When looking for a place to explore, Valle De Bravo seemed like a good location with a lake, some hiking and biking trails and it is a relatively safe place in Mexico. A few comments from other people and a little research led us to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary at Piedra Herradra. As many as one billion Monarchs migrate every year to a single spot and all congregate on a space not much larger than half an acre. The best days to visit are warm, sunny days when hundreds of butterflies fly around the sky, unfortunately the day we had set aside is overcast and little cool.
There are numerous entry points to the reserve, and there are many different prices you can pay, we were quoted MXN$750 per person for a lift, entry and a horse each. So we decided to make up our own trip, I knew there was a bus that passed Los Saucos so we started at the bus terminal. The booking operator said “For MXN$25 you can get to Los Saucos and walk up the road, to return just cross the road and get the bus on the way back.”, seemed easy enough! So we jumped on the next bus, gave the driver our tickets and sat back watching the GPS to ensure we knew when to hop off, as we climbed into the scenic mountains the sun threatened to break through the clouds, Los Saucos came up and passed with the bus driver speeding along the road….we approached the driver and asked in Spanish
“Was that Los Saucos?”
“Yes it was.”
“Okay, we had tickets to get off at Los Saucos, we gave them to you earlier!”
“Right, you should have told me.”, he said as he slowed the bus, “You can get off here and walk back.”
Off we hopped, thinking to ourselves that we should have told him to drop us at the sanctuary entrance, in any case I figured it was only a short hike up the road in the middle of Mexico 🙂
A couple km’s later and we came across a family who were providing horse back rides to see the Monarchs. We had a conversation and told them we didn’t want horses and would hike up, not realising the impact of the altitude, the dust on the trail and the steep terrain. We set off with an elderly guy and were told we just had to pay his entry fee and he would show us up the trail. After a few minutes hiking in the dust at a good pace another guide came up on his horse, we had a quick conversation and decided for MXN$850 we would ride the horses up the mountain.
It took a while to get up to the entrance of the park, two guys sitting around a small fire who took our entrance fee and gave us official tickets. A little further up the mountain and we ditched the horses and finished the trail off by foot. Once the yellow tape appeared we caught glimpses of large numbers of butterflies camoflauged in the undergrowth, they were hanging on branches, pitching on tree trunks, and the weaker males were passing away on the floor. The males have black dots and do not survive the migration to fly back to Canada. There are restrictions on how close you can get so all photos had to be with a telephoto and I didn’t bring my tripod!
Unfortunately for us the clouds would not part so only a couple of butterflies would circle around, however as it was a quiet weekday we could spend as long as we wanted looking at the slightly strange sight of millions of butterflies. Soon enough the cold got to us and we headed back down the steep trail.
The guide told us we had two options, flag the bus down as they will stop anywhere and pick you up (apparently on the way we could have told the driver to let us off where ever we felt) or get a taxi for around MXN$100, less if it already has people in it, he soon helped us flag down a taxi into town for MXN$60, although the driver, as usual tried to overcharge the tourists even though he had five passengers in four seats – a common theme in the town is to charge us double unless we argue the price down or get our hostel owner to get the taxi for us. Based on the various prices we were quoted for the whole trip it seemed like we saved some money for another adventure, but everything seems a little fuzzy around here so maybe we overpaid! At least if we overpaid it was to the local family who are trying to survive in a fairly hostile environment.