On the first tip I offered an insight of the 2 nature reserves in Michoacan where you can see the butterflies. If you rent a car and choose to drive here yourself, be ready for a looong journey and keep in mind that these sanctuaries are located far away from the toll highway (wide green line in the upper part of the map) and you have to drive through local roads which aren't in great condition. Also, it may be better to drive back (as if going towards Morelia again) and take the highway again next to Maravatio town regardless of the direction you are planning to take instead of driving towards the east to reach the highway again, because remember there is a mountain here and the road winds down for quite a while before you reach a flat surface again. So maybe hiring a day-trip from Morelia isn't such a bad idea after all.... LOL.
Ok, so once you've accessed your preferred sanctuary, paid your fee and everything, there are a few things you have to consider.
It is not allowed to bring food or beverages with you in order to avoid littering. However, there are places to eat (in the open air, very modest but OK) and stands selling locally manufactured souvenirs right before accessing the sanctuaries (at least this was the case at El Rosario). You may see my man & I on picture no. 5 when we were about to eat some nice quesadillas after we came out of the sanctuary. So much exercise certainly makes you hungry!! Also, right behind us you can see a truck that is used to bring tourists to the reserve. You may rent these trucks for yourself (they have a fixed fee for a day-long trip regardless of the people travelling) or share them with other people coming here so it is less expensive for everyone. These can be hired at Angangueo, your hotel staff will help you contact the right people to hire one of these local "tours".
There are 2 sanctuaries that you can visit in the state of Michoacan -- Angangueo is the closest village to both of them. This is where day-trips from Morelia take you to see the butterflies. I am attaching a map so you can see what the distance (between Morelia & sanctuaries) and the recommended routes are, and my personal opinion about visiting one sanctuary or the other.
El Rosario is almost on top of a mountain, and you can access it either from Angangueo itself or from the road between Angangueo and Ocampo (another even smaller village). I do NOT recommend the former... You have to climb to the top of Angangueo and from there the road is non-existent, so you have to drive on dirt and rocks for about an hour and there are some places where the slope is rather steep. It is much easier to drive up and down to this sanctuary from the road going to Ocampo. It might look a bit longer, but the road is in far better conditions.
My original plan was to visit the Sierra Chincua sanctuary instead. However, the lady at the guesthouse didn't give us accurate directions to get there, but to go to El Rosario instead. Oh well... In order to go to Sierra Chincua you have to take the road as if you were going towards Mexico City (towards the east) and the access to the nature reserve is right beside the road. You don't have to go uphill or drive on the mountain with your car. You park close to the road and walk uphill from there.
So both the vehicle and the pedestrian access seem to be easier at Sierra Chincua. Keep in mind though that you will still be walking through the forest and that the butterflies cannot be seen at "ground level" so to speak. You will still have to climb to see them, but it isn't something that demands an extraordinary effort. You will get a bit tired but you can walk at your own pace and make pauses along the way. The sanctuaries are guarded by local residents and the access is blocked a few kilometers into the mountain - where most of the butterflies gather - so the crowds won't bother and accidentally kill them.
Also, as you may see in picture no.2, there's a fee that you have to pay both when you enter the reserve area with your car (single fee per vehicle) and when you access the sanctuary (single fee per person). It is not expensive and it is used to preserve the sanctuaries and pay the people who work there.
There two big places to visit Butterflies in Michoacan, one is El Refugio, the other one is Sierra Chincua, if you have an own transportation I recommend Sierra Chincua. To El Refugio you can only arrive with the local trucks they have for rental.
You go to this town to see the butterflies. There really isn't much else to do. There is a cathedral and a couple of peddlers, but they don't really play up the tourism aspect good enough....this place could be a seasonal moneymaker....but it isn't.
We hired a driver to take us to El Rosario sanctuary (about 400pesos with tip for the ride...we were only three but if you found more people it would become cheaper per person). It cost about 25 pesos to enter El Rosario. We were the first visitors up the hill and were accompanied by one of the guides. He told us quite a bit about the butterflies in Spanish. Expect quite a hike up the mountain, it is about 10000ft elevation, quite cold out in the morning, and you are going up a steep mountain!
It was interesting to see the thousands of butterflies nesting in the trees, but I was disappointed that we could not be closer. As the sun warmed the butterflies, they began to fly around in the forest. By 1030AM they were flying in the meadow below to drink out of the stream. I found that my experience in the meadow was the most amazing because you could walk along and the butterflies would swirl around you. I felt like I was in a fairy tale.
Yearly between about October and March, some hundred million monarch butterflies migrate from the northern climes - some over a distance of up to almost 3,000 kms., to winter in the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico.
The best time to visit it would be around March or November. That winter was the coldest in ages so unfortunately we found thousands of dead butterflies on the ground.
The sanctuary is a wooden area located at over 3200 m. of altitude where millions of butterflies will spend Winter time. They arrive around end of October and stay there until March. In 2002 the official opening day of the sanctuary is November 27th.
To reach the sanctuary you have to rent a jeep/van from Angangueo. The cost is set by the Secretary of Tourism and in 2002 is MXN $350. The journey usually starts at 8:00AM and takes around 45 mins. to 1 hour.
Having reached the entrance to the sanctuary park you have to pay MXN $20 per person entrance fee and endure a hard-ish 45 minutes walk uphill until you reach the area where the butterflies are nesting.
The butterflies are asleep on the trees until the sun starts warming them up - around 10AM - causing a massive flutter of millions of wings. A truly awe-inspiring sight.
Take a walk among Angangeo's streets. You'll find lots of picturesque corners and you'll find out more about small towns in Mexico.
An amazing spectacle seeing millions of butterflies among the trees. Some branches are orange like in color because of the ammount of butterflies resting in the warm branches.