Monarch caterpillarWant to travel the route this unassuming "worm" may travel to its winter refuge? 


November 20, 2018

This is a copy from CNN.com/travel that I thought you might enjoy:

"Ecotourism is drawing fans to the central states of Michoacan and Mexico, thanks to the spectacular yearly migration of millions of orange-and-black-winged monarch butterflies.  In delicate swarms, the butterflies head south from the U.S. and Canada to Mexico, where they drip from pine trees and coat mountainsides from November to late March. They gather in such astonishing numbers that cars passing the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve sometimes have to slow to a couple of miles per hour to avoid splattering the delicate creatures on the windshield as they fly across the road.

"I have on many occasions seen Spaniards, Italians, Americans, Canadians, Mexicans come into the butterfly colonies and literally weep," said Lincoln Brower, a monarch expert at the University of Florida and Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Va.  "It's such an overwhelming emotional experience to realize that you're actually looking at these tens of millions of monarch butterflies that have come into this tiny, little area of Mexico."

The Biosphere Reserve, a federally protected area nominated for World Heritage Site status, spans some 124,000 acres across two states and costs less than $5 to enter and $10 more for a guided tour. In some parts, visitors can trek about on rented horses and burros.  Communal farmers own the land and have the exclusive right to conduct tours. For that reason, many guides don't speak English -- so bring a Spanish dictionary if you want to ask questions about the butterflies.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon plans to pump an extra $4.6 million into the reserve's $36.4 million budget this year, to improve infrastructure and make the area more tourist-friendly.  Four butterfly sanctuaries are open to the public on the property: El Rosario and Sierra Chincua in Michoacan, and El Capulin and La Mesa in Mexico state.

Brower, who has studied the flying insects for 52 years, recommends the Michoacan sanctuaries, which he says are among the most popular and offer amenities such as food, souvenirs, and easy access by car. He suggests visitors go in February and March when the butterflies perform an elaborate mating ritual. "The males chase the females -- they zoom around after them and catch them in the air and drop like a dead weight," Brower said.  "Then the male flies off carrying the female, and he'll land up in the trees and mate for several hours."

Astrid Fisch, director of operations for Ecotours de Mexico, an environmentally conscious travel agency based in Puerto Vallarta, said she tells foreign clients to go on weekdays to avoid throngs of Mexican tourists.  Be prepared to hike anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour or to ride a donkey. You can only reach the butterflies on paths laid by the reserve, and they congregate at extremely high altitudes -- between 9,000 and 11,000 feet -- so visitors should be in good enough physical condition to handle steep inclines.

GETTING THERE: Visitors can fly to the Toluca, Morelia or Mexico City airports and then rent a car or hop a bus to the town of Angangueo or the city of Zitacuaro -- both of which offer lodging and transportation, usually buses or taxis, to the butterfly reserve.  It takes about three hours to get to Angangueo by car from Toluca or Morelia and about four hours to get there from Mexico City. People unfamiliar with the area should hire a car or take a tour bus for the 30-minute trip from Angangueo to the El Rosario sanctuary as the roads can be twisty and sometimes dangerous. In late November, Continental Airlines had roundtrip tickets on February flights from Chicago O'Hare International Airport to Toluca for under $500.

ANGANGUEO:  Tourism office in Angangueo, Mexico, is at 011-52-715-156-0044, but you may not be able to get information in English. Hotels include El Hotel Albergue Don Bruno (011-52-715-156-0026, rates begin at $80) or Las Margaritas (011-52-715-156-0149, rates begin at $27). They can arrange transportation to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. Transportation is also available from the town's main plaza.

Bringing food into the reserve is prohibited, so plan on staying for a few hours and then heading back down to the entrance to enjoy quesadillas or tostadas at stands that cluster there.  Because weather can be extremely cold in the morning, dress in warm, layered clothing that can be easily shed, and wear comfortable hiking boots. A raincoat might also be a good idea, since mist and light rains are common.

The butterflies begin arriving in November, and leave by late March. The best time to see them is between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., when they are at their most active.  On cloudy days, the butterflies remain still to preserve body heat. It's advisable to plan your trip to include an overnight stay in the area so you can come back on a different day if the weather doesn't cooperate."