El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary: A Complete Visitor’s Guide

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El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary is the most famous place to see the Monarch butterfly migration in Mexico. This is because it is the sanctuary with the most butterflies, but also the most tourists.

Nevertheless, it is still a mindblowing place to visit. If you arrive at the right time of year, thousands of butterflies will already greet you in the car park.

Even before you enter the sanctuary it is already an amazing place. But arriving at the main colony is one of the most beautiful things you can ever see. Keep reading to find out all you need to know about visiting El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary.

Butterflies sitting on green leaves at the El Rosario butterfly sanctuary
A glimpse into what to expect

How To Get To El Rosario From Mexico City

The El Rosario butterfly sanctuary is located in the mountains west of Mexico City within the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.

🚗 The most convenient way to get there is by renting a car and driving. It Is about a 3-hour drive from Mexico City to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve and El Rosario.

🚍 You can also catch a bus to the town of Angangueo and then catch a taxi from Angangueo to El Rosario. The bus departs from the Poniente bus station in Mexico City 4 times a day for 275 pesos (13.50 USD) and takes around 3 hours. You can buy your tickets at the Zina bus website.

🚖 When you arrive in Angangueo and get a taxi to Angangueo you will need to arrange a return trip. The sanctuary is quite isolated so you will not be able to return with a different taxi. The taxi drivers are used to this and will include the return journey in the price.

📍Pin El Rosario on your map

A map showing the location of Sierra Chincua butterfly sanctuary near Mexico City
El Rosario’s location on the map

🚐 It is also possible to catch a colectivo from Angangueo to El Rosario. This is the cheapest way to get there. But the colectivo is quite unreliable as it may only leave when it is full. But if you want to save money then this is the best option.

Just make sure to arrive as early as possible, best around 8 am. That way you should not have to wait a long time for the van to fill up.

White van with open doors parked in an alleway
The colectivo you need to catch from Angangueo to El Rosario
📍Pin the location on your map

Where To Stay At El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary

El Rosario butterfly sanctuary can be visited on a day trip from Mexico City. But that means driving for about 6 hours that day. That’s why I recommend staying the night in Angangueo or another town close by. There are no hotels directly at the sanctuary.

Angangueo is located in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. It is a Pueblo Magico located only a 25-minute drive from El Rosario and worth a visit. Angangueo also gives you easy access to Sierra Chincua, another amazing sanctuary about 20 minutes’ drive away.

Staying in Angangueo allows you to visit multiple sanctuaries in the area, support the local economy and get the best out of your trip. We really enjoyed its rustic charm and peacefulness.

👉 Where to stay in Angangueo

Allan overlooking Angangueo's houses and church in a valley
Angangueo is a great town to stay in while visiting El Rosario

Mexico City Butterfly Tours

If you do not feel like spending the night in Angangueo you can do a tour from Mexico City. Most tours take around 12 hours so it will be a long day.

Tours by Locals has a very highly rated tour from Mexico City to El Rosario butterfly sanctuary. It is quite an expensive tour at 550 USD for 2 people.

But it includes pick up and drop off at your accommodation in Mexico City. The guide is also English-speaking and will take you through the sanctuary.

👉 Read the complete Angangueo guide if you want to visit the El Rosario Butterfly sanctuary on your own

Morelia Butterfly Tours

If you happen to be in Morelia it is possible to do a tour of El Rosario from there too. Morelia is a beautiful city that is well worth visiting.

Viator has highly-rated tours from Morelia to El Rosario or Sierra Chincua butterfly sanctuary. You will have to check on Viator’s website which butterfly sanctuary they are planning on visiting. It might depend on the weather, butterfly numbers, etc. So check them out if you are planning to do a butterfly tour in Michoacán.

Katharina standing in a street in Moralia with a church in the back
The beautiful streets of Morelia

El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary Entrance Fee

Entrance to El Rosario is only 80 pesos (4 USD) which is an incredible price for this amazing experience.

Allan and Katharina standing under the entrance arch to El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary
The entrance to El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary

Guides At El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary

When you visit El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary you have to go with a guide. Most guides will only speak Spanish so if you can’t speak Spanish you will have trouble communicating with them.

But their main purpose is to make sure you stay on the trek, be quiet and respect the butterfly’s environment. So even if you do speak Spanish they won’t give you a full-on tour as you might expect at other places.

Every person or group who arrives gets their own guide so you won’t end up in a big group of people you don’t know. The guides work for tips so make sure to tip them once the tour is over.

Try and be generous with your tips as it may help save the butterflies. The more money that flows into the local economy the less likely it is locals will have to engage in activities like illegal logging to make a living. Another great reason to stay in Angangueo.

