La Luna Voyages: The Monarch Butterflies’ Journey To Michoacán
Updated: Jun 26
Every November millions of monarch butterflies travel about 3,000 miles from Canada and the
U.S. to make one of the largest migratory journeys of any species. They land in the oyamel
forests of Michoacán and the state of Mexico where they spend the winter fluttering together
under a canopy of trees. Since pre-hispanic times the Purepecha have recorded the monarchs’
arrival, and later as it coincided with Dia de Los Muertos the butterflies came to represent the
souls of lost ancestors returning for their annual trip to earth.
Scientists still don’t know exactly how the monarchs are able make their journey but recent
studies have pointed to an internal compass that allows them to navigate based on the sun’s
position. We know that they come for Michoacán’s lush forests because they provide temperate
weather for the butterflies to breed as they wait out the colder temperatures up north. Or maybe
they’re like us and have a nose for mezcal.
In Michoacán the most well known sanctuary is El Rosario in Angangueo, a couple hour bus
ride from Morelia or Mexico City. The importance of these sanctuaries and the work done by
local people to maintain them year-round is even more crucial as the effects of climate change,
pesticides and deforestation pose threats to the species. Providing sanctuary for the monarchs
also has wider effects for ecosystems by preserving other species like nectar plants and other
animals that share the same habitats.
At El Rosario a local guide will take you on a walking path and share information about the
butterflies and the natural environment. The butterfly congregations are roped off but you’ll find
them swooping through the sky. You can also stop to rest and have a bite at one of the many
stands offering traditional Michoacán dishes.
Since we can’t visit the sanctuaries we’ll soon be sharing a special cocktail recipe in homage to
the Monarchs and that can take you on your own journey. Stay tuned!