Mexico | Mystical Migration of the Monarch

Mexico | Mystical Migration of the Monarch

About this trip

One of the most amazing phenomena in nature is the annual migration of Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) southward from their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada to overwintering sites high in the mountains of southern Mexico. Hundreds of millions of Monarchs fly along the Gulf Coast, or across the Gulf of Mexico, to eventually reach the belt of high volcanic mountains which stretches across the southern end of the central Mexican plateau. At about a dozen isolated places within the high-altitude forests of this zone, Monarchs pass the winter in aggregations that can exceed 2 billion individual butterflies. Stand amid the fir-covered mountains and witness this awe-inspiring spectacle firsthand as the monarchs flutter, dip, and swoop overhead.

Highlights

  • Hike or ride horseback to three different monarch reserves in Michoacán, where millions of individual monarch butterflies gather.
  • Photograph the dramatic colors of the butterflies as they hang in clusters from the trees, drink from streams, feed on wildflowers, and soar in the air above.
  • Visit the pyramids at Teotihuacán, one of the most architecturally significant Mesoamerican sites of pre-Columbian times. 
  • Spend time exploring colonial Angangueo, which was once a mining town but now derives most of its livelihood from butterfly ecotourism and agriculture. 

Activity Level 4: Moderate-Strenuous

This journey is for fit and active nature enthusiasts. Daily activities last for 5 or more hours. There are challenging excursions to butterfly colonies that may require walking for approximately 2 miles at altitudes of up to 10,660 feet on some trails that are narrow and rugged. These may involve both steep uphill and downhill hikes of 30 minutes or more (hiking at your own pace), and require horseback riding for part of the way; please note there is a maximum weight limit of approximately 260 lbs to ride the horses. Restrooms are only available at the base of the mountain. Weather in the Central Highlands during the migration is typically cool and dry with average temperatures in the 50s. Though days are typically sunny, there can be some windy conditions, and nights occasionally drop below 30°F. Also included are walking tours in provincial towns and in Mexico City. Here, at the Teotihuacán archaeological site, you can choose to climb two pyramids: the largest is over 200 feet high with 248 steep steps.

Additional Notes

During site visits, the days entail walking around the butterfly sites on your own and photographing and watching butterflies. Please be prepared to be independent during butterfly watching.

11 Travelers

$2,485

Land Cost

Group size

Book 10 travelers and 1 group
leader travels for free

16 Travelers

$2,245

Land Cost

Group size

Book 15 travelers and 1 group
leader travels for free

Mexico City

Day 1

Upon arrival in Mexico City, you will be met in the airport and transported to your hotel, situated in the historic district on the Zócalo. The Zócalo is the largest plaza in Latin America, and it is surrounded by the National Palace, Metropolitan Cathedral, Templo Mayor, and many restaurants and historical architecture. This evening, meet in the hotel lobby at 7 pm for a welcome dinner and program orientation. Check-in starts at 3 pm.

Dinner included
Overnight at Zócalo Central Hotel

Angangueo

Day 2

Begin today with a short exploration of Mexico City during a brief walking tour of the Zócalo, Cathedral, Templo Mayor, and National Palace. The National Palace houses the offices of the president and the Federal Treasury, and it features a series of murals by Diego Rivera that depict aspects of Mexican history and culture, from the pre-Columbian Aztec civilization to the post-revolutionary period. A boxed lunch will be provided. Depart for the colonial town of Angangueo, high in the mountains in the state of Michoacán, about 100 miles west of Mexico City. Check in at Hotel Don Bruno. After settling in, enjoy a delicious Mexican dinner and then gather for a briefing to help prepare for the next day. (Elevation at Hotel Don Bruno is 8,460 feet. Please note that it can get cold at night and in the early morning, and most rooms do not have heat. It is recommended that you bring warm sleeping clothes.)

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hotel Don Bruno

Angangueo

Day 3

This morning, visit Sierra Chincua Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. This is one of several nearby monarch sites and is more isolated than El Rosario, which we will visit tomorrow. The journey starts with a hike up the mountain to about 10,000 feet. Horses are available to rent for a portion of the trail. The cost is about 100 Mexican pesos, payable in cash only. Some walking will be required, but it can be done at your own pace and with stops and rest as needed. Once at the site, you have the day to enjoy and photograph the spectacular colony with a boxed lunch to be eaten at your leisure. Please note that restrooms are located at the bottom of the mountain and not in the reserve. You will have a short time to buy souvenirs at the craft market at the bottom of the mountain. If time permits, visit the Alternare Center, which has more than 20 years of experience working with rural communities with the goal of helping conserve butterfly habitat. They also teach sustainable farming techniques, the construction of adobe houses, wood-saving stoves, and water conservation practices. Later this afternoon, take a walking tour through the town of Angangueo with our guide. Founded in 1792, the town served as a main mining center, providing wealth for the area. Today the town derives its income from butterfly tourism and agriculture. As we explore the cobblestone streets, our guide will share sites of interest and the importance of butterfly conservation to the town. Dinner is at the hotel.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hotel Don Bruno

Jungapeo

Day 4

Early this morning, check out of the hotel and visit the monarch sanctuary of El Rosario, the largest overwintering site. The colony normally contains well over 100 million adult monarchs. An excellent trail system winds through the fir-covered slopes on which the colony is located. Additionally, there is a nearby stream where the butterflies may fly at midday to drink water. At this time of year, they may take flight for an hour or more for water, nectar, etc., before returning to their roost on the tree limbs or trunks. The hike to reach the colony may again reach up to 10,000 feet and will require hiking up the mountain. The hike is at your own pace, and birding can be done along the way. A portion of the hike can again be done by horseback rental. Once at the site, the day will be spent enjoying the colony with a boxed lunch, to be eaten at your leisure. Restrooms are located at the bottom of the mountain and not in the reserve. In the late afternoon, continue on to the hotel. After dinner, gather for a briefing on Cerro Pelón and what to expect in the morning.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hotel Agua Blanca

Jungapeo

Day 5

After breakfast, visit the Cerro Pelón reserve. Though local residents had known about the monarchs' wintering sites for centuries, in 1975 a team of researchers under the direction of Canadian entomologist Fred Urquhart encountered Cerro Pelón, and it became the first confirmed site described to the broader scientific community. This visit will be a little more challenging than the previous days, with a steeper hike and altitudes starting at about 10,400 feet. Horses will be available for rent for the beginning portion of the hike and may be required due to trail conditions. Depending on the location of the colony, a 30-minute steep uphill hike may be required after the horse ride. Cerro Pelón is the least-known monarch reserve, and because of the rougher conditions is also the least visited, making it a more intimate experience. As on the previous days, you will take a boxed lunch and there will be no restrooms in the reserve. Those who choose not to visit Cerro Pelón will be able enjoy the hotel and the surrounding areas. Return to the hotel for dinner.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Hotel Agua Blanca

Mexico City

Day 6

Depart for the Mexico City area and the pyramids at San Juan Teotihuacán. We'll have the afternoon to explore this world-famous archaeological site, which covers 32 square miles and contains many structures, including two large pyramids. The Pyramid of the Sun, at a height of more than 200 feet, is one of the largest known pre-Columbian structures in the Americas. After time to explore the ruins on your own, we return to our hotel on the Zócalo for a farewell dinner.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Zócalo Central Hotel

Day 7

Breakfast will be included depending on your departure time. Airport shuttle service transfers are included and will be coordinated based on flight times. Check-out time at 12 pm.

Breakfast- included