the

Forest fires burn out of control across Fraser Lake, British Columbia. Photo taken yesterday evening.
Where are Kevin and Ruth right now? Prince George, British Columbia.

Where are they going next? Towards Jasper, Alberta.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Absolutely amazing... a must see in Mexico!

This was our fourth time to go see the monarch butterflies at their winter home. There are actually 15 different regions in the mountains of Michoacan and Mexico State where the butterflies congregate, however only six of them are open for public viewing. We have been to three of the six, and yesterday's trip was our second visit to the Chincua colony.

The butterflies arrive at the beginning of November and stay until early March. The best viewing is between mid January (now) and the end of February. However, even during those periods, conditions need to be optimal for the best experience. And so your trip will depend on the weather.

We have never visited the butterflies during perfect conditions, but yesterday was about as close as it gets! Our RV caravan group was so lucky!

Two vans came to pick us up at 8:00am, and we got on the road. 

On the Guadalajara- Mexico City toll road heading towards the mountains of Michoacan.

The colony is located at 3,260 meters (10,700 feet) altitude. So it gets a little chilly up there. The butterflies stay in close knit groups during the cold nights. But when the sun comes out to warm things up, they start to fly. And the warmer it gets, the more of them fly. So you want to time your arrival at the colony for the warmest part of the day, which would be about 1:00 to 2:00 pm.

And if the sun doesn't come out, it will not warm up enough that they will fly and they will stay congregated in bunches on the trees. This is what happened during our last visit in February of 2016.

But yesterday, there was a clear sunny sky. Absolutely perfect conditions!

 Our group, getting ready for a short horseback ride.

It currently costs 45 pesos ($3.00 CAD, $2.50 USD) to enter the Chincua butterfly reserve. The property is federally protected, but owned and managed by an indigenous group.

From the parking area, it is about a 1 km horseback ride (100 pesos each way, or you can choose to walk it) and then a 2.8 km round trip hike. For the non hikers in our group, this was a pretty strenuous hike, especially at 10,700 feet!

However, you can take all the time you need and there is lots of opportunity to rest along the way should you need to do so.

 The horses are led by guides. 

Heading towards the butterflies.

Off the horses and on to the hiking trail.

What amazes me is how tightly knit these colonies are. You are wandering through the forest, only 1 km (.62 miles) from the colony and you don't see a single butterfly. Absolutely no indication that there are hundreds of thousands (millions?) of butterflies just around the corner.

And then as you get within a few hundred meters, you start to see the odd butterfly. Then a few more.




Remember to click on the pictures to make them full screen!

And then when you reach the colony, your jaw drops. I was watching the people in our group, with their eyes wide as you finally see what you came for. Millions of butterflies in bunches so large that they weigh down the branches on the fir trees.

 Butterflies on top of butterflies.

One pine tree covered in butterflies.

The entire colony is congregated in less than half an acre of forest. There are perhaps eight or ten trees at this colony like in the photo above. This is why they weren't "discovered" until 1975, although the indigenous people living here in the mountains knew about them for centuries. 

This photo was taken at 12:22 pm.

We had actually arrived a little bit early. This is a double edged sword, because not as many were flying as there would have been at say 1:30pm. But, we also had the benefit of being almost the first ones there. And they rope off the area so you can't get too close, and they also limit your time to 18 minutes if it is busy, and that's about how long we stayed.

But despite being a little bit early, it was still the best show that Ruth and I had seen out of our four visits!

Totally amazing.


Here is a short video...


Wow!

Our guide Agustin showing us the difference between the male and the female.
They are identical in size, but the male has two black dots on his wings.

They do not yet have all this stuff figured out, and perhaps they never will. It was generally accepted that it takes three generations of monarchs to do the return trip to this location, however Agustin tells us the new information from a tiny GPS tracking chip shows that at least one butterfly has made the round trip from here to Canada and back. Research is ongoing.

 Taking a rest break!

 Monarch butterfly.

