Kingdom of the Monarchs

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Kingdom of the Monarchs Photo Expedition

Itinerary Map
On our butterfly Photo Expedition, you'll travel with no more than 12 fellow photographers. Your Expedition Leader is an expert naturalist and an accomplished nature and butterfly photographer adept at helping you get memorable images of the monarchs. Regardless of your ability level, you'll benefit from your guide's tips and techniques for capturing the wonder of the butterflies. Traveling in a small group ensures a quieter, closer photography context, plus the flexibility to adapt to changing weather and light conditions.

Day 1: Mexico City, Mexico
Our monarch butterfly photo tour begins in Mexico City with a transfer to our hotel in the upscale Polanco district. Gather for a welcome dinner with our Expedition Leaders, followed by an introduction to all the photography wonders 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 their way here anew each year is still a mystery. Filled with anticipation, we look forward to tomorrow's photography expedition into the mystical kingdom of the monarchs. 

Day 2: Angangueo—El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary
From Mexico City, we drive northwest into the highlands, passing dramatic vistas of snowcapped volcano Nevado de Toluca towering over the pine forests. Our destination is the picturesque mountain village of Angangueo, a tumble of pastel buildings 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. Enjoy a lunch of homemade Mexican fare before making our first entry into the monarch kingdom.
 
With cameras ready, we arrive in an open-back truck to the El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary. A few butterflies flit overhead, a hint of what awaits. Riding small Mexican horses provided by the local community (and led by your own caballero, so no prior horseback experience is necessary), 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 butterfly weighs less than half an ounce. When the sun warms their parchment-thin wings, the butterflies take to the air in a fluttering cloud of orange, 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 Butterfly Sanctuary—Anguangeo Walking Tour
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 ribbon 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 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 a more viable and sustainable source of economic sustenance than 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 tour the village of Angangueo and learn about the region's history. 

Day 4: El Rosario Sanctuary / Jungapeo
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, we travel to Jungapeo to reach our ecolodge and spa tucked into the mountains of Michoacan. Renowned for its mineral hot springs and soaking pools, the hotel’s lush grounds are home to myriad species of tropical birds.

Day 5: Jungapeo / Cosmovitral Botanical Garden / Mexico City
Awaken to a symphony of birdsong emanating from the surrounding trees and gardens, and get tips from our Expedition Leader for how to obtain the best shots of the natural springs and tropical birds. Or choose to explore the lush grounds, hike to a waterfall, or relax at the hotel and enjoy the pools and spa. After lunch at the hotel, we begin our return journey to Mexico City, stopping in Toluca, originally a 13th-century indigenous settlement, to visit Cosmovitral Botanical Garden. The building, which houses 500 plant species from Mexico and around the world, glows with light filtered through 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.

Physical Rating: Moderate/Difficult

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