General Information

Of all migrations by small creatures, few are as astonishing as the one performed by the Monarch butterfly.

The embodiment of fragility, these insects travel between 1,200 and 2,800 miles or more between their starting and ending points -- a feat without parallel.

What is even more remarkable is that the ones that return to the places where Monarchs hibernate have never been there before. These are the great-great-great-grandchildren of those that performed the intrepid journey from southeast Canada and the United States to central Mexico.

Like several species of birds, bats and whales, the Monarch butterfly of Canada and the United States migrates to places where the climate is less extreme. As such, the Monarch heads south each fall, where it will stand a greater chance of survival-as well as the chance to "return" to reproductive sites in North America and give rise to future generations of reproductive adults that will complete the annual cycle.

The Monarch butterflies that migrate southward in the autumn are guided by the sun's orbit as they travel through North America. Even on cloudy days they stay on track thanks to an internal biological compass that functions according to the movement of the sun.

The migration moves at a pace of about almost 50 miles a day, though there are some butterflies that have flown up to 80 miles in a day. Throughout the migration, they continue to store and replenish energy each day by extracting nectar from flowers they encounter along the way. But the butterflies also suffer from illnesses and infections that can be fatal, and must face other dangers including bad weather, predation by birds during hibernation, and big losses in the population due to winter storms.

At the end of October and the beginning of November, after travelling two months, the butterflies settle into hibernation colonies in the mountains of central Mexico, where the States of Mexico and Michoacan meet. There they will spend the winter hibernating. From mid-November until mid-February, the Monarchs' hibernation colonies remain relatively stable. During the second half of February, when temperatures rise and humidity decreases in the forests, the butterflies come down from the slopes to mate.

And the butterflies that survive the hibernation in Mexico return in the spring to the southern United States.


One of the world’s most astounding natural events occurs each year in North America, featuring one of its most unlikely creatures, the delicate monarch butterfly. Every autumn, up to 300 million monarchs set flight on a remarkable 3,000-mile journey from the northeastern U.S. and Canada to their ancestral wintering grounds in the volcanic mountains of central Mexico. Until recently, the location of their breeding grounds remained a mystery. How an infant generation of butterflies finds it anew each year is still an enigma. Join our small group to experience this moving phenomenon, enhanced by Mexico’s premier naturalist guides.
Day 1: Mexico City, Mexico

Arrive in Mexico City and meet for an orientation dinner.
Day 2: El Rosario / Angangueo

The urban landscape gives way to the fresh air and forests of the highlands, where the snow-capped volcano of Xinantécatl stands sentinel. Our destination is the mountain community of Angangueo, a traditional village of tile roofs, cobblestone lanes and cornfields clinging to steep hillsides. This afternoon we visit El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary, our first entry into the monarch kingdom.

As we arrive in an open-back truck, a few butterflies are flitting about, a hint of the wonders that await. Ascending the trail through the forest, hummingbirds and red warblers accompany us until we reach the heart of the monarchs’ resting place. What we find is an almost surreal sight. Millions of butterflies cover the tall oyamel fir trees in a delicate, quivering black and orange blanket. 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 and, yes, sound. Mexico’s sanctuaries are the only place in the world where you can actually hear butterflies’ wings beating. The beauty of the butterflies is so ethereal that many Mexicans still hold the Aztec belief that the souls of the dead are reborn as monarchs.
Day 3: Chincua / Angangueo

We drive to Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary for another magical encounter with the monarchs. Riding horses most of the way, we hike the last bit to the mariposas. Sometimes the forest floor is carpeted in patches of orange as the butterflies descend to drink. We learn of efforts to preserve the fragile ecosystem that are key to their survival. 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.
Day 4: Valle de Bravo

Valle de Bravo is an inviting Mexican resort town with colorful markets, rivers and 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. After visiting this magical town, we relax in luxury in the neighboring hamlet of Avándaro. (Avándaro means “dream place” in the Tarascan Indian language.)
Day 5: Piedra Herrada Sanctuary / Toluca / Mexico City

Our last butterfly encounter is at Piedra Herrada, the newest sanctuary. We again ride horses and hike through dense forest to the roosting areas. On our return to Mexico City, we stop in Toluca, originally a 13th century Indian settlement, where we’ll visit the Cosmovitral botanical gardens, aglow with stained-glass panels created by a Tolucan artist. Our trip concludes with a Mexican farewell feast at a fine restaurant.
Day 6: Return Home

Transfer to the airport for flights home or to Puerto Vallarta for the Humpback Whale Extension, or remain in Mexico City for the Pyramids Extension.

Dates and Cost

Trip Duration

6 Days

2013 Dates

Jan 6 - 11

Jan 13 - 18

Jan 20 - 25

Jan 21 - 26

Jan 27 - Feb 1

Feb 3 - 9 (Special photo tour)

Feb 10 - 15

Feb 17 - 22

Feb 24 - Mar 1

Mar 3 - 8

2014 Dates

Jan 5 - 10

Jan 12 - 17

Jan 19 - 24

Jan 26 - 31

Feb 2 - 7

Feb 9 - 14

Feb 16 - 21

Feb 23 - 28

Mar 2 - 7


Itineraries for trips visiting sanctuaries in March may vary depending on the movement of the butterflies. All trips will include three visits to sanctuaries; however, if the butterflies have departed from Piedra Herrada, we will visit El Rosario twice.

Custom Departures

Customized private departures can be arranged for this destination. Please contact us for more information and we'd be happy to assist you.


2013 Fees


Single Supp.: $545

Special Photo Tour


Single Supp.: $625


Prices are per person based on double occupancy and are given in US Dollars. 2014 dates and fees may change slightly.

Extra Information

Location of Adventure


Group Size Limit

Approximately 15 Travellers

A very important feature of this adventure is the limited group size as nature expeditions are best experienced with smaller sized groups of travellers. Watching the breathtaking flight of the monarch butterfly is a nature travel experience not to be missed.


Accommodations, meals (except on Day 6), services of NHA Expedition Leaders, most gratuities, airport transfers on Day 1 and final day, horseback riding option at Chincua and Piedra Herrada, park entrance fees, all taxes (except Mexico’s departure and airport taxes).

Not Included

Travel to and from start and end point of trip, meals on Day 6, alcoholic beverages (except beer with meals), some gratuities, items of a personal nature phone calls, laundry, etc.), airport and departure taxes, optional travel insurance.

Physical Requirements

Moderate / Flexible

Visiting the butterfly sanctuaries requires walking about two miles at altitudes up to 10,660 feet, sometimes over rough terrain, and can be considered strenuous for people who are less active. Generally, trips later in the season tend to be less strenuous since the butterflies move down the mountain.

Horses are available to ride in Chincua and in Piedra Herrada, but not in Rosario, often the steepest ascent. Due to the small stature of the horses local to the Mexican highlands, the maximum rider weight each horse can carry is 260 pounds.

Travellers concerned with their physical capabilities should contact our office for further details on the exact physical requirements of this trip, and their personal physician for his/her opinion. Our Expedition Leaders are adept at handling groups with widely varied ability levels so that all travellers are accommodated.

Important Information

The monarch butterfly sanctuaries in central Mexico are a wonder no nature lover should miss. This trip can be more strenuous than most so please read the section entitled Physical Requirements above.

Getting There & Getting Home

Arrive in time for the 7:00pm welcome dinner on Day 1. You are free to depart anytime on the final day.

We can best serve you if The Independent Traveller makes these reservations for you as they are intimately familiar with the special requirements of these programs and can arrange the most efficient and cost-effective travel.