The view from the Sierra Chincua Butterfly Reserve.

Everyone agreed that the two hour drive and horseback ride and strenuous hike was well worth it. Certainly a bucket list item for some, and we are so glad they got to experience it under pretty much ideal conditions.

On the way back, we stopped in the town of Tlalpujahua. Say that three times quickly!

 Tlalpujahua.

 One of the churches has an interesting interior.


We love Mexico!

Today is a much needed day of rest. Some of the people have booked to go to a local hot springs water bath. Ruth and I have some things to accomplish here, and then we'll probably do a local hike this afternoon.

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And in Canada...






47 comments:

  1. Holy Moly ... incredible/beautiful!

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    1. That pretty much describes the experience, it was amazing!

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  2. Oh my gosh. We will never get there so thank you so much for all the gorgeous photos. I bet everyone was is awe!

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    1. Not sure why you would say that you would never make it here, I know that you would absolutely love it here! I hope that one day you will change your mind, I was always told to never say never. ;-)

      Yes, everyone was in total awe, even us and this is our fourth time getting to see the butterflies.

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  3. Been to a few Indoor Colonies that can't even come close in comparison.
    Beautiful to see the marvels of nature.
    Be Safe and Enjoy!

    It's about time.

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    1. We have never heard of an indoor colony of just monarch butterflies. I think perhaps you are just meaning that you have been to a butterfly museums or conservatory which have many different types of butterflies in them that can fly around, that is a totally different thing altogether. It definitely doesn't even come close to this for sure. It is absolutely an incredible sight to see millions and millions of monarch butterflies all in one place.

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  4. Thanks so much for sharing this amazing experience! We are not able to travel this winter, so are especially enjoying your journey.

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    1. Sorry that you aren't able to travel this winter, I hope you aren't anywhere that is too cold. We are glad that we are able to give you a virtual trip through Mexico to try and make up for it, and are happy to hear that you are enjoying our adventures.

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  5. The butterfly pictures were amazing thank you! Looks like you all all enjoying your adventures. Stay safe in your travels. Cannot wait for the next post!

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    1. You are welcome Brigitte!

      Yes, everyone is totally enjoying the trip. They are loving just about everything that they see, right down to the simplest little thing.

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  6. Awesome! Great pictures. Enjoy your day off...

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  7. Are dogs allowed in the caravan? If so, how are they cared for during excursions?

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    1. Yes dogs are allowed on the caravan, we actually have 7 with us on this trip. You do have to remember though that if you don't feel comfortable leaving them behind for a day then you may have to forego that tour. Often what the dog owners will do on some of the longer days is to take turns and stay back to watch everyone's dog, that way you will see most of the tours. Sometimes there is someone at the campground that you can pay to take your dog out for a walk once or twice a day, that happened to our butterfly trip which was nice because it ended up being a long day. Also for our overnight trip to Mexico City there will be someone that will watch your dog for you, walk it and feed it. It helps right now because we are in a moderate climate so it is baking hot during the day.

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  8. As a young mother driving back from Disneyland in California at spring break, we saw thousands of monarch butterflies migrating through and around Blythe, CA. We stopped in the heaviest bunches so they clear the highway before slowing moving forward. We actually creeped for about 5 to 10 miles crossing their path. Lots of truckers, cars also slow to a crawl. Still thousands smeared the slick highway covered in dead monarchs. We stopped at one point and my kids and I bawled our heads off to see so many dead butterflies. I tear up thinking about this experience which happened so many years ago.

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    1. That must have been quite the sight to see, not seeing the dead ones but seeing the huge group of them all flying together. One of the sanctuaries we have been to is fairly close to a busy road so during the height of the season they have signs out in the middle of the road telling you about the very reduced speed limit that puts you almost at a crawl and they will even have the Federal Police there to monitor it. They are very, very careful about preserving the butterflies as much as they possibly can.

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  9. An amazing place and amazing photos!

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    1. Most definitely! Did you ever make it to any of the butterfly sanctuaries when you were down here traveling around?

