3 Fun Activities At The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary In Mexico

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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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A butterfly at the monarch butterfly sanctuary in Mexico
A butterfly resting on a tree (November 2018)

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.

A monarch butterfly at the monarch butterfly sanctuary in Michoacan, Mexico
A monarch butterfly on a leaf (November 2018)

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.

Monarch butterflies in Mexico (November 2018)

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.

The cute town of Angangueo, Mexico (November 2018)

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.

My son taking a rest during our hike (November 2018)

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!

Sign post during our hike (November 2018)

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.

Horseback riders at the monarch butterfly sanctuary in Michoacan region of Mexico
Riding horses up the mountain in Sierra Chincua (November 2018)

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 view from the monarch butterfly sanctuary in Michoacan, Mexico
Butterflies flying in the mountain (November 2018)

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!

Visiting the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Mexico | The Wandering Daughter | Tips for families visiting the Monarch butterfly sanctuary in the Michoacan region of Mexico.

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50 Responses

  1. It is great to see a bunch of butterflies all at once. I remember doing this in Costa Rica. Strange to see that the Michoacan Monarchs came all the way from Canada and the U.S. It would be great to take a hike and explore the area around the butterfly reserve.

  2. What a marvellous experience. I have also wanted to witness the monarch migration. I am fascinated by nature – the fact that it’s the grandchildren that complete the return journey of 3000 miles is quite something! Thanks for all the detailed info. – now I know where to see those amazing monarchs!

  3. The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary sounds like a great place to visit. Definitely somewhere to take a pony trek too. They are such beautiful butterflies – incredible as it may sound we get them here occasionally, blown across the Atlantic when they are migrating, though I don’t remember seeing them for years!

    1. Wow, that’s interesting to know. I suppose flying across the Atlantic is the same as flying south from northeastern North America.

    1. The truly are stunning. What made it even more magical was that if you’re quiet, you can hear the rustling of all their wings as they’re flying around in the trees.

  4. I love monarch butterflies…they are my aunt’s favorite things! I had no idea that they traveled form the US and Canada to Mexico, live their entire lives there, the children do and then the grandchildren migrate back. That is fascinating! I haven’t been to Mexico City but I would love to visit the sanctuary when I go! And side note-I love that photo of Angangeuo, it’s so colorful!

  5. Butterflies are such fascinating creatures. I heard it brings luck if a butterfly lands on your hand. Going to visit a butterfly garden next week in Singapore, wish me luck 🙂

  6. Oh my, butterflies only live for 6-8 weeks but they can travel over 3,000 miles away!
    Amazing. It’s a life well spent indeed. Though, I would be glad to know if ever there’s a (scientific) way to extend their lives.
    They’re beautiful creatures!

    1. Yes, that was an amazing fact to learn! As a traveler, I think that’s why I loved seeing the butterflies. They’re lives are like ours (except that we live longer, of course)!

  7. Love seeing Monarch butterflies since I was young but sadly, I see them so often now. Hope to visit the butterfly sanctuary there when I visit Mexico. I won’t mind to take a hike so I can appreciate the view too!

    1. I’m not sure what the migration route is for the monarch butterflies. We just went to the sanctuary, and that’s where we were able to see all of them at once.

  8. I didn’t know about this monarch butterfly sanctuary or that there is a migration. One of my bucketlist items is to watch one hatch and fly for the first time, sounds like a good place to do that. The area looks cute and bright too, fun place to explore and eat Mexican food – my favorite

  9. I went there a couple of years ago and fell in love with the place. We took the horses up to the top as well, although it was an easy walk back. I couldn’t believe how many butterflies were there – that was in February though so there were quite a lot of people too but it was still magical!

  10. I love Monarch butterflies – I always got a kick seeing them in the garden! I would love to take a pony ride up the mountain and then hike back down after a picnic and seeing the sanctuary. What a wonderful thing to share with your kids.

  11. Everything I’ve heard about this trip is that it’s magical to the point of being life-changing. Your photos of the butterflies are beautiful, as are your words. I hope to visit sometime!

    1. Thank you! I wish I had a better camera, because I couldn’t quite capture the beauty of it when they were all around us.

  12. This is really cool. My daughter goes to Santa Cruz and there is are a couple of small monarch sites along the coast there. I’ve always wanted to go to Mexico and see them in their full glory. I imagined that they were way out there, but 100 KM from Mexico City is a doable do. We’ll have to look into this further. Love this idea.

  13. I watched a National Geographic clip about the Michoacan monarch butterflies and had been dreaming of witnessing this in real life ever since. I already get excited to see lots of butterflies in a man-made butterfly sanctuary and I couldn’t imagine how much more I would feel seeing high density butterflies in their natural environment. I envy you for having seen this place. 🙂

  14. We have a Butterfly pavilion here in Denver. The grandkids love it — and we do too. And the monarchs are so awesome. Putting a visit to this butterfly sanctuary on our list.

  15. This is a beautiful place! We have visited a few Butterfly gardens and for some odd reason it freaks my kids out!! I still enjoy the peace and beauty of visiting.

  16. What an amazing experience this is! I love seeing monarch butterflies in my garden in Canada during the summer months. But seeing them at a sanctuary in Mexico would be truly incredible. And the that town of Angangueo is so picturesque as well, what a great spot to visit while appreciating nature.

    1. Lucky you to be able to see them in your garden. You must have a lot of flowers! Yes, we thought Angangueo was so cute!

  17. I had no idea there was a sanctuary for Monarch butterflies. It’s really interesting to learn that they fly all the way from US and Canada to this sanctuary in Mexico. I’m really done of butterflies and would love to visit someday.Thanks for sharing!

  18. The story of the migration is so interesting. Monarch butterflies are definitely the main catch here, but I’m rooting for that horse ride through the delightful landscape. Sounds dreamy.

  19. I didn’t know there was a sanctuary for Monarch butterflies. I also didn’t know the sanctuary was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sounds like an awesome place to visit and I wouldn’t mind doing some horseback riding on the side while I’m there 🙂

  20. Wow! I’m so glad you were able to fulfill a childhood dream! And I love that you went before all the tourists got there!

  21. This sounds like an amazing sanctuary! I have visited the one further north — in Santa Cruz, California and it too is amazing!!!! Seeing that many monarchs is a stunning experience that one never forgets.

  22. I’ve always been fascinated by monarch butterflies. The generational history that you explain is something I’ve never heard before. It makes so much sense. Many here in Canada have heard that the monarchs fly to Mexico but we’ve also heard that they fly back to Canada. Would love to visit them in Mexico!

  23. We are going to try for a family trip to Mexico in late December/early January next year! The Monarch Butterfly reserve is definitely on my list, and I’m happy to hear you found it okay to drive yourself!

    1. You’re welcome! Let me know how it was for you. We had so much fun there, and the butterflies are amazing!

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I'm a full-time traveling mom who's passionate about worldschooling.

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