From November to March each year, you can be witness to one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the forested mountains west of Mexico City: Monarch butterflies over-wintering in Mexico.
The very special Methuselah generations of butterflies migrate each year, leaving the colder northern climes of the U.S. and Canada to take winter refuge and breed in Mexico.
ALL ages are welcome at the sanctuaries; Covid protocols are in place
Some media reports have stated that people under 12 and over 60 are not being admitted to the sanctuaries due to Covid.
We have checked with our travel associates who have, in turn, contacted the leadership committees at the sanctuaries and they tell us that these reports are not true: ALL ages are welcome to attend the butterfly sanctuaries.
Covid protocols, including taking of temperature at the gate, and the wearing of masks, are in place. Those over 60 are advised to ascend on horseback due to the elevation, but this is a recommendation, not a requirement.
The butterflies’ winter migration
These migrating Monarch butterflies travel in colonies of about 20 million insects and will travel between 80-120 nautical miles per day, depending on the wind and other weather conditions. The butterflies take advantage of ascending warm-air currents, gliding in the thrust they provide, needing only to flap their wings when the air current diminishes a little or when they change their flight path. This technique uses their energy efficiently, and physically enables them to undertake the long journey.
They overwinter in Mexico between November and March
The butterflies usually start arriving in early November, and between mid-late November and the end March, it’s possible to visit one of the sanctuaries open to visitors and witness these remarkable insects in their natural habitat.
The Monarch Butterflies settle in the Oyamel fir tree forests which are situated west of Mexico City; along the eastern perimeter of the Mexican state of Michoacán, also bordering the State of Mexico. Once here, the butterflies cluster on the tree trunks and remain in the region for the winter.
As the sun heats the day, some of the butterflies will flutter in the forests and return to the tree trunks when the air cools in the evening.
Peak viewing season is between mid-January and the end of March. Before the mid-January, the air temperature on the mountain is colder and the butterflies don’t flutter as much.
The Mexican government has set up a number of protected sanctuaries within a biosphere reserve to ensure that the important habitats required by the Monarch Butterflies are protected and preserved, while still allowing visitors to witness these remarkable insects amidst some of Mexico’s most breath-taking landscapes.
Learn more and arrange a tour to see the butterflies
You can learn more about these butterflies, their migration, their breeding cycle, and their journey back north on our detailed travel guide to Monarch Butterflies in Mexico. Watch the PBS video below for a glimpse of this extraordinary experience.
Arrange a custom tour to see the Monarch Butterflies in Mexico
Our travel partners have been taking people to see the Monarch Butterflies for over 15 years and create custom tours that enable you to get the most from a visit to the Monarch Butterfly sanctuaries in Mexico.
Learn more about a customized tour to see the Monarch Butterflies
Hi there! Is it better to fly from Newark to Morelia to see the butterflies or drive from GDL?
Currently visiting Uruapan and heading toward Angangueo to visit the Monarch preserves. I really want to visit Cerro Pelon! J M Butterfly B&B is booked solid. I heard the entrance to Cerro Pelon at El Chapulin is open, but I can’t find it on the map or find any information. Can anyone please share any knowledge they might have, or suggest a guide who knows birds and speaks ome English?
I am wondering the same thing? Is a guide necessary? I can’t afford. Message me on Instagram seawandering
For those who have gone in December: are there enough butterflies fluttering around then to get the full experience? I have a tour scheduled in January 2022 but am wondering if it’s going to be cancelled. If it is, my airline ticket needs to be used by December 31, 2022–so may have to switch to a December tour. Will I be disappointed if I go in December rather than in January? Thanks!
Hi Barb, as of end of January they are pretty much dormant on the trees. It’s still a pleasant walk in the forest and the crowd is not overwhelming. The butterflies are more active when the sun shows up but it’s hard to predict as it is high up in the forest.
I am hoping to visit this winter and do some filming with a DSLR and a sports camera. What are the restrictions on filming in the preserve? The footage will be used in educational videos on YouTube and at live appearances. I know I can’t use a drone but I was thinking of getting a telescoping pole so I could get a different perspective.
We recommend you contact your nearest Mexican Consulate for advice; they can provide guidance and a permit, if you need one.
You can find a directory here
If we get to Sierra Chincua in mid-March 2022, will we still be able to experience the Monarchs or will they be gone by then? I’ve gotten conflicting responses to this question. Would appreciate any thoughts.
It will depend on the year. The butterflies begin to leave in early March but some years you might still be able to see some around mid-March. To be sure of seeing them it’s best to arrive between December and the end of February; they are more active mid January-late February which is why that is the ‘peak’ viewing season.
