Where to See Mexico’s Monarch Butterflies – Piedra Herrada Sanctuary

The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Mexico’s top ecotourism destinations. There are several sanctuaries open to visitors across two Mexican states – Michoacán and Mexico. Piedra Herrada is the easiest monarch sanctuary to access from Mexico City and only a 2-hr drive from the Santa Fe district along the state highway, not toll road.

Monarch butterflies clustered in lichen-covered bark of an oyamel fir.
Monarch butterflies clustered in lichen-covered bark of an oyamel fir.

The aggregation of millions and millions of monarch butterflies in Mexico’s central highlands remains one of the most impressive wildlife spectacles on the planet. When masses of butterflies are in flight, it sounds like rain falling and their cumulative weight can bend branches of oyamel firs.

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Monarch butterflies clustered together for warmth – Piedra Herrada Sanctuary in Mexico State.


What To Know Before You Go:

• Monarchs start returning to Mexico in November but the best time for viewing is from January to March.
• To avoid the crowds, consider going on Monday, Tuesday, or Friday. Wednesday and Thursday are the busiest days for school groups and the weekend sees an influx of visitors from all over.
• The butterflies become more active as temperatures rise during the day and sunny days are better for viewing mass flights.
• Be prepared for a moderately challenging hike. The terrain is steep, uneven and at high elevation. During our recent trip to Piedra Herrada (Jan 23, 2015), the monarchs were clustered at 10,335 ft (3150) m in elevation. Piedra Herrada’s parking lot is at 9350 ft (2850 m) and the hike to the butterflies was just over a mile (1.6 km) long.
• Horses are available for rent if you’d like a shorter hike. Just know that you’ll still have a short hike since the horses can’t go all the way to the monarch congregation sites.
• You must hire a local guide from a neighboring ejido to accompany you. The ejido guides don’t speak English. If you don’t speak Spanish, consider hiring a second professional guide to add to the experience.
• Valle de Bravo, a Pueblo Magico is only 30 minutes further by road and a great place to spend a night. It also provides access to El Capulin, another less visited monarch sanctuary in Mexico State.
• Fees*:
Parking: 10 MXN per passenger vehicle
Entrance fee: 50 MXN per person
 *Subject to change without notice.

If you’re thinking of a trip to Mexico to visit the monarch butterfly sanctuaries, we’re happy to help with travel planning logistics.

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