Startup Nomad Interview with Santiago Saviñón (Mexico)

Next up in my Mexico remix of Startup Nomad I spoke with Santiago Saviñón of PingStamp, a digital loyalty program for merchants.

While Santiago noted that, “it’s exciting to see,” the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Mexico City rapidly growing and maturing and that, “the market is definitely ready,” to be able to sustain a thriving startup community, he still considers it to be, “a struggling ecosystem.”

“It’s not even close to the sophistication that you guys have in the States,” he told me. “There are definitely many things missing from the ecosystem here.”

Just like many others that I spoke to in Latin America, he feels that access to capital is perhaps the biggest hurdle that the entrepreneurial ecosystem currently faces.

There are entrepreneurs that “know how to get a company and actually make it happen,” he told me, “but sometimes they don’t get the opportunity to do it because there’s no money around…It’s a lot harder to get a next round and just keep the ball rolling…[Latin America] is growing at an incredible pace, internet and smart phone penetration are growing exponentially, but still the money is not coming.”

He continues on to clarify, however, that there are plenty of investors and plenty of money in Mexico. The problem is that most of these investors are not comfortable with early stage investments in tech startups and prefer to focus on bricks and mortar operations who’ve already been able to produce sizable profits. “The money is there  in Mexico,” Santiago said, “educated people, and VCs, and angel investors, they’re all there. They’re just not still comfortable…They still haven’t wrapped their minds around the fact that a startup needs a lot more runway.”

That’s at least partly due to the fact that the investors don’t have any major success stories to turn to as examples of the opportunity that lies within early stage investing.

“Not having exits is definitely a problem,” Santiago said. “I think it’s going to take at least a few years to have a few success stories that can maybe lobby their way into some kind of change in terms of legal and banking issues.”

At the same time that Santiago sees access to capital as a major hurdle to the entrepreneurial ecosystem’s growth, however, he does see a number of positives that position Mexico for success as an entrepreneurship hub and indicate that it will continue to develop rapidly over the next few years.

“The companies every day are getting more and more competitive,” he said.  “In the last year I’ve seen so many people that have had a foreign company acquire or acqui-hire them.”

While the valuations are still relatively low (“If you went to the US you could probably add another 0 to the negotiation,” he told me), the fact that they’re happening is a sign of development.  

Additionally, according to Santiago,

“the funding you have is a lot more efficient [in Mexico]. $300,000 in the US would maybe buy you 6 months of runway. In Mexico, $300,000 could let you run your company for 24 months. We take more advantage of every penny here.”

Because of these signs of growth, Santiago is extremely optimistic about the startup scene’s development and expects to see a mature ecosystem with many of the problems that are currently holding entrepreneurs back ironed out in less than 5 years. “At the rate it’s growing now I think maybe 2 or 3 years,” he said. “There’s definitely a lot going on…The few funds are really pushing everything forward because they’re the guys that know how to break down those political barriers, that know people from other countries that can help, that can really move this forward, because…

…the companies, and the entrepreneurs, and the young people with ideas and potential are definitely there.”

Between the involvement of the few investors that are active in the startup space and that of the entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs,

“[the startup community] is completely cooperative; it’s really fun,” Santiago told me. “We all know that if you don’t help someone out then the community will never grow as it should. Most of the time it’s a pretty awesome vibe and you feel important because it’s still a really small circle.”

Santiago believes that once Mexico’s startup ecosystem is able to produce a few success stories, that the ecosystem will turn a corner because entrepreneurs and investors alike will have an example to turn to. Interestingly, however, he feels that a few famous failures are just as important to the ecosystem’s development as the success stories are. “Once you get that money you need to know how to use it, what to do with it,” he said. 

“There are no success stories like a big exit…but there are also no magnificent fuck ups, which I think is necessary as well: someone to raise money and then burn it all to the ground to add value to let people know that raising money is not the final goal.”

So what’s Santiago’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? He has quite a bit actually:

Firstly: “Do it,” he said. “Just take the leap and brace yourself… and get ready for the roller coaster.”

Secondly:

“Surrounding yourself with the right people is key,” he stressed. “It has more of an effect than you could ever imagine, even more so in a community that is just starting out.”