Our guide with a white cowboy hat walking along a path in the pine forests
Our guide at El Rosario

Hiking To The Butterflies

El Rosario is quite a developed sanctuary and you will see from the entrance that it is built for a large number of tourists. The path goes up the hill to the main colony and you can choose to hike it or go by horseback.

By Horse

If you choose to go up the hill by horse then you will take a different path than the hikers.

The path at El Rosario is quite steep at some points so for the elderly, anyone with health conditions, or if you love horse riding taking a horse may be a good idea. We chose to walk.

Just be warned that the horses can not take you all the way to the main butterfly colony. They will take you most of the way then you have to walk the last 15 minutes yourself.

Horses walking through a meadow at El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary
Great scenery for horse riding at El Rosario

By Foot

The elevation of El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary is about 3,000m (9,900 feet) so be prepared that the air will be thin. If you are not used to being at high altitudes then you should take it easy to avoid getting out of breath.

The path at El Rosario is fairly steep to start off with and is quite developed with concrete paths and stairs in some sections. Some people may find the hike quite difficult but as long as you are in decent shape you will be fine.

It takes about 30 minutes to get to the end of the hike and the entire time you are walking through beautiful pine forests. If you are walking up at the right time of day then there may be thousands of butterflies flying over your head as you walk up the hill already!

People walking down a path at El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary
The path leading up the hill at El Rosario – you can see butterflies flying around already

Arriving At The Main El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Colony

Along the path, you will already see many butterflies flying in the air. But once you reach the main colony you will see millions of them!

Seeing the main colony at El Rosario is a crazy experience. Once you arrive at the main viewing point you can see a cluster of trees in the distance covered with millions of butterflies.

The butterflies gather on the branches of the trees in such large numbers that they start to bend because of the weight. Some branches even break because there are so many butterflies on them.

👉 Read more cool butterfly facts

Katharina looking up the trees with thousand of butterflies flying around
Thousands of butterflies sitting on trees at El Rosario butterfly sanctuary

The butterflies only fly in large numbers when the sun is out. So if you arrive and there is a bit of cloud cover I recommend waiting around for as long as possible for some sun.

When the sun comes out you will see thousands start flying it is an awesome sight. We had both, clouds and sun, and really could see the difference.

One thing to remember is that you have to view the butterflies in silence. Monarch butterflies are very sensitive to sound so any loud noises could disturb them. A benefit of this is that it is super peaceful when you are watching the butterflies as no one is talking.

There is no time limit at the main colony so you can spend as long as you want there. Once you are done you follow the same path back down the hill. It is an amazing sight and we are already planning to visit some other sanctuaries in Mexico on a future trip.

👉 Visiting Sierra Chincua butterfly sanctuary

When Is The Best Time To See Monarch Butterflies In Mexico?

The best time to see monarch butterflies in Mexico is late January and February. At this point in time, they have gathered in the largest numbers and it is warm enough that they will take flight during the day when the sun is out.

January and February are the best months but the start of March could also be a good time too. Our friend Carmelo who we met in Angangueo and who lives right by the sanctuary said in March the butterflies start leaving.

So if you visit at this point there are apparently thousands of butterflies all over the roads surrounding the area outside the sanctuary. It sounded beautiful the way he described it so the start of March could be an awesome time to visit too.

👉 All you need to know about the Monarch Butterfly Migration

Where Is The Best Place To See Monarch Butterflies In Mexico?

We visited two sanctuaries in Mexico: Sierra Chincua and El Rosario. El Rosario is the more famous sanctuary as the butterflies gather there in the greatest numbers.

What I liked most about El Rosario is that while you were walking up the hill to the main colony there were hundreds of butterflies flying over your head. Whereas at Sierra Chincua you only really saw vast numbers of butterflies at the end of the hike.

But the hike itself at Sierra Chincua is nicer because there are fewer people and the paths are less developed. While El Rosario is quite developed, narrower and on the weekends can get quite crowded.

So if you feel like more of a nature walk then head to Sierra Chincua but if you want to see the most butterflies head to El Rosario. And if you have enough time I recommend going to both as they are both equally incredible in different ways!

👉 How to see Monarch Butterflies at Sierra Chincua

Now You Know All About The El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary

Visiting a Monarch butterfly sanctuary in Mexico is an amazing experience. El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary is definitely one of the best places to see monarch butterflies in Mexico.

I am sure visiting will be one of the highlights of your trip to Mexico. If you have been to the sanctuaries or are planning on going let me know in the comments below!

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