We are located in the mountainous countryside of the State of Mexico in a little village of about 400 people and 100 horses called Macheros. Macheros means “stables.” We’re part of the ejido of El Capulin, a spread-out political entity of five small communities and about 1,500 residents. An ejido is a community based on communal landholding. Our ejido was created when our great’grandparents were freed from laboring on the nearby haciendas after the decade-long uprising known as the Mexican Revolution. The closest large city is Zitácuaro (pronounced zee TAK war o), which is about 30 minutes away from us, just across the border in the state of Michoacán.
The easiest way to get to us is through the city of Zitácuaro (zee TAK war o), which is on the very eastern edge of the state of Michoacán. Zitácuaro is a two-hour bus ride from Mexico City and a three-hour bus ride from Morelia. From Mexico City, go to the Observatorio terminal, also known as Poniente, and buy a “directo” ticket with either La Linea or Excelencia for Zitácuaro. These two companies alternate service on this line, so check with them both to get the soonest bus departure.
We are also about an hour and a half away from Toluca and Valle de Bravo, and a three-hour trip from Morelia.
When you arrive at the terminal in Zitacuaro, step outside the terminal to the queue of authorized taxis and ask the next driver to take you to Macheros in the State of Mexico. They should charge you around 300 MXN for the ride. If you are concerned about negotiating this exchange in Spanish, print out this page to give to your driver. See our directions page for more details.
Anytime. It’s beautiful here. There are always birds to admire, green mountain vistas to experience, forest trails to hike, meals to be made and savored, and glorious sunsets to watch.
Most people want to come when there are monarchs roosting in the mountains above us. Even more people want to come during what they’ve been told is the “peak” of the monarch season, the month of February–so much so that we book out months in advance for these few weeks a year and have to turn people away, while if you came at almost any other time, you could practically have the place to yourself.
This overbooking stems from the notion that you’ll see more monarch activity when it’s warmer and the monarchs start to mate and fly about more. But these generalizations about weather patterns and monarch behavior no longer apply. It’s kind of alarming, but after nine years of intensive monarch watching since we began this business, we’ve seen all kinds of monarch performances all across the season. We’ve seen mating and explosions in November as well as rainy days and semi-hibernation during the February “dry season.”
The rule of thumb that monarchs are less active earlier in the season and more active later in the season no longer holds, because average temperatures no longer hold. The world is getting inexorably warmer, and in response the monarchs are getting more active across their entire stay in Mexico.
Erratic weather means that maintaining a thick forest cover to protect the monarch colony is more important than ever. But as long as there are almost no jobs in our community, people will keep cutting trees so that they can feed their families. As it is, the income that tourism provides really reduces logging during the butterfly season, when we can steadily employ our neighbors as guides, horse handlers and taxi drivers. Visiting throughout the year and not only during the busy butterfly season would really help even out development in our community, and in turn benefit the butterflies when they are here.
That all depends on you and what you like doing. During the butterfly season, we do have a two night minimum, because we found that one-night stays were way too rushed: people were either getting up super early to reach us in time for their butterfly tour, or rushing off right after a tour without time to take a shower and watch the sunset while mingling with other guests, which really is one of the best parts of the experience.
While you need at least two nights to see one sanctuary, three nights works best for two and four nights to see three. Many schedule an extra day for a cottage industry tour, a cooking class, a gentle hike, bird watching, or just lounging on our lawn. Less rushed visits also have the advantage that if you happen to catch an unseasonably chilly or rainy day, you’ll have the flexibility to reschedule your butterfly tour.
While vaccination roll out has been slow to reach all age groups in Mexico, all of our staff will be vaccinated when we reopen in November 2021. We require use of masks in indoor common spaces and encourage people to congregate in one of our many outdoor seating areas instead, such as in our spacious backyard or rooftops. The restaurant, already a large well-ventilated space, is adding outdoor seating.
Breakfast at the restaurant next door is included with the price of the room. Other meals are a la carte. Every room has a coffeemaker, a kettle for boiling water, and a basic selection of tea. Each room has bedside lamps for reading and most include a desk for a workspace, and every bed comes with a generous allotment of pillows and three thick blankets. Bathrooms include soap, shampoo and conditioner as well as a shower with solar heated water: hot water lasts as long as the days are sunny and your fellow guests don’t take overly long showers. Hairdryers are available upon request. There is a refrigerator in the common space stocked with beer wine and soda for sale. Guests who need to refrigerate medication can also use this refrigerator. The kitchen off of the common space is for staff use only.
