Photography Day Trip to see the Monarch Butterflies – near Valle de Bravo

Hiking up into the mountains to see millions of Monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico

One of the most amazing sights in Mexico is the migration of the Monarch butterflies. At the end of October, millions of the orange and black mariposas monarca arrive in the mountains of Central Mexico to escape the harsh winters in Canada and the USA and to spend the winter in the oyamel trees in a milder climate. The special “methuselah”  generation of this species lives for almost  8 months, much longer than the other three generations whose lifespan is about 4-5 weeks. This enables them to  take almost two months to fly the 3000 kms south in the autumn and winter in huge numbers in clumps in the trees. Then in February or early March they begin the long journey back home.

Last Wednesday a group of 7 of us drove past snow-capped Nevado de Toluca, 4680 metres high, to the Santuario Piedra Herrada which is located on the lower slopes of this volcano. Entrance to this Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary costs 60 pesos and includes a guide who takes you up the mountain to the roosting places. It’s a long steep climb of 3.5 kms starting at an altitude of 2200m and reaching 3600m, although if you want, you can hire a horse for 200 pesos to take you up most of the way. 

It was a fairly cool cloudy day, good for hiking but not so good to see the butterflies flying around. While temperatures are low and there is no sun, the millions of butterflies stay huddled together in huge numbers for warmth with their wings folded and only when the sun appears do they stretch out their wings and begin to fly around in search of water and nectar. When we first arrived at the top of the mountain, we could see what looked like dark clumps hanging from the tree branches and the odd butterfly or two on the ground or bushes but our patience was rewarded towards the end when some rays of sunshine burst through the clouds. We began to see the butterflies opening their orange wings and slowly they started moving and flying around.

Despite the cloudy conditions, we did manage to get some good photos, especially of the large clumps of butterflies and single ones on bushes. It was an amazing experience to see so many of these creatures roosting together in these mountains and to think that they are capable of making such a long arduous journey twice in just over 4 months.

Because we had visited mid-week there were few other visitors there and we were able to spend about an hour up at the top before hiking down. At the weekends, there are usually many more visitors and the guides told us they only spend about 10-15 minutes at the top. It was definitely worth going during the week as we could take our time getting some good photos.

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