Monarch Butterfly Migration in Mexico

Monarch Butterfly Migration in Mexico

Imagine walking into a forest where thousands of dark orange butterflies are swirling through the trees. Sounds like something dreams are made of. That’s what it felt like too.

In Autumn and Winter, millions of Monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico. During the Monarch butterfly migration in Mexico, the butterflies make a 3000-mile journey from the US and Canada to the mountains near Mexico City. The butterflies travel in colonies of around 20 million and in a single day, can travel up to 120 nautical miles. They keep to warm-air streams to conserve their energy by minimising the need to flap their wings so that they can complete the long journey.

Even more incredible is that Monarch butterflies usually only live for 3-4 weeks. However, at the end of the summer, they breed a special generation of butterfly that can live up to 9 months. These butterflies are the ones that migrate south for the winter. They hibernate at the El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Reserve near Mexico City from late-October until March.

El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Reserve near Mexico City

In November, we visited the El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Reserve. The reserve is a protected area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We arrived in a small carpark with beautiful hilly views and began our ascent up through the forest. At the entrance of the reserve, you pay a token entrance fee, which includes a guide.

We followed our guide up a series of wooden steps between the trees. The altitude messes with your ears because the climb is so steep. We powered through the light headedness and continued up the trail. We came to a green grassy clearing where butterflies were weaving around in circles and clustering together along a muddy stream.

The Monarch butterflies spend their days mating before they cluster together on tree trunks and branches. In the Mexican highlands, the temperature drops at nighttime. Clustering allows the butterflies to conserve heat so that they can stay warm through the night.

The sheer volume of butterflies was astounding! It has to be the most spectacular feat of nature that I’ve ever seen. As a friend of mine said, it looked just like something out of Planet Earth.

We followed the trail around, back into the shade of the woods. There were butterflies scattered up the trunks of the trees, hanging off of branches and speeding around in the air. When we reached the end of the trail, we sat and admired all the beautiful insects above us. A couple stopped to rest on the ground around us, and one landed on my friend’s hand.

When to See Monarch Butterflies

The Monarch butterflies begin arriving in Mexico from late-October onwards. Many guides say that January – March is the best time to visit the reserve. However, we visited the reserve in November and saw an incredible amount of butterflies.

There were very few other tourists around when we were at El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Reserve, which was unsurprising because many tour operators don’t begin day trips from Mexico City to the reserve until January.

Try to visit the butterflies on a warm day. The butterflies are more active when the temperatures are warmer, and less so if there is a cold front. During November – January, when the weather is cooler, you need to hike up the mountain to see the butterflies. As the weather gets warmer, the butterflies start to come further down the mountain.

How to Get to El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Reserve

There are a few options to get to El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Reserve to see the Monarch Butterfly Migration in Mexico as a day-trip from Mexico City.

Tours – Tour operators make trips to the reserve from January to March. There were no tour agencies running trips in November.

Bus – There is also a bus that runs from Mexico City to Morelia. The bus takes 4 hours one-way and you need to take a collectivo up to the reserve. This makes the bus an undesirable option if you aren’t planning on staying overnight near the reserve.

Private Transport – We only had one day in which to visit the El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Reserve, so we rented a private car and driver for the day. This cost a total of $2200 pesos, which we split between the 4 of us. Transport included a return trip and a 3-hours in which to explore the reserve. The journey was 4 hours each way because of some bad traffic in Mexico City which lengthened the journey. If you need a contact to hire private transport and a driver, let me know and I can pass on the details.

Would you like to see the Monarch butterfly migration in Mexico?

Charlie Marchant

Charlie is a long-term traveller from the UK who writes about simple ways to travel sustainably, including how to become a house sitter and slow traveller, eating local and vegetarian, and making responsible travel choices.

7 thoughts on “Monarch Butterfly Migration in Mexico

  1. Charlie,
    I’m searching for tour companies who make the tour from MExico City as I’m travelling solo and would prefer to join a group tour. Hablo espanol but I’ve been coming up empty on my internet searches for tours. Did you happen to come across any agencies in particular in DF?

    Thanks so much for sharing your stunning photos!

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