San Miguel de Allende + Monarch Butterfiles = World Heritage Sites


MEXICO CITY — The town of San Miguel El Grande and the Sanctuary of Jesús de Nazareno de Atotonilco (San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato) and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (State of Mexico and Michoacán) were named Mexico’s 28th and 29th World Heritage Sites by UNESCO during the 32nd annual World Heritage Committee in Canada. The committee also added 13 other new sites to their World Heritage List. This year’s session, taking place between July 2nd through the 10th in Quebec, Canada, also honored both sites for their historical, cultural (current and future) and natural place in the world.

Mexico now places third in the world for their amount of World Heritage Sites, after Spain and Italy. With 29 natural and cultural, World Heritage Sites, including the Central University City Campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM) and the new World Wonder Chichen Itza, Mexico is proud to also include well-known archaeological icons like Teotihuacan, to colonial cities such as Oaxaca, and Puebla and natural sites including the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, the Islands of the Gulf of California, and the El Vizcaino Whale Sanctuary.

The 16th century Mexican pueblo of San Miguel de Allende is known for its Mexican baroque architecture and cobblestone streets where natural hot springs provide for relaxation and the colorful atmosphere adds to an interesting vacation. During a short walk around the center of the city one can enjoy murals and paintings by local artists at the Instituto Allende, dance to the beat of the son in El Jardin, learn how to make a meal in one of its many cooking schools, relax at one of the local SPAs or study the Baroque architecture of its famous Parroquia and colonial mansions.

The outskirts of the town provide alternative opportunities for visitors. El Santuario Hotel has a golf course and Las Aves offers temezcal treatments. The ecological reserve of El Charco del Ingenio, is a natural spring and pool nestled within canyon walls ideal for hiking, rock climbing and horseback riding. At night, San Miguel’s moonlit Jardin is the place to be. The town’s center plaza hosts locals and guests alike for old school community interaction, including dancing and listening to music or people watching.

The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuaries in the State of Mexico and Michoacán, have also attracted major international tourists- almost 250 million monarch butterflies. Originally from southern Canada and northern United States, the orange butterfly with black highlighting veins has become famous for its annual travel to its winter getaway. While in the colonial state, the butterflies cluster together by the thousands on Oyamel trees and making the forests glow the bright orange of their windows and attracting nature lovers from around the world.

In 1986, the Mexican government declared the 100 square-mile winter retreat a biosphere reserve and several of the sanctuaries are open to the public. Thousands of butterflies cluster together in the early morning and nights, covering whole trees and branches. The best time to see the butterflies is during the months of December and January.

The butterflies leave Mexico in late February and early March in a mass migration and the monarchs should reach the central United States by mid-April. By that time, the females will have laid their eggs for 1,000 miles as they make their one-time trip. They return home exhausted and with tattered wings after the 3,000 mile trip. A typical butterfly will make just one round trip during its lifetime.

Before the butterflies take flight, visitors can join local festivities in the towns of Angangueo, Zitacuaro, Maravatio and Ocampo where Butterfly Festivals are held each February, featuring traditional dance, music and craft markets, in celebration of their annual winter visitors.

Other tourist attractions include the beautiful colonial town of Morelia, Michoacan’s capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the quaint Magical Towns of Tlalpujahua Island and the Tarascan Indian ruins of Tzintzuntzan, are also nearby.

UNESCO’s World Heritage sites are cultural, natural, or mixed landmarks that represent the rich culture of a country and deserve international recognition. After a destination is deemed a World Heritage site, a country may receive financial assistance and expert advice from the World Heritage Committee to support activities for the preservation of its sites. Since 1972, UNESCO has inscribed 812 properties in 137 countries worldwide on its World Heritage List. For more information, visit

Other architectural World Heritage Sites in Mexico include the following.

