Day 1: 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. Gather this evening for a welcome dinner with our Expedition Leaders, followed by an introduction to the exciting photo opportunities that lie ahead. Each fall, 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 Mexico's volcanic Central Highlands. The location of their breeding grounds remained a mystery until researchers found it with the help of local people in 1977. How an infant generation of butterflies finds it anew each year is still a mystery. Filled with anticipation, we look forward to tomorrow's photographic expedition into the mystical kingdom of the monarchs.
Day 2: Angangueo—El Rosario Sanctuary
From Mexico City, we drive northwest into the highlands, passing dramatic vistas of snow-capped volcano Nevado de Toluca towering over the pine forests. Our destination is the mountain village of Angangueo, a tumble of pastel buildings set along narrow cobblestone streets that hug the steep slopes. Once a silver and copper mining town, Angangueo today thrives on butterfly tourism and local agriculture. We enjoy a traditional lunch of homemade Mexican fare and check in to
an atmospheric local inn before making our first entry into the monarch kingdom.
With cameras ready, we arrive in an open-back truck at El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary. A few butterflies flit about overhead, a hint of what awaits. Mounting small Mexican horses provided by the local community, we ascend the trail through the forest. Hummingbirds and red warblers accompany us en route to the heart of the monarchs' migratory breeding grounds. What we find is almost surreal: 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 weighs less than half an ounce. When the sun warms their parchment-thin wings, the butterflies take to the air in a whirling cloud of color, so many that the air hums with the sound of their beating wings. Sometimes the stream along the forest floor is covered in a flutter of orange as the butterflies descend to drink. The beauty of the mariposas
is so ethereal that many Mexicans still hold the Aztec belief that the souls of the dead are reborn as monarchs.
Day 3: Chincua Sanctuary—Angangueo
Another day of extraordinary photography lies ahead as we drive to Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary for our second magical encounter with the monarchs. Riding horses most of the way over the steep mountain terrain, we hike in the last bit to reach the densest concentration of butterflies. Backlit by the sun, their wings in flight glow transparent orange, making for striking photos. Sometimes the stream along the forest floor is covered in a flutter of orange as the butterflies descend to drink. At every turn, our Expedition Leader helps us get amazing shots, though nothing truly captures the wonder of standing among the millions of monarchs.
As we learn about efforts to preserve the fragile forest ecosystem that is the key to the monarchs' survival, we find that 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 4: Angangueo—El Rosario Sanctuary / Avandaro
This morning we return to El Rosario to observe the butterflies in the morning light. The largest of the monarch sanctuaries in the region, El Rosario offers the best opportunity to view great numbers of monarchs in one location. After lunch in Angangueo, we travel to a vacation resort in the hamlet of Avandaro, which means "dream place" in the Tarascan Indian language. There's time this afternoon to indulge in a spa treatment if you wish, before coming back together for dinner.
Day 5: Valle de Bravo / Toluca / Mexico City
Early risers may wish to join our Expedition Leader on a bird walk in the forest before breakfast. Afterwards, a visit to beautiful Bridal Veil Waterfall awaits, with tips from your Expedition Leader for how to obtain the best shots of the falls and spray. Or, you may choose to relax at the hotel and enjoy the pool and spa. Later we travel to nearby Valle de Bravo, an inviting colonial resort town on a tranquil lake. White stucco houses with red-tile roofs are covered in bougainvillea while brilliant flowers in the Plaza Independencia attract a multitude of birds. Enjoy lunch overlooking the lake and join your Expedition Leader on a walk through the town center and its lively market—a bustling meeting point for locals and visitors alike. This afternoon, as we begin our return journey to Mexico City, we'll 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. Say farewell over a Mexican feast before returning to the capital this evening for a late check-in to our hotel.
Day 6: 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.