Monarch butterflies are heading south to Mexico and the sanctuaries in which they overwinter are preparing to open to the public.
The butterflies are traveling from the northern reaches of the continent to their overwintering grounds in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the forests of the states of Michoacán and México.
Once the migrating insects are settled for the season in November, sanctuary towns start receiving visitors. The monarchs will remain clustered in hibernation through February.
The small towns that manage the sanctuaries organize tours and hikes within the biosphere reserve, taking groups of up to 100 people on foot or on horseback.
Several of the sanctuaries in Michoacán have organized activities designed to complement and add value to the experience.
The largest sanctuary within the reserve is El Rosario. Located two hours away from Mexico City, the hike to the overwintering grounds is two kilometers long. The admission fee to the monarch sanctuary is 35 pesos for children and 45 pesos for adults (about US $2 each), prices that are the same throughout the region.
Along the way, the ejidatarios, or communal land owners, talk about the different plant species found in the forests and the life cycle of the butterflies.
Five cabins can accommodate up to six guests each, with a cost of up to 800 pesos (about $43) per night. Visitors will also find a small area where prepared meals and handicrafts are sold.
The Agua Blanca entrance to the reserve is located 40 minutes away from El Rosario. A small hotel is the gateway to what could be the main attraction in its own right: pools of hot spring water. The experience is complemented by a temazcal, a pre-Hispanic sweat lodge, and other treatments.
The area is surrounded by waterfalls and grottos, ideal for hiking and sightseeing. Zip lines and rapelling are also an option for the more daring.
A weekend package that costs 1,100 pesos ($58) per adult includes two nights of lodging, all meals included.
San Cayetano is a ranch located in the Zitácuaro municipality, two hours away from El Rosario, and renowned for its creamed honey production. Tours visit the San Isidro river and the first Catholic church built in the state.
Overnight visitors can stay in one of the stone cabins, which are equipped with a wood-burning heater and hand-woven hammocks. A night costs 2,596 pesos ($137) for two people, while more conventional lodging is available starting at 700 pesos ($37) per night.
The second largest sanctuary on the Michoacán side of the biosphere reserve, Sierra Chincua, is located close to the Magical Town of Tlalpujahua. A tour including transportation and a box lunch costs 450 pesos (about $23) per person.
The Rayón brothers, protagonists of the Mexican fight for independence, were born in Tlalpujahua, where a museum celebrates the notable citizens. The Dos Estrellas mine and the Brockman dam are other landmarks worth seeing.
Townspeople also distill artisanal liqueurs and manufacture traditional Christmas globe ornaments, which are sold through December at a fair.
Visitors to any of the sanctuary towns in Michoacán or Mexico states are advised that walking tours can take up to two hours. The use of non-skid shoes is recommended, especially hiking boots. Visitors should also wear or carry a warm jacket, as the higher zones of the biosphere reserve are considerably colder.
Source: El Universal (sp)