The village of Ducaj near Boge, Albania.
Where are Kevin and Ruth now? Tirana Airport, Albania.

Where are Kevin and Ruth going next? Porto, Portugal on June 25th!

Friday, December 28, 2018

Our 5th visit to see the monarch butterflies wintering grounds

This is a bucket list item for many people, and we've now done it five times... and it never gets old.

We rented a 14 passenger van for the group. It cost 2,000 pesos ($103 USD, $140 CAD) for the van and driver for the day. So with 14 people, it was 150 pesos ($7.75 USD, $10.50 CAD) per person. Not a bad deal. When these people signed up to travel with Kevin and Ruth, they get to share our frugality!

Since we had the van for the day, we decided to make a detour to a somewhat odd attraction.

Over 90% of the population in Mexico is Catholic. But that means there are still 13 million people here who are not.

Our friend Paco told us about a Stupa. Nope, we had never heard the term before either.

A Stupa is a Buddhist monument that houses relics and is used as a place of meditation.

Walking to the Stupa. 

One of Tibetan Buddhism’s strongest beliefs in relation to the Stupa is that its benefits can flow from it for thousands of years; its results are for all those who hear about it, touch, admire, walk around it and pray before it, whether they are believers or not. Additionally, it is adorned with “prayer flags”, multicoloured insignias that are placed with the purpose of having the wind shake them so hard they become undone and take the blessings to be heard.

That was an interesting stop to a place that not many people know about.

From the Stupa, it was about an hour drive to the Piedra Herrada Butterfly Sanctuary parking lot. There, you pay a 70 pesos ($3.60 USD, $4.90 CAD) adult entrance fee.

From the parking lot, it is another 2.5 kms (1.5 mile) trail to get to the wintering grounds.

And it's not an easy hike for most people because the parking lot is at 9,000 ft altitude and the butterflies are at 10,000 ft!

They have horses available for 200 pesos ($10.25 USD, $14 CAD), but you still have a steep 500 meter climb to get to the butterflies. 

Obviously the 14 people in our group have various physical abilities. There were six of us who decided to hike the entire distance, and 8 who took horses. But just getting on the horses was an effort for some! 

Up and at 'em Wendy!

Paul is ready to go!

Jeannie's first time ever on a horse!

Kathy looks pretty comfortable!

So, they took off on horseback, while Ruth and I along with Bob, Denise, Garth, and Brian set off on foot.

It's important to try to explain to you these monarch wintering grounds. They think there are 16 of these wintering grounds in the mountains west of Mexico City. But only 8 of them are open to the public. Imagine a huge forest on a mountaintop with thousands of trees. Millions of monarch butterflies make the journey back to this area, arriving in late November. 

These are not the same butterflies as the ones that left in the spring. It is another generation, in fact it is generally believed that it takes 3 generations of butterflies to do the return trip. (Recent research suggests not. They have put a miniature GPS chip on a monarch, and it made the one way trip from Canada!)

The butterflies arrive to the huge mountaintop forest, however they go to the same relatively small cluster of 20 or so trees every year!

So it's a very localized event. 

When you are finished the horseback trip, you see the occasional butterfly. But there are literally millions of them only 500 meters further on!

Here we are!

The butterflies only fly when things begin to warm up. Otherwise, they remain clumped together looking like a bunch of dead leaves. We had a nice day, and they were flying quite a bit.

They cover the tree limbs.

And they hang in bunches.

Millions of butterflies!

From a distance, this is what the clumps look like.

Unfortunately, two of our group couldn't complete that last 500 meters. Wendy and Jeannie gave it all they had, but the trail was just too steep and rocky. We're proud that they made the effort though! All of these photos are for them!

Every time we return to the butterflies we are amazed by the whole spectacle. 

A beautiful end to another fantastic day in Mexico!

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  1. Beautiful! We did a butterfly trip last year but unfortunately it was cloudy and cooler so we didn't get to experience the full effect ...still on the bucket list! Bev and Art

    1. That is a shame that you go that distance and then you don't have a good day for viewing them. We have had that happen once out of our five different visits. I hope that you will be able to go back someday to visit them again.