Check in is at 2 pm and check out is at twelve noon. Check in ends at 9 pm, as does dinner at the restaurant next door. We can store your luggage if you arrive before your room is available.
We are a small business with a very short season, so all cancelations adversely impact us. We ask for a 50% nonrefundable deposit for the price of your room to hold a reservation. Please be sure of your dates before booking. This policy also applies to shortening your stay or changing your dates.
Because if you are coming to see the butterflies, we want you to give yourself the time and space to truly enjoy seeing them. If you only stay one night, then you either have to get up super early to reach us before the 10 am tour, or dash off immediately after you return from the mountain in the afternoon. Too often, people held up our tour departures by arriving late or pestered us about having access to a shower after they’d already checked out of their rooms. People made these one-night plans because they didn’t seem to realize a.) how arduous travel can be in Mexico and b.) how beautiful it is where we live. Once you are here, you will want to stay longer. Guests often find that they have a lot in common with their fellow travelers, and we love watching new friendships blossom from the experience of seeing the monarch migration together. Solo travelers are never solo for long at our place. But it takes more than one day for that kind of conviviality to flourish.
If you’re asking about dates during the butterfly season, then the answer to both questions is, no, we don’t. We tend to fill up with bookings from independent travelers during these dates anyway. If you’re planning for a large group between April and October, we might be open to negotiation about rates. We really hope that we’ve provide enough information on this site to make people comfortable booking and visiting on their own without the need for an intermediary.
Yes, most of the time. It’s not entirely consistent though–so be prepared for some unpredictability. Because we are off the grid and Mexico’s telecommunications monopoly doesn’t consider it worth its while to provide service to rural areas, we had to build a series of towers ourselves at some expense to relay the signal across the county. Power outages sometimes disrupt this relay. Keep your expectations low, and hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised.
Nope. There is very little cellphone signal where we live, so for phonecalls be prepared to rely on apps like Skype, WhatsApp or Messenger that work over the internet, when available.
You can use your electric appliances in Mexico without an adapter if the standard voltage in your country is in between 110 – 127 V, as it is in the United States, Canada and most South American countries.
No, they don’t. We very rarely need either one. Where we live temperatures usually range from 50-75°F year round. Most Canadians find it balmy. Evenings sometimes get chilly in December and January. We can give you extra blankets if you are especially chilly-natured. All beds come with three thick blankets on them.
Thanks to Monarch Watch’s gift of a weather station, you can see for yourself: https://tempestwx.com/station/43690/
We are located in high-altitude tropics. While it can get hot in neighboring Zitácuaro, the temperatures drop noticeably as you drive into the mountain valley where we are. After sunset, you’ll want a hoodie or polar fleece. There is no indoor heating here, so be prepared to bundle up in the evenings.
We’re at 2,300 meters, and the butterflies are up the mountain from us at about 3,000 meters. Butterflies don’t fly at temperatures below 55 F, and so they have picked this part of the Sierra Madres for their overwintering site because the temperatures are rarely below freezing but never so warm that they burn too much energy. We have two seasons here, wet and dry, and the butterflies visit us during the dry season. Rain is rare but not unheard of during the dry season.
As you climb the mountain temperatures drop. Bring layers, so you can take them off as you warm up on the ascent and put them back on as you cool down while contemplating butterflies. Hats and sunblock also come in handy–it’s easy to get a sunburn at high altitude.
Yes. Our mountain-spring-fed water is potable. Additionally, we have water coolers of purchased, purified water available for your use throughout the hotel. Bring a water bottle and help us cut back on plastic waste.
No. Our tap water is spring water and safe to drink. Even so, we provide purified water at the B&B. There is a restaurant run by our family next door and there are several small stores in town that sell basics like bottled water, snacks, fruit, and beer. Both our place and the restaurant sell wine, beer and some cocktails, including a highly acclaimed margarita.
At the restaurant, all food is prepared when you order it, and requests for food for vegetarians, vegans, gluten free, or small children can easily be accommodated.
