Monarchs return to Michoacan

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MICHOACAN, Mexico -- Hundreds of millions of migrating Monarch butterflies is one of the main attractions in the colonial towns of Angangueo, Ocampo, Zitacuaro and Maravatio every winter. From November through March, more than 250 million of the brightly colored, orange-and-black monarchs make the more than 3,000-mile journey from the U.S. and Canada 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. 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.

More than 250 million brightly colored Monarch butterflies make the annual migration to the state of Michoacan. Michoacan is home to five butterfly reserves, two of which are open to the public. Visitors to these butterfly sanctuaries -- El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary and Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary -- will not only see the butterflies but hear them flapping their wings.

During the four-month season, thousands of interested tourists travel to the El Rosario sanctuary, the larger of the two reserves, each weekend to view the butterflies. The sanctuary is located between the towns of Zitacuaro and Angangueo, at an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet.

The entrance fee for the sanctuary 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 the small town of Angangueo, about 66 miles east of Morelia. Admission is $1, and visitors to the reserve can take horseback tours of the rough trails.

The best time to visit the sanctuaries is in February when Angangueo and the neighboring villages of Ocampo, Zitacuaro and Maravatio celebrate the Monarch butterfly 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 Albergue Don Bruno hotel in Angangueo, (011) 52-7 156-0026. In Zitacuaro, clients should consider the Villa Monarca Inn, (011) 52-7 153-5371.

More information on the butterflies or lodgings mentioned in this story can be obtained by calling (800) 44-MEXICO, or via the Web at www.visitmexico.com. For additional information about the state of Michoacan, including its hotels and transportation to the butterfly sanctuaries, call the Morelia Tourist Office at (011) 52-4 443-2654.

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