How to See the Monarch Butterfly Migration in Mexico 🦋

The monarch butterfly migration in Mexico is an incredible natural phenomenon. Each year millions of monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico from the US and Canada.

During the 2,500 mile journey from Mexico to Canada and back, four generations of butterflies are born and die!

The migratory journey is the most advanced of any known species of their kind. And how the new generations know to return to the Oyamel fir forests in central Mexico each year remains a mystery.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have experienced the butterflies in Michoacán. And I want you to see the monarchs in Mexico too, so I created this guide with everything you need to know.

I recommend visiting a Michoacán butterfly sanctuary (more on those later). I’ve also included details about the best time to see monarch butterflies in Mexico.

A close up photo of a monarch butterfly in Mexico resting on a tree at a butterfly sanctuary in Michoacan. The trunk of the tree is lightly covered in green moss.

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Butterflies in Mexico

The monarch butterflies in Mexico take refuge in the Oyamel fir trees that grow in the more than 50,000 hectares of mountainous terrain that make up the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. 

The clusters of thousands of butterfly colonies bend the tree branches due to their weight. When the sun peeks out they take flight and fill the sky to soak up its warmth. And if you listen closely, you can hear the beating of their wings which sound like light rain.

Located in eastern Michoacan and stretching into the State of Mexico, the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. It came with an acknowledgement that the monarchs are under threat from climate change and deforestation of the Oyamel fir forests of Central Mexico.

What Is the Best Time to See Monarch Butterflies in Mexico?

The best time to see the monarchs in Mexico is from December to February. Of those months, February is the best month to see the butterflies in Mexico. The reason is because they become active when the sun comes out and partially sunny days are more likely in February.

This actually surprised me since for most of Mexico, the rainy season is from June-September. But it’s true! We were fortunate to be there during a few sunny weekdays in January, but we planned an extra days just in case.

A lot of butterflies flying around the trees during the butterfly migration in Mexico.

The monarch butterfly migration in Mexico begins around Day of the Dead in early November and lasts until mid March. But the monarch butterfly sanctuaries officially open to the public once they have arrived and settled in larger numbers, around the third week of November.

Tip: It’s best to visit the butterfly sanctuaries in Mexico during the week versus the weekend. You will be rewarded with fewer people and no lines. From my experience, you’ll also be allowed to stay and observe the butterflies for a longer period of time.

Where Can I See the Monarch Butterfly Migration in Mexico?

There are two places to see the monarch butterfly migration in Mexico – eastern Michoacán and the State of Mexico, near Valle de Bravo. The Oyamel fir forests in these mountainous regions provide a sanctuary for the monarch butterflies in the winter. 

Seeing the monarch butterfly migration is one of the top day trips from Mexico City. Although it’s also possible to visit the Michoacán butterflies from Morelia. Or you can choose to stay in the area and day trip from there.

A monarch butterfly in Michoacan Mexico rests on the trunk of a tree with his wings folded up.

Monarch Butterfly Tours

To visit the butterflies in Mexico, the first thing you need to decide is whether to rent a car and drive to the area where the butterflies roost or book a monarch butterfly tour.

If you’re comfortable driving and have the time, I recommend renting a car and staying near Angangueo Michoacán (more on that later).

If your time is limited, a butterfly tour is the best option. I’ve detailed my top picks below.

🦋 Michoacan Butterfly Tour from Mexico City – This small group butterfly tour from Mexico City visits the Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary in Michoacán and includes a traditional lunch.

🦋 Michoacan Butterflies and Christmas Town – Also departing from Mexico City, this butterfly tour includes a visit to Tlalpujahua, a pueblo mágico in Michoacán known for Christmas ornaments.

🦋 Private Monarch Butterfly Tour from Morelia – On this highly rated private tour, you’ll visit either El Rosario or Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuaries (depending on the weather) in Michoacán.

🦋 7 Day Monarch Butterfly Eco Tour – Available every Saturday in January and February, this 6-night tour from Mexico City also explores Aztec history, wildlife, and the natural world. This 7-day tour balances a mix of guided and independent time.