While the monarchs generally arrive around late October/early November, or Day of the Dead, the sanctuaries do not officially open until the third weekend in November. This delay gives the monarchs time to settle in and form a stable colony before visitors arrive. So unless you’re able to travel for most of the month of November, it’s difficult to combine these two activities.
Beginning and ending dates vary, but after the third week in November is a safe bet for catching the monarch migration. December and January are a great time to see the butterflies. By February, the sanctuaries are overcrowded. By mid-March, they have usually departed, but the date varies from year to year.
If it is mid-November up til early March, the answer is yes, the monarchs are here. Climate change has made butterfly arrival inconsistent, but by the time the sanctuaries open during the third weekend in November, they are in residence. Check our reports to community science site Journey North for the latest monarch migration news on arrival, departure and everything in between.
You could, in theory, but you would miss seeing the colony at its most spectacular in both sites. Monarchs are most likely to be most active at midday, which is why our tours leave around 10 so we can reach the colony by noon. If you visit them earlier or later in the day, you will only get to see one aspect of butterfly behavior: resting. Catching them midday means you are more likely to witness flying, nectaring, puddling, and/or mating. You will have a better experience taking your time to appreciate one sanctuary per day.
Cash in USD or MXN is great, but we can also take Visa or Mastercard for the remainder of your bill (but not American Express). The restaurant next door also accepts credit cards. Bring some cash in pesos for tipping and incidentals. Note that there are no ATMs in Macheros and that the closest banking is a 30 minute ride away.
Maybe. Macheros is at about 7400 ft above sea level, and all of the butterfly colonies are around 10,000 ft. Many visitors experience some breathlessness during the ascent. A small minority experience more serious symptoms, like headache and nausea. Stay hydrated, don’t drink too much, and consider asking your doctor for a prescription of Diamox if you’ve had issues with altitude before. You might also consider spending a few days acclimating prior to your butterfly journey. Mexico City, home to excellent museums and outstanding cuisine, is about the same height as Macheros.
Cerro Pelon is a moderate to hard hike. It starts off with some flat parts but then it gets pretty consistently steep. The super-fit have reached the butterfly roost in an hour and a half; others have taken a more leisurely three. Two is average. It is high altitude, and some people are affected by this. We have seen people in their 20s struggle to breathe and folks pushing 70 make it up without a problem.
Many people opt to take horses instead of hiking. The people in the ejido will be happy if you do this, because that’s one way they make money during butterfly season. The horses are on a list, so whoever’s horse is up is whose horse you take. The owner of the horse leads the horse up the mountain. The horses are for the most part pretty docile and used to carrying strangers up to the butterflies. It’s a hard trip for them too, and it takes them about an hour each way.
If there are members of your party who aren’t physically up to a strenuous high-altitude hike or two hours on horseback, see our activities page for alternatives such as cooking classes, market trips, or shorter, gentler horseback rides. The other three sanctuaries that are open to the public usually involve shorter hikes (30-45 min) that are less consistently steep–but conditions can vary by season. In our admittedly biased opinion, the forest settings of these sanctuaries lack the pristine loveliness of our beloved Cerro Pelon, and getting there from our place involves a long drive.
No. The people of the ejido of Macheros have organized butterfly tourism so that it provides much needed income for them. The trail up the mountain to see the butterflies is unmarked, and visitors are required to take a local guide with them when they enter the reserve. The guides are on a rotating list, so whoever happens to be at the top of the list that day will be your guide. Some of them like going to see butterflies. Some of them rush you because they’d rather be doing something else. None of the guides speak much if any English. If you would like to take a tour of the sanctuary at your own pace with an experienced bilingual guide, reserve a butterfly tour with us.
No, horses are optional. But keep in mind that renting horses is a major support to the local economy. If you are worried about riding one because you’re an inexperienced rider, don’t worry; they are led by their owner up the mountain so you don’t really have to “ride” them. If you are an experienced rider, we will still send the horse’s owner along with you. Trotting or galloping on our steep and rocky trails is not allowed. Some folks take a horse up and then walk down, so they can experience both ways of being in the butterfly forest.
