Every year, in winter, monarch butterflies do the long and hard journey from Canada to Mexico to hibernate.
Observing the butterflies and their migration up close is so magnificent that the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, located in the state of Michoacán, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.
The first of the butterflies start to arrive in early November, however, their numbers are quite low until the start of January since there are many newborns and the Monarch Butterfly population is at its peak.
- There are many different sanctuaries you can visit to see them up close in the forests.
No matter which sanctuary you will go to you are required to have a guide with you, so to be sure you do not harm the butterflies.
Cerro Pelón is where scientists first confirmed that the butterflies migrated from Canada to this Oyamel Fir forest in Central Mexico.
Many butterfly enthusiasts and travelers will say that this is the most beautiful sanctuary.
Other than the arborists, ranger, and your guide most likely you won't meet other people up there.
Piedra Herradura Sanctuary
The Piedra Herradura Sanctuary is located in the state of Mexico, and it is the easiest one to get to if you are coming from Mexico City (about a two-hour drive).
A guide will take you up the mountain to see the butterflies either on foot or on horseback depending on what you choose. It is quite a steep slope, so be ready for it.
Entrance fee for a two-hour visit to Piedra Herradura $4 for adults. You can also choose to ride a horse up the steep incline of the mountains for $11.
El Rosario Sanctuary
El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary is the most famous place to see the monarchs in Michoacán. It is located near the charming pueblo magico (“magic town”) of Angangueo.
El Rosario is about a four-hour bus drive from Mexico City. The hike up the mountain to see the monarchs takes an hour to trek. There is also the option to see the butterflies on horseback.
There are guides, horses, food and drinks, as well as a spot to buy handicrafts at the base of El Rosario. Entrance fees at El Rosario butterfly Sanctuary start at $3.
If possible ask for Carmen Gonzales Cruz - an old and charming lady that could guide you in a sanctuary. She is adorable and sweet grandma :)
Locals depend on visitors to make some extra income.
Sierra Chincua Sanctuary
The Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary is located in Michoacán and is also near Angangueo.
Sierra Chincua is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Mexico City. At Sierra Chincua, you will be led by a guide to see the butterflies either on foot or by horseback. It can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to arrive at the butterfly viewing point.
Aside from hiking and horseback riding to see the butterflies, there are also nearby zip lines, a climbing wall, and suspension bridges to check out.
Entrance fees at Sierra Chincua start at $3
During the early (and cooler) times of the morning, the Monarch Butterflies remain landed on the Oyamel trees and it isn’t until noon that they start to take flight as the sunlight begins to heat them up.
During cloudy days, the Monarch Butterflies will always remain rested on the trees and will not fly at all so it’s best to post-pone your trip to avoid disappointments.
Arrive at 10:00 and don’t leave until after 13:00 to be sure you experience it.
You can get to the Monarch butterfly reserves in Michoacan by bus from Mexico City.
Go to the Terminal Centro Poniente (Metro station Observatorio, Line 1 - pink). From here there are a few direct buses to Angangueo, or you can take a bus to the larger town of Zitácuaro, and from there take a local bus to Angangueo.
Once in Angangueo you can find colectivo or private transportation with guide to the El Rosario butterfly reserve.
You can hire a taxi to take you to the sancuary ask him to wait. I will cost around 25$ for 2h.
Dress in well
- The altitude is such that it can be quite cool, but the uphill hike may make you warm along the way.
Wear Comfortable Walking Shoes
- Besides being a tough climb, in some areas the terrain is rough, so good walking shoes are necessary.
- There are stalls selling refreshments and souvenirs at the entrance to the reserve. Buy some water here if you don't have any with you.
Watch Your Step
- At some points along the path butterflies may cover the floor.
Do your best not to crush any!
Stay on the Path
- Unguided hiking within the reserve is prohibited.