In December of 2010 I was renting a 3 bedroom house on a walled 1 acre lot with beautiful flower gardens and fruit trees in the higher area of the small town of Jocotepec, just south of Guadalajara. From my patio I had a spectacular view of Chapala Lake with breathtaking evening sunsets. I soon realized that I was within easy reach of the 11 Monarch butterfly sanctuaries where millions of American and Canadian butterflies overwinter in the high elevation Oyamel fir forests in the Transvolcanic Range that borders the eastern part of the state of Michoacan and the western border of the state of Mexico.
I had long wanted to see the Mexican monarch butterfly overwintering sanctuaries. I did some research and talked to some of the locals and a few days later I was on a bus for a 3-day stay in the city of Morelia, the 1.2 million colonial city and capital of Michoacan and my gateway to the monarchs. I booked the Casino Hotel, now a Best Western that is located across from Morelia’s beautiful cathedral, the second highest in all of Mexico. Morelia, one of Mexico’s colonial cities, has many 400 year old colonial buildings, a university, music conservatory, busy plazas, great restaurants and a vibrant population. I have now returned there 3 times for a 1-month stay each time and there is still much for me to see and do there.
Anyway, back to the Santuorio Mariposa Monarca. At the Casino Hotel I arranged for an English tour to get me to the monarch sanctuaries. There were 6 of us in the 8 passenger van and the tour was given in both English and Spanish. I was picked up at the Casino and 3 hours later we were in Zitacuaro, Michoacan’s 2nd largest city, and ½ hour later we were at the sanctuary called El Rosario. After paying the entrance fee an aboriginal guide was assigned us. We hiked about an hour up the steep stair case to the alpine meadow were we saw the first monarch butterflies drinking water from a small stream and some sheep contentedly munching grass in the bright sunlight. The sky was blue, it was warm and the hardest part of the climb was over and as we strolled along a forest road the Oyamel fir trees got larger and the number of monarchs increased, some roosted on the trees and some on the wing. It was a fabulous day and the monarchs were providing us with a once in a lifetime spectacle. One can opt for horseback for a fee to get to the meadow but for horseback or walking, one must be in reasonably good physical shape.
We were fortunate to have a warm and sunny day and by the time we were at the Oyamel fir forest it was early afternoon. When it is cooler and not sunny the butterflies tend to stay roosted on the trees but when it is warm they fly so we were fortunate to see them flying as well as roosting by the hundreds of thousands. The photos in the gallery speak for themselves.
Seeing hundreds of thousand monarchs was an amazing experience and I would recommend it to anyone in good shape. You will not be disappointed. I have had the opportunity to visit a second sanctuary, Cerro Pelon in the state of Mexico in January of 2011. It was a different experience but just as enjoyable and awe inspiring. How do these millions of small fragile butterflies fly 5 or 6,000 kilometers to the Mexican forests and none of them have ever made the trip before?
Because of the warm 2011-2 winter and early spring in Canada and my province of Manitoba I have seen lots of monarchs in Winnipeg and at my cottage on Lake Winnipeg this spring. Having been to the monarch’s Mexican overwintering sites makes each monarch sighting in Canada special for me. If circumstances allow, I hope to make a 3 rd trip to the Mexican butterfly sanctuaries.
A keen photographer and hiker, Henry Huber, a retired high school teacher from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada has a wide range of interests. He now spends some part of the winter in Mexico exploring and photographing the Mexican natural landscape, its people and their cultural activities. He has developed a large collection of photos of experiences/events/places he’s visited in Mexico. In the last 2 winters he has concentrated on the colonial city of Morelia, Michoacán and the surrounding areas including the many Purépecha villages with their crafts and festivals around the Pátzcuaro Lake region, climbed the Parícutin cinder cone volcano and hiked into 2 of the 11 Mexican monarch butterfly sanctuaries near Zitácuaro.