And finally: “A startup that’s focusing on Mexico or Colombia or Brasil is making a mistake; you have to have a regional, a Latin-American view of where you want to go, where you want to be…and that’s a challenge: making something that’s scaleable in Latin America.”

 

Startup Nomad Interview with Beto Marquez (Mexico)

After my Latin American adventures last year I felt like Mexico City is just too big a city and I needed to come back and dig a little deeper into the entrepreneurial ecosystem before I head off to Spain (and maybe some other parts of Europe). My first interview back in D.F. was with Beto Marquez, the Marketing and Project Manager for NextLab Ventures Group.

Now that I’ve had time to explore a large chunk of the rest of Latin America (Mexico was my first stop on the Startup Nomad tour), I have a bit of a broader perspective on Mexico and its ecosystem, so it was interesting to come back to where I started with a more mature view of the overall Latin American ecosystem and Mexico’s place within it.

According to Beto,

“Mexico is seen like this country that is more Americanized than Latin Americanized…we’ve been kind of segregated from all of the activity and all of the agreements that they make. We’re not really a part of it.”

This is partly because of Mexico’s physical proximity to the U.S. and partly because of its sheer size. With a population of roughly 121 million and a GDP of just under 1.2 trillion USD (the next largest Spanish-speaking Latin American country has fewer than 50 million people), Mexico’s in a bit of a different position than it’s much smaller Latin American neighbors. That could explain why, despite its separation, it’s been attracting foreign entrepreneurs who want to set up their companies and lives in Mexico City.

“[The entrepreneurial ecosystem] is a really nice mix of Mexicans and foreigners,” Beto said, “but not as many from the United States.” 

While Mexico has a large enough market to sustain major business growth, however, there are still a number of issues holding back its entrepreneurial ecosystem, one of which being a lack of a mature investment ecosystem.

“The exits here are much more difficult than in the US,” Beto told me.

“Going for an IPO is not really a likely exit option here, so it’s not attractive for investors to take risks on startups here. What I have seen is a VC invests and then a bigger VC buys out the first VC but, eventually, the biggest VC firm has to IPO the company and that’s where it gets it’s return. But here that cycle gets cut off because there isn’t a proper way to make a company public” and so investors have reduced potential for successful exits.

Because of that, Beto believes that,

“the biggest challenge [to the ecosystem] is the investor part.” He continued to say that, “we [Mexico] have some firms but we are really green. We are not even close to being mature yet.”

At the same time that the economic factors hold back the growth of Mexico’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, there are also cultural factors in play that make it more difficult for the startup scene to develop. “There are two issues that I’ve seen that I really struggle with in young people,” Beto said. “The first one is that, I don’t know why, but they are somewhat apathetic. You have to really push this entrepreneurial view of life…The other one is our culture. This is a country that has suffered a lot of macro-economic devaluations …and our parents have this way of seeing things that you have to work, you have to make money as fast as possible, and, most of all, not to take risks and not to take loans. So most young people still have this way of seeing things from their parents…

…We are not raised to take risks, just to get a job and ‘yeah, that’s life, deal with it.'” 

Beto believes that mentality is slowly changing, however.

“A lot of people more and more are trying to get out of this square way of thinking and be more entrepreneurial,” he said. “It’s definitely a trend here.”

Startup Nomad will have to come back to Mexico in a few years to see how the ecosystem has developed.

 

What’s your take on what Beto had to say about Mexico’s entrepreneurial ecosystem? Do you agree that both cultural and economic factors are holding it back? Please weigh in in the comments section below. 

Also, please let me know where I should go and whom I should interview next. Let me know below 🙂

Las Mariposas de Michoacan

I’m continuing working my through my list of some of the most amazing travel experiences I’ve had that I would suggest you add to your bucket list.

In no particular order, here are my top 10 suggestions for your travel bucket list:

  • Kayaking and swimming in the bioluminescent bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico
  • Seeing the millions of monarch butterflies in Michoacan, Mexico
  • Desert safari off-roading, camel riding, and dinner show in Dubai, UAE
  • The Grand Canyon in the USA
  • Superman zip-lining in the cloud forests of Costa Rica
  • Machu Picchu in Peru
  • Ruins of the city of Ephesus in Turkey
  • Helmet diving in the Caribbean
  • Crossing the Andes
  • Sailing from Colombia to Panama through the Sand Blas islands

Today’s post will be about seeing the millions of monarch butterflies in Michoacan, Mexico. I’ve written about this before, but here’s the info again in case you missed it the first time.