Monarch Butterfly Sanctuaries in Mexico

There are several monarch butterfly sanctuaries in Michoacan and the State of Mexico. And true to their name, the Oyamel fir forests provide a sanctuary for the butterflies to rest after their long migration from the north.

I love that the butterfly sanctuaries take the job seriously. When we visited, the guides were friendly but strict about visitors keeping their voices low and talking to a minimum so as not to disturb them.

A monarch butterfly perched on a flower during the butterfly migration in Mexico.

Each sanctuary seems to charge about the same amounts which I detailed below. And each one has the option to hike the trail in full or hire a horse to ride most of the way and hike the rest. 

The length of the hike will depend on where the butterflies decide to land that year. Keep in mind, the trails are steep with uneven terrain and at an altitude of close to 10,000 feet (more than 3,000 meters)!

Selfie during my butterfly sanctuary tour in Mexico. In the background a woman is riding a horse being led by a male butterfly sanctuary guide.

I recommend opting for the horse if you are unsure about the hike. Although you’ll still need to hike part of the way, it will make things easier in general.

A guide is required for the hike to ensure you stay on the path and keep your voice low as you approach the butterflies. There is no cost for the guide, although a tip is expected.

Depending on the crowds on the weekends, a guide may not be required. Since there are so many people on the weekends, they often staff guides along the trail and allow people to hike on their own.

Monarch butterflies flying in front of Oyamel fir trees during the butterfly migration in Mexico.
Can you see the clumps of butterflies on the branches of the Oyamel fir trees?

What Time of Day Is Best to See the Butterflies in Mexico?

Normally I like to start these adventures early to beat the crowds and sun. But seeing the monarch migration in Mexico is a little different. 

I recommend checking the hourly weather forecast the day before to determine the sunniest part of the day. Generally, the best time of day to arrive at the butterfly sanctuaries is 10-11 am. 

This way you will arrive to where the butterflies are for the warmest and sunniest part of the day which is typically 12-2 pm.

Butterflies in Michoacan Mexico

The butterflies in Michoacan migrate to the forests near the towns of Ocampo and Angangueo. I loved road tripping through this part of Mexico!

Although I had already visited Morelia, Patzcuaro, and Isla Janitzio for Day of the Dead in Michoacan, there is something special about the mountains in the eastern part of the state.

We even took the time to visit a small hot spring called Azufres. It’s about an hour from the butterfly sanctuaries and another reason why I recommend you rent a car and drive if you have the time.

El Rosario Michoacán Butterfly Sanctuary

📍 Map Location
⌚ Hours: 8 am – 5 pm, every day
💵 Cost: 80 pesos to enter, 20 pesos to park, Tip for Guided Tour
🐴 Horse: 150 pesos each way

El Rosario is one of the most popular butterfly sanctuaries in Michoacan. And perhaps for good reason. 

When we visited we were able to get closer to see the butterflies in the Oyamel fir trees. And when the sun came out, they flitted around the wide opening in the sky.

This could have been because of where they migrated to that year. If you plan to stay in the area, I recommend visiting a couple different ones on different days like we did.

A landscape view of the monarch butterfly sanctuary with trees and mountains in the background on a sunny day.

Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary in Michoacan

📍 Map Location
⌚ Hours: 8 am to 5 pm, every day
💵 Cost: 80 pesos to enter, 20 pesos to park, Tip for Guided Tour
🐴 Horse: 150 pesos each way

My overall impression of the Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary in Michoacan is that it feels more natural than El Rosario.

We again opted to take horses halfway up to the top to see the monarch butterflies. When we arrived, we were greeted with lots of butterflies in the bushes and flying low in the open field.

But as I noted before, we weren’t able to see the large clumps in the trees as closely as we could at El Rosario. I imagine this changes year to year depending on where exactly in the Oyamel forests they decide to land.

Staying in Angangueo Michoacan

A panoramic view of town Angangueo Michoacan with the church in the middle and mountains in the background.
The town of Angangueo Michoacan as seen from the mirador.

If you have the time, I highly recommend you book a place to stay near Angangueo.

This former mining town is located between two of the best butterfly sanctuaries in Michoacan –  El Rosario and Sierra Chincua. Plus the charming little town is a fun place to spend the afternoon.

