Mexico/Michoacan: Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve – El Rosario Sanctuary

If you’ve seen National Geographic’s “Migrations”, you’ve heard the story of the largest migration in the world – monarch butterflies. Every year over 1 billion butterflies fly from their home in the mountains of central Mexico to southern USA, and then to Canada, and later back to Mexico – it takes 4 generations to complete the journey. At EL Rosario Sanctuary, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, the butterflies spend winters in the cool mountain air, roosting on the branches of oyamel and pine trees, sleeping by night, and flying around during the sun of the daytime. The butterflies winter here November through March, so we got lucky with the last couple weeks of their migration (My first visit here was in 2008 in December). You gotta come prepared here – officially the reserve opens at 9am and most people show up then and use horses to get to butterflies. Which is a shame! You need to get here before 7am and trek on foot on a steep uphill at the elevation over 10,000 feet and thin air. The reward? You get to see butterflies still sleeping in the morning cold air before the sun warms them up – it’s an amazing sight: thousands and thousands of butterflies hanging on tree branches like overloaded Christmas decorations! The trees appear orange with butterflies. As the sun shines, they wake up and the air gets filled with fluttering butterflies. Everywhere! As the sun warmed them up, the air was filled with them and butterfly mating couples started showing up everywhere. Butterflies were on the ground, bushes, low branches – everywhere. And it didn’t take long before they started landed on us.