Travel Stories, Travel Tips & Guides

The Butterfly Effect | Monarch Butterflies of Mexico

As I settle into our new home, I am finally looking forward to having some extra time to remember our adventures in Mexico. Our second weekend in Mexico was a bucket list item for me. I had the incredible opportunity to visit El Rosario Sanctuary and witness thousands of monarch butterflies that travel thousands of kilometers for the winter.

Monarch Butterfly

The When’s & How’s

I’ll just cut straight to the chase here, and let you know the goods.

Monarch butterflies start arriving in Mexico in November. Millions of butterflies make the long journey as the temperatures start cooling in Canada and the USA, and the numbers reach its peak around January. January to March are the busiest times to venture out to see this incredible sight, but I can honestly say, even in November when the numbers have not even reached half, I was blown away.

Getting to El Rosario Sanctuary is not too difficult. We were lucky enough to have Beto’s Uncle Martín as our tour guide. The guy knows everything there is to know about the state of Michoacán. But if you do not have an Uncle Martín, you can get there a couple of ways.

If you go from the nearest city, Morelia (also worth the visit, and you can read about it in this blog), you can catch a bus first to the town of Zítacuaro and then another bus to the mining town of Angangueo. Anagangueo is absolutely worth a visit as well as you can find a little bakery and pick up an entire bag full of conchas for 30 pesos. If you have not had a concha, do it. Do it now.

From Angangueo, you can grab a lift from one of the many guides in town. The ride is about 30 minutes from Angangueo, up the mountains, through incredible views. When you reach the sanctuary, you will be greeted by a dozen or so children from the nearby villages. They will likely sing a song to you about the butterflies and hope that you can spare a few pesos.

The whole trip with buses and a ride should cost you around $400-500 MXN each way. That said, you can always hire a private guide from Morelia for about $3000 MXN for the day. They´ll hang around and wait for you too, so that could be worth it if you have a few bucks to spare.

(Note: if you’ve got access to a car and can get there on your own from Morelia, stop on the way at a restaurant called Restaurant El Titanic. You’ll have some of the best Chilaquiles of your life, and the Café de Olla is the best I had).

I’m Not Out of Shape, It’s the Elevation…Right?

100%. Yes. It isn’t you, it’s the elevation. As you hike up to the area you’ll find the highest concentration of butterflies, you might feel a little light-headed or out of breath. I certainly did, which felt weird to me as I spend lots of time outside with my dog on trails. Beto even seemed a little surprised that the elevation affected me so much, but once we realized that was the issue and I didn’t suddenly become wildly out of shape, I felt a lot better! Haha!

El Rosario sits at about 3000m above sea level, roughly the same elevation as Cusco. Just to put that in perspective, Machu Picchu sits at 2430 m. That is just cray…I had no idea until I was gasping for breath. If you are not accustomed to high elevations, spend a night or two in Angangueo to get acclimated.

Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
Almost at the top!

Holy Sh*t…I Was Not Expecting This

Just a few things.

  1. Nothing can prepare you for what you’re about to see.
  2. Shhhh. Be very quiet. You’ll want to hear this
  3. No words. There are absolutely no words.

It’s months later, and I still struggle with the words when I tell people about this experience. I’d seen documentaries, I’d seen Instagram stories, I’d read about the millions upon millions of mariposas monarcas that arrive here every year. Until you get there, until you can see it in person, nothing will suffice to prepare you for that experience.

You stand there, in the company of other tourists seeing this for the first time. You are all in complete silence, and if you were all standing in a room, you’d hear a pin drop, but the overwhelming sound of the fluttering of wings vibrates through your body.

As the clouds cover the sun, you see clusters of butterflies in the trees, the branches bending under the weight of these seemingly weightless insects. The green of the trees is completely camouflaged in the orange and black. Then the clouds part, the sun warms the air and it is as if the tree explodes. The sky fills with swarms of the butterflies, they gracefully fly past you, and you look at them in complete wonder. How is it possible that something so delicate survived that months-long journey? How is something so small, so resilient? It seems impossible, and yet, here you are, experiencing this incredible moment.

If that ain’t enough, check out a video below:

I wasn’t sure how I wanted to finish this piece. I didn’t really know if I wanted it to be a Travel Tip, Travel Guide or a Travel Story. I think in the end it is all three. I can tell you where to go and how to get there, but I can’t tell you what it will be like when you arrive. That’s the thing with travelling. Each place, each destination impacts and changes a traveller in different ways. You learn lessons that others may not need to learn, you take away different things from each place. For me, seeing the Mariposas Monarcas, the Monarch Butterflies, was a little like learning about my own strength and resilience. I think I wrote it best in an Instagram post recently:



“As I stood staring at this small insect that withstood a 4000km journey through the elements to make it here, I realized even the most delicate of things can weather the harshest of storms. Don’t be afraid to be delicate, because even then you have great strength.”

Reach out to me if you are heading to this area of Mexico. I have plenty of tips and an internal list of great places to stop along the way!

As always, seize the world.

3 thoughts on “The Butterfly Effect | Monarch Butterflies of Mexico”

  1. That’s pretty incredible – I love wildlife and witnessing phenomenon like this is amazing. Definitely a bucket list experience. I wanted to visit Mexico soon so I might be in touch picking your brains about all these awesome things!


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