March 12, 2020

Guide to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere


If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably seen photos of the magical butterflied-filled forests in Mexico and are wondering “where is that and HOW can I see that myself!?” Well you’re in luck, because below I am going to share everything you need to know to do this trip!

Every winter, millions of Monarch butterflies migrate from Canada to a large biosphere reserve in the state of Michoacán, Mexico. Michoacán is about a 3-hour drive from Mexico City, from where most visitors start their trip. We rented a car to get there to have the most freedom, and it was quick and easy to rent one in Mexico City.  You can also start your trip from Morelia in Michoacan if it’s easier for you to get there.

There are several cash tolls each way, varying from around 40-120 pesos ($2-$6 USD).   We saw tourists visiting from all over North American and Europe, but mostly Canada and Mexico. We were able to make this journey a day trip by leaving at 7:00 AM but if you’re a real butterfly enthusiast, I recommend staying the night in the little town of Angangueo to hit multiple reserves.

Michoacán currently has a dangerous reputation for heightened Narco activity in the state but the area we visited is largely unaffected by violence or danger. We felt completely safe throughout our visit, like with most of our Mexico travels, and encountered zero problems on the way there and back.

The most popular area of the reserve is called El Rosario which is where we originally intended to spend time. The day we were visiting, our guide told us there were fewer people and more butterflies in a part of the park called Sierra Chincua close by. After paying the entrance fee of 50 pesos ($2.50) we rode horses down the path for 100 pesos ($5) but it would’ve been a very easy hike if we’d chosen to walk. But if you don’t like hiking or enjoy riding horses, we had so much fun riding the trail! We ended up bringing our dog even though we couldn’t find out online if they were allowed, to find out there are not permitted inside the park when we got there. But the staff offered to let us leave him in the front office with them while we toured the biosphere and he was completely safe and secure.

A few minutes after dismounting our horses and continuing to walk down the path, our guide began to point out butterflies. You can tell the females and males apart by one distinguishable feature. Males have thin black stripes on their wings and females have thicker black stripes. The first photo below is a female and the second is a male.



It wasn’t until about 10 minutes of walking through the forest that we came upon where thousands of Monarchs had gathered. Some of the trees are so covered with butterflies they look orange. I had always heard that butterflies only live a few weeks, but our guide said the ones who come here live for 9 months! Maybe we all should spend more time out in nature like them, haha 🙂

Photography Tip: 
If you are a photographer like me and hope to get great shots of the butterflies, make sure to bring a zoom lens or even a telephoto if you have one. I used my Zeiss 85mm 1.8 with my Sony A7R iii for all of these shots.


There are 5 parks in Mexico’s butterfly biosphere between Michoacan and State of Mexico, but after tons of research we decided on Michoacan because it seemed to have the best nature and less tiring hikes, which was important to us since we did this trip all in one day. Overall, my best advice is to make sure you go in the peak of the season to guarantee you will see tons of butterflies like we did! I also highly recommend asking which park has the most butterflies when you arrive, since the butterflies tend to move around and you won’t know exactly where they are until they arrive.

If you’d like to see more from our trip to the monarch butterfly biosphere, check out our vlog from our trip below!





meet the writer

I'm Donna Irene.


A photographer, writer, and educator with a passion for helping people quit the hustle and live filled with purpose. When I picked up
a camera over 10 years ago, I had no idea it would take me around the world getting to photograph for everything from fortune 500
companies, brands, and people like you.

And now that I've been to 40+ countries and counting, I want to
use my talents to inspire others to use their creativity to make the world better. Follow along for resources on authentic travel experiences, sustainability, and building a business with intention.



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  1. UNESCO expresses concern after the suspicious death of several guides in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (Mexico) – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

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