  2. What wonderful sight to see thanks so much for sharing with us .

  3. Replies
    1. You are welcome, glad that you enjoyed the pictures. :-)

  4. Love those butterflies, such a wonderful side trip

  5. Replies
    1. Thank you Peter! You and Shelagh need to go and see them someday. :-)

  6. I agree the monarchs are beautiful. However too much disruption will destroy them is my opinion. Mexico should put a limit on tourism to see them...maybe every other year.

    1. Having been there 5 times, we do not believe they are being disrupted by visitors.

  7. As my daughter says” My heart is full”....I never even thought I would see this much talked about phenomena....that steep, 500m climb was probably my first and last...I felt like giving up had it not been for encouragement from the other climbers. Lol! Today my whole body is making me pay for it! But it was well worth the pain.

    1. We are so glad that you got to see the butterflies and enjoy them as much as us. Good for you to have made the hike up the steep incline after getting off the horse, it was a pretty tough climb when you aren't used to that type of terrain or the high altitude, you did great! Nice that you have a few days to recoup before the next adventure. :-)

  8. I wish the last two could have made it. That was amazing. The sun set is spectacular!!

    1. We really wish that they could have as well, it was a really tough climb on that last section though and they were definitely struggling. They certainly gave it their all and they should be proud to have accomplished as much as they did. They did get to see lots of butterflies flying around though, they just weren't able to see the bulk of the butterflies.

      The sunsets here are almost always fantastic. :-)

  9. What a sight, all those Monarchs hanging on the branches. Hope the branches are strong! :c)

    1. Yep, that is a lot of butterflies! So many that the actual weight of them does cause the branches to bend down quite a lot. Which is really amazing when you consider the weight of just one butterfly and then realize how many are needed to cause this to happen.

  10. They won't stop coming. The size of the groups may diminsh with time though depending on climate change and pollution. Mexico has signs on the highways that mark the route they take north and south.

    Good for those that took a horse, a fun ride on a horse and they don't miss the opportunity to see th monarchs.

    Say hello to everyone, it's one heck of a great group! Including the caravan leaders!

    1. Yes, there are a lot of factors when it comes to their migration. Some years there are high numbers and other years there as lower numbers. At this particular colony, it is close to a major busy road and in the higher butterfly season they actually put out road signs making cars go very slow so that they don't hit the butterflies and kill them. They are also very careful to protect the butterflies when you go up to see the colony. You are not allowed to go past a certain point and you must be very quiet and they are very strict in following these rules as you have to go up with a local guide to monitor you. And in the busy season you are only allowed a certain length of time for you visit so that it doesn't disturb them with too many people.

      Even when you get off the horse though you still have to hike up a very steep narrow path for about a half kilometer and this is the part that was too difficult for two that couldn't make it too the butterflies.

      They are a great group, aren't they!

  11. Thanks for the wonderful pics of the butterflies...It ALMOST makes up for not making it to the top...thanks again...

    1. Glad that you enjoyed the pictures, so sorry you couldn't have made it up to see them yourself. :-(

  12. Every time I see your monarch photos I smile, and my heart is full. I hope to get to make the journey one day myself, but until then, your trips give me vicarious joy. Thanks so much for sharing, once again!

    1. So glad that we are able to make you smile, that is our number one goal, we want people to enjoy the beautiful places we visit! :-)

      We hope that you make it here someday yourself, especially considering that you really aren't all that far away right now.

  13. I think I saw Fred and Dora butterflies in your pictures..They left my home up here in Chelan last September.....(;+)....
    How they do it I have no idea.....Cool!

    1. Unfortunately I doubt that you saw your Fred and Dora butterflies down here in Mexico. Butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains normally winter in California, although they do say that there may be a few that will fly further south. Normally it is only the the butterflies from central and eastern Canada and the USA make the flight to Mexico and some to Florida.

      Nope, we have no idea how they do it either!

  14. Finally able to post again - frustrating! Anyhow, this trip has so many fun and interesting activities happening. We love following along on your travels. The monarchs are especially AMAZING!

    1. Yep, that must be frustrating, and I am sorry that we can't explain why you can't post a comment all the time. :-( Glad that you finally got to post again though.

      When you travel with Kevin and Ruth, you know the trip is never going to be boring! :-)

      The butterflies are amazing and we never get tired of visiting them. :-)


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