How to Visit Migrating Monarch Butterflies in Mexico (Sustainable)
Each winter, the world’s Monarch butterflies return to their natal homeplace to rest, reproduce, and regenerate. This heavenly place sits in Mexico’s middle along the Michoacán and Mexico state borders outside a small town named Macheros. We navigated this adventure, and now we’re sharing the hows, whens, and whys so you can enjoy this magical miracle, too.
Many tour operators offer Monarch butterfly trips from nearby Mexico City, Morelia, or San Miguel de Allende. We figured out how to do this trip in a more affordable, but most importantly, sustainable way. Follow these step-by-step instructions.
JM Butterfly B&B
Right outside the Cerro Pelon entrance to the one of the three butterfly preserves in Mexico is the well-appointed and beautifully run JM Butterfly B&B. The name may be changing to Macheros Butterfly B&B in the future, so keep an eye out for it. It’s the only place to stay in Macheros. Owned by Joel, a local who grew up in Macheros, this sustainably run B&B supports the local economy of 300 people. Every peso you spend at JM goes back into Macheros.
We loved our room, the food, the experience, and everyone who stayed there. We recommend this B&B 100%. It’s also the only place in Macheros to stay, and it’s walking distance to the entrance to the preserve. Book your reservation. Butterfly season is from around December to March. We went the first week of March. It was perfect. Rooms are about $100 a night and include breakfast.
Get Yourself to Mexico City
In Mexico City, get to the Terminal Autobuses Poiniente. Your Ubers and taxistas will know how to get there, or you can take any number of bus/subway combinations.
Terminal Autobuses Pioniente
When you enter the bus terminal, look to your left. On the ground, you’ll see yellow arrows. Follow the yellow arrows to your left. On the far left wall, you’ll see desks for the various bus lines. and Puerta 8. You’re looking for two bus lines, Excelencia and La Linea. You’ll want to buy a bus ticket to Zitácuaro. Both of these lines drive there, and they leave every 45 minutes. Tickets cost the same. Go to one of the desks and ask when the next bus leaves. If it is more than 45 minutes from the time that you ask, go to the other desk. Pick the bus that leaves the soonest.
Both take credit cards or cash. When you get your tickets, you’ll get to pick your bus seat, too. Tickets cost about $15. There are bathrooms on the bus. When you load the bus, you’ll put your luggage underneath. The bus driver will give you a ticket for your luggage and then scan your bus ticket. Get on your bus, find your seat, and settle in. Often, a tamale or torta vendor will come on the bus prior to departure to sell food. Bring your own water. The bus ride is two hours.
Getting a Taxi in Zitácuaro
When you arrive to Zitácuaro, get off the bus. Go into the terminal. The bathrooms in the terminal are 6 pesos. Check with the bus lines about your return and buy a ticket for your return. You also might want to buy snacks here in the bus terminal. Walk through the exit that says “Taxis.” You don’t need to go to the taxi stand because they only sell tickets for rides within the town of Zitácuaro. Tell the first taxista that you want to go to JM Butterfly B&B in Macheros in the State of Mexico. They should know where it is. (See below for instructions.)
Get in the taxi. The taxi driver will hand you a piece of paper. It basically tells you the backstory to your fare and where the money goes.
The taxi ride is about 25 minutes and should cost $300 pesos. There is no Uber. You’ll cross over the state border from Michoacán back into the state of Mexico. Be sure to tip your driver $50 pesos. Arrive at JM and enjoy a relaxing afternoon.
At JM, sign up for the horse ride to see the butterflies. Whether or not you ride the horse, it’s included in your $100. The owner of the horse will lead the horse, so you don’t need to know how to ride. The money you pay goes directly to the local horse owners and their families. They are learning that there is more money in ecotourism than there is in slashing the forests, and you are economically incentivizing them to watch over the forest for the butterflies.
On the morning of your butterfly tour, have breakfast between 7:30-8:30. They serve a typical Mexican egg breakfast, delicious oatmeal and/or a green smoothie. One breakfast item is included in your rate. After breakfast, attend the butterfly orientation. Learn about the 3-generation migration miracle, the butterfly range, and their lifespans. It’s amazing!
The Horse Ride and Butterfly Tour
The horse ride up to the butterflies at about 9000 feet in elevation is about 45 minutes. Before you get on the horses, you can use a toilet available in a home near the stables for $5 pesos. The horses are well-trained. This is a great time to practice your Spanish with the horse and its owner. The ride up the hill is pleasant.
You’ll start seeing the occasional Monarch, then a few, then all of a sudden, they’re everywhere. At this point, you’ll dismount your horse and hike up the side of the hill. Joel will guide you to the perfect place to sit under the trees to watch the butterflies. They’ll be swarming and fluttering all around you. You’ll see clumps on trees that look like dead leaves, then all of a sudden a sun ray will hit the clump, exploding it into a tornado of butterflies.
Relax and enjoy the show.
About an hour later, you’ll be treated to lunch based on the selection you made when you signed up. Choices are ham tortas or lentil salad. Chips, apples, and a piece of chocolate are also offered along with a bottle of water. Watch the butterflies puddle around you as you enjoy your lunch.
About an hour later, you’ll either walk down the hill or remount your horse to ride back. If you decide to walk down the hill, which is somewhat steep, they’ll ask you to mount your horse when you get back to the dirt road, which isn’t so steep. It’s your choice.
You’ll return to your original mounting spot. Be sure to tip your horse owner $200 pesos. Use the bathroom again if necessary.
After Your Butterfly Tour
The next morning, either repeat your butterfly tour, sign up to learn to make tamales ($50), get a local tour of the town and see how piñatas and tortillas are made ($50), or return the way you came.
At JM, enjoy a delicious dinner. They have a nice menu that includes various Mexican dishes and fresh trout. Dinner ranges from $100-$200 pesos per person. Beer and alcohol are available as are delicious desserts. Hang out around the fire, make friends, and share butterfly stories.
Post your picture below of your Monarch butterfly experience in Mexico!
Spanish You May Need
Print these phrases off. Hand them to the appropriate vendor when you need them.
At the bus station:
Buenas Dias. A que hora salen los autobuses a Zitácuaro.
Yo necesito 1 boleta a Zitácuaro, por favor. Gracias.
With the Zitácuaro taxi driver: (Taken from the JM Butterfly website.)
Por favor llevame al hotel “JM Butterfly B&B” en Macheros en Estado de México.
Precio: $300 MXN
• Toma carretera Zitacuaro-Aputzio de Juarez.
• En la Piedra (modulo de policia), toma una izquierda en la desviación.
• Siga 7 kilómetros. Pasa “Llano Redondo.”
• Toma una izquierda en la desviación a Macheros. (Esta un arco con el nombre.)
• En el pueblo, llega al centro (no al parador) esta la iglesia a mano izquierda. Toma una
• Estamos en el edificio blanco de 3 pisos a mano derecha.