How to do a day trip to the Monarch butterfly reserves from Mexico City
This guide will give you all the information you need to do a day trip to the Monarch butterfly reserves from Mexico City. Imagine being surrounded by thousands of butterflies high in the central mountains of Mexico. It’s a true natural spectacle that is unique to this region near Mexico city and this time of year. And one not to be missed if you’re around. Many stay overnight in Angangueo but it can easily be done as a day trip from Mexico City if you are short on time. Read on to find out how to visit the Monarch butterfly reserves on a day trip from Mexico City plus tips and photos to prepare you for the day.
Each year between November and March Monarch butterflies arrive in Mexico by their thousands to spend the winter in warmer climes. It’s one of the most epic migrations in the natural world, some travelling up to 3000 miles over the course of two months from Canada and Northern America. It takes 4 generations to complete the migration, with the Mexican butterflies living 10 times longer than their predecessors (up to 8 months!). They cluster together for warmth and sometimes snap branches due to their enormous shared weight. But in the mountains of Michoacán state they are under threat from illegal logging and climate change. Locals and conservationists here are fighting to keep these places special. Your visit directly helps.
When to do a day trip from Mexico City to the Monarch butterfly reserves
The parks officially open on November 1st (Day of the Dead) but are best in the warmer months of January to March as the butterflies are more active. Try to choose a warm, sunny day for the same reason as the colder it is the less you will see. This is the same reason I would try to time your arrival at midday if possible.
Which Monarch butterfly reserve should you go to?
There are four reserves to choose from. Here are some easy facts to help you choose.
Michoacán state is around 3.5 hours from México City and has three of the reserves;
Sierra Chincua – Stunning mountain views and easy to follow trails if going independently. Guides available at entrance for tips. Access – 45 minute rocky hike uphill. Accessible by 15 minute walk from main road and 20 minute taxi/ bus from Angangueo or San Jose del Rincon.
El Rosario – Most popular and set up for tourists with easy walking trails and tours. Most densely populated with butterflies but also the busiest. Access – 40 minute paved hike. Accessible by 15 minute taxi from Angangueo.
Cerro Pelon – Steep hike, usually done on horseback, very secluded. Best to stay overnight and book tours with a local expert here with JM’s Butterfly B&B.
The last reserve Piedra Herrada is in the state of Valle del Bravo and just a 2.5 hour drive from México City. It’s a steep 45 minute hike each way. Public transport can be tricky but you can book tours with Aztec Explorers here from Mexico City. Tours only run on certain days (usually Saturday) so be sure to plan ahead, they also stop in the nearby town of Valle de Bravo one of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos. The cost is good at just 850 pesos per person.
We unfortunately came at the wrong time to do a tour with Aztec Explorers so decided on the less busy Sierra Chincua Reserve.
How to get to the Monarch butterfly reserves
You can do a tour from México city as mentioned above. But apart from this recommended tour my searches through Trip Advisor, Viator and Get Your Guide resulted in tours that were either too expensive (over $100 each) or had bad reviews (or both). We decided to go it alone by public transport. It’s a full and long day trip either way but easily done and saves you some pesos.
Getting public transport to the Monarch butterfly reserves near Angangueo
Firstly you need to get to Mexico City Poniente Bus Terminal (Observatorio Metro Station). Buses to Angangueo run at 6am or 8am costing 233 Pesos. Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world and has traffic and Metro queues to match meaning you need to give at least an hour, maybe more, to get from the historic center to the west side of the city during rush hour. Uber is an easy and safe option at around 140 Pesos. Buses leave from Puerta 12.
If visiting El Rosario stay on the bus all the way to Angangueo and get a taxi 15 minutes to the reserve from there. If visiting Sierra Chincua just tell the bus driver and keep an eye on Google maps to get off at the end of the dirt road to the reserve. It’s then a 20 minute walk to the entrance of the reserve.
Entrance is 50 pesos for both reserves. There are restaurants on site and everything is cash only. We took lunch from a delicious bakery in Mexico City because of dietary restrictions, see my Google maps points here! But definitely try to support the local economy when you can.
If visiting Sierra Chincua you can also get the bus to San Jose del Rincon, a slightly bigger town than Angangueo with more facilities. Buses run every half an hour (185 Pesos) then it’s a 25 minute taxi ride to Sierra Chincua (150 pesos).
The buses are very nice, more like coaches with USB chargers, comfy chairs and movies to watch. There weren’t any other tourists on board but it felt very safe.
For current timetables prices and to book online check out the Zina/Excelencia website here.
The journey from Mexico City to the Monarch butterfly reserve becomes instantly worth it when the stunning mountain views and butterflies come in to sight. It’s above 3000 meters elevation so expect to take it slowly and soak in the atmosphere with plenty of water stops a long the way. It’s a 45 minute hike but you’ll want to stop for photos. We did it without a guide but there are a few ambiguous points where the map isn’t much help, just ask other people. A guide is free at the entrance, they work for tips, just remember they only speak Spanish generally.
The Natural Wonder Itself
At the very end is a small roped off section where there are signs that read “Silencio”. The butterflies need peace and quiet to get on with their business and you are also only supposed to stay for 30 minutes. But if you’re really good and respectful the nice local ladies on guard might let you stay longer to take an inordinate amount of pictures… Like these;
Thousands of butterflies fluttering around, more clustered together high on the trees, weighing down the branches. Every breeze dislodging a few hundred at a time. It’s truly a spectacle you will never forget but I don’t need to convince you if you’re still reading this.
Getting back to Mexico City
The road was very quiet when we visited Sierra Chincua and the chances of getting a passing taxi seemed low. Hitchhiking is an option! The bus from Mexico City came by at about 15:40 and cost just 10 Pesos to get to Angangueo, so a good deal if you can time it right.
Buses return at 12:20 or 16:50 from Angangueo. I’d buy a return ticket from Mexico City as the small office only opens half an hour before the bus is due to leave and can get busy, it’s also cash only.
The buses back from San Jose del Rincon leave every 30 minutes and take 2.5 hours, you could also jump on the bus mentioned above from Angangueo back to here at approximately 17:05. Best to be earlier just in case!
See bus timetables above.
What to take
Sunscreen, plenty of water, cash, good walking shoes and snacks particularly if you have dietary requirements. Plenty of energy and a camera with a good zoom.
I use this camera for all of my nature photography and it has never let me down in 5+ years of hiking through mountains, jungles and deserts. I’d highly recommend it for a compact hard wearing camera that gets as good close ups as the chunky DSLR’s.
I hope you have a great trip and are as astounded as us by the sheer beauty of this natural spectacle. If you have any questions or tips to add just drop a comment below.
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