What a beautiful site. On my bucket list to visit.
Question: are people able to visit during the pandemic? Thinking about January- February 2021
The sancturies are open and our travel associates are arranging tours in the region.
We live in puebla, what is the best way to organize to visit the sanctuary ASAP?
I saw that the sanctuaries in Michoacan have COVID restriction, visitors over 60 not allowed. Is the also true for the sanctuaries in the state of México?
We checked with our associates and contacts and the restriction on over 60’s is not true; everyone is welcome. They have covid protocols in place.
Which bio reserves are open in January 2022?
Is El Rosario open to touriss?
Is Sierra Chincua open?
I’d love to know which sanctuaries are open too! January 2022. Apparently Cerro Pelon is closed.
Thank you very very much for the video with the monarchs. I life here in Valle de Bravo close to one of the santuaries, and I have been up there many times with friends and visitors, but never before I have seen such a marvelous video with a drone. May God bless you.
On our Bucket list to experience, within the next cuppla years. Agreed on the GO! comments about the wonderful culture and people.
This is a wonderful article. I visited last year and was in total awe !!! Never once did I fear for my life and I went on a tour as a single… I agree with James, you are probably safer than in Milwaukee, Detroit, or Chicago, although I have not had a problem in any of those cities either. The monarchs are absolutely awesome–and I hate the overuse of that word, but I cried when I experienced this 8th wonder of the world… Sandra
Is the hike difficult? I have a knee replacement that is not doing well.
The climb does require a good degree of physical fitness. There is an option to ride a horse/mule up to the sanctuary. If you contact our travel planner they will be able to advise you:
I too am seeking to travel alone to experience this phenomenal 8th wonder. Any advice, help or guidance would be greatly appreciated!
I experienced this too. It is one of most incredible experiences in my life!! Which sanctuary did you visit?
An interesting novel by Barbara Kingsolver…. not about Mexico, but about Monarchs is Flight Behavior. We’ll one day visit this natural event in Mexico. We’ve traveled throughout Mexico with nothing but joy being immersed in a beautiful culture!
That novel needs to be made into a movie.
If security is a concern, hire a guide. I have been to Piedra Herrada Sanctuary 3 times without difficulty (hint: rent the horse!). What an awesome experience!
Had a wonderful experience with the butterflies as well as stopovers in Ciudad Hidalgo and Morelia. NO problems, friendly people…
I travel at least 2 times/ year to Michoacán to purchase folk art from the amazing artisans in many small pueblos. I have never been worried about my safety in the 8 years I’ve been doing it. One must always be aware of surroundings (just like in the US), don’t do dumb things and be respectful of the beautiful people and culture. My advice to people is always to GO, enjoy and be amazed at the beauty of life in the great country of Mexico. Viva!
I am alone and in Puerto Vallarta. What would be the safest way to get to the closest sanctuary? While also being COVID-safe.
I live in Patzcuaro and there are no reports about dangers in or around the butterfly sanctuaries. Much has been exaggerated by US media. If you are a visitor and not dealing in drugs, there is little to worry about.
Latest report from NY Times says Monarchs are increasing in numbers this year as they leave the north and fly to Michoacan. Godspeed!
I have lived in southern Mexico for 8 years. I am kicking myself for not going to see the MM earlier. All reports that we hear say that the Michoacan Monarch migration area is unsafe. Staying alert doesn’t help much when you are facing a teenager with a gun. Michoacan is a beautiful state with many craft villages. This is very sad.
Hi Bliss, This is actually not true. The Monarch area is safe. The news last year was spun for shock value. So sad that the media does this.
We are wanting to visit one of the reserves near Mexico City this weekend (Jan 15-18, 2021). Are they still open to visitors?
We are undestand the sanctuaries are open — you can contact our travel associates (link in the article) and they can help you to arrange a tour.
Jeff, there is no “current condition”. Events continually fluctuate in the U.S. engendered drug demand, gun supplied, government (NAFTA anyone?) sponsored turmoil. The butterflies are disappearing for related reasons. Take a chance, keep your wits about you, see the monarchs while you can, enjoy the wonderful people of Mexico – go.
I have heard many reports of un-safe conditions in these areas, raning from nervous teenagers with guns robbing you of your possessions to kidnappings and breakins… What is the current condition of life in this area?
Probably safer than Chicago or any large city in the US!
I have guests that stay with me every year on there way to this miracle of nature with no problem.
I have visited two different Monarch sanctuaries in Morelia every year for the past five years. Never have I felt the least bit unsafe. Please do not let the U.S. media scare you away. It is SO worth the trip!