Day 1: Mexico City, Mexico
Arrive in Mexico City where you are met by our Expedition Leader and transferred to our hotel located in the upscale Polanco district of Mexico's capital. This evening we head to a nearby restaurant serving traditional Mexican cuisine for a welcome dinner and introduction to the exciting photo opportunities that lie ahead.
Day 2: Angangueo / El Rosario Sanctuary
From Mexico City, we drive into the Central Highlands and arrive in the mountain village of Angangueo, a tumble of pastel buildings set along narrow cobblestone streets that hug the steep slopes. Once a copper mining town, Angangueo today thrives on butterfly tourism and local agriculture. After checking into our hotel followed by lunch, we make our first entry into the monarch kingdom at El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary.
With cameras ready, we arrive in an open-back truck as a few monarchs flit about, a hint of what awaits. Ascending 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. As 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. 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 mariposas. Backlit by the sun, the wings of butterflies in flight glow transparent orange, making for striking photos. Sometimes the stream along the forest floor is covered in 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: El Rosario Sanctuary / Valle de Bravo
This morning we return to El Rosario for more butterfly photos when the light is optimal. After lunch we travel to 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. This evening we relax at a vacation resort in the neighboring hamlet of Avándaro (which means “dream place” in the Tarascan Indian language), where the sunset over the lake invites us to take out our cameras once more.
Day 5: Avándaro / Valle de Bravo
This morning, we visit beautiful Bridal Veil Waterfall, or you may choose to relax at the hotel and enjoy the the pool and spa. After lunch we'll head into the town of Valle de Bravo to visit the lively crafts and food markets. The town market is a bustling meeting point for locals and visitors alike, and depending on our timing, we may have a chance to get some photos in this lively cultural setting. We stay for dinner in a restaurant downtown. Return to Hotel Avandaro where the sunset over the lake invites us to take out our cameras once more.
Day 6: Piedra Herrada Sanctuary / Toluca / Mexico City
Our final journey to the butterflies takes us to the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary, one of the newer sites for viewing the roosting monarchs. Once again horses carry us most of the way, and then we walk, often through thick vegetation, to the spot where the butterflies are located. This afternoon we begin our return trip to Mexico City, making a stop in Toluca, originally a 13th-century Indian settlement, where we'll visit the Cosmo Vitral 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 en route before a late check-in at our hotel in Mexico City.
Day 7: Depart
Our monarch butterfly photo tour concludes with a transfer to the airport for flights home, or to Puerto Vallarta for the Humpback Whale Watching Extension. Those guests visiting the Pyramids of Teotihuacan will remain in Mexico City.