All About Mexico’s Famous Monarch Butterflies

Photo: FaiZan ALi

For years now, monarch butterfly populations have been decreasing throughout the world (by more than 80 percent in some places). Despite their shrinking numbers, though, there are still opportunities to see them in the wild, especially if you’re willing to travel to Mexico.

Every year in November, a massive monarch butterfly migration takes place in Mexico, specifically between Michoacán and Estado de México. The forest that is located between these two states becomes filled with gorgeous monarch butterflies as they travel south from the United States and Canada (about 2,800 miles) to camp out for the winter in a warmer climate.

Monarch butterflies are unique insects, not just because of their stunning colors but also because they have the longest migration trajectory of any insect. They start their flight in August and make it to Mexico early in November.

Once they arrive, these butterflies camp out in the forest until springtime. Most of them travel specifically to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a protected area that UNESCO named a World Heritage Site in 2008.

Those who want to see the butterfly migration firsthand can also take a trip to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, which is spread out over a whopping 139,019 acres.

On average, it takes about 1-2 hours to hike up the mountain to view the butterflies at the reserve. Practically everyone who travels here to see the migration says the effort is 100 percent worth it, though.

Travelers need to note that not all of this reserve is open to the public. In fact, much of the core reserve is blocked off to keep butterflies and other creatures (more than 180 altogether) that reside there safe.

Visitors don’t have access to the entire reserve, but they can access three zones in Michoacán and three zones in Estado de México.

The most popular sanctuary in Michoacán is located about 5.5 miles from the town of Angangueo and is known as el Rosario. In Estado de México, the best-known sanctuary is known as Piedra Herrada and is located close to the town of Valle de Bravo and the National Park of El Nevado de Toluca.

During your visit to the sanctuary, it’s important to keep the monarch’s health and safety in mind. Their population has declined dramatically over the last several years, and visitors ought to do everything they can to avoid contributing to this decline.

The main thing to do to protect the monarch butterflies is to avoid bothering them. This means keeping a safe distance from the trees (at least 54 yards) and remaining silent.

Visitors should also avoid dropping trash on the ground and steer clear of flash photography, and they must stay on designated paths to avoid disturbing the butterflies or the environment in general. Pets are not allowed in the park, nor is smoking. 

Those who want to get a taste of the great butterfly migration before they book a trip to Mexico can watch this video here via YouTube.