The forests near the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserves are at high-risk for logging. You can see that the land is fertile and gorgeous, and sadly farmers keep illegally cutting further and further up into the mountains to expand their farming plots. You can’t blame them…everyone has to eat, right? But as they cut further and further up the mountains, they are quickly destroying precious land that has been a refuge for the butterflies for perhaps hundreds of years or more!

We drove a very long winding road to get to Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary (Santuario de la Mariposa Monarca) near Ocampo, Michoacán. The last 100 yards turned into a dirt road and almost had us turning around…surely this couldn’t be the road to the famed sanctuary?  But indeed…we swung around a corner and were thrown into a dirt parking lot, looking in on the entrance.

We paid our entrance fees, and were offered guided tours by the gentlemen sitting under the signs (“propina” or tip only). Our friends, the Dennings, had already arrived an hour or so earlier, and had turned down a guide. We reached them by cell phone and learned they were lost and wandering the mountain!  So, we picked up a guide and started on the paved path up the mountain side.  Nearly 4-year-old Maiya made it her typical 10 feet before collapsing and telling us she couldn’t walk any further.  The guide offered to carry her, but we declined. It was a “buck-up-and-walk-kind-of-day”. So, we started to “ditch” her on the path (of course, we would never actually leave her…but threats do sometimes work). Ella become immediately concerned and decided she would carry Maiya up the mountain. 

That lasted all of 1 minute, and Maiya gave in and walked the rest of the day!  The hike was nice and not very challenging. As we neared the top of the pass, it leveled out and we found some workers digging rectangular pits all over. We were told they were for catching water, to prevent erosion on the mountain. Of course, the kids thought of some other uses…

Every year the butterflies settle in different places. It’s not as if there is a small section of trees that they ALWAYS come back to. Their winter haven could vary to different areas throughout the forest. So, finding the butterflies without a guide (who is knowledgeable about where the butterflies are this year) is nearly impossible. You could wander forever without ever spotting them!  Suddenly, we started seeing some monarchs fluttering through the trees, and we saw trees that looked like this:

So what’s so special about these?  Oooooh…if only you could see them up close!  Those, my friends, are trees COVERED in butterflies. They are weighed down with so many thousands of butterflies, that the drooping, dark branches you see are literally teeming with monarchs.

As we stepped closer, and the sun began to shine, the butterflies came alive with activity.

The butterflies conserve their energy by gathering in large groups–staying nearly motionless to stay warm. But when the sun shines, they start flapping their wings and the branches become alive!

This is just one end of a branch. Now, imagine the entire tree looking like this!

We hiked up to the sanctuary on a very overcast day. We were so very blessed that just as we arrived to the butterflies, the sun came out briefly (the only time all day, in fact)!  We stood there silently and watched the butterflies whisking by overhead, as if they were a flock of birds!

It was too special of a moment to talk much, so we tried to be motionless–hoping we might be mistaken for tree branches…

We had to ask the children to be very careful of the butterflies, and not to touch them. That didn’t stop them from being very very tempted!

They discovered they could coax the butterflies onto leaves for a closer look!

There are no words to explain just how special this day truly was. You must put this trip on your bucket list!  Here is a brief video recap of our day (and no, it does not do it justice)!

And randomly…

On the way out of town, we passed a street sign that was worthy of a photograph.

5 Responses to “Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacán”

  1. I cant begin to imagine how beautiful this was in person. I loved your pics and video. My son and I would LOVE to see this! It’s definitely going on my bucket list. We’ve watched nature shows that talk about the monarch’s journey to Mexico. What a beautiful experience. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Bette Doshier says:

    Thank you. What a wonderful trip you had. You made me feel like I was there.
    Love your beautiful family.

  3. R Blevins says:

    Very nice recount of your trip… Great photos, video and text!
    My wife is a butterfly NUT… even raises and releases monarchs and other butterflies… and I’m thinking about a surprise trip to the Biosphere Reserve. We’re both ~60 y.o. and in reasonably good shape, although both ~30 lbs overweight… since we quite smoking a 2-3 years ago! Anyway, question is how long and how exerting is the hike at such an elevation? Wouldn’t want either of us to collapse on a bucket list trip! Also, can you suggest the best colony to visit, and the best hotel nearby? It will probably be a short trip… one hike up the mountain to witness the miracle… then home!
    Please email back… Thanks!!.. RB

    • The Biosphere is definitely worth a trip! There are various entrances, and this is only one of them! Yes, you can make the hike…it starts out with a lot of steps, but I wouldn’t call it strenuous. It’s more of a gentle walk/hike and the length of it simply depends on where the butterflies are that season (it’s always changing). For us…it was less than an hour of walking. My small kids could manage, minus the one non-walker (who’s old enough to walk)!! Haha!

      For hotels…we stayed at a cheapo hotel in Angangueo, a nearby town. We don’t expect much with hotels…so it was nothing fancy, and we booked simply by showing up. Most of Mexico still isn’t online, when it comes to accommodations. Perhaps some other blogges have visited in recent years and have some more recommendations? This trip was 4 years ago, so things may have changed!

      Good luck, and I truly hope you make it down there. It is magical 🙂


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