

The next day we explored the town. It was like being in small villages in Europe. Old buildings and very narrow streets. Valle de Bravo has been designated as a Pueblo Magico. To have this certification, the town has to meet certain strict criteria by the Mexican government in charge of culture.

Three couples took a boat ride around the lake. It was like looking at White Rock in BC. Huge beautiful homes built on the cliffs. These homes are used by wealthy Mexicans from Mexico City that come to relax. Consequently the prices in the restaurants were a little more than back in our town of La Peñita, but we had some fantastic meals nonetheless.

George Steensma Mexican Ladies on Step 8
George Steensma Portable Knife Sharpener 7
Portable knife sharpener

That night, when we were getting ready for bed, Donna saw a scorpion on the wall. I killed it. I had killed one in the shower that morning as well, but I didn’t tell her about. Consequently, we decided we were not spending that last two nights in that room, and chose to sleep upstairs in the living room. Our bedroom was on the lowest level of the house, and the scorpions had come in from the rain, to stay dry. We have never seen a scorpion in all the years we have been here in Mexico.

George Steensma Toluca 1

The last day, we drove around the lake to Nuevo Santo Tomás de los Plátanos, a small village​ that has two families who make ice cream. The owner of the shop we went to has been making ice cream since he was 12 years old. He is now 72.

George Steensma Church

The location of this town was originally a few kilometers away, until the construction of the dam​ in the 1940s ​of the same name, which created a reservoir that flooded ​the whole town. Today, the new town lies 2 kilometers from the site of the original town. You can still see the steeple of the church protruding out of the water, where the original town was located.

We are now back in La Peñita. It is hard to believe that we only have 6 more weeks here, before we head north.

by George & Donna Steensma (Vancouver, BC)

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  1. :

    Wonderful article

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