For two days, our group of fourteen travelers and three guides rode horses, hiked, climbed, and pushed ahead to see the Monarch butterflies in Michoacan and Estado de Mexico, Mexico. We reached over 11,000 feet in altitude to get to where the butterflies roost and overwinter in the central highlands here.
Our first day was spent at El Rosario, the largest of the two sites that we visited, and the most touristic of all the sanctuaries. It was a Mexican national holiday, a three-day weekend, and we encountered hundreds, if not thousands of visitors climbing to the top of the site. They came with entire families, babies to grandparents. They walked, hiked, had bamboo sticks to help them, backpacks filled with water and snacks, cameras in pockets and around necks.
note: Monarch butterfly populations down significantly this year. Climate change impacting their survival.
On our second day we went to Sierra Chincua, smaller than El Rosario. It is more off-the-beaten path and less populated by people, at least if you get there earlier in the morning as we did. We all recommend this site as being more accessible and equally as magnificent.
I asked our travelers to send me their impressions and experience in the butterfly sanctuaries, and what being there meant to them. Here is what they said …
Atop the mountain in light and shadow, flashes of gold and hanging clusters of stillness reveal to me the beauty, frailty, and endurance in the natural world and all mankind. -Flora Graham
Forest baths. Monarch biospheres exemplified that feeling. Observing local residents with their young children climbing the steep incline. I was impressed by it all. People and nature. – Pat Meheriuk
We may offer this trip in 2026. Please contact us if you are interested.
I came to Michoacan to see the butterflies and witness a natural phenomenon. I’d seen photos, listened to Sara Dykman talk about her 10,000 mile bike ride following the Monarchs from New York to Mexico and back, seen the National Geographic article, fed them countless milkweed meals, and watched them emerge from their chrysallis. I don’t know what I expected, but I know it never entered my mind that it would make me cry. -Joyce Howell
Things call to us instinctually, and sometimes, when we are listening, we hear the call. The trip to see the Monarch butterflies in Mexico called to me in such a way. It beckoned. Could I go? How could I go? I must go. And, in the early days of February 2024, I found myself trekking, a pilgrimage, to see the miracle of the migrating Monarchs — first in the Rosario Sanctuary, and the next day in the Sierra Chincua. Both treks were different but equally deeply meaningful. In the El Rosario Sanctuary, the reverence of hundreds of people, panting, sweating, to become suddenly quiet, in awe, at the pinnacle, was a connection that bound us deeply and instinctually. In Sierra Chincua, more space and fewer people allowed for a deep connection: to the sun, the wind, the dust, the Oyamel Firs. The Monarchs, their mysteries, their beauty, connects us all, globally and as inter-species, and is the thread that weaves us together in the world. It is magic. It is everything. – Kerry Drake
I was drawn to this particular trip because of the opportunity to visit the winter resting place for the Monarchs. What I experienced was so much more than I ever dreamed … a beautiful forest with birds, wildflowers, streams, and flocks of families and people who will be touched forever by this experience. As I hiked higher and the Monarchs became more numerous, I was overwhelmed with emotion. The natural phenomenon of what it took for these creatures to arrive in the majestic place was striking, as well as imaging each Monarch as a spirit of those who have passed before. Having lost my father this past year, it gave me a chance to reconnect with his spirit. Muchas gracias. – Karen Hembree
For me, the solitary time walking the path, both up the mountain and downhill again, was the heart of the butterfly experience. See the very first Monarch was its own miracle, the answer to a quest. To see millions was spectacular, impossible to capture in a photo. The silent reverence of the crowd of witnesses was beautiful. It feels like a favor I have done for myself, a treasure I can tuck into my memory and a reverie to revisit. -Liz Knisely
Going to the Butterfly Sanctuary felt like a spiritual pilgrimage. To get to the butterfly clusters was no easy task, but it was well worth it. In a way, having a not so easy journey to see the butterflies elevated the experience. It was a hike up 10,000 feet in a beautiful, forest, mountain trail with fellow butterfly seekers. Along the way, the altitude and climb would cause me to stop several times to catch my breath. But when I did, I could take in the beauty that surrounded me. The trails themselves, although difficult were covered in an array of flowers and plants. And fellow hikers, were all very kind and courteous to each other, even if you were struggling. That only was a beautiful experience. As we got closer to the sanctuary, there were occasional butterflies that increased the excitement that was ahead. In a way, it felt like some butterflies were saying “keep going, you got this!”. When I reached the top, the meadow of butterflies felt like I went to a temple. Everyone was quiet and taking in the magic of where we were and the butterflies flying everywhere. Then as I continued to the final cluster, I felt like my breath was taken away. My eyes watered, my heart felt it could have burst with the overwhelming feeling of how amazing this life is. I never would have dreamt that I would have ever gone to the butterfly sanctuary to witness the miracle of the monarch butterfly migration. I was flooded with gratitude and love. As Estella said, they believe that the butterflies are ancestors. It felt like our ancestors were glad we made the journey and blessed us with their presence. This was a once in a lifetime experience. – Lava Khonsuwon
After the hike, we gathered at the local comedors, the small kitchens operated by locals from Angangueo and El Rosario. This is how families make an income during the butterfly season — by cooking lunch in humble puestos and running horses.
Our favorite comedor is operated by Doña Lupita at Sierra Chincua. The two-year olds hover around their mothers while the mothers cook. We had the best blackberry atole, chile relleno, and enchiladas!
Migrating butterflies need milkweed to lay eggs and sustain the succeeding generations. An educational program for school children led by Susan Meyers, links Canada, the USA and Mexico. All three countries experience Monarch butterfly migration and the education program creates greater understanding for preservation.