I’d wanted to visit the mariposas monarcas in Mexico for over two years before I finally got around to taking an eco-friendly tour to Mexico’s monarch butterflies in Michoacán just last week. These beautiful creatures migrate annually from Canada and the US, before settling in the blustery forests of Michoacán’s sierras and can only be seen from November to March each year, so I knew I had to get a move on if I wanted to tick them off my Mexico bucket list! Here’s everything you need to know about my excellent and eco-friendly Báay Tours experience visiting the monarch butterflies in Michoacán.
AN ECO-FRIENDLY TOUR TO MEXICO’S MONARCH BUTTERFLIES IN MICHOACÁN
It was a ridiculously early start for the trip to Michoacán with Báay Tours. I’m talking be-at-the-meet-up-point-for-6am early and for someone who isn’t too fond of early mornings it was a struggle, let me tell you. Luckily, my friend was on hand to ring me in the morning and make sure one of my seven alarms had woken me up. They had not. But anyway, we both took Ubers to the meet up point outside of Metro Chilpancingo and I, in typically British fashion, somehow managed to arrive twenty minutes early and ended up hovering in an Oxxo with a coffee waiting for everyone else.
It turned out there were only five other people taking the tour with us, four friends from Mexico City and the dad of the tour company’s owner, plus the minibus driver and the super friendly tour representative, Karla! It took until about two hours into the trip and a couple of coffees later before we started to chat amongst ourselves and by the end of the day meeting the assorted company we were with had become one of the best parts of the whole experience.
Anyway, after an approximately four-hour long journey that took us through the State of Mexico (I mistakenly thought we were going to a sanctuary there instead of in Michoacán), as well as massively underrated and pretty-looking pueblo mágico of Angangueo in Michoacán, we pulled up to the picturesque Santuario Sierra Chincua.
The Monarch Butterflies at Santuario Sierra Chincua
As mentioned above, this is one of the least ‘tourist-ified’ of the several butterfly sanctuaries dotted around Mexico and is considered one of the most virgin as a result. I’d have to agree that, while there were plenty of people there by the time we left, when we arrived it was surprisingly tranquil for a Saturday.
Getting off the minibus we were met with a vast expanse of greenery and a beautiful view of the surrounding areas, as well as some weird and inexplicable sculptures plonked in the courtyard outside the entrance to the sanctuary. The tour with Báay included a guide in the cost (minus tips of course; I gave MXN$50/£2 at the end) and he led us up the path, stopping to take in the honestly jaw-dropping views at the mirador (viewpoint), before continuing on to where the butterflies were congregated that day.
The monarch butterflies are notoriously temperamental and change their location depending on the weather condition of the day. For example, if it’s been windy in the recent days the chances of seeing lots of butterflies in flight isn’t great. In fact, when we got the butterfly observation spot, they were mainly bunched off the trees asleep which equals closed wings and not much orange to be seen, sadly! Even so, it was still magnificent to see the ones that were taking flight around our heads and I half hoped one would land on me and prove I was some kind of lowkey Disney princess. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
In all honesty, I went on the tour to see the butterflies but they turned out to not be my favourite part of the day or the tour in the end. It was a shame that we didn’t see more of them, but I think arriving early played a big part in that. Our tour of the Sancutary ran from around 11am to 1pm, but they tend to come out later in the afternoon when it’s warmer.
After wandering up into the hills to see the butterflies, we had an hour free to grab some food and browse the souvenir shops (all of them sell the same butterfly themed products). We actually went to one of the fondas recommended by our tour guide and had some of the best maíz azul (blue corn) quesadillas and tlacoyos that I’ve ever had in my life. Like mini pita breads, tlacoyos are filled with cheese, cream, beans and the filling of your choice. So. Good. And they were only MXN$15/£0.65 each. After lunch it was back in the van for the short ride back through Angangueo to Alternare in Aporo.
Alternare was perhaps one of the most unexpectedly excellent aspects of this eco-friendly tour from Mexico City to Michoacán. A non-profit organisation, they’re dedicated to showing local communities how they can save money, energy and resources by adopting environmentally friendly practices, and their ‘hub’ in Michoacán is basically a training ground and ‘showroom’ of all their policies.
Lunch at AlternareWhen we arrived, we were taken straight through to the dining hall by the coordinator Guillermina to have lunch. The day we visited it consisted of egg-filled meatballs and perfectly cooked rice, accompanied by fresh guava juice and a banana, cinnamon and condensed milk dessert. Honestly, we all wished we’d not eaten so many tlacoyos at Sierra Chincua before going to Alternare because the food was so delicious!
After lunch, we met our guide for the afternoon Artemio. He took us around the centre and explained everything from the dry toilets (the residue of which is then used as fertiliser) to the crop fields. He also showed us the animals they raise at Alternare, from the chickens and turkeys (we got to hold a turkey egg that was just about to hatch and it was so oddly warm!) to some newly born baby rabbits. At the end of the day, we also got the chance to plant some lettuces and radishes ourselves in the allotment section of Alternare, before heading to the store to pick up some products as souvenirs.
Overall, Alternare was a welcome surprise and a great addition to the tour. I only wish we hadn’t had to rush through our explanations so much… and that I hadn’t gone home a blush shade of pink from standing in the sun all day!
The tour company I went with for this trip, after my friend stumbled across their page on Facebook was the relatively new Báay Tours who offer tours with an eco-friendly twist and promote the protection of the environment through sustainable travel. Our eco-friendly twist was obviously the fantastic visit to Alternare, Michoacán, which surpassed all my expectations! While this tour won’t be repeated until the butterflies return in November, their Facebook page will keep you up to date with all the latest Báay Tour travel options.
Even though I received a complementary tour with them on this occasion, I would massively recommend them and I’m hoping one of their future tours fits with my schedule. I know this sounds insignificant, but they planned plenty of time for us to stop at bathrooms and eat throughout the day (you’d be surprised how many tour companies don’t!) and both the driver and Karla were really friendly and approachable.
TIPS FOR VISITING MEXICO’S MONARCH BUTTERFLIES IN MICHOACÁN
There are some things you ought to know before you rush off to spot these majestic creatures in Michoacán, Mexico. Here are the top tips for a successful visit to any one of the countries monarch butterfly reserves.
- Take a scarf or something to cover your mouth and nose. I don’t know whether this was just at Sierra Chincua, but the wind and dust combined meant that your eyes and throat could get uncomfortably irritated at times.
- Don’t take socks and shoes you’re overly attached to. I wore a pair of knackered old Converse and didn’t take them off the whole day, yet when I got home both they and my socks were black from the aforementioned dust. Maybe stick to dark colours!
- Take a bottle of water and some light snacks. It’s a long day and while there was food provided at Alternare and plenty of affordable spots to eat at the Santuario, it’s nice to have something to nibble on en route. After all, it’s a four hour journey each way from Mexico City.
- Don’t take children. It sounds harsh, but really, don’t take your kids unless they can be quiet. When we went here were toddlers running around and making noise in the butterfly observation zones which just freaks out these already flighty and temperamental creatures even more and can scare them away.
- Sun cream up for Alternare! If you have delicate skin and burn easily, take some sun cream and apply liberally, especially for the Alternare visit. You’ll be stood outside in fields with little shade, at roughly the peak of the day and you will get burnt (like I did).