Kingdom of the Monarchs
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. We gather this evening for an orientation and welcome dinner with our Expedition Leader.
Day 2: Angangueo—El Rosario Sanctuary
From Mexico City, we drive into the Central Highlands past dramatic vistas of the snow-capped volcano Nevado de Toluca, which towers over the pine forests. In a few hours we arrive in the mountain village of Angangueo, where we'll check into our charming inn and enjoy a traditional lunch of homemade Mexican fare. Once a copper 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 are flitting 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 3: 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 4: Angangueo—Piedra Herrada or El Rosario Sanctuary / Valle de Bravo
Depending on which sanctuary offers the best concentration of butterflies, our Expedition Leader will decide whether we go to Piedra Herrada today, one of the newer roosting sites opened for observing the monarchs, or return to El Rosario to see them one last time. If we travel to Piedra Herrada, horses will carry us most of the way, and then we walk, often through thick vegetation, to the spot where the butterflies are located.
Next we visit Valle de Bravo, an inviting Mexican 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. 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 5: Valle del Bravo / Toluca / Mexico City
This morning we visit a beautiful waterfall, then embark on our return journey to Mexico City. After lunch en route, we stop in Toluca, originally a 13th-century Indian settlement, where we 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 6: Mexico City / Depart
Our monarch butterfly tour concludes with a transfer to the airport for flights home or to Puerto Vallarta for the Humpback Whale Watching Extension. Guests visiting the Pyramids of Teotihuacan will remain in Mexico City.
Physical Rating: Moderate / Flexible