Travel on foot and horseback with our Expedition Leaders to remote forest groves where millions of brilliant monarchs congregate for the winter.
Listen for the sound of butterfly wings as great clouds of monarchs take flight together in a swirl of orange.
Explore traditional Mexican mountain villages and visit an authentic market, witnessing the benefits of butterfly ecotourism for local people.
Day One: Mexico City, Mexico.
Our Monarch butterfly tour begins upon arrival in Mexico City, where we transfer to our hotel in the upscale Polanco district downtown. We gather this evening for a welcome dinner with our Expedition Leader, followed by an orientation to the wonders that lie ahead. One of the world’s most astounding natural events occurs each year in North America, featuring one of its most unlikely creatures, the delicate monarch butterfly. Every autumn, tens of millions of monarchs set flight on a remarkable 3,000-mile journey from the northeastern U.S. and Canada to their ancestral wintering grounds in the volcanic mountains of central Mexico. The location of their breeding grounds remained a mystery until 1977, and how an infant generation of butterflies finds it anew each year is still an enigma. Filled with anticipation, we look forward to tomorrow's journey into the mysterious kingdom of the monarchs.
Day Two. Angangueo—El Rosario Sanctuary.
From Mexico City, we drive into the Central Highlands past dramatic vistas of the snow-capped volcano Nevado de Toluca towering over the pine forests. In a few hours we arrive in the mountain village of Angangueo, where we'll check into our charming local inn and enjoy a traditional lunch of homemade Mexican fare. Once a copper and silver mining town, Angangueo today thrives on butterfly tourism and local agriculture. The village is very picturesque, a tumble of pastel buildings set along steep, narrow cobblestone streets that hug the steep mountain slopes.
This afternoon we make our first entry into the monarch kingdom at El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary, driving high into the hills via an open-back truck. As we arrive, a few butterflies flit about, a hint of what awaits ahead. Ascending the trail through the forest, hummingbirds and red warblers accompany us en route to the heart of the monarchs' migratory resting place. What we find is an almost surreal sight: millions of butterflies cover the oyamel fir trees in a delicate, quivering blanket of black and orange, at first glance resembling autumn leaves. Boughs bend beneath their numbers, though each butterfly weighs less than half an ounce. As the sun warms their parchment-thin wings, they take to the air in a whirling cloud of color, so many that the air hums with their movement. Mexico's sanctuaries are the only place in the world where you can actually hear butterflies' wings beating. The beauty of the butterflies is so ethereal that many Mexicans still hold the Aztec belief that the souls of the dead are reborn as monarchs.
Day Three. Angangueo—Chincua Sanctuary.
We drive to Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary for another magical encounter with the monarchs. Riding horses most of the way, we hike in the last bit to see the mariposas. Sometimes the stream along the forest floor is covered in orange as the butterflies descend to drink. We learn about efforts to preserve the fragile forest ecosystem that is the key to their survival. Our visit is one way to assist, demonstrating to the local people that ecotourism can be as viable a source of economic sustenance as logging. As Mexican butterfly conservationist Carlos Gottfried said, "When you stand in a monarch sanctuary, your soul is shaken and your life is changed." This afternoon, we enjoy a tour of the village of Angangueo.
Day Four. Angangueo—El Rosario Sanctuary / Valle de Bravo.
This morning we return to El Rosario to observe the butterflies one last time. We continue to Valle de Bravo, an inviting Mexican resort town on a tranquil lake, where we'll have lunch. White stucco houses with red-tile roofs are covered in bougainvillea while brilliant flowers in the Plaza Independencia attract a multitude of birds. The lively market is a bustling meeting point for locals and visitors alike. This evening we relax at a vacation resort in the neighboring hamlet of Avándaro (which means "dream place" in the Tarascan Indian language).
Day Five. Valle de Bravo / Toluca / Mexico City.
This morning we visit a beautiful waterfall, then embark on the return journey to Mexico City. After lunch en route, we stop in Toluca, originally a 13th-century Indian settlement, to visit Cosmovitral Botanical Garden. The building, which houses 500 plant species from Mexico and around the world, glows in the light of stained-glass panels created by Tolucan artist Leopoldo Flores. This evening, we say farewell over a Mexican feast at a fine restaurant before arriving in the capital city, with a late check-in to our hotel.
Day Six. Mexico City / Depart.
Our monarch butterfly tour concludes with a transfer to the airport for flights home, or to Puerto Vallarta for our Humpback Whale Watching Extension. Guests visiting the Pyramids of Teotihuacan will remain in Mexico City.