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Vamonos to Mexico » Travel Guide » How to See the Monarch Butterflies in Mexico: Top 5 Sanctuaries

How to See the Monarch Butterflies in Mexico: Top 5 Sanctuaries

  • Joel CZ 
  • 11 min read
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Mexico is a country rich in culture, history, nature, and above all, unique places and events, like visiting the monarch butterflies.

Some of these magical places have been accredited by UNESCO, which has declared them World Heritage Sites.

In this article, I will delve into one of them (broken down into five), the monarch butterfly sanctuary, a tourist attraction you should not miss.

What is so special about monarch butterflies?

The Monarch Butterfly belongs to the group of insects known as the Lepidoptera.

Its life cycle consists of a migration process in which it travels long distances to spend the winter.

They can be distinguished from other butterflies by their bright orange color with black lines on their wings.

Females are slightly smaller than males, and their wings’ orange color is darker with thicker lines.

Males are characterized by black spots on the wings responsible for producing pheromone, a chemical substance essential in mating.

Migration of the monarch butterflies to Mexico

monarch butterflies mexico
Source: marco otaola / flickr.com

Despite its apparent fragility, the monarch butterfly is one of the most admirable members of the animal kingdom in terms of migration.

It travels 5000 miles round trip in two ways; from the eastern Rocky Mountains, southern Canada, and part of the USA to central Mexico and the state of Michoacan.

And from the western Rocky Mountains to specific sites on the coast of California.

The migratory generation has an average life span of 8 to 9 months, much longer than other generations that live only 30 days.

Why do monarch butterflies make such a long journey?

The butterflies seek the Oyamel trees, the ideal natural habitat for hibernation, sexual maturation, and mating.

The insects also seek large areas of pine trees where they continue their life cycle.

Michoacan and central Mexico’s climates are ideal because they come from Canada and the United States, places with freezing winters and unbearable conditions for them.

All this drives the butterflies to move to cool temperatures like this part of Mexico, where upon arrival, they remain immobile to save energy that will be used for their return.

The average temperature ranges from 12°C to 15°C, approximately.

The fog and abundant clouds also favor them because they have a natural environment with humidity and water availability to subsist.

Where is the monarch butterfly sanctuary in Mexico?

monarch butterflies mexico
Impressive views from the hills of Angangueo, Michoacan – Source: Oscar Velazquez Ramirez / flickr.com

The main monarch butterfly sanctuary comprises almost 58,000 hectares divided in two, between Michoacan and Mexico State.

  1. In Michoacan, it covers the municipalities of Contepec, Senguío, Angangueo, Ocampo, Zitácuaro, and Aporo.
  2. In the State of Mexico is located in the municipalities of Temascalcingo, San Felipe del Progreso, Donato Guerra, and Villa de Allende.

Its status as a biosphere reserve protects the plants and animals that live there.

These places have forests with the ideal conditions for this type of butterfly to complete its maturation and mating process.

What are the nearest major cities to the sanctuaries?

To visit any of the sanctuaries, your best bet is to go to Mexico city.

  • The distance to Valle de Bravo is about 140 km (2-hour drive)
  • The distance to Angangueo is about 185 km (3.5-hour drive)

I highly recommend renting a car. It’s cheaper and more convenient since you can move around more easily and freely.

5 best places to visit the monarch butterflies in Mexico

monarch butterflies mexico
Main entrance to El Rosario, Michoacan – Source: Hugo Jimenez / flickr.com

There are several places for you to admire the monarch butterflies in Mexico. Let’s see the top five:

1. Parador turistico El Rosario – Michoacan

The most visited and largest sanctuary of all. It is a few kilometers from the town of Angangueo.

You will have to travel approximately 2 km to reach an altitude of 3,200 meters above sea level to get to the exact place where the butterflies are.

Entrance fee: 40 pesos (2 USD) for adults and 35 pesos (1.50 USD) for children.

Opening hours: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.

2. Chincua Sierra – Michoacan

10 km from Angangueo, this is the second most visited sanctuary after El Rosario.

A tourist center, artisan stores, and restaurants await you.

You can also practice some activities to improve your physical and adventurous skills.

To reach the site where the butterflies are, you must travel 3 km of plains and mountains, where you will admire the natural beauty of the environment.

Entrance fee: 40 pesos (2 USD) for adults and 35 pesos (1.50 USD) for children.

Opening hours: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.

3. Ejido El Capulín Sanctuary – Mexico State

Located in Cerro Pelón in the municipality of Donato Guerra. You must travel 4 km to observe the butterflies.

This sanctuary offers various recreational activities and lodging.

Entrance fee: 40 pesos (2 USD)

Opening hours: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

4. Piedra Herrada Sanctuary – Mexico State

The only sanctuary outside the monarch butterfly biosphere reserve. It is in the foothills of the Nevado de Toluca near Valle de Bravo.

Although you will have to walk for 40 minutes to observe the butterflies, you will still enjoy every second of the scenery.

Entrance fee: 60 pesos (3 USD)

Opening hours: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

5. La Mesa Sanctuary

La Mesa is at the foot of the mountains on the border between Michoacan and the State of Mexico.

