On our last day in Mexico City, we decided to to make an attempt at seeing the Monarch Butterfly migration.
The migration roughly coincides with the Day of the Dead. It is believed that the butterflies are the souls of the dead returning.
Over 150 million butterflies make a staggering journey of over 4500km from the USA and Canada to Mexico to reproduce. The trip takes them just four or five weeks. The Monarch butterfly has the life cycle of two to five weeks but during the migration they can live up to seven months! There are only four places in Mexico in which the butterflies migrate to and is in an area less than 150 square kilometers.
There is a unique microclimate in this area and the cool temperature helps the butterflies conserve their energy. The butterflies cluster on certain trees to keep warm in the cold.
After doing some research, we realised that we might have been a bit too early to see any of the butterflies in clusters but we decided it was worth a shot.
We contacted the lovely Elena and Joel who run a bed and breakfast in a little village called Macheros (which means “stable” in Spanish) on the outskirts of Cerro Pelon which is supposed to be the prettiest of the sanctuaries. Joel had lived in the village all his life and had learnt all about the butterflies from his Dad.
We arranged a day trip with them and Elena explained how to get to them. We had to get a bus at some ridiculous time early in the morning but it was totally worth it.
Elena and Joel met us at the bus stop and after dropping Elena off at an Internet cafe to do some work, we headed off with Joel to see the butterflies. Joel explained that as we were quite early for the butterfly season, there weren’t any at Cerro Pelon yet so we headed further north to El Rosario instead as we had a better chance of seeing them.
The trip to El Rosario was approximately 2 hours but Joel was really easy to get on with and we talked about lots of different things. The journey was through beautiful scenery with stunning mountains and greenery. We drove through some small towns which were lovely and quaint.
When we got to El Rosario, Joel explained that as the sanctuaries are protected areas, we had to have a guide with us despite him being very knowledgeable about the butterflies. We got a horse up the mountain and then walked for a short time until we found clusters of butterflies on the trees.
At first, the butterflies looked like leaves attached to the trees but the more you looked the more you realised the trees were smothered in butterflies. Some of the branches were sagging due to the weight! There were thousands of butterflies and they were absolutely fascinating. When the sun came out, they would fly around. There were that many of them you could actually hear their wings flapping!
Joel told us that despite the thousands of butterflies that were already there, it was only about 1% of the total amount of butterflies that would actually make their way to Mexico. He also told us how the butterflies are poisonous but certain birds had learnt how to eat the bodies of the butterflies without ingesting the poison. About 10% of the migrating butterflies are eaten by birds but the threat to the species is the loss of the mountain habitat. Luckily, in 2007, a zero tolerance policy was declared to logging in the sanctuaries by the Mexican government.
Shortly after Joel explaining about the butterflies being eaten by a bird, a butterfly landed not far away from our feet. It was fascinating to see one of the butterflies up close considering we could only just see them high up in the trees. The butterfly was absolutely stunning but unfortunately, was missing it’s body and was dying 😦
After we had taken plenty of photos and admired the butterflies, we walked down the mountain and ate lunch in the canteen at the entrance to the sanctuary. Joel had a lovely packed lunch for us – sandwiches, water, an apple and a homemade sweet type thing – a bit like jelly. It was delicious.
We had booked a ticket back to Mexico City at around 8pm so as we had quite a bit of time to kill, we decided to head back with Joel and Elena to see their bed and breakfast and the little village Joel had grown up in.
The bed and breakfast was absolutely beautiful. Joel had built it himself. The rooms were beautifully decorated with tiled sinks and carved beds. The view from the roof and their garden was absolutely stunning; completely surrounded by glorious mountains and luscious greenery. We sat enjoying a beer in the sunshine, admiring the view and spotting the odd Monarch butterfly arriving from the North. We wish we could have stayed the night. It was so peaceful and relaxing.
Most of the people living in the village were part of Joel’s family. His cousin lives across the road and owned a taxi – he dropped us off at the bus station in the evening and his mum runs a little restaurant. Before we had dinner at mum’s restaurant, Joel’s showed us the trout farm he had built using the fresh spring water from the mountains. Joel was rightly very proud of this village and it was lovely to experience a traditional Mexican village environment.
The food at his Mum’s restaurant was lovely. We had a lovely soup to start which had tortilla chips with it. Jon had the trout from the fish farm for his main which was delicious and I had quesadillas with cheese and vegetables – also lovely.
We were welcomed with open arms by Joel’s family and there was never an awkward moment. It was like we had been friends with Joel and Elena all our lives. Like old friends, we talked about everything, put the world to rights and just enjoyed each others company.
We would totally recommend a trip to see the Monarch butterfly migration and stay at Joel and Elena’s bed and breakfast. We enjoyed it that much that we would consider going back just to do it all again. It was an incredible experience not just because of the butterflies but because of the little village and the amazing people we met there.
Bed & Breakfast: All you need to know about Elena and Joel’s bed and breakfast can be found here. http://jmbutterflybnb.com
When to go: We went at the beginning of November and whilst we still managed to see the butterflies, if you want to see them up close and even more than we did, high season is in January and February. Joel told us that the butterflies will land on you and sun themselves on the ground.
How to get there: We got a taxi at 6am to the East bus station in Mexico City. Joel and Elena picked us up from the station at Zitacuaro but you can get a taxi from the centre which will take you to the bed and breakfast.
Tips: Take a coat – believe it or not, it is cold at the top of the mountains. We wore jumpers and a coat and our hands were still freezing.
Wear orange or yellow – Joel mentioned that the butterflies love orange and yellow colours. The butterflies are more likely to land on you during the high season if you are wearing one of these colours.
Take cash – Whilst it is not expensive for a day trip with Ellen and Joel (£135.00 – $3420 pesos), they only take cash. We had to draw some money out in Zitacuaro to pay them which was not the end of the world but with international charges etc. just make sure you have plenty with you.