No, tours are the same price with or without a horse. Walking usually means more time and certainly more effort for our guides. Even fit people can be laid low by high altitude, so many times we have ended up needing to rent a horse for people who initially refused them.
No, we don’t. We like watching the synergies and coincidences that emerge when we take small groups of strangers to see the butterflies together. Some guests have ended up planning future trips together or have even created monarch conservation projects together. If you prefer a smaller group, come earlier in the season and avoid visiting the sanctuaries during the over-touristed month of February.
That all depends on when you come. In late November and December before Christmas, guests are few and groups are small (5-10), even though the monarchs are especially glorious during this part of the season. But if you’re planning on a February visit, which people still mistakenly think of as “peak” season, groups range from 10-25 guests. When we host larger groups, we take along more guides to help out.
Very much so. In fact, the weeks around Christmas and New Years are some of the busiest times in the sanctuaries when it comes to domestic tourism.
We don’t offer camping on our premises, but you can camp at the entry of the Cerro Pelon sanctuary near the ticket booth. There is a minimal fee for this. Camping is not allowed within the boundaries of the butterfly sanctuary itself.
Please ask when making your reservation, but generally we accept one small to medium-sized, well-behaved dog per room. No cats please. We have several outdoor dogs on the premises.
Yes, for 200 MXN one of our housekeepers will do a load of wash for you.
(Yes, people have actually asked us this.) We charge what we charge for our rooms, food and tours because we have a responsibility to ourselves, our family and our community to stay in business. We are not a budget option for butterfly tourism. We pay our workers above market rate and we employ people in maintenance and construction projects throughout the year, even when there is no revenue from butterfly tourism. Making a living with our ecotourism business means that we can afford to not make a living with our conservation work on Cerro Pelon, where we employ six Biosphere Reserve residents to patrol the forest and monitor its health year-round.
There’s a lot to see in Mexico City’s Centro Historico. Guests have liked the Zocalo Central, Hotel Catedral, and the Hampton Inn. Hotels Marlowe and Metropol are decent enough mid-range places. Adjacent neighborhoods Condesa and Roma are also popular options. These Brooklynesque neighborhoods feature myriad coffee shops and dog runs. Hotel Marbella and the Red Tree House have received good reviews from former guests. Airbnb is well-established in the capital and also has lots of good options. We do not have any airport hotel recommendations because we find staying in that area unbearably dreary.
It depends on where else you’re going. Most major destinations in Mexico are well-connected by public transportation, which is for the most part comfortable and efficient and far less stressful than maneuvering a rental in a trafficky metropolis. (Getting to us from San Miguel de Allende is an exception to this rule. We now offer private transport to our place from that city.) While we ourselves have never had to rent a car here, we have not heard very good stories from our guests about the rental car process in Mexico. Long waits at check out, hidden charges, and cops waiting to bribe you just past the airport exit are just a few of the car rental adventures people have shared with us.
There is a lot of fear-mongering about Mexico that borders on racist, so forgive us if we’ve lost patience for dealing with this question. Just use common sense when you travel. Avoid traveling after dark and talk to locals about what routes and places they consider safe. Take cuotas (toll roads) when that option is available. Public transport from Mexico City to Zitácuaro is safe. Mexico City is safer than most US metropolitan areas. Solo female travelers report feeling more comfortable moving around Mexico than in their own countries, and all travelers remark on the overall helpfulness and politeness the vast majority of Mexico’s citizens exhibit when dealing with strangers in their midst. Keep in mind that both Mexico and the US-backed Drug War playing out here represents a large, varied and changeable terrain. Unlike the epidemic of gun violence in the United States, incidents here tend to target specific players and for the most part leave tourists alone.
The monarch migration is in trouble. According to available data, the size of the overwintering population has plummeted by 84% since 1996. Some scientists give the migration another 10 to 20 years of viability, unless all of us take action now to protect it. Here are some actions you can take:
Of course monarchs aren’t the only life form struggling with the impact of climate change, toxic industrial agriculture and wide-scale habitat loss. Bees, bats and many bird species are also experiencing catastrophic population declines. Among these creatures, the monarch and its miraculous migration has been the most successful at attracting attention and resources. But know that this battle is bigger than one beloved butterfly species. Conservation efforts done in their name stand to save the ecosystems that all life depends upon.