• We take a daytime flight from London to Mexico City, arriving in the evening. We meet our driver and leader at the airport and transfer to our downtown hotel, allowing a first sight of this fascinating capital city.
    • Accommodation: Hotel in Mexico City, 1-night, including breakfast
    • From Mexico City, we drive into the Central Highlands past dramatic vistas of the snow-capped volcano of Nevado de Toluca, which towers over the pine forests. Within a few hours we arrive in the mountain village of Angangueo. Once a copper mining town, Angangueo now thrives on butterfly tourism and agriculture.
    • This afternoon we make our first visit to the kingdom of the monarch butterfly at El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary, driving high into the hills aboard an open-backed truck. As we climb the trail through the forest, hummingbirds and red warblers accompany us to the monarchs’ resting place. What we find is almost surreal: millions of butterflies cover the oyamel fir trees in a delicate, quivering blanket of black and orange. As the sun warms their parchment-thin wings, they take to the air in a whirling cloud of colour - so many that the air hums with movement. 
    • Accommodation: Rancho San Cayetano, Angangueo, 2-nights on full board basis
    • Today we drive to Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary for another magical encounter with the monarchs. Riding horses most of the way, we hike the last part of the route to see the mariposas (butterflies). In places the stream along the forest floor is completely covered with orange as the butterflies land to drink. We learn about efforts to preserve the fragile forest ecosystem that is the key to their survival. We then visit a second sanctuary in the same area for a complete experience of this phenomenon.
    • Accommodation: Kumul Lodge, 2-nights on full board basis
    • This morning we drive back to Mexico City for a short afternoon domestic flight to Los Cabos at the southern tip of the peninsula of Baja California. We are met on arrival and transferred to our accommodation, a typical colonial hacienda, located in the historic centre of San José del Cabo. 
    • Accommodation:  Pousada Real, San Jose del Cabo, 1-night including breakfast
    • With an early start this morning we visit the nearby San Jose Estuary and Bird Sanctuary, a unique oasis in the arid environment of the Cape District and the largest remaining area of suitable habitat for the endemic and critically endangered Belding’s yellowthroat. It is also an important wintering site for the endangered least Bell’s vireo, a nesting spot for the threatened least tern, and a stopover site on the migratory route of many water and shorebird species. 
    • We return to the hotel for breakfast before heading to Cabo Pulmo National Park, which is particularly known for its rich marine reserve. There is a small colony of California sealions, while offshore we may find other marine mammals such as bottlenose, spinner and rough-toothed dolphins. In winter. humpback, fin and Bryde’s whales are all frequently spotted here.
    • Los Frailes Pond is a great birding spot where we might see Brandt’s cormorant, magnificent frigate bird, brown pelican, ring-billed gull, American kestrel, plus grey and ashy-throated flycatchers to name but a few.
    • Accommodation: Cabo Pulmo, 1-night on full board basis
    • This morning we explore more of this fabulous place and have an opportunity to snorkel to see the mesmerising underwater world of coral reefs (subject to water temperatures). We then go for a bird walk in the Sonora Desert, to look for Costa’s and endemic Xantus hummingbirds.
    • In the late afternoon we transfer to the beautiful colonial city of La Paz, the capital of the state of Baja California Sur and an important regional commercial centre. 
    • One evening during our stay we enjoy a lecture from conservationists about a responsible whale-watching project, the bat-monitoring programme in Sierra la Laguna. 
    • Accommodation: Hotel in La Paz, 2-nights including breakfast
    • Today we head into the Sierra de la Laguna, a UNESCO- designated global biosphere reserve, with a unique and complex ecosystem. The area has 108 species of arthropods, 2 of amphibians, 27 of reptiles, 74 of birds and 30 mammal species. 
    • We use four-wheel-drive vehicles to access the Sierra Las Pirras section of the reserve, where we can see four of Baja California’s most coveted endemic montane bird species and subspecies with relative ease: northern Cape pygmy-owl, American San Lucan robin, grey thrasher, and yellow-eyed Baird’s junco.
    • After a full day of exploration we transfer back to La Paz for the night.
    • This morning we drive north to Magdalena Bay, a jewel of the Pacific and home to a staggering number of migratory and marine birds and marine mammals. The bay provides a vital calving area for the Pacific grey whale, and a feeding ground for several species of endangered marine turtles.
    • After lunch we drive the short distance to the jetty and board a panga to head out in search of grey whales. Each boat carries a maximum of seven passengers and follows strict practices regarding responsible interaction. Friendly individual whales often approach, and mothers often push their calves closer, which makes for incredible experience! We also look out for pelagic birds such as masked boobies, Craveri's murrelet, shearwaters, storm petrels, cormorants, nesting ospreys, peregrine falcons, or mangrove warblers.
    • Accommodation: Hotel in San Carlos, Magdalena Bay, 1-night on full board basis
    • We have an early start this morning to explore the mangrove area, a fantastic birding spot. With over 100 kilometres of channels and estuary systems hosting a great variety of fishes, the mangrove attracts birds in abundance and we observe herons, egrets and the distinctive mangrove warbler, a chestnut-headed form of the yellow warbler.
    • After lunch we drive south down the coast to La Paz (approximately 3.5 hours), past thousands of wintering shorebirds, to take the overnight ferry to Mazatlán. The crossing over the Gulf of California aboard the Baja Star takes around 12 hours, and offers yet more opportunity to spot marine life and pelagic birds.
    • Accommodation: Overnight ferry, 1-night on full board basis
    • Early this morning we can enjoy birding from the top deck of the ferry before breakfast. We try to spot pelagic species such as the three boobies (Nazca, blue-footed and brown), magnificent frigatebird, black and least storm-petrels, Townsend’s, sooty and black-vented shearwaters. 
    • We disembark in Mazatlán at around 0900, and enjoy a scenic leisurely drive along the coast – with various birding stops along the way – to arrive in the historic town of San Blas in time for lunch.
    • Heading out again, we take a late afternoon/early evening boat cruise to visit the extensive mangrove forest and wetland of nearby La Tovara, home to tropical birds, turtles, iguanas and crocodiles. As we sail the waterways we keep a lookout for reddish egret, tricolored and boat-billed herons, anhinga, common black-hawk and green kingfisher – although our prime target is the elusive rufous-necked wood-rail. As the sun sets we start to see nocturnal species such as the mottled-owl, common pauraque and northern potoo.
    • Accommdodation: Garza Canela Hotel, San Blas, 2-nights on full board basis
    • Early this morning we go birding in the diverse habitat around San Blas, with the endemic rufous-bellied chachalaca as one of our main targets. Migrants from the north may include black-headed and rose-breasted grosbeaks, as well as American redstarts and painted buntings.
    • We then explore the nearby Crocodile Farm Road – a great spot for raptors as they live in the open pastures and marshlands. 
    • In the afternoon we go birding in Shrimp Pond Road just before sunset, where the highlight is to see stunning roseate spoonbills performing their evening dance as they emerge to feed at dusk. 
    • This morning we take a boat along the Rio San Cristobal to the shallow lagoon at Zooquilpa to see concentrations of whistling-ducks that include black-bellied whistling-duck, Muscovy duck and a nesting colony of roseate spoonbills and wood storks. 
    • We then drive south along the scenic coastline for roughly three hours to Puerto Vallarta, our base for the next three nights. Puerto Vallarta is a paradise for bird lovers, with more than 400 species of migratory birds and marine fowl, such as tropical kingbird, great kiskadee, hooded oriole, Amazon parrots and the blue-footed booby 
    • Over the next couple of days we go birding in the surroundings. Our first visit is to Rancho Primavera, one of the prime birding spots in the vicinity, supporting more than 215 bird species, including parrots, trogons, cuckoos and 16 types of hummingbird. It is the best place to see the stunning and elusive rosy thrush-tanager, an absolute must for any keen birder!
    • We also explore the pine-clad highlands at Paso Ancho to see the military macaw nesting sanctuary. This beautiful green and blue-feathered bird is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN.;
    • During our stay we also visit Puerto Vallarta Botanical Garden, a bird reserve managed by ornithologists and members of international bird conservation agencies, with a strong focus on orchid conservation. 
    • Accommodation: Rancho Primavera, Puerto Vallarta, 3-nights on full board basis
    • This morning we transfer to Puerto Vallarta for a whale-watching excursion. Accompanied by a marine biologist guide, we head out to see one of the most charismatic whale species of all – the humpback. We watch these gentle giants breaching, tail-slapping, playing and fighting, and listen to their enchanting song via a hydrophone. This trip lasts around three hours, and while out we should spot brown and blue-footed boobies, royal tern, magnificent frigatebird, plus both Heermann’s and Bonaparte’s gulls.
    • Back on dry land, we go for our last lunch before heading to the airport to board a flight to Mexico City, where we connect to an overnight flight home.
  1. Day 16 Arrive UK

