The Monarch butterfly migration in Mexico is one of nature’s most fascinating phenomenons and one of the most amazing things that I’ve been fortunate enough to witness. If you also want to visit a place where millions of Monarch butterflies fly around you in a spectacular colorful dance, continue reading. In this post, I’ll be focusing on one of the best places where you can see the Monarch butterflies in Mexico, the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary close to Valle de Bravo.
The Monarch Butterflies Migration
Every November, millions, perhaps a billion, of Monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico from as far away as Canada and USA. They flee the cold weather to bask in the warmth of the Oyamel fir forests of Mexico’s central highlands and cluster in small sections of the forests.
This butterfly migration is considered the most dramatic demonstration of insect migration in the world. To protect this unique biological phenomenon, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve was created in 2008. Today, the reserve covers an area of over 16,100 hectares shared by 10 municipalities of 2 Mexican states.
When Is the Best Time to Witness the Butterfly Migration and Visit Piedra Herrada Sanctuary?
The best time to witness the butterfly migration and visit the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary are the months of January and February when the migration is at its peak.
The Monarch butterflies start arriving in Mexico in early November and they overwinter there until mid-March when they start heading back to the North. With this in mind, you can see the butterfly migration in Mexico from mid-November to mid-March. Some people recommend visiting the sanctuary at the end of November or the beginning of December as there are fewer tourists and still a lot of butterflies can be seen.
I visited the Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary near Valle de Bravo on the 2nd of January 2022. Because a lot of Mexican people were on a vacation for the New Year’s Holidays there were really a lot of people there, but that didn’t make my experience less enjoyable.
Why Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary?
There are 4 butterfly sanctuaries in Mexico; each is different in terms of accessibility, location, butterfly population, and difficulty to hike. Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary is the most popular because it is the closest to Mexico City, Valle de Bravo, and also Toluca.
When I heard that there is a place where I can see millions of butterflies gathered in one place, I immediately knew that I had to go. Before arriving in Mexico, I didn’t know about the existence of this sanctuary, about the butterfly migration, nor I had heard about Valle de Bravo. None of those places were part of my travel plans for Mexico.
Luckily, in the hostel where I was staying in Mexico City, I’ve meet a local Mexican guy who told me that I need to visit Valle de Bravo. He briefly introduced me to the place and after he told me about the butterflies and how they are one of the best things to do in and around Valle de Bravo, I was sold. A couple of days later, I was already on my way to Valle de Bravo and the Piedra Herrada Butterfly Sanctuary. Gracias amigo!
How to get to Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary from Valle de Bravo on Your Own?
When I first arrived in Valle de Bravo everyone kept on telling me how complicated it is to visit the sanctuary on my own, so if I want to go, I should better take a tour. That is so not true. In fact, visiting Piedra Herrada by yourself is super easy and stress-free.
Piedra Herrada Monarch butterfly Sanctuary is located approximately 30 km away from Valle de Bravo. If you don’t have a car, the only way to reach the sanctuary on your own is by taking a taxi. You can find taxis all around Valle de Bravo, especially near the zocalo. There is no fixed price so negotiate what is good for you. I visited the butterfly sanctuary with two other people and we paid 350 MXN, which, in my opinion, is a fair price for the 40 minutes drive.
The taxi will leave you at the entrance of the sanctuary.
To get back from Piedra Herrada to Valle de Bravo by yourself, you have two options:
- Arrange a pick up with your taxi driver. Don’t expect that there would be taxis waiting there to get you back to Valle de Bravo. Piedra Herrada is in the middle of nothing, so don’t rely on that.
- Hitchhike – This is what we did. The Piedra Herrada Sanctuary is on the way to Toluca so there’s always traffic on that route.
Info About the Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
Piedra Herrada Opening Hours: In the period of mid-November to mid-March, every day from 9 am to 4 pm.
Piedra Herrada Tickets: 100 MXN
At the entrance, there are vendors selling snacks and water, toilets, and a playground.
People are not allowed to walk around the sanctuary by themselves, so it is mandatory to take a guide. There are guided tours every half an hour. I’ve read that other people have paid additionally for the service, whereas our guide told us that her services are included in the entry fee.
From the entrance, it is around a 45 minute to one-hour hike into the forest to reach the top of the trail where most of the butterflies are. At the top, you can only stay for 15 minutes and then you have to head back.
The best part for me was actually outside of the sanctuary. When we exited the sanctuary, we started walking the way back and in 10 minutes or so, we found this magical place next to the river. There were hundreds of butterflies flying around and we were not limited to how long we can stay, plus, there weren’t a lot of other people.
Having said that, I still recommend visiting the sanctuary, but I also encourage you to take your time and explore the surroundings by yourself afterward.
Things to Know Before Visiting the Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary:
1. Although I found the hike to be super easy, it wouldn’t be so easy for everybody. Elderly people, or anyone for whom hiking would be an issue, can rent a horse.
2. To see the butterflies flying in their full glory, you would like to plan your visit on a sunny day. When there’s no sun the butterflies stay on the trees. Also, don’t arrive too early. The Monarch butterflies like the sun and the warmth, so ideally, you would like to be at the top of the trail around noon.
3. Watch your feet! The butterflies are everywhere, even on the path and you wouldn’t want to accidentally step on them.
4. Bring enough cash, credit cards are not accepted and there are no ATMs nearby.
5. Wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes.
6. I’m not entirely sure if there are any English-speaking guides in Piedra Herrada, so be prepared that you might not be able to understand anything if you don’t speak Spanish. I was lucky to visit the sanctuary with two Spanish-speaking friends who translated everything for me.
7. Wednesday and Thursday are the busiest days for school groups visiting the sanctuary.
And there you have it, everything you need to know about planning a visit to the Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary from Valle de Bravo on your own. If you have any additional questions, let me know in the comments, and don’t hesitate to contact me.