How to Witness North America’s Monarch Butterfly Migration

The annual marvel takes place every fall.

The annual monarch butterfly migration in Mexico’s central highlands is one of nature’s most beautiful events – and travelers’ journeys to behold this spectacle could be the key to saving the species. As populations decline across North America, sustainable tourism serves as “the most powerful tool in conserving the migration event and the butterflies’ overwintering habitats,” says Court Whelan, director of sustainability for Natural Habitat Adventures and author of The Monarch Migration: A Journey through the Monarch Butterfly’s Winter Home. In 2021, Nat Hab, in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, will host a series of tours to monarch sites. We recently spoke with Whelan to get his take on the program’s power to lift up travelers, butterflies, and local communities.

Seeing so many butterflies at once is like a monarch snow globe. It’s breathtaking. It’s visual and audible: The monarch biosphere reserves are the only place I’ve ever heard butterflies – they sound like rustling leaves as they take flight by the millions.

Butterfly tourism is important because families have steadily encroached onto monarch habitat out of necessity, having to create new farmland for additional food and income. Without ecotourism, I fear these forests would be lost, and with them, the migration.

Local communities benefit because monarch ecotourism provides significant income to thousands of families – the entire community can gain financially and put more food on their tables than they can through subsistence agriculture. Fortunately, ecotourism in the reserves is managed entirely by these locals: They serve as guides, benefit from park entrance fees, and work at and own businesses such as hotels and restaurants.

Expect this experience to make you an ardent monarch supporter, as well as a storyteller of one of the greatest migrations on earth.

Departures: Multiple dates, January 10 through March 1, 2021.

Virtuoso: Joel Centano. Image: Getty Images

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