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Mexico's Monarch Butterflies

Arnie Greenberg

It’s a unique MEXICAN experience, for the hale and hearty. It takes energy and stamina and it works if you can go up and down stone covered mountain paths on a 2 and half hour horseback ride. You can go from most major centers in Mexico but even the bus ride is a climb on winding roads to the top of a mountain chain. There is a parking lot and some people do arrive by car but if you are not familiar with the Mexican roads, take a tour.

Somewhere near Toluca, just west of Mexico City there exists a mountain high mecca where the Monarch Butterfly gather before their 2,500 to 4,500 mile trip across the united states to the Atlantic & Pacific coasts and Canada. Especially in late February until the middle of March you can see the millions of orange Monarchs basking in the sun and preparing for their long journey. It is a phenomenon that will make you appreciate the work of ‘mother nature’.

We spent the day as a present for my wife’s birthday. She had been aching to go for many years. We made arrangements with a tour company for San Miguel where we spend part of our winters. The trip of about four hours each way brings you to a modern site and includes a b9ox lunch, guides and a modern motor coach. There are stops along the way and when you finally arrive you are led to a corral where you are each given a horse with a western saddle and the group begins its descent into a well forested mountain.

The paths are narrow and stone covered so the muscles in your legs begin to react. Then after almost an hour of riding, we must walk for 12-15 minutes. But finally we are there, sitting under an umbrella of Mariposa Monarca or Monarch Butterflys all gold and energetic. It is what we’ve waited for. It is now that we have the whole migration details explained by a guide.

Here we get statistics and little known information. Of course, this is only one site in Mexico for these beautiful creatures. Perhaps at some sites, one can enter by truck or walk on easier paths. But what we waited so long to see is finally here. We begin our journey back to where the horses are waiting. Then we have almost an hour of climbing back to the center. We take pictures of a forest of perfectly straight trees, reaching for the sun as our horses grunt and try to gallop up the steep heights. It is a taxing but remarkable experience.

They explained that there are four stages to the butterfly’s birth. It starts with the eggs that resemble miniature footballs, about the size of a period at the end of a sentence (0.46 milligrams) found on the underside of milkweed leaves. Each female lays about 400 eggs.

After three or four days, worm-like caterpillars (larvae) appear. For 9-14 days they feed on milkweed during which they shed their skin or ‘molt’ five times. B y this time they have grown to 1.5 grams. During the final molting they change into pupas or chrysalises in cone shapes. They change color over a period of eight to thirteen days. Once the transformation inside the chrysalis is complete the adult butterfly appears. It hangs upside down, waiting for its wings to extend, dry, and harden. These wings are reddish-orange with black vein patterns The sex organs develop in about three days. Mating season is in the spring when the sun is strong. Their life span is only seven or eight months which is about 75 years in human terms. This would be like having children that lived over 500 years.

Much of this was hard to digest and remember so research is recommended.

Trail beginning Guide - click to enlarge
Trail beginning Guide
mounts and my partner - click to enlarge
mounts and my partner

The final thrill is the trees laden with golden Monarchs. It makes it all worthwhile even the stiff back the next day. But remember. It’s not for the aged or infirm. Now two days later I still have a stiff back and muscle pains.

Believe it or not, the golden color is thousands of Monarch Butterflies readying for the time that they will take the long journey north. Then around the middle of November, they begin their return.


Do not bother the butterflies. They are resting after a long winter.
Stay 50 meters from the trees filled with butterflies. Please, no noise.
Do not throw trash and don’t harm the forest.

Stay on designated pathways.
Report people who do not follow the rules.
If you see forest violators, contact the Office of Environmental Protection:
Tel. 55) 54 49 63 00

There are a number of excellent articles on the web. Read before you go.
For more information, go to:

For sanctuary information:


We had bus trouble on the way back but drinks all around including excellent Taquilla helped pass the two hours until a new bus arrived.

You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at


Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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