MEXICO CITY -- Just as much of North America was preparing for the
ice and snow of winter, an estimated 250 million monarch
butterflies began their annual fall journey to Michoacan, Mexico,
for what many consider to be one of nature's most spectacular
Each year, the brightly colored, orange-and-black monarchs
travel distances as great as 3,100 miles to avoid the north's
Originating in Canada and the U.S., the butterflies begin their
monthlong journey in late October or early November, flying
approximately 70 miles per day.
The monarchs' final destination lies in the eastern mountains
surrounding Morelia, the capital of the state of Michoacan.
Morelia is a lively city with a university and an active
Among other interesting sites, Michoacan contains the colonial
town of Patzcuaro, set near scenic Lake Patzcuaro.
Here, in the Oyamel fir forests, the butterflies spend the
winter waiting for spring and the mating season.
When early springtime arrives, the butterflies mate then return
north, laying eggs along the way.
For clients planning a late winter visit to Mexico, there are
two butterfly reserves open to the public: El Rosario Monarch
Butterfly Sanctuary and Sierra Chincua Monarch Butterfly
El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary is set in the mountains
in the easternmost portion of Michoacan, about three hours by bus
west of Mexico City.
The monarchs cluster together by the thousands in the mountain's
pine trees, often weighing down branches with their sheer mass.
Ordinarily green pine trees glow orange from the multitude of
The sanctuary is open every day during the butterfly season. The
admission fee is approximately $1. The fee includes the services of
an English-speaking guide.
The Sierra Chincua Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary is near the small
mountain town of Angangueo.
The admission fee is about $1, and visitors can opt to explore
the sanctuary on a guided horseback tour.
Angangueo and nearby towns such as Ocampo, Zitacuaro and
Maravito celebrate the monarch butterfly in February with the
Festival de la Mariposa Monarca.
The festival includes traditional dances, music and craft
The best way to get to the butterfly reserves is from the town
A local bus company, Autobuses de Occidente, operates buses
twice daily to the sanctuaries. The trip costs $1.50 one way.
For more information, call Autobuses de Occidente at (011) 52-4
A local tour operator, Operadora Monarca in Morelia, conducts
tours of the sanctuaries for $75 per person. The tours include
motorcoach transportation, a meal with beverages and a bilingual
Operadora Monarca can be reached at (011) 52-4 313-3571.
Clients also can stay in the mountain town of Angangueo at the
comfortable Albergue Don Bruno hotel, (011) 52-7 156-0026. In
Zitacuaro, clients can stay at the Villa Monarca Inn, (011) 52-7
Although the monarch is not an endangered species, the Mexican
government has taken several actions to protect the butterfly.
In 1986, the Mexican government created a reservation to
preserve the monarch's essential habitat.
This reservation covers five of the 13 known sites in Michoacan
where the butterflies spend their winter.
In addition, Mexico's government established the Michoacan
Reforestation Fund to set aside money to replant trees in the
More information on the butterflies or inns mentioned in this
story can be obtained by calling (800) 44-MEXICO, or via the Web at
For additional information about Morelia, including its hotels
and transportation to the butterfly sanctuaries, call the Morelia
Tourist Office at (011) 52-4 313-2654.