.We decided to travel to Nicaragua via Mexico to avoid transit through the United States (wisely as recent events have shown). The rest was serendipity! We first learned about these wonderful butterflies through reading Flight Behaviour, a novel by Barbara Kingsolver.
In late summer millions of monarch butterflies migrate 3000 miles from Southern Canada to Mexico where they overwinter. The following Spring they return North. It takes three generations (each with a lifespan of 2 to 6 weeks) to complete the return trip. The fourth generation returns to Mexico in the autumn. Other similar routes are taken by other colonies of monarchs.
From Mexico City it’s 2.5 hours to the Sierra Nevada where the overwintering takes place. So, jet-lagged and still acclimatising to the altitude of 2,240 metres, we got up at 5.45am to join a trip to see this natural wonder.
We visited the Piedra Herrera National Park where the butterflies literally hang out in the tops of the highest trees at the highest point. It’s 3 kilometres uphill from the car park, a tough climb whether you walk (Alan) or pay £7.50 to go on horseback (Jan).
It was an unmissable sight. The butterflies, thousands of them, wings closed, were clustered together in great black clumps beneath the branches. Some broke away to warm themselves in the sun and feed on the milkweed flowers and that’s when we saw their lovely colours and markings.
The rest of the day passed in a blur – we visited a waterfall, not too impressive after Iguazú! Then we went on to a rather lovely lakeside resort, Valle de Bravo, where we ate fish in a floating restaurant.