Chad and I decided to schedule part of my Christmas gift from him, an excursion to Sancturario Piedro Herrada, for Valentine’s Day so we could spend the whole day together. And seeing thousands of butterflies at this ecological monarch butterfly sanctuary sounded pretty romantic to me.
There didn’t seem to be an easy way to visit by public transit or tour, so we rented a car for the day. I’m not sure I’d recommend this because traffic in CDMX is pretty heavy and frustrating. However, my main error was to rent from a place near our apartment in the south of the city. I thought this would work well because the sanctuary was to the south. But it turned out that to get on the highway to go south, we had to drive all the way north to Parque Chapultepec. So renting from the south side made the trip harder, not easier. If I were to do it again, I’d see if I can find a car rental place on the very outskirts of town and take the train or a taxi to it. However, I’m not sure whether that is possible.
Once we finally got out of town, the drive to Piedra Herrada was lovely. We chose to take the toll road to save time but the tolls weren’t too expensive (around $10 each way). We arrived at the butterfly sanctuary before noon and paid to park (50 pesos) and then walked up and paid the entry to the sanctuary (100 pesos per person).
Before hiking up to see the butterflies, we enjoyed a tasty lunch of quesadillas with mushrooms and nopales from the small “restaurant.” This was just a few picnic tables and a local woman cooking quesadillas over a wood-fired stove, but they were delicious and it was fun to see the rustic cooking style. Happily, the sanctuary also has modern restrooms (at the very typical cost of 5 pesos) we could also use before our hike.
When we walked up to the entrance of the trail we showed our tickets to the man and he asked if we wanted to go by horse, but we were happy for the hike even though it was a pretty steep climb. On a Tuesday the trail was not crowded at all. Around 100 meters up we started seeing monarch butterflies here and there. It took us about 40 minutes to hike to where most of the butterflies are. There we saw several horses tied up – the remaining part of the trail is too steep for horses so even if you ride up you have to climb the last part.
Once we got to that height, there was an incredible amount of monarch butterflies flitting around and hanging out in the branches of bushes and trees. We tried to take photos but it was hard to capture how many butterflies there were and how it felt to have them flying all around. I also have a short video.
We didn’t spend too much time at the top because we needed to return the car by 5:30 p.m. and were worried about rush hour traffic. It took half the time to hike down the mountain and soon we were back on the road.
Unfortunately, by the time we returned to CDMX, the traffic was awful. We made it to the hotel to return the car with maybe 10 minutes to spare after deciding to not refill the gas tank and just pay the premium amount to return it half-full. That cost didn’t end up too bad – about $40. We probably would have spent around $15 to fill it up ourselves, so I felt paying the extra was a good investment in our mental health. Chad did a great job navigating the crazy traffic, but it really was stressful.
Luckily, the rental place (an Enterprise) was located in a Holiday Inn that had a lobby bar, so we were able to unwind with some wine and nuts. After relaxing and recovering, we looked up a well-reviewed sushi restaurant within walking distance to go out for our Valentine’s dinner. It was called Teikei and though it was busy we were able to get a table right away. They had saki, they had sushi on a conveyor belt (though we chose to order off the menu), and the service was very good. It was a great end to our day out before taking a taxi back to our apartment.
Despite the stress and expense (the car, tolls, parking, and entry fees totaled $165), I’m glad we visited the butterfly sanctuary. It was a great nature hike in an interesting location and we’ll never forget the feeling of being amongst so many monarch butterflies.