As quick as it takes to blink, the discerning eye instantly knows that any beautiful thing is always more than a single ingredient. In the case of El Charco del Ingenio, San Miguel de Allende’s botanical showcase, a confluence of location, terrain, design, and determination result in a conservatory that may be one of the finest public gardens in Mexico.
Cactus is tough. But the succulent family is actually fragile, and in too many instances, a great number of the cactus species in Mexico are endangered due to factors both natural and human. El Charco is dedicated to saving, protecting and propagating Mexico’s wild cactus specimens.
Like many things in San Miguel de Allende, a community of like-minded people saw a need and joined together with the aim of making a difference. In many respects, they could not have chosen a better place.
Nearly 170 acres comprise the site where El Charco is located and it is home to three important types of terrain; canyon, dry scrubland, and wetlands that result from the creation of a dam that provided hydroelectric power for a factory located downstream in San Miguel de Allende.
Beginning in 1990, those committed to preserving the area went into action, and 25 years later, the results are breathtaking. El Charco (The Puddle) is, according to surveys, home to 535 species of flora, including cacti, from 85 botanical families, plus an additional 51 species of lichen. Much of the flora flourishes in the dry scrubland that makes up most of the garden, while the dam that created the reservoir, built in the late 19th Century, offers habitat for 156 species of resident and migratory birds.
If visitors look carefully, they might catch a glimpse of any one of the 110 species of butterflies that inhabit or visit the area, along with the 18 different types of reptiles and amphibians, or the 11 species of dragonflies or damselflies that call El Charco their home.
A visit to El Charco is easy. You can catch a free van ride from Civic Plaza at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Guided tours by knowledgeable docents are Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. for a two-hour tour. A café located near the entrance serves a tasty fare of lunch items and the van departs at 1 p.m. to drop visitors back in San Miguel de Allende. For those who wish to linger and explore more on their own, a cab can be easily summoned.
Despite its beauty and the impressive work accomplished, the threat of encroaching development has some worried. El Charco is on the northeast edge of San Miguel de Allende and the city’s continued popularity puts pressure on the surrounding land.
But the good news for the plants, birds, animals, bugs, and lichens that live and visit there is that El Charco is backed up by a dedicated cadre of people committed to preserving this special place so that school children, residents and visitors from around the world can enjoy the incredible diversity and beauty of El Charco.