From November to March, one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the world can be observed in Central Mexico! The Oyamel Fir forested mountains, a few hours west of Mexico City, are home to millions of overwintering Monarch butterflies.
Why Visit El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary?
El Rosario is the most accessible of Mexico's five protected wintering grounds for millions of Monarch butterflies. It is also known for having the largest populations of Monarchs! From Mexico City, it is just a few hours away. You can also get there by flying into Morelia Airport.
When To Go
Peak viewing season runs from mid-January to late February—this is when the butterflies are most active!
How to Get There From Mexico City Airport
Mexico City airport, officially Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez, is the second largest airport in Mexico so it tends to be the least expensive and has the most direct flights. If your flight is getting in late, I would recommend staying at Hotel Geneve, a 5-star hotel for an incredibly good price and one of the oldest hotels in CDMX!
From Mexico City Airport you can take an authorized taxi to a bus station in Mexico City. Authorized taxis offer comfortable and safe service and are the only taxis authorized by the Communications and Transport Authority. Taxi tickets are sold at the modules located near the arrival gates at Terminal 1 and 2. You will tell the clerk where you would like to go, in this case the Terminal Central de Autobuses del Poniente Bus Station. They will hand you a ticket which you will give to an authorized taxi driver outside. Mexico City is a large city (almost 9 million people!) so there are several different Bus Stations.
Poniente Bus Station is located on the Western side of the city and will be your best option for finding a direct bus ride to Zitácuaro.
Take a Bus from Mexico City to Zitácuaro
My favorite bus lines include ETN, La Linea, and Primera Plus. They are some of the nicest in Mexico! You can take a bus directly to Zitácuaro in the state of Michoacán and it is only a two hour bus ride. From there, you are only about an hour from El Rosario!
Keep in mind, the buses in Mexico are not like the Grey Hound buses you might see in the US. They are very luxurious if you pick the right bus line, and more comfortable than most airplanes. First class buses have comfortable seats, TV screens for each seat with free headphones, clean bathrooms, baggage check and WIFI!
*Hint* The bathrooms inside bus stations cost around 6 pesos (30 cents USD) and can be a hassle if you have a lot of luggage. It's best to wait until you get to the bus if possible!
Navigating the Bus Stations
This may be an intimidating experience at first but you will quickly get the hang of it. It helps to know some key phrases in Spanish when it comes to transportation. Even if you don't know Spanish, you can simply go up to a bus counter and say the city you want to go and they will point to times you can choose from.
Check out this Complete Guide to Bus Travel in Mexico to answer any questions you might have!
Other things to do in Mexico City
If you find yourself with a little extra time, don't miss some of these amazing sites!
1. Frida Kahlo Museum
2. National Museum of Anthropology
4. Zócolo, Mexico City
How to Get To El Rosario From Morelia
Another option is to fly into the Morelia airport which is also just a few short hours from the Monarch butterfly sanctuaries. From the airport, I recommend taking an authorized taxi to the Central de Autobuses (Bus Station) in Morelia. In larger cities, like Morelia and CDMX, you can also use Uber instead of taxis for some very competitive prices.
From the bus station, you will follow the same steps as above. First, buy your ticket at one of the bus line counters. I recommend a first class bus line like Primera Plus, ETN, or La Linea. You can look online for their bus schedules but online schedules aren't always as reliable as going in person. Get to the bus station AT LEAST 30 minutes earlier than your departure time. I would even recommend getting there an hour early if you are new to public transportation in Mexico. It's not difficult, but there is a slight learning curve.
Take a Bus From Zitácuaro to Angangueo
From Zitácuaro, we took an hour-long bus ride to Angangueo for about 50 pesos ($2.50 USD). Another option would be to take a taxi for around 300 pesos ($15 USD).
Angangueo is a small mountain village with beautiful, colorful houses and a lovely cathedral. Angangueo is part of the 'Pueblos Magicos' (Magical Villages) program created by the Secretariat of Tourism. The program promotes visiting small, rural towns, where visitors may see indigenous crafts, spectacular landscapes and other attractions. A "Magical Village" is a place with symbolism, legends, history, important events, festivals, traditions, great food, and enjoyable shopping, day-to-day life – in other words, "magic" in its social and cultural manifestations, with great opportunities for tourism. Every Pueblo Magico offers a special experience to the visitor.
Angangueo is the PERFECT launch pad to visit El Rosario and Sierra Chincua! There are a few Airbnbs in Angangueo where you can even stay in this magical village. We chose to stay in an amazing Airbnb in Aporo which is about a 30 min taxi or combi ride from Angangueo. A combi, or microbús is a form of public transport, seen commonly in Mexico. I found that our Airbnb hosts were very helpful in navigating to the butterfly sanctuaries.
Take a Combi From Angangueo To El Rosario
Once you have arrived in Angangueo, it's a very easy 30-ish minute ride to the El Rosario Butterfly Preserve. You can either take a taxi or a combi (aka shared taxi) to the entry of the preserve. The combi costs 45 pesos ($2.50 USD) to get to El Rosario. A taxi will cost around 200 pesos ($10 USD). I actually would recommend taking a combi because you get a better taste of the culture.
If you choose to take a combi, you will find the parada (bus stop) not far from Centro. You may need to ask for directions (Como puedo llegar a las combis que van a las mariposas?). The combis leave every 30 minutes so you can easily get to and from El Rosario throughout the day. I believe that the last combi leaves at 5:00 pm so it's best to get there early so you can spend the whole day! There are several great places to eat when you get to El Rosario.
YOU MADE IT!
Enjoy this magical experience and don't forget to tip your awesome guides and take lots of pictures!
You can hike or take a horseback ride to the butterflies!
The horseback ride is only about 20 minutes and the guide will lead your horse the whole time so you don't need any prior horse experience. The total price for the horse is 300 pesos, or about $15 USD.
If you decide to hike, be prepared! It is a very nice trail but it is steep and, if you aren't acclimated to the 3000m elevation, it can be very challenging. The hike in total is about 40 minutes each way.
Other Insider Tips for Visiting El Rosario
Bring an extra jacket because it will always be colder in the sanctuary which is at an altitude of almost 10,000 ft or 3000 m. If riding a horse, you can ask to tie the coat onto your saddle.
Bring a water bottle, as it is important to stay hydrated especially in higher altitudes.
Start out early! It's best to be at the sanctuary by noon to catch the most active time for the butterflies!
Don't underestimate the hike. The elevation makes it much more difficult that it appears and the stairs are no joke. Take a horse if you have any concerns about the hike.
If you decide to take a horse ride, help your horse out by leaning slightly forward on the uphill and leaning back on the downhill. On the downhill, press your feet into your stirrups to stabilize your body.
Watch your feet! Be careful not to step on a butterfly. It would be a shame to come all that way and accidentally step on a butterfly!
Consider bringing a hat for sun protection. The sun feels stronger at higher elevations.