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Of all the natural occurrences that take place in Mexico, the annual monarch butterfly migration is surely one of the most legendary.
As the temperatures begin to drop in the north, thousands of these colorful creatures make their way from Canada, through the U.S., and south to the warmer climes of Mexico to hibernate. During a recent visit to the lakefront town of Valle de Bravo, I made a side trip to Piedra Herrada, a butterfly sanctuary located in the state of Mexico.
I enjoyed an unforgettable experience, but learned a few troubling facts.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), monarch butterflies inhabited only 6.12 acres of Mexican forests in 2017, a 15% decline from the previous year. The declining numbers are the result of a variety of factors, including deforestation and the loss of plants in Mexico and farther north.
The recent murder of two nature activists involved with sanctuary preservation cast even more light on the perilous status of the monarch butterflies and those who speak up on their behalf. The WWF has asked the general public to join its Monarch Squad, encouraging members to stay informed, to be vocal and to help grow plants that monarchs need to survive.
Visiting the monarch butterflies, and supporting those who advocate for their survival, is one sure way to support their preservation. The following tips can help clients make the most of their butterfly-focused vacations.
Choose the Right Time and PlaceMonarch butterflies start arriving in Mexico in early November (it almost seems like Mother Nature timed their visit to coincide with the Day of the Dead), and they leave by April. The nation is home to multiple sanctuaries that offer rewarding viewing; in addition to Piedra Herrada, travelers might consider a visit to the state of Michoacan, where the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Be FlexibleButterflies come out and show their colors more when it’s sunny and warm. So, it’s a good idea to include enough time in the itinerary to allow for some flexibility; if it’s going to be cloudy on the day a traveler originally planned to visit, they can arrange to go on another day. Visiting between Monday and Friday, rather than weekends, is a smart way to avoid the crowds.
Be PreparedThe weather can be chilly in the beautiful hills of central Mexico. Bring layers, a hat, a scarf and comfortable shoes for walking. At Piedra Herrada, we had the option to ride most of the way up the hill on horseback, which was a wise choice, since it’s a rather long hike up a sometimes-steep trail. Also, bring plenty of cash — for tips and food, as well as for local guides, if you’re planning the trip independently (the folks at the Piedra Herrada sanctuary, for example, don’t take credit cards).
Go With an ExpertFor a more professionally planned experience, travelers can consider booking with any of several tour operators and hoteliers that offer packages with butterfly-viewing opportunities.
Natural Habitat Adventures offers a six-day Kingdom of the Monarchs tour that departs from Mexico City and features stops at multiple sanctuaries. Black Tomato has teamed up with Travel + Leisure to create its six-day itinerary, which also departs from Mexico City and includes a naturalist-led visit to the Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. And Tia Stephanie Tours offers a Monarchs and the Mazuhua tour that also includes visits to Michoacan’s butterfly habitats.
Travelers can also book experiences through a handful of hotels. Villa Montana, a member of Mexico Boutique Hotels in Morelia, offers an eight-hour tour to Michoacan’s famed biosphere reserve.
The DetailsMonarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve www.gob.mx
Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary www.facebook.com
Tia Stephanie Tours www.tiastephanietours.com
Villa Montana www.hotelesboutique.com