All of the monarch butterflies in North American migrate south to Mexico to wait out the cold season in this one area, Michoacan. That means that if you visit at the right time of year you can walk into the woods where they congregate and witness literally millions of butterflies flying all around you. It’s an incredible experience. The butterflies are only in Michoacan from October to March, so be sure to visit during this time period if you want to see them.

Take a look at this video of the preserve and if you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, the info on how to get there is below.

It’s super easy to get to the butterfly preserves from Mexico City, though it will probably be helpful if you speak some Spanish. I took a bus from Mexico City to a city called Zitacuaro and from there to a town called Ocampo. Altogether the buses cost about $15 USD one way. In Ocampo, which is a tiny little town, I was only able to find one hotel called Hotel San Carlos. It was basic but clean and the lady who helped was wonderful. The hotel for one night cost roughly $20 USD. It’s best to go up to Ocampo the day before, spend the night, and then head up to the preserve in the morning (around 8am or 9am). You don’t want to go too early because it’s cold in the morning so the butterflies are not that active, but you also don’t want to go too late or the preserve will start to get crowded. You can take a taxi or a group van up to the preserve from Ocampo. A taxi will run you just under $10 USD, the van will be less than 2 bucks (even with the surcharge you’ll get for not being Mexican).

Once at the preserve, I opted to ride horses up to the actual butterfly area. The price is about $6.25 USD but this is a one-way fee so be sure to double whatever price they tell you. I loved riding up to the butterfly area but if you’ve never ridden a horse before I wouldn’t suggest making this your first try. The horses have saddles, but the reins aren’t full reins, they’re strings, and if you’re too short for the stirrups (like me) they won’t adjust them for you so you end up bouncing around quite a bit. It’s also a pretty steep climb and the horses sometimes stumble a bit.

You ride the horses about 3/4 of the way up and then you have to get off and walk the rest of the way with a guide. You’re not allowed to enter the woods without a guide but they’re just there to make sure you don’t wander off where you’re not supposed to be, not to give any information about the preserve or the butterflies, so try to do some research before you get there. Once you get to the observation spot you’re allowed to stay as long as you wish but you have to remain quiet in the area so as not to disturb the butterflies. Trust me, you can get lost in the fluttering for more time than you think. Whenever you’re ready to go you just grab your guide and head back down where you can grab another cab or van back to Ocampo.

We had dinner in Ocampo before turning in the day we got there and then had breakfast and lunch there the next day before heading home. The total for the three meals was maybe $10 or $15 USD per person and they were big, tasty meals made by someone’s mom or grandmother. That means all told the entire adventure cost less than $100 and was absolutely well worth it.

Mexico’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem (Flashback): Interview with Andrea Rodriguez Rojas

I’ve tried to keep my Startup Nomad posts roughly following my travels geographically, however, there was one entrepreneur from Mexico City whom I didn’t get to interview until I arrived in Chile. She’s awesome and I still wanted to include her in the blog before next year when I make it back to D.F., so this week we’re doing a brief flashback to Mexico and speaking with Andrea Rodriguez Rojas, the entrepreneur behind Viajero Emprendedor.

Check out the video below to hear what she has to say about Mexico’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, and Latin America more broadly, and then let me know what you think in the comments section below! (I’m back-lit and had a slower internet connection, so I’m basically a blob. The important part is that you can see and hear Andrea, though, which you can. Sorry about the poor quality on my end and enjoy the video anyway!)

 

 

Mexico’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Interview 4 – Jackie Hyland: Project Analyst, Angel Ventures Mexico

It’s almost time to leave Mexico (okay, by the time I post this I will have already been in Costa Rica for 2 weeks – but it’s almost time for the blog to leave Mexico) but before heading to the airport I was lucky enough to be able to sit down for a coffee chat with Jackie Hyland. She’s a Project Analyst at Angel Ventures Mexico and interacts regularly with both startups and investors, so she has a pretty insightful take on the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Mexico City.