It is a tourist stop with restaurants and souvenir stores. You will have cabins to stay in.

Entrance fee: 40 pesos (2 USD), approximately.

Opening hours: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

When is the best time to visit the monarch butterflies in Mexico?

monarch butterflies mexico
Sanctuary Piedra Herrada, Valle de Bravo – Source: Gaby Oliveros / flickr.com

The migratory pattern of the butterflies between late October and March determines the best time to visit the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Mexico.

They stay in Mexico for 5 months.

You will have to walk more to see the butterflies perched on the branches of the trees, forming clusters and seeking to protect each other.

As I mentioned, the butterflies arrive in late October; however, the best time to see them is between January and the first weeks of February.

This is when they begin to descend from the nests, and you can enjoy the spectacle of thousands of them flying across the sky.

Where can I stay when visiting the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary?

In all the towns near the monarch butterfly sanctuaries in Mexico, you will find hotels and inns for all budgets, so lodging is no excuse for not visiting.

El Capulin and La Mesa offer you cabins at low prices.

**Sanctuaries in the State of Mexico, such as Valle de Bravo, have everything from 5-star hotels to small, comfortable inns.

Check for the best rates and hotels in Valle de Bravo

**If you’re in Michoacan, You can choose from the multiple lodging options offered by the towns of Zitácuaro and Angangueo.

Check for the best rates and hotels in Angangueo

Besides observing the monarch butterflies, what other activities can I do in the sanctuary?

Although the main attraction is to observe the monarch butterfly, horseback riding through the beautiful scenery and rich climate is also a preferred activity.

In some sanctuaries, you can go zip lining, climb climbing walls and cross hanging bridges.

You can visit the artificial lake of the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary, very close to the town of Valle de Bravo, where tourists practice water sports.

Also, visit the municipal market, the main square, and its beautiful viewpoints.

Who protects the monarch butterfly?

For years, the Mexican government has taken measures to protect these butterflies because of their ecological value and because their migration is one of the most impressive phenomena in the animal kingdom.

It has also supported projects that seek to establish sustainable development in the region, taking advantage of its resources without compromising them over time.

The sanctuaries’ observation areas are delimited to minimize human impact on the species’ habitat and development.

Controls on using and harvesting wood from the forests where the butterflies hibernate are increasingly strict.

All strategies to conserve monarch butterfly habitats are threatened by climate change, which requires the collaboration of everyone who visits the sanctuaries, not just the government.

What can I do to help?

It’s simple. All you have to do is comply with the following rules.

1. Do not disturb the butterflies

The first and most important of all rules. Remember that you will be breaking into their habitat.

You must respect why the butterflies are there. They are resting and replenishing energy for their return from thousands of miles away.

2. Keep a safe distance from the trees

You should be no closer than 45 meters from “occupied” trees where the butterflies are resting.

3. Be respectful of the trails

You will have to stay within the boundaries. Otherwise, you could get lost or have an accident.

4. Avoid littering

No one should litter in natural areas or on city streets.

Garbage should be placed in the baskets designed for this purpose.

5. No flash photography

Flash photography may alter the hibernation state of butterflies, causing them to detach from trees and become exposed to cold and predators. It is prohibited.

6. No smoking or lighting fires

Any tiny flame could be the cause of a forest fire.

7. Respect the observation time

The observation time for butterflies is 20 minutes. You should not exceed it.

8. Follow the instructions of the guides

Tourist guides are trained to minimize human impact on the habitat of these creatures, so you should follow and respect their instructions.

9. Do not step on the butterflies

Most of the butterflies you will likely find on the ground will be dead.

Even so, you should not step on them. Warn the guides if you see a live one.

Is it safe to visit the monarch butterflies in Mexico?

Yes, it is. Criminal activities here are unlikely. The corresponding security officers monitor the sanctuaries 24/7.

For your safety, do not get separated from the visiting groups, follow the guides’ instructions, and do not deviate from the marked trails.

Tips for visiting the sanctuaries

vamonos to mexico
Wear comfortable hiking shoes

Wear comfortable clothes and shoes

You will be doing a lot of walking in the monarch butterfly sanctuaries, so wear comfortable shoes and clothing.

The type of shoes is also essential because of the weather conditions.

Wear closed-toed, sporty, and grippy shoes for uneven dirt roads.

Condition your body

You will need to condition your body to withstand the dozens of miles over various types of terrain to see the butterflies.

Failure to do so will result in a potential collapse of your body due to fatigue.

Bring water and snacks (sports bars, like granola and protein ones)

Bring water to replenish the fluids you will lose from sweating.

Also, some sweets to avoid a drop in blood pressure or a loss of energy due to physical exhaustion.

**Speaking of blood pressure, please talk to your doctor before making the trip to ensure you’ll be ok. Or if you need to bring special medicine or something.

Shop at gift stores

Collaborate with the souvenir stores near the sanctuaries. This will support local commerce and tourism.

The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary is a beautiful place to visit alone or with your family.

It will be a rich experience that will add to your general culture about the animal kingdom.

Plan a trip and visit them. You won’t regret it. Vamonos!

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