Picture standing in the forests of Mexico, surrounded by millions and millions of golden, Monarch butterflies.
Mexico is the place for anyone with a bucket list. Think about it — in this country, you can not only hold baby sea turtles (cute!) but you can also visit a World Wonder by touring Chichen Itza. There is crazy inexpensive zip lining plus dreamy beaches to explore and even a canyon full of natural hot springs. Plus, you can actually see one of the most amazing experiences that doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world; the Monarch butterfly migration.
Why Is This Migration So Magical?
So, once a year millions — around 300+ million to be more precise — of butterflies make a migration from Canada and the northern part of the U.S. down to sunny Mexico. These colorful butterflies can fly as much as 50 miles in a single day, just to arrive in Mexico before winter hits.
If you head to the mystical mountains of Central Mexico, you can stand in the middle of a massive swirl of orange, completely surrounded by these beauties. It's amazingly magical, especially when you find thousands and thousands of butterflies hanging out on tree branches or create a colorful blanket or orange, black, and white on the ground.
When Does This Happen?
The best time to see the butterflies is between late January and the end of March — the butterflies are there from mid-November, but the weather is a bit warmer in February and March and the butterflies flutter more when it’s sunny out. As the weather starts to warm up, the butterflies hang out lower in the mountain, so you'll need to hike higher during the colder months (November to January).
Something to note? Even in Mexico it gets chilly in the high altitude so pack a jacket (and a few other layers). It'll feel particularly chilly because these cuties hang out in the shade, and take flight when the sun shines.
Oh, I'm In. Where Do I Go?
You’ll want to hike up the mountains in Central Mexico. There are several reserves in Michoacán and three are open to the public: Rosario Sanctuary and Sierra Chincua Sanctuary, Cerro Pelón Sanctuary. Most tourists tend to visit El Rosario (which is the most popular) or Sierra Chincua.
There’s a network of trails through the forest, and it's best to go with a guide who can help you find where the butterflies are hanging out for the day. These guides can fill you in on details about the migration, so it comes recommended. These guides primarily work off of tips, so make sure you have an extra 20-50 pesos for that.
How Much Does It Cost?
It depends on how you go (on your own, or with a tour group). There are some pros of both. A tour company will handle your transportation and a guide, but you may save a few dollars if you go on your own. However, no matter what reserve you visit, it’ll cost about $2.50 USD to get into the park. Remember, we suggest going with a guide once you arrive (and tipping).
If you head to Sierra Chincua or Rosario, you can pay around $15 to take horses up the trails if you'd rather not hike.
How Do I Get There?
Morelia is the biggest city next to the butterfly reserve, just a couple hours drive west of Mexico City. Plus, the city of Morelia boasts some gorgeous colonial architecture. You can also stay in Angangueo; a sleepy little city that’s close to the Sierra Chincua and the El Rosario sanctuaries, but we are really big fans of Morelia.
From Morelia To Angangueo
If you're traveling on your own, you may save a few dollars, but it's a bit of trip to figure out how to make it all happen. You can get from Morelia to Angangueo by bus (about $6.50 USD for a 3 hour drive) first to Zitacuara then a bus to Angangueo for $1 USD.
You can often find daily tours from Morelia which will handle your transportation, just know it makes for a long day (it's a drive to get to the mountains, and you'll be gaining some altitude while hiking). There are also tour operators that have you staying overnight in Angangueo, so that's something to consider. Mich Mex Guides are a popular tour option who can take you to the butterflies for about $40. You can also find tour options around town if you prefer to book in-person once you arrive in Morelia.
From Angangueo To The Sanctuary
To get to the actual butterfly sanctuary (El Rosario sanctuary) from Angangueo just take a minibus to Ocamp (it’s 15 minutes and will cost a $0.50) then another to El Rosario (30 minutes, $1). Both buses run hourly. You might also be able to take a truck (camioneta) straight to the reserves — about $32 for a group of 10 (so grab your ILP group and split the cost).
Remember, this is only an option if you're not going with a tour group (they typically handle transportation).
Come on adventures like this on a semester abroad
From butterflies to beaches, you really have it all in Mexico. And it’s really a country you’ve got to experience for a semester, rather than just a short vacation there. Plan on seeing it all, experiencing the culture, and eating tons of tacos on an ILP semester in Mexico. You'll join a group of other American volunteers to have built in travel buddies.