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See The Monarch Butterfly Migration In Mexico Before It's Too Late

One of nature's great spectacles is the annual migration of Monarch butterflies from the USA and Canada to central Mexico. These fragile creatures congregate by the millions in a very limited area. If you go, you will see butterflies as far as the eye can see, covering every inch of forest. But the migration is getting smaller every year.

Can I Still See The Monarch Butterfly Migration To Mexico?

Yes, though the future of the migration is in doubt. For the time being millions of Monarch butterflies make an annual trek from Canada and Middle America to Michoacan and Mexico states in Mexico every winter. The migration is threatened by two major factors. The most damaging comes from the United States. The butterflies favorite food, milkweed, is disappearing. This is due to the decrease in non-urban land and the increase in genetically modified crops, which allow farmers to use herbicides that kill everything except the crop they are cultivating. The second factor is the deforestation of their habitat in Mexico, though that has decreased in the last few years. The butterflies will cover a little over one-and-a-half acres of forest this year. Last year it was just under three, according to the World Wildlife Fund. In previous years, butterflies covered as much as 45 acres. An actual count would be impossible, so measuring the number of acres butterflies cover is the accepted way of taking a census.

When Is The Best Time To See The Monarchs?

When it turns cold in the Midwest United States, the Monarchs fly south. The first comers often arrive in time for Dia de los Muertos, November 1 and 2. Mid-November to early March is the official season. January and February is when the population is densest. That is also the time when there are the most people. Weekends will be more crowded than weekdays, as families from nearby towns and cities will come then. There is a Festival Cultural de la Mariposa Monarca at the end of February or the beginning of March. This is a really big deal as it includes music, regional dances and foods. The 12 municipalities (think counties) around the butterfly reserves participate.

See: Dia de los Muertos Celebrations

Where Are The Monarch Reserves?

The official Monarch Biosphere Reserve covers 217 acres in the Mexican states of Michoacan and Mexico. In the state of Michoacan, the most visited and well-known reserves are El Rosario Santuario Mariposa Monarca (El Rosario Butterfly Reserve) and the nearby Sierra Chincua Santuario Mariposa Monarca (Chincua Mountain Monarch Butterfly Reserve). Both are close to Angangueo.In Mexico state, there are three sanctuaries: Santuario Ejido El Capulin , Santuario Piedra Herrada on the west side mountain Nevado de Toluca near Temascaltepec and Santuario La Mesa. Be aware that this is requires a very difficult hike of about three kilometers over steep terrain at high altitude to see the butterflies. Do not attempt it if you are not in good shape. It is 43 miles (70 KM) from Toluca and 15 miles (25 KM) from Valle de Bravo.The reserve of Santuario El Capulin in the mountain Cerro Pelon is not as visited as the ones in Michoacan. This is SE of Zitacuaro, Michoacan, near the state line, 50 miles (80 KM) west of Toluca. The closest town is Macheros.All the reserves are at high altitude, roughly 9,000 feet. The scene will be similar at all the reserves. Millions of Monarchs will cover every square inch of the oyamel fir trees in the forest. The trunks will be solid Monarchs as will the branches. Even the ground will be covered with butterflies, sometimes including the trails into the reserves. So keep your eyes open and tread lightly. One cannot trek through the sanctuaries without a local guide.

Are There Any Caveats To Visiting These Reserves?

Many people worry about the safety of visiting the state of Michoacan, due to news reports of cartel violence. The areas in the news are west and south of the capitol city. These areas are not troubled by unrest and are perfectly safe for anyone to visit.All the reserves are at higher altitudes form 8,500 to 9.500 feet. There is often a steep climb to get to the good viewing places. While there are clearly-marked trails, they are rocky. Horses are often available for rent, but they can only cover the beginnings of the trails, not the last, steepest sections. The trails in the reserves in Michoacan state are somewhat less strenuous than the ones in Mexico state, but a lot of walking is still involved. That said, people in their 70's and 80's are often visitors to the reserves.

How Can I Get To The Reserves?

You can fly to Mexico City, Toluca or Morelia. From any of those, you can rent a car, take a bus or take a tour to the Mariposa reserve of your choice. The main roads that link the reserves in MEX-15 and MEX-15D, between Toluca and Morelia. Each reserve is some distance off the main road on secondary paved roads that climb into the mountains.Angangueo is 94 miles (152 KM) from Michoacan's capitol city of Morelia. Zitacuaro is halfway between Toluca 54 miles (87 KM) and Morelia 109 miles (175 KM). El Capulin is 50 miles (80 KM) west of Toluca, 18 miles (29 KM) SE of Valle de Bravo. Macheros, the closest town is half a mile (1 KM) from the reserve.

Where Can I Stay?

Some people go to the Michoacan town of Angangueo, which is close to the two reserves in that state. However, at 8,500 feet it's pretty chilly. There are only a few small hotels and they are often booked during the season. Maravatio is a larger town nearby as is Zinapecuaro. The hot springs of Los Azufres is close and the mineral water resort of Agua Blanca in Jungapeo is popular with those who know about their healing waters. All of those towns are between 22 and 30 miles (35 and 50 KM) from the reserve. If you go to the reserves in Mexico state, the pricey resort town of Valle de Bravo is a central location. For Piedra Herrada, Zitacuaro, Michoacan is close and less expensive. El Capulin has campsites for tenters. In the nearby town of Macheros, there is a reasonably-priced B&B, J.M.'s Butterfly B&B.

See: Accommodations closest to El Capulin reserve

Standing silently in a forest of firs and Monarchs, where the yellow, reddish orange, gold, black, white of their fragile wings overwhelm the hardy green trees is awe-inspiring. To think that these delicate creatures, each weighing maybe half a gram could have flown thousands of miles should inspire us to celebrate tenacity and grit in our own lives.

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