The Central University City Campus of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) (2207): Mexico’s newest World Heritage Site comprises the Rector Tower (which boasts exterior murals by David Alfaro Siqueiros), the Central Library (murals of Juan O Gorman), the Engineering and Medicine schools (murals by Francisco Eppens), and the Olympic Stadium (unfinished murals of Diego Rivera), which was constructed for the 1968 Summer Games. The campus is located in the area known as Pedregal (stony soil), in Ciudad Universitaria (College Town) South of Coyoacan in Mexico City. It was established in 1551 by King Philip II of Spain who named it the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico, making it the first university in the New World. Emperor Maximilian closed the university in 1865, but it was re-opened in 1910 as the Mexico National University. After the Mexican Revolution in 1929, in order to assure cultural development and scientific education, the University reached autonomy status. It was then renamed with the current denomination of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomuos University of Mexico).

Agave Landscape and Ancient Industrial in the town of Tequila (2006): Comprising the urban settlements of Tequila, Arenal, and Amatitan, including the region’s fields, distilleries, factories (both active and not), tabernas (distilleries that were illegal under Spanish rule), the towns and Teuchitlan archaeological sites, this World Heritage Site includes numerous haciendas characterized by brick and adobe construction, plastered walls with ochre lime-wash, stone arches, quoins and window dressings, and formal, neo-classical or baroque ornamentation.

Islands and Protected Areas, Gulf of Baja California (2005)
: Referred to as the “world’s aquarium” by famous sea explorer Jacques Cousteau, the 244 islands, islets and coastal areas comprising the area nestled between the shores of the northwestern Mexican states of Sinaloa, Sonora and the Baja California peninsula contains 39 percent of the world’s total number of species of marine mammals and a third of the world’s marine cetacean species. The rugged islands, with their high cliffs and sandy beaches, are also home to 695 vascular plant species, more than any other marine and insular property on the World Heritage List.

House and Studio of Mexican architect Luis Barragan, Mexico City (2004): The house and studio were built in 1948 and are located in a suburb of Mexico City called Tacubaya. Barragan worked in the Second World-War era and his work exemplified a synthesis of modern and traditional artistic elements. The house is built from concrete and consists of a ground floor, two upper stories and a small private garden.

Franciscan Missions in the Sierra Gorda, Queretaro (2003): The five missions, a historical treasure little-known among tourists, were built in the mid-18th century and became an important reference for the continuation of the evangelization and colonization of California, Arizona and Texas. Their richly decorated and colorful facades are a unique example of the joint creative efforts of the missionaries and indigenous populations.

Ancient Mayan City of Calakmul, Campeche (2002): Calakmul is one of the largest known Mayan sites, located in Campeche in the Tierras Bajas jungles. It covers approximately 70 square kilometers, and is estimated to have had a population of 50,000 in the height of its power. The central urban core of Calakmul is delineated on the north by a substantial wall, probably for defense of the most important political structures and residences.

Archaeological Monuments Zone, Xochicalco (1999)
: Xochicalco (Place of Flowers) is one of the richest archaeological sites in Mexico, developed from 650 to 900 A.D. between the destruction of Teotihuacan (Aztec) and the beginning of Toltec civilization. Xochicalco was not only the oldest known fortress in Middle America, but also a well-fortified religious, political and commercial center.

Historic Fortified Town, Campeche (1999): In colonial times, the port city of Campeche was constantly under attack by European pirates. The walls that were erected around the entire city to protect the harbor from invasion still stand today, offering the visitor a stirring reminder of Mexican history.

Archaeological Zone of Paquime, Casas Grandes (1998): This ancient Indian settlement in Chihuahua State was one of the most important cities in northern Mexico between 900 and 1300 A.D. It served as a major trade center, connecting Mexico’s Toltec civilization with the Pueblo-Oasis tribes of the American southwest.

Historic Monuments Zone, Tlacotalpan (1998): This Spanish colonial river port city near Mexico’s Gulf coast was founded in the 16th century. With its wide streets and colorfully painted houses, the city combines gardens, ancient trees and Spanish and Caribbean traditions of exceptional importance and quality.

