Butterfly Sanctuary Tours (Available mid-November thru mid-March)
Butterfly Guide Joel has been going to see the butterflies since he was a toddler. His father and uncles worked as forest rangers on the Cerro Pelón reserve for over 30 years, and Joel has been leading tours to this reserve and others since 2011. His resume includes many years of working in customer service in English. Joel’s siblings Rogelio, Vicente and Ana and U.S.-born spouse Ellen also guide tours. Rogelio and Vicente spent many years in the U.S. where they learned rudimentary English. Ana studied English as part of her BA degree in tourism. During the off-season, Ana and Ellen give talks in the U.S. on monarch conservation issues.
When you take a tour with us, you are accompanied by one of our experienced and attentive English-speaking guides. We help you with logistics, carrying water and a picnic lunch for you and helping with your horse. We are also available to answer any questions you may have about the monarch migration, conservation issues, and daily life in a Biosphere Reserve community.
Our tours have been featured in the Milkweed Mission (Joel appears at 3:40), the Wichita news, the Belgian reality TV show Bartel’s Beard and in several documentaries, including Pursuing the Monarchs, The Guardians and The Diana Kennedy Film Project.
There are four sanctuaries open to the public, which are described below. Tours are $75 USD per person for Cerro Pelón, and $100 USD for the other three sanctuaries, because of the transportation involved. Cerro Pelón tours begin at 10 am and usually end around 3 in the afternoon; other tours also begin at 10 am and finish a few hours later. All of the colonies are the same altitude, about 3,000 m, or almost 10,000 feet. If you only have time to see one sanctuary, see Cerro Pelón.
Cerro Pelón Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Tour
This is the sanctuary that is closest to our village and closest to our hearts. Its entry is a 5 minute walk from our front door. Joel’s brother Patricio, along with the arborists from our non-profit, patrol this mountain everyday, so we always have up-to-the minute information on monarch activity there. Cerro Pelón is where scientists first confirmed that the butterflies that left Canada every year were the same ones that overwintered in the oyamel fir tree forests of the Sierra Madres. It is also, according to many butterfly enthusiasts and the Lonely Planet, the loveliest and most pristine of Mexico’s butterfly roosts. During the 2017/2018 season, a Cerro Pelón tour involves an hour and twenty minute horse ride to a beautiful meadow, El Llano de 3 Gobernadores. If it’s a warm day (which is almost always is), monarchs will be frolicking here. We leave the horses to ascend another steep 20 minutes on foot to the colony. Your group is likely to be alone on the mountain, apart from the workers there protecting the colony. If it is physically possible for you to visit this colony, this is the one you should see. (For an idea of what it can be like there, check out this video by Turk Pipkin from December 2016.)
Tour price of $75 USD per adult includes entry fee, horse rental, bag lunch, and a bilingual guide. Kids under 18 are $50 USD each.
Sierra Chincua Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Tour
After Cerro Pelon, we reccomend a visit to the completely different but also lovely Sierra Chincua. The trail to its colony is usually not as steep or long as the one to Cerro Pelon. Most of the ascent is done in car on a road that passes through the scenic village of Angangueo. The trail leading to the butterflies is relatively level and a 30-45 minute walk each way. Unlike the varied foliage on Cerro Pelon, the trees here are almost all oyamel fir trees, making for uniformly dark green vistas. Tour price of $100 USD per person includes transportation (2 hours each way from our place), entry fee, bag lunch and an English-speaking guide. Children under 18 are $60 USD each.
El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Tour
Unlike the unmarked trail that winds up the mountain on Cerro Pelon, here you’ll find numerous souvenir stalls, large tour groups, concrete steps, interpretive signs, and a lot more guides making sure you don’t get too close to the colony. The hike up is mostly on a paved trail and it takes 30-45 minutes each way, depending on your speed and acclimation. A horse will get you there in 20 minutes. In recent years, El Rosario has been the most populous of the butterflies’ overwintering sites. El Rosario is an hour and a half drive from our B&B. Tour price of $100 USD each includes transportation, entry fee, bag lunch and an English-speaking guide. Children under 18 are $60 USD each.
Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Tour
The trip from our place to Piedra Herrada takes you through the small farming villages of the State of Mexico on a road lined with fields of fruit trees and nopal cactuses. Then the road descends into the cosmopolitan colonial gem and weekend resort town, Valle de Bravo, which we visit on the way back. The sanctuary is another half hour down the road from here. The trail begins with a stone path with a separate trail for horses. The hike takes from 45 minutes to an hour each way, and is not so steep until the very end when you approach the colony, which is a little remote this season. Tour price of $100 USD per person includes transportation (at least 2 hours each way), entry fee, bag lunch, an English-speaking guide, and a stop-over in Valle de Bravo. Children under 18 are $60 USD each.
Cerro Pelón Day Trips from Mexico City
If you are in Mexico City (or Zitácuaro–Morelia is a bit far afield) and really want to see butterflies but don’t have time for an overnight stay, talk to us about arranging a day trip. Buses leave the Observatorio terminal (also called Poniente) in Mexico City for Zitácuaro every hour. Buy a “directo” ticket with the company called La Linea. The ride takes about 2 hours.
A Cerro Pelón day trip is $75 USD per person. Transportation to and from the Zitácuaro bus terminal to Macheros is not included. You will need to leave Mexico City super early (6 am) to reach us in time for breakfast and our 10 am tour departure. If you don’t linger too long, you will be back in the city in time for dinner. Read our Cerro Pelon Day Trip Guide for everything you need to know about making this journey.