MICHOACAN, Mexico -- Hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies
are on the move from the U.S. and Canada to central Mexico for the
The migrating butterflies are one of the main attractions in the
colonial towns of Angangueo, Ocampo, Zitacuaro and Maravatio every
From November through March, more than 250 million of the
brightly colored insects make the more than 3,000-mile journey to
winter in the state of Michoacan.
The monarchs cling to the trunks and boughs of the trees in the
Oyamel fir forest in clusters numbering tens of thousands. The
ordinarily green pine trees glow orange from the multitude of
wings. In some areas of the forest, the butterflies can number 4
million per acre.
Experts believe the monarchs have been making this pilgrimage for
10,000 years, flying approximately 70 miles per day. But scientists
did not discover their winter destination until 1975.
It takes two generations of monarchs to complete the roundtrip
journey from the U.S. and Canada to Mexico and back.
One generation lives for up to nine months, making it as far as
the southern U.S. on their journey back from Mexico. Their
offspring reproduce there and make the rest of the journey
That second generation begins reproducing just three or four
days after emerging as adults, and die within a month. A third and
fourth generation make the next trip to Mexico.
Michoacan is home to five butterfly reserves, two of which are
open to the public -- El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary and Sierra
Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary.
During the four-month season, thousands of tourists travel each
weekend to the El Rosario sanctuary, the larger of the two
reserves, located between Zitacuaro and Angangueo.
The entrance fee is $2 per person and includes the services of
an English-speaking guide. The sanctuary is open every day during
the butterfly season.
Opened in 1997, the Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary is
located near Angangueo, about 66 miles east of Morelia. Admission
is $1, and visitors can take horseback tours of the rough
The best time to visit the sanctuaries is in February, when
Angangueo and neighboring Ocampo, Zitacuaro and Maravatio celebrate
the monarch with the Festival de la Mariposa Monarca. The festival
includes traditional dances, music and artisan markets.
Visitors who want to overnight in the area should consider the
Hotel Albergue Don Bruno in Angangueo, at (011) 52-715 156-0026. In
Zitacuaro, clients should consider the Villa Monarca Inn, at (011)
In Morelia, the 39-room Hotel Villa Montana offers
commissionable tours (at 10%) to the sanctuaries. The eight-hour
tours depart the hotel around 8 a.m. and cost $200 for up to four
people in a chauffeured car and $300 for up to eight people in a
chauffeured sport-utility vehicle.
For information or reservations, call (011) 52-443 314-0231,
e-mail [email protected] or visit the Web at www.villamontana.com.mx.
More information on the butterflies or lodgings mentioned in
this story can be obtained by calling (800) 44-MEXICO or by
For additional information about the state of Michoacan,
including its hotels and transportation to the butterfly
sanctuaries, call the Morelia Tourist Office at (011) 52-443