It’s an entomological adventure, the Atlas Obscura way.
Join us for a living lesson on the ecology and conservation of one of North America’s most iconic species: the monarch butterfly. Each year as winter gives way to spring, monarchs leave the safety of their wintering grounds in central Mexico and fly north to places such as Texas or Louisiana. They mate, lay eggs on milkweed plants, and die. The caterpillars hatch, form a chrysalis, and emerge as butterflies, ready to continue journeying north. It takes four or five generations before monarch butterflies arrive in the northeastern U.S. and Canada by summertime, each hatching, living, and dying in just six or seven weeks.
Then, the last generation—a single “super generation” of butterflies—flies 3,000 miles back to Mexico, where they spend the winter in the very same forests inhabited by their great, great, great, great (you get the idea) grandparents just one year earlier. Nobody really knows why the monarchs migrate this way, or how they know where to go. Often, they can wind up in the exact same cluster of trees as their ancestors.
This annual migration is one of nature’s greatest spectacles, and the best place to witness it is at the start of the journey, among the pine and fir trees of Central Mexico. With the help of local conservationists and expert wildlife biologists, we’ll enjoy a butterfly expedition unlike any other while we enjoy a relaxing journey through the Mexican countryside.
This trip is limited to a small group of 14 explorers.
- Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve: We'll visit not one but three different butterfly sanctuaries located within this reserve: El Rosario, Sierra Chincua, and Piedra Herrada.
- Presentations by wildlife experts: Over the course of the trip, we'll hear from specialists in the field to help us understand what we're experiencing, up close and first-hand.
YOUR EXPERT TOUR ORGANIZERS & GUIDES
Dr. Jason G. Goldman is a science journalist and wildlife reporter who covers animal behavior, wildlife biology, conservation, and ecology around the world. He’s collared foxes on California’s Channel Islands, been sneezed on by iguanas in the Galápagos, tracked lions in South Africa, and traveled deep into the Peruvian Amazon in search of social spiders. He's written for Scientific American, The Washington Post, and the BBC. He also cofounded SciCommCamp, a science communication retreat and workshop series, and contributes to Scientific American’s “60 Second Science” podcast.
Phil Torres has been bitten by an anaconda, tackled a tiger shark, and gotten lost in a forest full of quicksand, all in the name of science. As a researcher and science communicator, he spent two years living in the Amazon and has worked in Mongolia, Venezuela, Sweden, the Bahamas, the Arctic, and the bottom of the ocean. Phil has made several significant discoveries as a field biologist in South America including the decoy spider, a thieving butterfly, and silkhenge. He is the creator and host of The Jungle Diaries and has hosted more than 70 episodes of TechKnow on Al Jazeera. His research and wildlife photography has been featured by National Geographic, Wired, and the BBC.
Edgar González has over 15 years of experience working in community-based forest management, sustainable tourism, rural sustainable development, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. He has worked for Mexico's National Forestry Commission and the National Commission on Natural Protected Areas, as well as a variety of local and international NGOs. He is currently Mexico Director for Rainforest Alliance.
A $500 nonrefundable deposit is required to secure your spot, as we have a very limited capacity, and we expect the trip to fill up extremely quickly. The trip will cost $1,985—the $500 deposit plus the $1,485 final payment—and will cover all fixed costs, including all accommodations, meals, and activities listed in the itinerary below.
Please email us at trips@ or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, or payment.
Arrival & Welcome
- Welcome to one of the most walkable neighborhoods on Earth. Mexico City is as rich in culture and history as it is in food and markets. Our hotel is near the La Reforma, Roma Norte, and Condesa neighborhoods of Mexico City, which offer endless street tacos, museums, and art galleries to visit.
- For those who arrive earlier in the day, you can join your guides for an optional visit to the gourmet food market Mercado San Juan. Ever tried eating a stink bug, queen leaf cutter ant, or grasshopper? This is your chance to be gastronomically adventurous. You'll find that roasted grasshoppers are a solid bar snack.
- We'll gather at 7 p.m. for dinner at the hotel. You’ll meet your guides and fellow travelers, perhaps enjoy a margarita or cerveza, and after dinner, take in a brief orientation on the days ahead, full of millions of butterflies. Yeah, we’re pretty excited, too.
El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary
- After an early breakfast at the hotel, it’s time to explore the countryside. We’ll hop in a bus for a four-hour drive to the town of Angangueo, perched at an elevation of 8,400 feet. (Lucky for all of us, Mexico City is already 7,300 feet above sea level, which gives your body a head start in adjusting to the elevation.)