Since Jackie works at an angel fund, our conversation naturally started with a discussion of the investment environment and, according to Jackie, there’s a big gap at that initial seed-stage capital between what entrepreneurs need and what investors are willing to offer. She says:

“There are people who want to invest but very few that want to join in on a company that is at the prototype or even seed stage. [Investors] want to see sales.”

Just like some of the other insiders I spoke to, Jackie says she’s seen a lot of the family business culture and the monopoly culture. While in the U.S. when we think of an angel investor we may conjure images of a serial entrepreneur who’s started and sold numerous businesses, in Mexico the angel investors tend to come from a more corporate traditional background or have run a family business so they’re more risk averse.

On the positive side, however, Jackie says that the investment environment in Mexico is very open, meaning that investors share deals with other investors rather then trying to keep the next hot thing to themselves.

“Between the funding organizations, we want to share what we know,” Jackie says. 

She thinks the risk aversion and openness will change though, and that change process has already begun.  The government is saying the growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem is a priority for them by creating the new entrepreneurship institute  and the entrepreneurs and investors are becoming more active.

“The movement has started now. There are people saying ‘I don’t need to just take over my Dad’s company or get a job. I can start something,'” she says. “But it will take another 3 or 4 years before people start seeing it’s not just about starting a company, it’s about coming up with something really unique.”

Unfortunately, Jackie sees that increased deal flow leading to less open communication between investors: “I think [funding organizations’ openness] is going to change once the deal flow changes and there are a lot of really hot projects with high value,” she says.

These changes are a part of the evolution of the ecosystem. According to Jackie, just a few years ago in Mexico entrepreneurship was just starting to come out of people’s mouths and now it’s exploding. Now that there are numerous incubators and accelerators that have started, people know about them, and people are in them; people are beginning to try to figure out how to make them better.

“Everyone says this is the prototype phase and now let’s go to phase two: let’s make it better,” Jackie says.

And part of making the ecosystem better is about tweaking the models so that they fit with the Mexican culture and ecosystem. “A lot of other countries want to mimic Silicon Valley: What do they do? What do they have? How do we bring that here?” Jackie says. But in order to truly succeed, the Mexican entrepreneurial ecosystem needs to adapt those models to Mexican realities.

“What I think and what I always ask Mexicans,” Jackie says, is “why do you feel like you need to mimic when you’re bringing something from another culture? Why not try to do more than transplant and see how this model fits with Mexico and make it bigger and better?”

However the ecosystem continues to evolve – as an attempted direct copy of places like Silicon Valley or as something intentionally uniquely Mexican – Jackie says, “the flow will pick up when entrepreneurs say: ‘Okay we’ve been doing this, we’ve been making companies, let’s figure out how to do this better, how to make a big difference.'” Thus, the question of the growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Mexico seems to be one of how and how quickly, not if.

 

Do you have experience in the Mexico City startup scene? If so, please let me know your thoughts on what Jackie had to say in the comments sections below. Next up we head off to San Jose, Costa Rica to explore the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Ticolandia. 

Mexico’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Interview 3 – Scott Wofford: Project Leader, Ashoka

After visiting Endeavor Mexico, Josh Ford put me in touch with Scott Wofford, a consultant and project leader at Ashoka who is developing a map of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Mexico City including development organizations, funding organizations, universities, etc. JACK POT – this is just the kind of information that I am interested in.

Unfortunately, Scott’s report isn’t yet released publicly so I can’t share any lovely links, but Scott was kind enough to grab lunch with me and give me another take on what’s happening in the world of entrepreneurship in Mexico City and where the city’s ecosystem is headed in the near future.

One of the key differences he identifies between the ecosystem in Mexico and that in the United States are that there is more classism for aspiring entrepreneurs to contend with in Mexico and that

“classism impacts many things about being an entrepreneur including raising capital and being part of the right networks.”

Additionally, because of the social stratification, there is more need-based entrepreneurship in Mexico than in the United States. Many people become business owners because it is the only option they have to support themselves or their families, however, these are not the entrepreneurs that have the resources or desire to grow those enterprises into fully functioning, scalable companies.

