The inauguration of a monarch mural restored in the Mexican town of Angangueo

The inauguration of the restored mural. © Karel Beets

The town of Angangueo glows amber with the setting sun, a church steeple silhouetting the sky. As sunset falls over the tiled roofs of pastel houses and winding cobblestone streets, a mural illuminates the encroaching darkness with a captivating kaleidoscope of tangerine wings. The mural, located in the heart of the town, traces the lineages of the townsfolk and their connection to the monarch butterfly. Silver and copper mining was once the driving force of the economy, which slowly dwindled after the mid-20th century until the establishment of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. The influx of ecotourism in the municipality has created a source of income for many locals, who find employment as guides, rangers, and as workers in the hospitality industry.

The town of Angangueo, nestled in the mountains, turns amber in the setting sun.

The town of Angangueo. © Kate Willingham

The mural depicts the town’s history from the colonial period up to the present day. Artistic renditions of Angangueo through the ages portray the haciendas of the early farming days, the town’s proud heritage as a mining outpost, and it’s current prominence as an epicenter for butterfly conservation travel. Painted depictions of cultural life, including local sports teams and religious festivals, touch on the customs and traditions of its people. One scene illustrates the celebration of Dia de los Muertos, a yearly holiday whose occurrence around the time of the monarchs’ arrival to their wintering grounds perpetuates the belief that the butterflies are the souls of departed ancestors, returning home.

The history of the haciendas and the miners in Angangueo

Depictions of early farmers and the mining era. © Kate Willingham

Natural Habitat Adventures is engaged in a number of philanthropic initiatives which aim to empower local communities and preserve cultural heritage in the nature destinations we visit. We are supporting grassroots efforts and encouraging sustainable development, which work in tandem with the mission to conserve the environment and protect wildlife in biodiverse regions. One of Nat Hab’s recent philanthropy projects was funding the restoration of the historic mural in Angangueo, a stopping point on our monarch butterfly adventures.

Day of the Dead celebration with fireworks.

Celebrations ensue at Dia de los Muertos. © Kate Willingham

The mural, which had faded and been degraded after decades on display, was vivified with a full-scale restoration completed by local artists. Monarchs, so integral to the community’s present and future, were made a central focus of the piece, with paintings of the colorful butterflies entwined throughout the mural. In January, the mayor and surrounding community gathered together for an inauguration ceremony in celebration of its completion. A plaque now showcases the names of the original artist, Enrique Tollez Hernandez, and the man who oversaw the restoration, Don Mario, along with a sign that reads “Donado por Natural Habitat Adventures.”

Butterflies painted on a mural in Mexico

Painted monarchs bedeck the historic mural. © Kate Willingham

Nestled in the mountainous forests of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, Angangueo maintains a close relationship with the butterfly colonies that roost in the nearby sanctuaries of El Rosario and Sierra Chincua each winter. The ethereal fluttering of a million wings resembles the sound of a light rainfall as the butterflies descend to the forests, congregating on the branches of oyamel fir trees in brilliant clusters. The monarchs, having migrated hundreds of miles south to their over-wintering sites, will rest here for four to five months before beginning their long journey back north. Venture with us to witness this phenomenon in the Kingdom of the Monarchs.