How to do a day trip to Sierra Chincua Reserve from Mexico City to see the Monarch migration (without a tour)
I went to the Monarch Butterfly Reserve, Sierra Chincua, while I was in Mexico City. Imagine pine trees with so many butterflies on them that the branches are absolutely sagging from the weight. The butterflies are stacked so close to each other that you could mistake them for leaves. When the sun shines on one of these branches, imagine a sudden burst of orange as hundreds of these butterflies fly off the branch and into the sky. I have never seen anything like it and I doubt I will ever see it again. It is a crazy beautiful sight.
The Monarch migration is a crazy phenomenon where the butterflies migrate each year from Canada to this area in Mexico. Usually the butterflies have a life span of up to 1 month, but the conditions and cooler temperatures of these reserves allow the butterflies to live for around 4 months as they go into a semi-hibernation mode (or something like that). There are two main reserves that are open for public viewing: Sierra Chincua and El Rosario. They are actually both very near each other. I visited Sierra Chincua.
How much time do you need:
It is a very long day, but if you have a spare day in Mexico City and want something a little adventurous to do, this is perfect! From Mexico City, if you plan doing the entire journey in one day, it will take you the entire day. I left my hostel in the Historic Centre at 6:30am, and did not get back until 7:30pm that night.
Which reserve should you go to:
There are 2 main reserves pretty close to each other: the more popular El Rosario, and Sierra Chincua. I chose Sierra Chincua rather than El Rosario as I had read the walk is not as long; and is less strenuous than the nearby El Rosario Reserve. This was especially important as with two four hour bus rides (to and from Angengueo) already taking up much of the day, a two hour, one way walk wouldn’t leave much time to see the butterflies! The walk took me 40 minutes one way up will. It was quicker on the way down.
Also, if you want to go horse back riding up to the butterflies, you will need to go to Sierra Chincua as El Rosario does not offer this.
When to go:
The park does not officially open until November 1st, or Day of the Dead where it is common for locals to climb these reserves to see the butterflies. The most popular times to go are January through to March when the temperature is warmer, which makes the butterflies more active.
However, I went in early December and there were thoooousands of butterflies! But it was quite cold, and when the clouds came over, the butterflies did not move from the trees very much.
If it looks like a very cloudy day, you won’t get as much out of this trip. The butterflies are much more active when the sun is out and the temperatures are a bit warmer.
If it is raining, I wouldn’t bother going as there may not be a lot of activity amongst the butterflies. also, storms are said to kill many of the butterflies 🙁 so I wouldn’t go just after a storm either.
How to get to Sierra Chincua Butterfly Reserve (from Mexico City):
If you are doing the day trip, you have to go early! I took the 6am bus. The bus terminal opens around 4am so you should have no problem buying your bus ticket just before your 6am bus.
- If you are taking the metro, take it towards Observatorio (4 pesos) and get off at Observatorio station.
- Exit the station and walk across the road to Terminal Poniente. If not taking the metro, either walk, taxi or uber to Terminal Poniente.
- Once in the terminal, walk down the far end to the ‘Excellencia’ bus service. Ask for a bus ticket to Angengueo.
- The bus ticket 1 way costs 220 pesos
- The bus will take 3-4hrs
- Take the 6am bus, taking the 8am bus could be pushing it if the traffic is bad.
- If you are doing this as a day trip, you can buy your return ticket now at the bus terminal, but there is also a ticket office in Angengueo from where the bus leaves back to Mexico City. I bought mine in Angengueo as I didn’t know what time I wanted to leave.
- When you board the bus, tell the driver you want to get off at the Monarch Biosfere Reserva – Sierra Chincua. Pin it on your GoogleMaps or Maps.me. Remind the driver when you get closer to the park.
- If the bus passes the park, it will take you right into Angengueo town and drop you off outside the small bus station/Excellencia office. From here, you will then have to pay a taxi driver to take you back out to the park which is a 20 minute drive and costs 120 pesos!
- Whether you are dropped off by the bus or taxi, you will normally be dropped off at near the main road turn off. Here you will be greeted at the turn off just off the main road by several tour guides offering you their services. It’s best not to take their services, as the park has an official list of guides and will give you a guide included in your park entrance fee.
- At this turn off, it’s about a 1.5km walk up the gravel road to the actual park entrance. Get walking.
- When you have walked up to the official entrance, there is a big establishment with shops and restaurants and the ticket office. If you are driving, there is a car park up the top to park your car. If you are walking, you should also walk towards this carpark and you will find the entrance and ticket booth.
- Tickets cost 40 pesos per person. Now you will start your walk up the hill to the reserve (approx. 40 minutes up hill).
How to get to El Rosario (from Mexico City)
- This journey is exactly the same as getting to Sierra Chincua, except you continue on the bus to Angengueo. Do not get off at the Sierra Chincua turn off.
- Get off at Angengueo, and take a taxi from there for around 120-150 pesos. El Rosario is on the other side of Angengueo and will only take an extra 15 minutes.
Horseback Riding Sierra Chincua
Sierra Chincua also offers horseback riding to the butterflies, which they will offer to you for a lot of pesos! But one friend haggled and got theirs for 60 pesos one way.
Guides at Sierra Chincua
Personally, I did not want a guide, but the park wardens insisted and said it is compulsory otherwise we may get lost. After a little bit of minor arguing, we agreed to a guide. You are encouraged to tip the guide whatever you think.
If you really don’t want a guide, buy your ticket, and start walking and just avoid conversation with the person at the gate. I know people who did it without a guide. We didn’t speak Spanish very well, so having a guide speak about specific You shouldn’t get lost! Especially if you just follow other people, or follow the horse poo!
The walk is steep-ish and at 3000m ASL so it was a little bit tiring in parts, but otherwise very easy. It took only 40mins to walk to the butterflies.
As you get closer to the butterfly colony, you will begin to see more and more butterflies. When you reach the butterflies, you will see that the area has been roped off to stop people disturbing the colony.
When leaving the park, take the same way you came to get back to the park entrance. It was quicker on the way down (for me anyway haha). Once at the entrance, walk down the gravel road back out to the main road.
Getting back to Mexico City
Now from here you have a few options. Hitchhike or take a taxi back to Angengueo for 120-150 pesos, and then bus back to Mexico City from Angengueo. The other option is to time the buses right and wave down the Excellencia bus going back to Mexico City, from the butterfly reserve park entrance.
Bus time table:
Mexico City – Angengueo:
Angengueo – Mexico City:
Take a packed lunch! There are a few food places/restaurants up at the reserve but they looked expensive.