Experiencing the monarch butterfly migration in Mexico

There aren’t many experiences in life that you can say are once in a lifetime, but experiencing the monarch butterfly migration in Mexico is undoubtedly one of them. Each year millions of monarch butterflies make the long trek from Canada and the northern part of the United States to Mexico where they stay for winter months. If you want to witness the monarch butterfly migration in Mexico, here’s what you need to know!

About the monarch butterfly migration in Mexico

Each fall, millions of Monarch butterflies instinctively start their travels as far as 3,000 miles to reach one of the butterfly sanctuaries that can be found in Mexico to overwinter. They call one of these few locations home for several months, resting, eating, and reproducing fluttering around when the sun peaks out. Come March, the butterflies start their voyage north again. However unlike the “super” Monarch that made it to Mexico in just one lifespan, the butterflies returning home will go through as many as four generations before they finally reach home stopping to rest and eat their beloved milkweed along the way.

When to see the butterflies

The butterfly migration begins in October, and most butterflies don’t arrive to Mexico until around late November or December. January to early February is peak season for witnessing the monarch butterfly migration in Mexico. 

The best time to see the butterflies out and about is mid day. Since the butterflies are in Mexico for the warmth, they huddle together on branches in clusters to keep each other warm until the sun comes out. We went around 11:00 am and were able to witness huge groups of the Monarch’s “waking up”.

It’s also suggested you go on a weekday if at all possible. This is a very popular attraction (for good reason), and while the top of the mountain is extremely quite and peaceful, the weekends can get very crowded.

Where to see the butterflies

In Mexico, there are several sanctuaries you can visit in Mexico and Michoacan state which are home to Oyamel fir, pine, and oak trees. These forest are the perfect climate for the butterflies to survive and reproduce during the cold winter months.

All of the butterfly sanctuaries in Mexico are protected, which means you are only allowed to enter with a designated tour guide.

  1. Santuario Piedra Herrada in Mexico State which is about 45 minutes outside of Valle de Bravo and is where we went (see more on our experience here) and probably the most popular out of the three. You can hike up the mountain (very steep and high elevation), or you can ride a horse. We paid $70 pesos per person to walk and horses were $250 pesos extra.
  2. Santuario Mariposa Monarca El Rosario in Michoacan state which is about 2 hours outside of Mexico city. We met a couple on our trip to the butterfly sanctuary that also went here, and said the experience was vastly different. This is less of a forest and more of open field where the butterflies fly around in the thousands. They also said they took horses and lunch was included in the field! If you’ve been here, please share in the comments below.
  3. Santuario de la Mariposa Monarca Sierra Chincua in Michoacan state about 3 and a half hours outside of Mexico city. This is the least visited out of the three, likely because it’s slightly further than the others. You can hike or ride a horse to view the butterflies in addition to other activities like suspension bridges and zip lining.


What to expect when viewing the monarch butterflies

The butterflies are very active when the sun comes out, and will likely be flying overhead, munching on some milkweed, or mating. Once the butterflies mate and lay eggs, they die so don’t be surprised to see dead butterflies all around — it’s a part of their life cycle and one of the reasons they come to Mexico over winter. 

Everyone was extremely respectful of the Sanctuary and remained quiet during their time on the mountain.  There’s something so peaceful about watching thousands of butterflies fly all around you, it’s easy to understand why silence is revered.

I personally am very thankful one of the friends we traveled through Mexico with knew about the migration and made a point to re-route us before they returned home. It truly was a once in a lifetime experience, and we are so thankful we were able to witness the monarch butterfly migration in Mexico. 


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Liz & Dennis

Liz & Dennis


We’re two travel-loving, real estate investing, foodies exploring North America as full-time RV’ers. This blog is where we share our lessons learned, tips and tricks, and favorite places to eat, see, and RV across North America! We hope it helps you find your wanderlust, plan and prepare for RV life, and get out on the road!


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