The monarch migration is one of the world’s wildest wonders. This is a bucket list destination for many wildlife lovers. Unfortunately, the Monarch population is declining due to habitat loss. These sanctuaries and the workers truly cherish these butterflies and they do their part to not make a negative impact on their winter home. By visiting these sanctuaries, you are helping fund wildlife conservation efforts and the local community.
When planning our trip, I couldn’t find much information about a self guided tour so I create this post. I hope this guide helps you plan your visit to witness this stunning, natural wildlife phenomenon!
When to Visit
Monarchs migrate to Central Mexico around December-March. The butterflies are most active February to the beginning of March. More monarch information here. We went the second week of February and had great success in seeing these beauties in full force. Use this Mexico road trip itinerary, including a bonus visit to the pyramids to help plan your trip.
Some of the local towns will have festivals for the Monarchs. Angangueo was having one a few weeks after we left. I would highly recommend visiting during that time because the towns will be more active and all shops and restaurants will be open.
Fly to Central Mexico Airport of your choice
The butterfly biosphere is located in Central Mexico. There are 3 major airports within driving distance: Mexico City International Airport, Toluca, or Morelia. Toluca is closer driving distance.
**If you fly into MEX Airport
- Stay at the Marriott Hotel, which is located in the airport.
- The hotels are not in the same building where you arrive off of the plane. You need to look for signs for terminal 1 and take the shuttle. Before accessing the shuttle, you will need to show security your hotel reservations. And show them your flight boarding passes on the way back for your return flight. *Also, no food and drinks are allowed, so that coffee you got as soon as you got off the plane, will have to be chugged.
- Exchange money for Pesos.
- All expenses are shown in USD for budget purposes, but you will always pay in MX pesos. You will need small bills for the butterfly sanctuaries, food, tolls if driving, ect. Not many places accepted credit cards except for a few gas stations. *We decided to exchange $1000USD for Mexican Pesos and that was enough for 2 adults and 2 kids for 4 days.
Transfer to Butterfly Biosphere
- Transportation options: Bus, Private day tour, Car Rental
- Bus routes are available from Mexico City to the neighboring towns of the butterfly biosphere, such as Zitarcario, Angangueo, and Ocampo. The Mexico City International Airport has route information.
- Day tours from Mexico City, Morelia, or Toluca is another option to see the monarch migration. I would be hesitant to take this option because if the weather isn’t right, you may only see the monarchs hanging in the trees and not flying around. Which is still cool, but if you’ve gone all that way, you will want to see them flying..believe me!
- Car Rental
- All car rental counters are in the airport in Terminals 1 & 2. They will shuttle you to the actual car rental business where you will sign and get your car.
- We chose to rent a car from Thrifty because I get car sick and we also wanted the flexibility to stop when we wanted. *Note: My husband is accustomed to driving in Kabul, Afghanistan…I would not have driven this route without him.
- The car itself was super cheap (like $0.70/day) but all the insurance was crazy expensive and we didn’t do our research on what we needed, so we got the whole package. It ended up costing us about $700USD for 3 days! I’m sure they took advantage of us but at least we felt comfortable incase the car was stolen, in an accident, or anything else. And we definitely returned it with more dents than it started with (not on purpose). *I would highly recommend calling in advance to sort out all of those details so no unexpected costs come up.
Driving in Central Mexico
We followed Maps on our phones for directions. We did have a back up GPS app that works without cell service in case we were way out in the boonies.
It took us about 1 hour to get out of the city. We took the toll road 15D and followed signs for “Cuota” towards Angangueo. It was a nice country drive and took us about a total of 3-3.5 hours to reach Angangueo. If you are interested in taking this Mexico road trip, click here.
Have coins and small bills ready for the tolls and bathrooms We paid $12USD for tolls from Mexico City to Angangueo.
- Getting gas and pit stops
They pump your gas for you and most accept credit cards. This is a good chance to stop at an OXXO and fill up on snacks and drinks. This is the kids’ favorite part because they get to try all kinds of foreign candy. 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.
Rent a hotel room for a few days.
This is the safest option incase of bad weather. *The weather needs to be above 55 degrees and sunny for the butterflies to warm up and fly around.
We stayed in Angangueo for 3 days at Hotel La Margarita because we could book the hotel through booking.com. Most places do NOT have website so you need to call. I recommend booking for two nights and extend if needed. Our hotel’s restaurant was not open for our entire stay, which was not expected, so we walked across the street to Don Bruno Hotel for all of our meals. Also, there are not many options for food in the town so bring some food with you if possible. We booked 3 nights and left early but still had to pay. Bring cash for the hotel stay because they may not accept credit cards. Our hotel was $77USD/night.
El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary
Entry cost $2.50USD/person. Parking was $3USD. Riding horses up cost $5USD/person one way. Add a few extra dollars for tips. Signs are posted around the towns to direct you to the sanctuary. If you didn’t drive yourself, your hotel can provide a guide.The weekends are usually packed with tour groups to see the monarch migration. If you visit the sanctuaries during the week, you get to spend as much time as you want with the monarchs. Otherwise, you are only allowed 18 minutes.
Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary
Entry cost $2.50USD/person. Parking $3USD. Horses cost $5/person one way. Again add a few extra dollars for tips. There are signs in the local towns directing you to this sanctuary. It is less popular but just as beautiful and even more remote than El Rosario.This sanctuary is not as accessible as El Rosario and you will not be as close to the butterflies.
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