- After enjoying a delicious lunch in town, we’ll visit the El Rosario butterfly sanctuary. Located within Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, El Rosario is one of the more popular sanctuaries for tourists. Presidential decrees in the 1980s declared these areas, still largely privately owned, as a federal reserve. In 2008, the reserve also became a designated World Heritage site. Upon first glance, the trees here may appear orange—but take a moment to look closer. The coloration is provided by millions of butterflies, whose collective weight can actually make the branches sag.
- After spending a few hours basking in the gloriousness of all these insects, we’ll head to our lodge for the night, where you’ll have some time to enjoy your room (and its fireplace) before we meet for dinner. Afterwards, we’ll be treated to a presentation by our guides. Learn all about the amazing creatures we’re here to see, and their epic annual migration that begins right here and ends thousands of miles away in Canada.
Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary
- The day starts bright and early with a quick breakfast at our lodge. We’ll then hop on the bus for a short drive to the Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary. While this isn’t the most well-known of the butterfly sanctuaries in the area, every lepidopterist (butterfly scientist) agrees it’s absolutely the best.
- Once we’re at the sanctuary, we’ll each mount a horse and ride about 20 minutes uphill. Then a quick hike to 11,500 feet in elevation (don’t worry, we’ll take it slow to catch our breath), where we’ll be surrounded by millions of orange and black butterflies. And get this: there are so many butterflies that you can actually hear them all flapping around you, like a grand, orchestral whisper.
- Having been blown away by all this butterfly brilliance, we’ll retrace our steps to wind up back in Angangueo for lunch. We’ll have a chance to explore the small mountain town on foot, then it’s back on the bus for a two-hour drive to Valle de Bravo. We’ll check into our lodge, then, depending on how everyone is feeling, we’ll either take a short hike to a nearby waterfall, or visit a local handicraft market in town.
- After some time to rest and a tasty group dinner at the lodge, we’ll have a chat with our local guide about the complexities of wildlife conservation in Mexico. He’s one of the top conservationists in the country and has a wealth of knowledge and insight, so prepare your best questions.
Piedra Herrada Butterfly Sanctuary
- What’s better than two days of butterflies? Three days of butterflies.
- After breakfast we’ll take a short drive to the Piedra Herrada butterfly sanctuary, the only butterfly sanctuary located outside the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. Walking through this sanctuary feels like walking through a postcard.
- Our goal is to arrive early, before the morning chill has worn off, when the butterflies are still clumped to their trees. Once the sun warms the air, the butterflies take flight—millions of them. After spending plenty of time here wandering the orange whirlwinds in this corner of invertebrate paradise, we’ll hit the road. Be sure to ask your guides for help capturing a decent photo or two before departure!
- We’ll have lunch back in Valle de Bravo and relax in this lakeside community. Once a little-known mountain town, it was the so-called “Woodstock of Mexico” in 1971 that landed this place on a map. It’s since become a favorite weekend getaway for Mexico City’s celebrities, something like what the Hamptons are to Manhattan. After a meal and a stroll, we’ll say goodbye to the mountains and board our minibus to return to Mexico City.
- We’ll check in once again to our hotel and enjoy our last group dinner together.
YOUR ATLAS OBSCURA EXPEDITION TO MEXICO INCLUDES
- Meals, transport, and accommodation during your stay, not including alcoholic beverages.
- Three expert guides in the fields of biology, conservation, science journalism, and sustainable development.
- Admission to all proposed areas and activities.
- A full briefing packet for each explorer, including country information, logistical and contact information, recommended reading list, and packing list.
- A curious group of fellow Atlas Obscura explorers, excited to discover all that Mexico's butterfly sanctuaries have to offer!
TRAVELERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR
- Transportation and flights to and from Mexico City.
- Airport transfers.
- Individual travel insurance (recommended).
- Baggage charges and personal expenses.
- Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings.
We recommend you have a medium fitness level to fully participate in this trip. Be prepared to walk between 3 to 6 cumulative miles per day, both in the city and in rural areas. Please contact us directly if you have further questions about the health and fitness level we recommend for this trip.
You will be charged a $500 deposit to hold your place. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. The final payment of $1,485 will be due by November 26, 2018. All reservations will be final after these dates, and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to our Terms & Conditions. For those wishing to have a single room and/or extra nights at the Quito hotel, optional supplementary fees will be included with the final payment.
WHAT IS ECOTOURISM?
The International Ecotourism Society has formally defined ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.” In other words, it is an effort to combine sustainable travel with ecosystem-level conservation and the explicit recognition of and respect for the rights of indigenous people. That’s why ecotourism is more than just “nature tourism." It has the explicit goal of benefiting local communities both environmentally and economically. By providing financial incentives through tourism, these communities can become empowered to fight against poverty. By achieving more sustainable economic development, such communities can better resist exploitative industries such as mining, agriculture, ranching, or logging. Ecotourism has also motivated the traditional tourism industry in general to move toward more “green” or sustainable practices.
Please email us at trips@ or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, or payment.