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  10. I bet some of those on the caravan would have never imagined Mexico to be like this.

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    1. You are so correct Chris, they can't believe half of what they are seeing. They are really loving it here! :-)

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  11. Replies
    1. You are welcome, so glad that you enjoyed the post.

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  12. Now that would be a unique and meaningful experience for me...equivalent to tours of 100 churches or towns! In Italy I opted out of a regular day tour of the town of Cortona...instead I choose what I really wanted...to hike in the hills of Umbria. I did that and ended up on a beautiful remote trail in the hills...and encountered a herd of wild hogs! Backed away cautiously...but still remember that experience today...unlike the numerous urban areas I visited...they've became a blurr.

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    1. We so totally agree with you! We love foregoing some of the touristy spots in exchange for getting out into the hills or mountains and going for a hike. We do that a lot when we travel unfortunately because we are leading this caravan and it is on a set tour we don't get that option but when we are off traveling on our own we stop at all kinds of little places. Luckily on this tour we do hit a few off the beaten track kind of places which is nice.

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  13. Wow Wow Wow! I hope we will get to see this one day. On my bucket list for sure. Lucky you!

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    1. Yep, Wow is a good word to describe the whole experience there!

      We hope that you will make it there one day too. :-)

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  14. Replies
    1. You are welcome, glad that you enjoy it. :-)

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  15. Neat video of those beautiful butterflies!

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    1. Thanks Connie and Barry, it was definitely a sight to see!

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  16. This has been a bucket list destination for me for about 15 years; haven't made it yet. However, last year I went to California, and I learned that there are also small butterfly preserves there. We went to the one in Pismo Beach, and it was very cool! http://www.monarchbutterfly.org/

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    1. I hope that you can make it here one day, it is definitely a special sight to see.

      We have heard that there are a few butterfly preserves in California but we haven't visited any. Maybe next time we visit California we will check it out if it is at the right time of year. You are right though, that these are only small preserves compared to the ones here in Mexico.

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  17. and on the up side if one were there early you can stay overnight in the parking lot ....... even though it was cold last year it was still amazing to see such a marvel of nature...

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    1. Yes, we agree it was still an amazing sight to see. Actually I think our timing was pretty good this year plus the weather of course because if you get there later in the day you do get to see all these butterflies flying around but you don't necessarily get to see them all clumped together in the trees which in itself is a fantastic sight so at least we got to see both on this trip. :-)

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  18. Amazing Monarch pictures! We have a butterfly house here for when they are moving north and south but nothing compared with your pictues.

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    1. Thank you! We would love to see them on the move that would be an amazing sight as well.

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  19. I've seen the Monarchs in Pacific Grove, CA and it is a wonderful experience. Also ... we've seen Ladybug colonies that rival the Monarchs, but on a much smaller scale as they're tiny to begin with. Ain't nature awesome?

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    1. We have never seen the colonies in California, I guess one day we are going to have to have a look so that we can compare the two. I have never heard of Ladybug colonies, that sounds interesting.

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    2. Ladybug colonies are amazing, too. Check it out: https://intrepid-decrepit-travelers.blogspot.com/2016/02/bugs-bugs-bugs-friday-2516.html

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    3. Wow, that was quite the sight to see, however I still think the butterflies are more fun to see. ;-)

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  20. That is incredible!!! That would be a bucket list item for me. We saw dead butterflies on South Padre Island and they say those are the ones that encounter too much wind on their way across the Gulf to Mexico. I think they actually froze because it has been that cold. Safe travels.

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    1. It is totally incredible! Definitely something that should be on everyone's list of something that they should experience at least once in their lifetimes.

      Yes, the butterflies can die from the cold. Quite a number of years ago they thought they were going to lose a whole colony or more up in the mountains here in Mexico when the temperatures went below zero. Luckily that didn't happen but they did lose a huge number of them because of that.

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  21. Replies
    1. They truly are an amazing sight to see!

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