One of the things I was most excited about seeing when I came to Mexico was the monarch butterfly preserve in Michoacan. All of the monarch butterflies in North American migrate south to Mexico to wait out the cold season in this one area, so there are literally millions of butterflies flying all around you and it’s an incredible experience. The butterflies are only in Michoacan from October to March, and I arrived in March, so this is the first adventure I had in Mexico because I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
Take a look at this video of the preserve and if you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, the info on how to get there is below.
It’s super easy to get to the butterfly preserves from Mexico City, where I’m staying. I took a bus from Mexico City to a town called Zitacuaro and from there to a town called Ocampo. Altogether the buses cost about $15 USD one way. In Ocampo, which is a tiny little town, I was only able to find one hotel called Hotel San Carlos. It was basic but clean and the lady who helped was wonderful. The hotel for one night cost roughly $20 USD. It’s best to go up to Ocampo the day before, spend the night, and then head up to the preserve in the morning (around 8 or 9). You don’t want to go too early because it’s cold in the morning so the butterflies are not that active, but you also don’t want to go too late or the preserve will start to get crowded. You can take a taxi or a group van up to the preserve from Ocampo. A taxi will run you just under $10 USD, the van will be less than 2 bucks (even with the surcharge you’ll get for not being Mexican).
Once at the preserve, we opted to ride horses up to the actual butterfly area. The price is about $6.25 USD but this is a one-way fee so be sure to double whatever price they tell you. I loved riding up to the butterfly area but if you’ve never ridden a horse before I wouldn’t suggest making this your first try. The horses have saddles, but the reins aren’t full reins, they’re strings, and if you’re too short for the stirrups (like me) they won’t adjust them for you so you end up bouncing around quite a bit. It’s also a pretty steep climb and the horses sometimes stumble a bit. You ride the horses about 3/4 of the way up and then you have to get off and walk the rest of the way with a guide. You’re not allowed to enter the woods without a guide but they’re just there to make sure you don’t wander off where you’re not supposed to be, not to give any information about the preserve or the butterflies, so try to do some research before you get there. Once you get to the observation spot you’re allowed to stay as long as you wish but you have to remain quiet in the area so as not to disturb the butterflies. Trust me, you can get lost in the fluttering for well over an hour. Whenever you’re ready you just grab your guide and head back down where you can grab another cab or van back to Ocampo.
We had dinner in Ocampo before turning in the day we got there and then had breakfast and lunch there the next day before heading home. The total for the three meals was maybe $10 or $15 USD per person and they were big, tasty meals made by someone’s mom or grandmother. That means all told the entire adventure cost less than $100 and was absolutely well worth it.