At the same time, there’s a lack of investment capital – specifically venture capital, in Mexico. Scott believes this lack of venture capital has a few causes: venture capitalists have trouble finding a pipeline; lots of monopolies prevent industries from taking off through a startup because those monopolies have a choke hold and since the startups cannot make it “really big” they are less attractive to investors; and Mexico is missing the qualified talent to manage a successful fund.

Scott also identifies more entrenched corruption in Mexico as something that differentiates the ecosystem there from that in the United States. Because of this corruption, Mexico doesn’t fare well on the ease-of-doing-business index and it can be difficult for entrepreneurs without the right connections to get the proper permits and licenses to begin doing business or to expand an existing business.

On the positive side, however, because the social divisions are so defined,

“Once you’re in, you’re in,” Scott says. “Some of the success stories go through all of the programs – Ashoka, Endeavor, etc. even though they don’t necessarily need the help.”

This is a theme that came up in other interviews in Mexico City as well – because the ecosystem is still at its early stages, it’s a small community in which everyone knows everyone.

Mexico also maintains a strong family structure as a deeply entrenched part of its culture so friends and family “rounds” of investment are more common. Additionally, Mexico has a growing middle class and good macro-economic growth that, combined with its proximity to the U.S., position it well to bring established U.S. models and apply them in Mexico – usually for less risk.

So where does Scott see the Mexican entrepreneurial ecosystem in 5 – 10 years?

“Right now, 80%-90% of entrepreneurs who’ve been invested in or accelerated by one of the big programs will increase 25%-30% per year but only a few will be big success cases in terms of ROI.” In 5 – 10 years, “I think that there will be a couple of big success cases where entrepreneurs become pretty famous.”

 

Do you have experience in the Mexico City startup scene? If so, please let me know your thoughts on what Scott had to say in the comments sections below. Our next interview will be with Jackie Hyland of Angel Ventures Mexico.

 

Cholula, Mexico

In addition to my exploits from a home base of Mexico City, I also spent a couple of weeks in Puebla, Mexico. Puebla is about 2 hours outside of Mexico City and has much more of the old style Spanish architecture that I love than does D.F. and was a very welcoming and friendly city with an awesome tourist information office and free performances put on in the Casa de Cultura almost every day (you can pick up a schedule at the tourist information office, which is 2 doors down).

It’s also bordered by Cholula, home to “the largest archaeological site of a pyramid” in the Americas (wikipedia). It’s a huge pyramid that was covered by the Spanish because they did not approve of the native peoples’ worship of idols other than their Catholic God, so they buried the pyramid and built a church at the top of the newly created hill. Today, you can visit the pyramid’s tunnels (now buried beneath the hill), the church at the top of the hill, and the ruins at the pyramid’s base. It’s a quick trip from Puebla and if you’re in the area well worth it, though I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to get there from Mexico City if you’re not headed in that direction anyway.

Some pics of my day there are below:

 

Church atop the pyramid of Cholula - Cholula, Puebla, MexicoChurch atop the pyramid of Cholula - Cholula, Puebla, MexicoView from the church atop the Pyramid of Cholula - Cholula, Puebla, MexicoChurch atop the pyramid of Cholula - Cholula, Puebla, MexicoChurch atop the pyramid of Cholula - Cholula, Puebla, MexicoRuins and church at the pyramid of Cholula - Cholula, Puebla, MexicoMe inside the tunnels of the Pyramid of Cholula - Cholula, Puebla, Mexico

Mexico’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Interview 2 – Joshua Ford: Analyst of Entrepreneur Services and Search & Selection, Endeavor Mexico

After speaking with Jorge Madrigal of Aventura in my last Startup Nomad post I was really excited about Mexico City’s potential as a startup hub. I wanted to speak to someone connected to an international organization to get a comparison between the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Mexico City and ecosystems in other cities, so I headed over to Endeavor Mexico to talk to Joshua Ford.

Josh is an Analyst of Entrepreneur Services & Selection, so he’s on the front lines interfacing with entrepreneurs who would like to become a part of Endeavor’s program and he gets to help decide who’s ready to get going with the program, who needs a little bit more work before entering the program, and who just isn’t a good fit for what Endeavor offers. He was kind enough to show me around the Endeavor offices in Mexico City (very Google-esque) and to let me grill him about what he sees happening in Mexico City’s world of entrepreneurship.

