We love being out in nature whenever we travel. One of the most memorable nature outing we did recently was visiting the monarch butterfly sanctuary in the Mexican state of Michoacan. It was so much fun to see these beautiful creatures in the wild. And the butterfly sanctuary was an easy road trip from where we were at the time.
This post was updated on November 30, 2019.
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The story of the Michoacan monarch butterfly
The monarch butterfly has such a fascinating story, it’s a great opportunity for children to use the outdoors as a learning resource. Monarch butterflies have a life cycle of six to eight weeks. During this time, they grow from an egg to a caterpillar to a chrysalis, and finally to a butterfly. Yet even with such a short life span, they are able to make a long journey to migrate to a place they have never known.
The butterflies we saw in Michoacan came from the northeastern United States and Canada, over 3,000 miles away. These butterflies travel to Mexico, to this butterfly sanctuary, during the North American winter months, from November to March.
They live the rest of their days here in Mexico. Their children live their whole entire lives in Mexico. And in the spring, it is their grandchildren that make the migration back up to the northeastern North America. The following winter, the grandchildren of these butterfly, return to Michoacan, a journey that their ancestors took, four generations before them!
Looking for more wildlife experiences in Mexico? Read about swimming with wild dolphins.
Visiting the monarch butterfly sanctuary in Michoacan
The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located about 100 kilometers from Mexico City, in the state of Michoacan. It covers an area of over 56,000 hectares. The two sanctuaries that are open to the public are El Rosario, located near the town of Ocampo, and Sierra Chincua, located near the town of Angangueo.
The best time to visit these sanctuaries and see the Michoacan monarch butterflies is during the winter, from January to March. However, we came in November, and we were still able to see a good number of monarch butterflies. Plus, since we came in the beginning of the season, there were hardly any tourists there!
There are hotels in many of the town around the monarch butterfly sanctuary. We stayed at a hotel near Angangueo. The town is very small, and has limited selection of restaurants and stores.
Getting to the monarch butterfly sanctuary
The easiest way to get to the butterfly sanctuary is by driving there. We rented a car in San Miguel de Allende, and it took us about four hours to drive to Angangueo, one of the towns near the monarch butterfly sanctuary. In our experience, driving in Mexico was relatively simple to do. So that was the option we went for.
Other options for getting to the butterfly sanctuary include booking a tour, or taking the bus. We did neither of these options, but it’s worth doing a little research on them, to see if that’s something you would feel more comfortable about. There is some information about the monarch butterfly sanctuary in the Lonely Planet Mexico guide book.
Things to do at the butterfly sanctuary
We visited both sanctuaries while we were in Michoacan, El Roasario and Sierra Chincua. While El Rosario is the more popular of the sanctuaries, with its wide paths and paved steps, we prefered visiting Sierra Chincua. The hike was not as steep, and walking along the path felt more like being out in nature.
Entrance to either of these sanctuaries will cost you around 50 pesos for adults and 40 pesos for kids, so keep that in mind as you’re budgeting for your Mexico trip. If you have a car, you will also need to pay 50 pesos to park the car. The best time to go to these sanctuaries is in the morning, between 9am to 10am.
When you visit, you’ll be assigned a guide, who will lead you to where the butterflies are. This is mandatory, and I advise you to follow the guide, as they know more about the area than you do.
1. Take a hike
Michoacan state is a mountainous state in Mexico. The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve sits in a very mountainous area. An active way to see the Michoacan monarch butterflies is to hike up to the top of the mountains where the butterfly sanctuaries are located.
The hike will take about an hour, or longer if your kids like to take breaks like ours do. However, you’ll see butterflies along the way, and once you get to the top, you’ll be amazed at the number of butterflies you’ll see!
2. Ride horses
If your kids love animals like we do, consider riding a horse up the mountain. In both sanctuaries, renting a horse to ride costs 100 pesos per horse. This is a much more relaxing way to get up the mountain, and the horses are led by guides who ascend the mountain at a leisurely pace.
You can opt to ride a horse on the way down, which costs an additional 100 pesos. Or if you want, you can hike down the mountain.
3. Sample local food
One of the ways we like to experience travel like a local is through food. There are dozens of food stalls located near the entrance of both El Rosario and Sierra Chincua. Many of these food stalls serve regional Michoacan cuisine, at a fairly decent price, so it’s a great chance to sample local food.
We preferred the lunch experience at Sierra Chincua butterfly sanctuary. There is a veranda with tables that you can sit at, overlooking a field. In the afternoon, the Michoacan monarch butterflies come down from the mountain and fly around the field. It truly felt like a magical experience!
Learn more about Mexico! Read about the destinations in Mexico we’ve visited as a family.
A once in a lifetime experience
Since I was a young kid, I had always wanted to see the monarch butterfly migration. To me, our visit to the monarch butterfly sanctuary was truly a once in a lifetime experience. We loved being able to experience nature, and witness something that we’d only read about in books before.
Have you had a chance to visit a monarch butterfly sanctuary? Share with me your favorite butterfly sanctuary experience in the comments!
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