Travel Experiences

The Monarch Butterflies in Mexico

Monarch Butterfly on a Flower

From November to March each year, one of the most spectacular natural phenomena can be observed in the forested mountains west of Mexico City: Monarch butterflies over-wintering in Mexico. The very special ‘Methuselah’ generations of butterflies migrate each year, leaving the colder northern climes of the US and Canada to take winter refuge and breed in Mexico.

These migrating Monarch butterflies travel in colonies of about 20 million insects and will travel between 80-120 nautical miles per day, depending on the wind and other weather conditions. The butterflies take advantage of ascending warm-air currents, gliding in the thrust they provide, needing only to flap their wings when the air current diminishes a little or when they change their flight path. This technique uses their energy efficiently, and physically enables them to undertake the long journey.

By mid November each year, the Monarch butterflies begin their arrival in Mexico. They settle in the oyamel fir tree forests which are situated in the eastern perimeter of the Mexican state of Michoacan, also bordering the state of Mexico, in the forested mountains west of Mexico City. Once here, the butterflies cluster on the tree trunks and remain in the region for the winter. As the sun heats the day, some of the butterflies will flutter in the forests and return to the tree trunks when the air cools.

Depending on the year, the butterflies may start arriving in late September or in October, and between November and March each year, it’s possible to visit one of the sanctuaries open to visitors and observe these remarkable insects in their natural habitat. The Mexican government has set up a number of protected sanctuaries within a biosphere reserve to ensure that the important habitats required by the Monarch Butterflies are protected and preserved, while still allowing visitors to witness these remarkable insects and enjoy some of Mexico’s most breath-taking landscapes.

You can visit one of the sanctuaries independently or you can request a custom trip to see the Monarch Butterflies.

You can learn more about these butterflies, their migration, their breeding cycle, and their journey back north on our detailed travel guide to Monarch Butterflies in Mexico.


  1. Jeff Gardiner says

    Had a wonderful experience with the butterflies as well as stopovers in Ciudad Hidalgo and Morelia. NO problems, friendly people…

  2. Zinnia says

    I travel at least 2 times/ year to Michoacán to purchase folk art from the amazing artisans in many small pueblos. I have never been worried about my safety in the 8 years I’ve been doing it. One must always be aware of surroundings (just like in the US), don’t do dumb things and be respectful of the beautiful people and culture. My advice to people is always to GO, enjoy and be amazed at the beauty of life in the great country of Mexico. Viva!

  3. David Haun says

    I live in Patzcuaro and there are no reports about dangers in or around the butterfly sanctuaries. Much has been exaggerated by US media. If you are a visitor and not dealing in drugs, there is little to worry about.
    Latest report from NY Times says Monarchs are increasing in numbers this year as they leave the north and fly to Michoacan. Godspeed!

  4. Bliss Wilson says

    I have lived in southern Mexico for 8 years. I am kicking myself for not going to see the MM earlier. All reports that we hear say that the Michoacan Monarch migration area is unsafe. Staying alert doesn’t help much when you are facing a teenager with a gun. Michoacan is a beautiful state with many craft villages. This is very sad.

  5. sraw says

    Jeff, there is no “current condition”. Events continually fluctuate in the U.S. engendered drug demand, gun supplied, government (NAFTA anyone?) sponsored turmoil. The butterflies are disappearing for related reasons. Take a chance, keep your wits about you, see the monarchs while you can, enjoy the wonderful people of Mexico – go.

  6. Jeff Gardiner says

    I have heard many reports of un-safe conditions in these areas, raning from nervous teenagers with guns robbing you of your possessions to kidnappings and breakins… What is the current condition of life in this area?

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