According to Josh,

“Mexico is just starting to get to the point where people are starting to think about entrepreneurship,”

and he sees some key differences between entrepreneurship in Mexico and entrepreneurship in the U.S. Firstly, he sees a lack of capital in Mexico. According to him, venture funds are smaller and more hesitant to invest because of “cultural stuff,” while, at the same time, entrepreneurs are hesitant to give equity stakes because they’re more guarded as the practice is not as familiar, there isn’t much understanding of how to value a company, and many entrepreneurs don’t realize that they could/should be looking outside of their network of friends and family for money to start or grow their businesses.

This mentality brings us to another difference that Josh identified between the U.S. and Mexican entrepreneurial ecosystems: Mexico’s lack of an entrepreneurship culture. There aren’t nearly as many pitch competitions, mentorship programs, or academic programs highlighting entrepreneurship as a viable career path and educating Mexicans about how to pursue it. There is also greater social stratification with most entrepreneurs coming from wealthy families because the “life tracks” start at a very early age. Public education in Mexico, according to Josh, is not as good as that in the U.S. so the wealthy in Mexico have an even bigger leg up than those in the States. Plus, since there are so few “rags to riches” stories there are not role models available to encourage entrepreneurship among less-well-off young people. Thus, the potential pool of entrepreneurs is the top 5-10% of the population (economically) instead of the entire population.

Finally, Mexico lacks some of the basic infrastructure to really be a tech, startup, and innovation powerhouse because the availability of things such as high-speed internet varies greatly from place to place within the country.

However, just like Jorge, Josh sees these barriers starting to crumble. In 5-10 years he believes that entrepreneurship will be more of a “known thing” and that young people will be talking about it, which will lead to more mature innovation. He says,

“One of the coolest things is that in emerging markets [like Mexico] there is still tons of opportunity. So far a lot has been taking ideas from the U.S. and Europe and doing them here, but in the future we’ll see more people innovating from zero and creating completely new ideas [in Mexico].”

The growth of entrepreneurship is a cycle, so that next level of innovation will lead to more conversation, awareness, and availability of mentors and role models so that more people will be inspired to pursue entrepreneurship and the growth will continue. In Josh’s opinion the biggest success was having an entrepreneur come through the Endeavor program, succeed, and create a contest to encourage young entrepreneurs.

Josh also expects to see more expansion into the rest of Latin America because Mexico is simply better positioned to enter those markets than the U.S. is. He also predicts that more money will start to flow into Mexico as the violence decreases and more people educated abroad return to Mexico to fill holes in the market.

So what’s his advice for current and aspiring entrepreneurs? Well, he has a lot of it: Firstly,

“There is no substitute for hard work,” he says. “It’s easy to work hard for 2 or 3 months but the typical success takes many, many years.”

He also advises entrepreneurs to be very strategic about who their market is and how they’ll target that market.

“You need to know your market inside and out,” he says. ” There’s no way you’ll be able to capture a market if you don’t know what the market is.”

He suggests you find the niches – whether geographic, class, etc. – and try to figure out how to get ahead of the curve and weather the storm while you educate your customers because you’re ahead of the trend.

“Entrepreneurs really need to look at not only what’s been Mexican forever – what’s already a part of the fiber – but also what could be a part of the fiber and figure how to tell the consumers what they want,” he says.

He also suggests that entrepreneurs move strategically, not necessarily rapidly. “Don’t expand just for the sake of expanding,” he recommends. He also stresses that you need to know your numbers because, “no matter how good your idea is or how excited you are, [investors] want to see your financials.” Therefore, you need to know your finances or, at least, bring on someone who does.

Finally, he says:

“Know your weaknesses AND know your strengths. A lot of times people are so focused on their weaknesses that they let their strengths fall. You want to bring everything up, not let your strengths and weaknesses meet in the middle.”

 

Do you have experience in the Mexico City startup scene? If so, please let me know your thoughts on what Josh had to say in the comments sections below. Our next interview will be with Scott Wofford of Ashoka.

Spring Equinox Celebration at the Pyramids of Teotihuacan

About an hour outside of Mexico City sit the ruins of the ancient city of Teotihuacan and last month I visited to experience the Spring Equinox Celebration hosted there where people believe they can absorb the energy of the sun by wearing white and soaking up the rays while exploring the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon.

