Mexico offers a vast majority of travel destinations. Most people visit Mexico for the pristine beaches and all-inclusive luxury resorts. Some travelers will vacation to Mexico City for a more cultural experience. But even fewer people choose to explore the mountainous forests of central Mexico. If you are wanting to satisfy your culture craving and adventure off the beaten path, then this trip is perfect!
This Mexico road trip includes visits to two of Mexico’s largest cities, two respectable butterfly reserves, and some of the world’s largest pyramids. These destinations will allow you to experience Mexican culture, history, and one of the most famous wildlife migrations.
When to go
The ideal time for this road trip is December-March. The peak of the monarch migration is during these months. This can vary from year to year depending on weather. Visit The United States of Agriculture to get up to date information.
The small towns surrounding the Butterfly Biosphere host butterfly festivals. In Mexico, people believe that the monarchs are spirits of their deceased family members. To be a part of these cultural traditions, visit during the festivals. There will be food, music, and colorful festivities.
Visit the butterfly sanctuaries during the week to maximize your time with the monarchs. The reserves fill up quickly with tours during the weekends and then your time will be limited to about 20 minutes with the butterflies.
What you need to know
Bring an assortment of clothing that is appropriate for cold and hot weather. This is more of an adventure trip, don’t wear your best clothing while hiking to see the butterflies. It is extremely dry and dusty and a horse back ride may be included. Save your nicer outfits for dinners out in the cities.
The butterfly sanctuaries are located high in the Sierra Madre Mountains of central Mexico. The weather can be quite cold in the morning and night. Some of the local hotels do not have heat but may provide you with a fireplace. The elevation is 10,000ft in the mountains. I recommend spending a few days in the area to allow yourself time to acclimate.
Expect the weather in Teotihuacan to be quite hot. Also bring water and good walking shoes. The pyramid complex is large and can take hours to explore it all. Get ready to haggle with the vendors that will be selling souvenirs.
What to expect on the road
Expect to see heavy amounts of police and military personnel in full gear, faces covered, and armed with weapons. They are stationed at all toll booths, on foot in cities, and riding in the backs of vehicles.
Doggos are everywhere! Dogs are on rooftops, they roam the towns and cities, and unfortunately they are road kill.
This road trip is very rural so it’s best to get gas and food when you can. Or better yet, pack all the road trip essentials to save money and time.
Mexico Road Trip Itinerary
- Fly into Mexico City International Airport.
- Stay the first night in Mexico City.
Mexico City is the biggest city in North America. Staying at a hotel located in the airport is a good idea. This will save you time and allow you to rest up for the next day of travel. There is plenty of food options and information about the city located within the airport. It’s also a good idea to download the Google Translate app for communication. To learn more about where to stay and navigating the Mexico airport, click here.
In the morning, transfer to local town of your choice (Angangueo, Ocampo, Zitácuaro) near the Butterfly Biosphere.
- Take the toll road 15D and followed signs for “Cuota” towards Angangueo.
- It may take more than 1 hour to get out of the city.
- Tolls will cost around $12USD Mexico City to Angangueo.
- Allow 3-4 hours to reach the destination.
Once you reach your destination, settle into accommodations and go out for dinner and explore the town.
*Some states have a level 4 travel advisory, warning people not to travel within this state of Mexico.* Please do your research.
The butterfly reserves are the main tourist attraction in the small neighboring ‘magic towns’ of Angangueo and Ocampo. Simply follow the signs to the butterfly sanctuary you wish to visit. Allow 30 minutes to and hour to arrive at the destination. If you would rather hire a guide, there are locals that will take you to the reserves. Most hotels will set up a tour as well.
El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary
This is the best place to experience the monarch migration. If the weather is right, you will witness millions of butterflies soaring in the sun. It is pure magic! Allow one full day for your trip to this ethical sanctuary visit. Expect to pay fees for parking, entry, bathrooms, guide, horse rides, and tips. It sound like a lot but it’s not. For more details on trip cost, click here. There are also food and souvenir vendors located near the parking lot. This is a perfect place to enjoy a cold cerveza after your hike.
Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary
The signs are easy to follow to this sanctuary as well. This butterfly reserve is not as commercialized as El Rosario and is an ethical travel destination. You will pay parking fees, entrance fees, and also pay to use the bathroom. All of the workers only speak Spanish. They do not accept credit cards. Horse rides are available for an additional fee. Don’t forget to tip! This destination is more remote and the butterflies will be farther away. It is still a great experience to sit in the forest and watch the butterflies awaken with the warm weather.
Back on the road to transfer to Toluca.
- Use the same route that you arrived on or try another route. There is different scenery if you travel through Ocampo and Zitácuaro to Toluca. Allow 2 hours.
- Remember to have pesos on hand for toll roads.
Spend the afternoon and evening exploring Toluca.
- Popular stops: Botanical Gardens, Shopping, Cathedral
- This is also a good time to do some laundry before the road trip through Mexico continues.
In the morning, drive to the Teotihuacan Pyamids from Toluca.You will need money for tolls, parking, bathrooms, and entrance fees. Spend the day walking The Avenue of the Dead. If you want a better view of the complex, they allow you to climb The Pyramid of the Sun and The Pyamid of the Moon. Keep in mind that the pyramids are very steep and are much taller than they look.
Before getting back on the road, enjoy a nice meal at the cafe. They offer two different places to eat and many souvenir shops on the way out.
Drive to Mexico City. Toll money required.
Take the entire day to explore Mexico City. There is so much to do in the city but some of the most popular stops include Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, National Museum of Anthropology, and take in a Lucha Libre show if available.
Mexico Road Trip Tips
- Maps on GPS and phone work just fine.
- Have coins and small bills ready for the tolls. For more information on toll roads, click here.
- Driving in Mexico City is intense. I’ve never seen anything like it. Most drivers do not stay in lanes and it’s more of a free for all.
- Allow more time than expected. The roads can get rough out in the country.
- Most gas stations accept credit cards. An attendant will pump your gas for you.
- The bathrooms usually cost 5 pesos. There is a coin slot before you enter, or usually an attendant to help you with change if needed. **Also, ladies, grab the toilet paper before you go into the stall.**
For more trip tips, click here.
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