Hospicio Cabanas, Guadalajara (1997): Completed in 1810 as a house of charity, it is the city’s proudest cultural institute, with a performing arts center, galleries and a museum. It is noted for simplicity of design and open spaces. The building’s main attraction is a chapel with a mural painted by the great Mexican artist Jose Clemente Orozco between 1936 and 1939.

Historic Monuments Zone, Queretaro (1996): Little has changed in Queretaro’s city center, filled with colonial mansions and immaculate walkways. Founded in 1531, this colonial city located in central Mexico is adorned with inspiring architecture and retains its original street patterns from the period of native Indians and Spanish conquerors.

Prehispanic Town, Uxmal (1996): Uxmal was one of the largest cities of the Yucatan Peninsula, and at its height was home to about 25,000 Mayans. Like the other Puuc sites, it flourished from 600-900 A.D. The name Uxmal means ‘thrice-built’ in Mayan, referring to the construction of its highest structure, the Pyramid of the Magician. The Pyramid of the Soothsayer, as the Spaniards called it, dominates the ceremonial center. Its rulers are said to have presided over the nearby settlements of Kabah, Labna and Sayil, considered the pinnacle of Mayan art and architecture.

Monasteries on the Slopes, Popocatepetl (1994): Fourteen Christian monasteries stand on the slopes of the Popocatepetl, a dormant volcano southeast of Mexico City. They are excellent examples of the architectural style adopted by the first missionaries– Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians–who tried to convert the native Indians to Christianity in the early 16th century.

Rock Paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco (1993): These are some of the most mystifying and well-preserved rock paintings in the world. Dating to 100 B.C., the Sierra de San Francisco (in the El Vizcaino reserve on the Baja California Peninsula) was home to people who left behind a magical testimony on history, a unique outlook on the relationship between mankind and the environment and a profound worldview. The drawings show human figures and many animal species.

Historic Center, Zacatecas (1993): Founded in 1546, this fabled silver city’s historic town center houses magnificent churches, abandoned convents and breathtaking Baroque architecture. For centuries, the city served as the northern frontier of Spain’s New World empire. The main attractions are the cathedral (built between 1707 and 1752), the Plaza de Armas (main square dating to the 18th century), the Mina el Edem (an ancient mine) and the Calderon Theater, with its art nouveau facade.

Whale Sanctuary, El Vizcaino (1993): The waters of the Baja California Coast provide shelter for many different species. The fin whale, the humpback whale, the sei whale and the blue whale journey to the Gulf of California every year to reproduce. Out of the 45 marine mammals that coexist in Mexican waters, 38 permanently reside in the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve. The gray whale performs one of the longest migrations known, with its southern point in this area. The mammal travels more than 5,000 miles from the Baja California Peninsula to the Arctic Circle and feeds in the Chukchi and Bering seas. The whales return annually to the lagoons of San Ignacio and Ojo de Liebre to mate and bear offspring. As a result of protective measures, approximately 900 calves are now born each year in Mexican waters in the protection of El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve. Under these conditions, the gray whale population has grown back to more than 27,000.

Prehispanic City of El Tajin (1992): Located in the state of Veracruz, this jungle city was a large, powerful and important ceremonial center. First construction likely began here 2,000 years ago and the city reached its peak from 600 to 900 A.D. Its niche pyramids are unique in the Americas. Its architecture is characterized by elaborate carved reliefs on the columns and friezes.

Historic Center, Morelia (1991): Morelia, the capital city of Michoacan State, was founded in 1541 and contains more than 200 historic buildings, including restored mansions and churches. Its buildings are made mostly of pink-colored stone with intricate facades. The city combines a blend of Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical styles.