I won’t give you all of the details about Teotihuacan, as it’s easily Googleable, but you can watch my video of the Spring Equinox Celebration below.

In order to get from Mexico City to Teotihuacan you can go to Autobuses del Norte station on the Mexico City metro. When you come out of the metro you will see the bus station directly in front of you and you want to go all the way to the left of the station (gate 8) to purchase a bus ticket to Teotihuacan. Make sure you’re headed to the pyramids/ruins and not just to the town of Teotihuacan. The bus costs 40 pesos (less than $4 USD) and takes about an hour. From there you stand in line to buy your tickets to enter, which are 57 pesos each. Please note, if you have a video camera you have to pay extra to bring it in and you need to purchase the ticket at the same place that you purchase your entrance ticket, but nobody will tell you that until you walk all of the way to the next gate and you’ll be sent back. How much the video camera charge is depends on your camera’s model.

Once inside you’re basically free to explore on your own and you can exit and re-enter all day with your ticket so I recommend going out to the street vendors for lunch, drinks, and some jewelry. When you’re ready to head back to Mexico City just return to your entrance gate and you’ll see buses lined up to take you back.

It’s an incredibly easy day trip from Mexico City and well worth it. Just remember to bring your sunscreen!

The Monarch Butterflies in Michoacan / Las Mariposas Monarcas de Michoacan

Las Mariposas de Michoacan
My new butterfly friend at the butterfly preserve in Michoacan, Mexico.

One of the things I was most excited about seeing when I came to Mexico was the monarch butterfly preserve in Michoacan. All of the monarch butterflies in North American migrate south to Mexico to wait out the cold season in this one area, so there are literally millions of butterflies flying all around you and it’s an incredible experience. The butterflies are only in Michoacan from October to March, and I arrived in March, so this is the first adventure I had in Mexico because I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

Take a look at this video of the preserve and if you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, the info on how to get there is below.

It’s super easy to get to the butterfly preserves from Mexico City, where I’m staying. I took a bus from Mexico City to a town called Zitacuaro and from there to a town called Ocampo. Altogether the buses cost about $15 USD one way. In Ocampo, which is a tiny little town, I was only able to find one hotel called Hotel San Carlos. It was basic but clean and the lady who helped was wonderful. The hotel for one night cost roughly $20 USD. It’s best to go up to Ocampo the day before, spend the night, and then head up to the preserve in the morning (around 8 or 9). You don’t want to go too early because it’s cold in the morning so the butterflies are not that active, but you also don’t want to go too late or the preserve will start to get crowded. You can take a taxi or a group van up to the preserve from Ocampo. A taxi will run you just under $10 USD, the van will be less than 2 bucks (even with the surcharge you’ll get for not being Mexican).

Once at the preserve, we opted to ride horses up to the actual butterfly area. The price is about $6.25 USD but this is a one-way fee so be sure to double whatever price they tell you. I loved riding up to the butterfly area but if you’ve never ridden a horse before I wouldn’t suggest making this your first try. The horses have saddles, but the reins aren’t full reins, they’re strings, and if you’re too short for the stirrups (like me) they won’t adjust them for you so you end up bouncing around quite a bit. It’s also a pretty steep climb and the horses sometimes stumble a bit. You ride the horses about 3/4 of the way up and then you have to get off and walk the rest of the way with a guide. You’re not allowed to enter the woods without a guide but they’re just there to make sure you don’t wander off where you’re not supposed to be, not to give any information about the preserve or the butterflies, so try to do some research before you get there. Once you get to the observation spot you’re allowed to stay as long as you wish but you have to remain quiet in the area so as not to disturb the butterflies. Trust me, you can get lost in the fluttering for well over an hour. Whenever you’re ready you just grab your guide and head back down where you can grab another cab or van back to Ocampo.

We had dinner in Ocampo before turning in the day we got there and then had breakfast and lunch there the next day before heading home. The total for the three meals was maybe $10 or $15 USD per person and they were big, tasty meals made by someone’s mom or grandmother. That means all told the entire adventure cost less than $100 and was absolutely well worth it.