A Trip to See the Monarch Butterflies
by Ed and Fran, Tuxpan, Veracruz
The following notes are based on our experiences during our our 3 night/2 day trip to Angangueo on January 31st and Feb 1st, 2011..
Tourism in general
It could be a good time to visit the area. Tourism is way down and we saw very few people at the reserves when we were there (a Monday and Tuesday). Locals say this is the third year in a row that tourism has been off. 3 years ago it was the swine flu scare. Last year it was the flood in Angangueo. This year it seems to be fear of narco violence in the state. Whatever, it worked out well for us, but not so well for people who earn their living based on tourist traffic.
If we hadn’t known about the floods from the previous year, I would have been hard pressed to guess that it had happened. There has been a huge amount of repair work and reconstruction already done. The town is in great shape. Yeah, if you are told where to look you can see where the major area of damage was.
Lots of construction work still going on (largely involved in rechanneling the arroyo that goes through town), but the town looks great. You can definitely forget about flood damage being a reason for not staying in Angangueo.
This is going to vary a lot week to week. For us, the night temps were around the low 40’s. We had 2 perfectly cloudless days and by late afternoon it had warmed up to maybe the high 60’s in town.
We went to Sierra Chincua on Monday. The road is recently paved and is in perfect condition from Angangueo to Sierra Chincua. New signage makes it easy to find. From the main road into the parking area it’s still a dirt road. Dusty, but in decent shape. We expected that it would be tough to find public transport up to Sierra Chincua, especially in light of the low amount of tourism, and we simply arranged with a taxi to pick us up at the hotel in the morning and wait for us at the reserve until we came back. Worked out well for us. Left the hotel around 09:30 and were at the area at around 10:00. There is a totally new (built last year) infrastructure at the base at Sierra Chincua. They removed all the old shacks that housed the food stalls and shops that sold artesania, and built a new series of buildings to house them. At least in our opinion, they were very well done. The locals that we talked to seemed happy with them too. New bathrooms too. There is all new signage on the trails, part of the same project.
The trail was a tough 2 hour hike for me. Maybe it’s partly the altitude (11,000 ft), partly my age, and partly a lack of conditioning on my part. First hour and a half was a gradual but steady climb up. The trail is in excellent condition along this part, and skirts along the side of the mountain so there are 3 good overlooks to see the valley. It was pretty chilly, and there was a lot of wind. At about the last quarter of the trail, it starts a relatively steep descent towards the butterfly colony. At this time the horse trail (separate until this point) joins the foot trail. So this section is pretty well chewed up and extremely dusty. We had perfect sunny weather. We arrived at the area of the colony (at least the area we were shown) around 12:00. Sun was just starting to warm up the butterflies and there were a few flying around. But within a half hour or so the air was full of butterflies. It was an incredible experience. The regulations posted say that you can only stay in the area of the colony for 30 minutes. I suspect that they may enforce that in periods of high tourism traffic to keep the area from being saturated with people. But with the very light traffic they have now, the guide was in no hurry to get us to move on. I guess we spent almost 2 hours in the general area of the colony. After coming back we ate lunch at one of the little restaurants at the base. Good food, a big plate full, and reasonable cost. I think we paid $45 pesos each plus the soft drinks.
We originally planned the trip to be in Angangueo two days, just in case the first day would turn out cloudy and have little butterfly activity. But the first day turned out perfectly. So we decided to visit El Rosario on the second day. It was another perfect day with bright sun. It would have been fairly easy to get up to El Rosario from Angangueo with public transport, certainly much easier than getting to Sierra Chincua, but we opted to use the same taxi driver as we had going to Sierra Chincua. We went on the road directly from Angangueo to El Rosario. The first 80% was in good shape, although the paving stone surface made for a bit of a bumpy ride. It’s shorter in distance than the road to Sierra Chincua, but the lower speed makes it about the same time, if not a bit longer. The last 20% of the road is a dirt road that needs maintenance, to say the least. We made it in a Nissan Tsuru taxi, although he touched bottom a couple of times. It’s certainly passable. We came back by the road El Rosario – Ocampo – Angangueo. Much longer in time and distance. Also paved with paving stones from El Rosario down to Ocampo, and plenty of speed bumps. But in good condition. El Rosario is slightly lower than Sierra Chincua (or so I’m led to believe) at 10,000 feet, and the hike was much shorter, and much easier for me even though it was all uphill. The hike is all through the woods, so you don’t get the same views of the countryside as you would at Sierra Chincua. Took us about an hour to reach the colony. More people than we encountered the previous day at Sierra Chincua, but still not a lot, and nothing like we had expected. Note that the distance of your hike will vary a bit depending on where the colony is at that time, and could wind up being a bit longer. Again our timing was pretty good. We arrived at the area where we were close to the colony at around 11:00 and there was some activity. But within a half hour the sun started shining on more branches and the butterfly activity had increased significantly. We stayed in the area for maybe 2 hours. Lots of opportunity to take good photos. We had a number of butterflies alight on our heads, arms, and jeans. It was an easy 45 minute walk back down. Again we ate at one of the little restaurants / comedores at the base of the reserve. And again it was good, plentiful, and cheap.
Hope this helps someone. Remember that this was our view of things, your mileage may vary.