Staying in Mexico City between November and March? Don’t miss seeing the monarch butterflies!
Visiting any one of the seven butterfly sanctuaries is an easy day trip from not only Mexico City but a number of other cities in Central Mexico, such as Morelia, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende. There are a variety of companies that offer day trips complete with a guided tour in English and transportation from all of these locations. Here are some basic tips when visiting the sanctuaries:
When choosing a tour company, make sure they take a small groups of 6-10 people. There is nothing more frustrating that having to follow along with 50 people up the already small paths of the sanctuaries and then have to elbow each other for the best spot for pictures.
Walking up the hill to the butterflies is a pretty steep climb at a high altitude. Take it slow! There’s no rush to get to the top, I promise you the butterflies will wait. Plus, they are most active when the sun is out so you will get the real show at late morning/mid-day.
If you have the flexibility, go on a weekday rather than the weekend, especially if you are visiting the most popular santuario, El Rosario. There is nothing like experiencing the butterflies fluttering around you with very few other people.
Some of the less visited sanctuaries do not separate the walking path from the horse path who kick up a lot of dust. If you are not going to El Rosario, where they do have separate paths for both walkers and horses, make sure to bring a pack of disposable face masks. You can buy them for 20 pesos at any pharmacy. Also, if your tour guide is experienced, he/she should provide you with face masks.
Although you may go with a tour company, every group must be guided to the butterflies by an official park tour guide. Many people don’t realize that these guides only work on tips and although the tour company who you’re traveling with will provide the bulk of this tip, I definitely recommend throwing them an extra 20-50 pesos.
Choosing a tour company
Morelia, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende and Mexico City are all great starting points for day-tours to any of the 7 sanctuaries and there are lots of options when it comes to tour companies. I recommend a thorough review of TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet guide books before deciding on one.
From Mexico City if you are looking for a no frills, affordable, bilingual tour with a small group, I would highly recommend Azteca Travel Tours. During November-December they offer day-trips to El Rosario (3-4 hours, one way) on the weekends, as well as the lesser-known Santuario de La Mariposa Monarca Piedra Herrada (2 hours, one-way). Since this sanctuary is closer to Mexico City, they spend the second half of the day in the Pueblo Mágico of Valle de Bravo, located on tranquil Lake Avándaro. Lunch overlooking the lake combined with an afternoon boat ride and a stroll through the historic center of Valle de Bravo make for a perfect day.
Skipping the tour and attempting to do a day trip on your own – tips for the adventurous spirit!
In the “practicalities” section of this Lonely Planet article there are some great tips on how to get to El Rosario Sanctuary from Mexico City (and Morelia) through a dizzying combination of buses and mini-buses. However, after all is said and done, you may end up paying just a little less than going with a tour group but left with a much bigger headache trying to figure out how to get there on your own. The sanctuaries are tucked away deep in the forest and are mostly visited by tour groups and locals with personal vehicles so public transportation is definitely lacking. In the event that you can figure out transportation to and from one of the sanctuaries (via taxi, bus or car), the basic entrance fee is 60 pesos and the official guides work off of tips (20-50 pesos per person would be appropriate). Also, keep in mind that Michoacan is not the safest state to be traveling around via bus to unknown places. Although major tourist hot spots such as Morelia and the butterfly sanctuaries themselves, are completely safe, other parts are most definitely not so use common sense.
Accommodations close to the sanctuaries
If you are looking to enjoy a more relaxed, extended weekend and stay very close to the sanctuaries here are some top recommendations:
JM Butterfly’s B&B
Situated only 5 minutes from the Cerro Pelon Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, this quaint bed and breakfast is perfect for those looking for a bit of seclusion from the outside world and a deep connection with nature. They offer an array of activities such as: bird watching, horse-riding, nature hikes, fishing, traditional Mexican cooking classes, relaxing by the fire and stargazing from the rooftop. To make a reservation, click here.
Rancho San Cayetano in Zitacuaro
This rustic, yet luxurious log-cabin hotel sits comfortably on 12 private acres. It only has 9 bedrooms, 3 of which with personal fireplace, an impressive flower garden and private pool. They offer private tours to the sanctuaries, nature hikes and tours of local historical sights. Definitely a place to stay a relax. To book a room, click here.
Preservation of the disappearing Monarch population
Just like there are rumors of the Roman Colosseum being in threat of collapsing and Machu Picchu being closed indefinitely due to the irreversible damage done by visitors, the monarch butterfly population is quickly diminishing as global warming and the destruction of natural habit affects its life cycle. It is a sad reality that one day there may not be any monarch butterflies making the migration to Mexico. So yes, NOW is the time to go, NOW is the time to see them. Also, NOW is the time to support local organizations that support the preservation of this sacred migration. Make sure to check out the variety of organizations within Mexico supporting the preservation of the monarch butterflies and their spectacular migration.