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Monarch Butterfly Photo Adventure

6 days with Natural Habitat Adventures   Rating: Deluxe

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Day 1: Mexico City, Mexico
Our Monarch butterfly photo 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 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. Riding small Mexican horses provided by the local community (and led by your own caballero, so no horse experience 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 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. 
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.
All This Included
One of the world’s grandest wildlife photography opportunities features one of its smallest creatures, the delicate monarch butterfly. While they may be familiar sights during a New England or California summer, there is nothing that prepares you for the marvel of the monarchs’ migration, when they congregate by the millions in Mexico’s Central Highlands. Each fall the monarchs make an extraordinary 3,000-mile flight to these remote forests that are their ancestral breeding grounds, a phenomenon that still mystifies scientists. Guided by our Expedition Leader, who is both an expert naturalist and accomplished photographer, we capture amazing images of the butterflies as they swirl overhead in cloud of orange, float delicately onto our shoulders, and blanket tree trunks like gossamer bark. 
  • Accommodations
  • Meals from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast on the final day
  • Purified drinking water
  • Soda and beer with meals
  • Services of NHA Expedition Leaders
  • All airport transfers (including early arrival transfers if extra hotel night(s) are booked at the Camino Real Polanco)
  • Horseback riding at butterfly sanctuaries
  • Most gratuities
  • All permits, entrance fees and taxes
  • Make three separate guided excursions into remote forest groves where millions of brilliant monarchs congregate, and spend unhurried time photographing them 
  • Learn tips and techniques to achieve the best butterfly photographs, from intricate close-ups to panoramas of great clouds of airborne monarchs
  • Meet local people and enjoy cultural photo opportunities in the mountain village of Angangueo, where your ecotourism dollars greatly benefit the local economy
Mexico City: Camino Real Hotel
Angangueo: Posada Don Bruno or Hotel La Margarita
Pre and Post Add-ons
Humpback Whale Watching Extension
4 Days / Jan - Mar, From $1595
Enjoy thrilling encounters with humpback whales off the coast of Puerto Vallarta! Hundreds migrate here annually, entertaining observers as they breach and spy-hop. See them on three different excursions.
The Pyramids of Teotihuacan
1 Day / Jan - Mar, From $425
Just outside Mexico City, discover the history and mysteries of Teotihuacan, exploring the Sun and Moon Pyramids and other ruins revealed by archaeologists.
  • Group Size Limit: Approximately 12 Travelers.
  • A very important feature of this adventure is the limited group size, as nature photography expeditions are best experienced with a small group of travelers.
  • Not Included: Travel to and from start and end points of trip, early arrival transfers if you book your own extra hotel night(s), alcoholic beverages (except beer with meals), some gratuities, items of a personal nature (phone calls, laundry, internet, etc.), optional travel insurance.
  • Physical Requirements: Moderate. Visiting the butterfly sanctuaries requires walking for approximately two miles at altitudes up to 10,660 feet, on very steep inclines and sometimes over rough, rocky terrain, in some cases walking up over 600 steps to reach the butterflies. The physical exertion involved can be considered strenuous for people who are less active. Horses are available to ride for some portions of certain trails at the sanctuaries, though trails are narrow and rugged and riders must be alert to maintaining balance. Due to the small stature of the horses that are local to the Mexican highlands, the maximum rider weight each horse can carry is 260 pounds. Travelers concerned with their physical capabilities should contact our office for further details on the exact physical requirements of this trip, as well as their personal physician for his/her opinion about their suitability for the demands of this itinerary.
  • Important Information About This Trip: The monarch butterfly sanctuaries in central Mexico are a wonder that no nature lover or photography enthusiast should miss! Observing and photographing the movements of the monarchs is a truly moving experience. This trip can be more strenuous than most, however, so please read carefully the section on 'Physical Requirements' above.
  • Mandatory Insurance: Since the areas we travel to on this trip are remote and wild (that's why we go there!), we require medical evacuation insurance for our guests' safety. If you decline the medical evacuation insurance coverage offered by Natural Habitat, we request that you send us documentation of the independent coverage you have selected. We will add the cost of a medical evacuation policy to your tour invoice until you provide our office with proof of coverage, including your insurance company's name, contact number and your individual policy number. Thank you for understanding that our policy exists exclusively in the interest of our guests' safety.
  • Getting There & Getting Home: Arrive in time for the 7 pm welcome dinner on Day 1. You are free to depart anytime on the final day. 
  • Please ask your Vacations To Go travel counselor for more information. 
Terms and Conditions
For Natural Habitat Adventures terms and conditions, please click here.

* The prices shown are U.S. dollars per person, based on double occupancy, and subject to availability. Prices quoted for land/cruise arrangements are subject to increase without notice. Once we have received your deposit, land/cruise prices are guaranteed. Air prices quoted via phone or email are subject to increase and are guaranteed only from the time that full payment is received. Also, air prices or air promotions mentioned on this site or on the phone do not include baggage fees imposed by airlines.