Prehispanic City of Chichen-Itza (1988): Chichen-Itza is one of the largest and most impressive archaeological sites in Mexico, located two hours by bus from Cancun. It is two cities: one was ruled by the Mayans from the 6th to the10th century A.D. and the other was a Toltec-Mayan city that emerged in 1000 A.D. The site combines Toltec and Mayan influences and is ripe with cosmological symbolism. Its four sides contain 365 steps, 52 panels and 18 terraces (for the 18 months of the religious year). The site also contains a cenote (limestone sacred well or sinkhole) and an observatory.

Historic Town of Guanajuato and Adjacent Mines (1988): Located in central Mexico, Guanajuato, which was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century, quickly became one of the most important silver centers in the world. For nearly 250 years, nearly one-third of the world’s silver came from this city. The town boasts baroque and neoclassical architecture as a result of its great wealth. One example is La Valenciana, one of Mexico’s most ornate churches, completed in 1788. Another Baroque church is La Basilica, built in the 17th century.

Historic Center, Puebla (1987): The city of Puebla, founded in 1531, is one of Mexico’s most culturally significant cities and home to several important historical events. Capital of Puebla State, the city is home to beautiful buildings in colonial, art deco and other styles made of gray stone, red brick and tiles. The city is known for its intricate hand-painted ceramics, known as Talavera, as well as for its renowned cuisine.

Historic Center of Oaxaca and Archaeological Site of Monte Alban (1987): Once the center of the Mixtec and Zapotec civilizations, Oaxaca is a combination of pre-conquest, colonial and modern influences. Some of the many sites in the city’s historical downtown include the main plaza, the government palace, the Cathedral of Oaxaca and the city market, as well as some of Mexico’s most ornately decorated churches. The area’s main attraction is the archaeological site of Monte Alban, one of the most impressive burial places in the Western Hemisphere.

Prehispanic City of Teotihuacan (1987): The archaeological zone of Teotihuacan is one of the country’s major tourist attractions. In the past it was one of the largest and most complex metropolis in prehispanic Mexico. Its main structures include the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, as well as an on-site museum. The culture that produced this magnificent city originated in the first century A.D., reaching its peak between the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D., and subsequently declining until it was eventually abandoned.

Historic Center of Mexico City and Xochimilco (1987): Mexico City, the exact site upon which the great Aztec civilization flourished, is a remarkable showcase of 3,000 years of cultural achievement. It is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities and now one of its largest cities, with a metropolitan area population approaching 23 million. The city has five Aztec temples, the largest cathedral on the continent and 11 ecological parks. Mexico City’s Zocalo is the third largest square in the world and has witnessed a wealth of historical, religious and political development since the 14th century. Xochimilco, with a population of 300,000, is just south of Mexico City. It contains historic buildings, a main plaza, bricked streets, and an intricate network of canals and floating plots of land whose origins date back to prehispanic times. Structures built during the colonial era have been well-preserved.

Prehispanic City and National Park of Palenque (1987): A prime example of a Mayan sanctuary of the classical period, Palenque was at its height between 500 and 700 A.D., when its influence extended throughout the basin of the Usumacinta River. The elegance and craftsmanship of the buildings, as well as the lightness of the sculpted reliefs with their Mayan mythological themes, attest to the creative genius of this civilization.

Sian Ka’an, Riviera Maya (1987): This 1.3-million acre ecological park of forests, lagoons, exotic marine habitats and wetlands is located on the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula. The biosphere reserve contains tropical forests, mangroves and marshes, as well as a large marine section intersected by a barrier reef. Located just south of Tulum, Sian Ka’an’s complex hydrological system also provides a habitat for an impressive variety of flora and a fauna.

About the Mexico Tourism Board
The Mexico Tourism Board (MTB) brings together the resources of federal and state governments, municipalities and private companies to promote Mexico’s tourism attractions and destinations internationally. Created in 1999, the MTB is Mexico’s tourism promotion agency, and its participants include members of both the private and public sectors. The MTB has offices throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

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