Street art of monarch butterflies flying to the sun at the town Angangueo Michoacan on the corner of a building.

When we arrived, we were immediately spotted by a 10 year old boy who offered to give us a tour of Angangueo. But since our guide already told us about a specialty food of Michoacan that I had yet to try, we had our eyes (and stomach) set on lunch.

Close up of guayaba mole, a Michocoan food.

After finding the recommended guava mole at Los Arcos (map), the budding tour guide found us again and we agreed upon a tour. He mostly told us about the history of Angangueo as a mining town through a series of murals in the alleyway behind the church. 

Then he unexpectedly took us to a woman’s house to see her collection of axolotls, an amphibian that was worshiped by the Aztecs and were commonly found in the floating gardens of Xochimilco near Mexico City.

We finished our afternoon tour of Angangueo Michoacán by taking in the views from the mirador next to the monument of a miner (map) which I highly recommend.

Valle de Bravo Butterfly Sanctuary – Piedra Herrada

📍 Map Location
⌚ Hours: 9 am – 4 pm every day
💵 Cost: 80 pesos to enter, 20 pesos to park
🐴 Horse: 150 pesos each way

Located about 45 minutes east of Valle de Bravo, Santuario de la Mariposa Monarca Piedra Herrada, is another popular place to see monarch butterflies in Mexico. Its proximity to Mexico City also makes it easier if you’re short on time.

The hike to the top of this butterfly sanctuary is moderately difficult and at a slightly higher elevation than the butterfly sanctuaries in Michoacan. Again, if you’re unsure about the hike I recommend taking a horse most of the way.

Note – It seems as though the butterfly population may be dwindling here, or at least leaving as early as mid February. So if you plan to visit, check before you go!

Clothes and other artisan products being sold at a butterfly sanctuary in Mexico.
Souvenirs for sale at Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary in Michoacan Mexico.

Tips for Seeing the Butterflies in Mexico

  • Hire a Guide – I’m a big proponent of hiring a guide in these small towns, even if you think you don’t need one. Hiring a guide helps to support the conservation efforts of the butterfly sanctuaries in Mexico. Furthermore you should eat at the local restaurants, buy souvenirs, and consume the fresh berries.
  • Avoid the Weekends – If you can, I highly recommend you visit the monarch butterfly sanctuary during the week when there are fewer people. In addition to the obvious benefits, it also means you can stay to view the butterflies longer. I also think it’s generally less stressful for them.
  • Wear Layers – At nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, it gets cold in the mountains but as you move around and the sun comes out you may feel warmer. I recommend wearing layers that you can remove them if you get too hot. If you’re susceptible to cold, I also recommend bringing a hat and gloves.
  • Bring Binoculars – If you have binoculars or a telephoto camera lens, they are worth bringing for this experience. At one of the sanctuaries there is an opportunity to use binoculars for small tip. Although the ones I received weren’t in the best condition.
  • Stay Hydrated – The high elevation of the monarch butterfly sanctuaries means you’ll need to make sure you are hydrated both the day before and during the hike.
  • Have Patience – It’s an incredible experience to see the monarch butterfly migration in Mexico but just like everything in nature, things are unpredictable. Weather, the number of butterflies that year, and other factors will play a role in your experience. So above all, your patience is key.
Cups of berries for sale at the monarch butterfly sanctuary in Michoacan Mexico.
Fresh berries for sale at El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary in Michoacan.

FAQ About the Monarch Butterfly Migration Mexico

During which months do monarchs arrive in Mexico?

The monarchs arrive in Mexico at the end of October and beginning of November. They begin to arrive in larger numbers by December and stay until early or mid March.

Where do monarchs winter in Mexico?

Monarch butterflies spend the winter in the Oyamel fir forests of Central Mexico, specifically in the states of Michoacan and the State of Mexico. You can see the butterflies in Mexico on a day trip from Mexico City or Morelia. 

What is the best time to see monarchs in Mexico?

The best time to see monarchs in Mexico is from December through February. The monarch butterflies fly around when the sun comes out. So the month of February is considered the best time because the chance of visiting on a sunny day is increased.