This is a natural spectacle that is worth traveling for, especially when you’re traveling with kids. Millions of Monarch butterflies spent the winter months (starting end of October) in Mexico in Michoacan and Mexico State. They come from Canada and the USA. Check out the details about the incredible life of the monarchs on Wikipedia.
In Michoacan, you’ll be able to see millions of those butterflies in a small area, sitting on trees by the thousands, and when the sun is out and it’s not too cold… they’ll dance all around.
Monarchs for kids
This tour is definitely one for kids. Our kids loved it. They loved the butterflies and the horseback ride up and down the hill. Since our kids are still small we had one horse for one adult and one kid. I transported Mika in the Ergobaby Baby Carrier and Bastian had Juni in a backpack. Both had enormously big fun and the ride wasn’t too long that they got bored or fell asleep. For older kids you can get a horse per person. The ride is safe, since the guide is leading the horse.
Seeing the butterflies was a very exciting event for both. The butterflies danced all around. Everyone had to be quiet to not scare them. Mika thought it’s hilarious to have one of them sit on his hand.
It was one that wasn’t alive anymore, picked up by the guide and handed from one child to another. Mika didn’t care about all those details, he just had one of those incredible creatures on his hand.
How to get there?
To get to El Rosario or to Sierra Chincua, find Maravatío, Michoacán on google and from there drive towards Angangueo. It’s a cute, small mountain village. From there it’s further up the hill. The road is windy, sandy, unpaved and leads through the woods.
We were happy to have our 4×4 Tundra but the road is also doable by a motor home without 4×4 as our friends proved a couple of days later.
We arrived at the Reserve’s parking area. Paid for parking. A bunch of kids, probably not even 5 years old came and wanted to protect our car for a couple of pesos. We decided to not give them money. Our first stop was the bathroom, the second the pay station for the entrance fee. After that we entered the Reserve and were introduced to our guide. She was a nice, 30-year-old lady. She explained the horseback riding option and let us to the horses. We decided for two horses, a horse for one adult and one kid each. A second guide let the two horses up the hill and our tour guide walked behind the horses. It was a roughly 20 minute uphill horse walk. At the end the horses were ‘parked’ since we wanted to take a ride on our downhill way too. It was a short walk from there. Not far, maybe 5 – 10 min, not a hard walk. We then saw the butterflies together with other visitors. There weren’t so many other visitors that we felt like it’s crowded. Everyone had enough space to see from every angle. After we decided that we’re done with watching the butterflies and asking questions, we went downhill again with both guides and both horses.
Our tour guide offered lunch cooked by her mom and we accepted. We sat in the sun behind the hut in which the food was prepared. There is a row of those kitchen huts with a lot of smoke coming out of the small chimneys. We ate blue quesadillas, drank soda / juice stuff, talked to other visitors, used the bathroom again and then paid. After that we went to look through the souvenirs huts and bought some woolen hats for the kids. Afterwards diaper change and everyone climbed back in the car.
We paid the following:
- 40 pesos for parking
- 90 pesos for the entrance to the Reserve
- 600 pesos for 2 horses
- 80 pesos tip for the guide
- 6 pesos for bathroom visits (2 x 3 pesos)
- 220 pesos for food (a couple of quesadillas with mushrooms and 3 juice / soda things) incl. tip
- 180 pesos for hats from the souvenirs stands
That’s 1216 pesos total plus gas. That’s roughly 56 USD. But you can get it for less!
Here is how to make it for less:
Don’t buy hats or other souvenirs… We bought them because we needed hats.
We paid for 2 horses roundtrip. If you’re just one person, you’ll pay 300 for up and downhill ride.
Instead of taking a horse, you can also walk. Just be aware that it might be an exhausting walk due to the high altitude. The locals can make this trip in 20 mins because they are used to the altitude. For regular people they say it takes an hour to get up to the butterfly spot.
Another option is to just take the horse up the hill and walk back down. That will save you half of the horse cost.
What you pay to the guide is up to you. Be aware that the guides don’t get paid by the Reserve and they live of the ‘propina’ (tip) that you give them. We gave 80 because it was a 2.5 hours job to do and we know from a local who pays 200 pesos per day for his workers. So 80 seemed to be a fair price to us.
You can also bring your own food and save the lunch money. I personally found the ‘comida’ (spanish word for lunch) prepared by the local people very entertaining and interesting. The tortillas were made from blue corn and were great. A lady who set next to us let me try her hot drink that looked like hot chocolate but was different, a mix of sweet things and I couldn’t remember the name. I enjoyed the food and liked that I supported the locals with that too.
What to bring?
When we visited, it was a hot day on our camp ground at lower altitude but it got chilly up in the mountains (10270 feet / 3.1 km). I was wearing shorts and got scared when the car’s thermometer showed 15 degrees celsius outdoor temperature. I survived with my shorts, it wasn’t too cool. But you should be prepared for lower temperatures up there. Long pants might be a good idea.
Another point against shorts is that, if you’re picking the horse option, there might be a rope scratching along your leg with which the horse guide drags a second horse behind your horse.
If you walk uphill, bring good walking shoes.
Bring a good camera with long lens if you have! It’s worth it. And bring a tripod if you want to shoot film… just saying.
Bring a bit of water to drink. The entire trip doesn’t take for ever but you’ll be happy if you don’t forget your water.
Bring enough cash. There is most likely no ATM anywhere in the Reserve.
Good to know
The Reserve is organized in a way that you can’t see the monarchs without hiring a guide. That way, the locals get supported. You can tip them any amount with which you feel comfortable, just know they don’t get paid by the Reserve.
Now one thing is important! On the road to the Reserve, people looking like officials will stop your car or guide you the right way to the Reserve and they will say they are guides for the Reserve. They want you to take them in your car up to the Reserve. Don’t do it. Even if someone on the road tells you that the guides up there are all busy, don’t do it. The real guides, certified by the Reserve, are waiting for you behind the entrance of the Reserve.
Stay in touch!
We’re a 4 people family from Germany, currently traveling from Canada to Uruguay with a truck and a small camping trailer. Follow our adventures here:
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