The migration of the monarch butterfly is one of the world’s most fascinating wildlife phenomenons. Millions of butterflies travel thousands of miles to a winter haven in central Mexico. Some fly all the way from Canada and parts of the eastern United States until they reach their destination. Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary offers a natural, raw, and authentic wildlife viewing experience.
This sanctuary is situated within The UNESCO Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. Sierra Chincua is located high in the Sierra Madre Mountain Range in Central Mexico at an altitude of 10,000 feet. These protected lands are a rugged forest that offer an essential safe haven for the butterfly species to mate and rest up before their journey north in the Spring.
About the Monarch Butterfly
The monarch is a large, delicate butterfly that is ornately designed with orange, black, and white markings. They are found throughout the Americas, Australia, India, and Western Europe. The only visual difference between the males and female is the larger black “vein” markings on the female.
Plant conservation efforts are essential for this species because the monarchs’ survival depends on the milkweed plant. Monarchs produce a toxin from eating the milkweed that aids in avoiding predators. When a monarch is eaten, this toxin, although not fatal, will make the predator sick enough to think twice before eating one next time.
The eastern monarch butterfly starts its long migration south in the late fall when it senses cold weather is approaching. Monarchs differ from other butterfly species because they can not survive the harsh winters of the northern climate. This is one of the greatest wildlife phenomenons because scientist still don’t know how this species knows where to go. Not only do they migrate to the same forest every year. But studies have shown that some monarch butterflies return to the same tree as their ancestors did. Keep in mind that this is not the same butterfly as the previous year, but the 4th generation. How do they know?!
After making the journey south, the monarchs gather in the trees and hang in colonies. When the temperature is above 50 degrees and the sun is shining, millions of monarchs flutter around with spectacular grace. Towards the end of winter, they mate. The male dies soon afterwards and the female heads back north, depositing her eggs along her route. She, then dies soon after her mission is complete.
About Sierra Chincua
This butterfly sanctuary is the second most popular site for experiencing the monarch migration. This sanctuary resides in the state of Michoacan, Mexico. It is centrally located between Mexico City, Morelia, and Toluca.
There are two quaint neighboring towns that offer minimum accommodations and food. Angangueo, which is considered a Magic Town, is the closest town to El Rosario and Sierra Chincua. Ocampo is the next closest. The town of Zitacario offers more options, however, it is further from the butterfly sanctuaries.
These towns depend on this wildlife tourism. They host annual mariposa festivals to celebrate the butterflies.There are signs in the local towns directing you to this sanctuary.
Check out the post, “How to See the Monarch Migration” for more detailed information about expenses and travel tips. If you don’t want to join a tour group, take a Mexico road trip to see the monarch migration and pyramids.
Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary is considered an ethical wildlife travel destination for many reasons.
- Their main concern are the butterflies and their natural habitat.
- The guides limit viewing times to 20 minutes in order to not disturb the butterflies
- This time limit also keeps down the minimum human impact on their habitat.
- They advise you to stay quiet and watch your steps so not to walk on any butterflies on the ground.
- It is forbidden to take any living or dead butterflies.
- This wildlife tourism supports the local economy
- Support the local community people by purchasing food and souvenirs.
- Support local community when paying to ride horses.
After paying for parking and entry fees, you will be assigned a guide. Then you need to decide to walk the entire trail or rent horses. The hike up the mountain can take 45 minutes to an hour and parts of the trail can be steep and rugged.
Local men and boys offer guided horse rides up and down, which will minimize time and energy. There is still plenty walking involved as the trail gets too narrow for the horses. If you decide to ride horses, your guide will meet you and lead you to the butterfly colonies.
Entry cost $2.50USD/person. Parking $3USD. Horses cost $5/person one way. Again add a few extra dollars for tips. Hours operated are 9-5.
- The best time to visit Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary is December through March. Visiting during the week may allow you more time with the butterfly colonies since the weekends are jam packed with tour groups. Late morning and early afternoon are prime viewing times.
- Local vendors run a few Souvenir shops and cafes that are located near the entrance. A small few are open during the week. Bathrooms are available at the entrance and cost 5 pesos.
- No one speaks english.
- Credit cards are not accepted. Have plenty of cash (small bills in pesos) on hand for tips.
- 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, but still worthy of a trip.