Please note: the butterfly sanctuaries we visit will depend on the location of the butterflies, local conditions and the physical condition of participants. To ensure you enjoy your trip we reserve the right to vary the sanctuaries to take account of these variables.

All prices are per person and include:

  • Services of the naturalist leader
  • Flights
  • Transfers
  • Accommodation
  • Most meals
  • Guided activities

Accommodation

Simple and comfortable hotels, small lodges and retreats with local flavour, all with en suite factilities and carefully selected for their location close to birding sites or in the heart of local towns. 

One night is spent on the ferry crossing from La Paz to Mazatlan. The ferry is a new vessel with comfortable twin en suite cabins with air conditioning, a restaurant bar and lounge area. The journey will add to the local experience, giving more opportunities to spot pelagic birds and marine mammals on the way.

Meals

Most meals are included, with the exception of dinner in Mexico City, Los Cabos, and La Paz, as there are so many lovely restaurants there to choose from, giving us more flexibility. Breakfasts and most dinners are taken at the hotels; lunch is often a boxed lunch to enjoy outdoors while in the field. Food is extremely varied from traditional Mexico delicacies to international dishes. 

Birds

San Blas, in Riviera Nayarit, is renowned as one of the best birding locations in the Americas. Here you can see up to 30 endemic species within half an hour's drive and overall 300 species have been recorded during the winter. Between late October and late March, the resident bird population is supplemented by a massive influx of neotropical migrants from the north. 

Baja California is also a paradise for birders given its topology and position with coastal and pelagic birds, including thousands of winter migrant shore birds.The dry climate of Sonora desert contrast with the highlands of the Sierra and tropical climate along the cost, making home to a great variety of species.

  • Rufous-bellied chachalaca
  • Xantus’s hummingbird  
  • Military macaw
  • Belding's yellowthroat

Mammals

Baja California waters are the breeding ground for grey whales, migrating to these warm and protected waters between January to April to give birth. This tour offers a perfect opportunity for close encounters with these inquisitive giants. The Sea of Cortez is one of the richest marine biodiversities on earth and the abundance of marine mammals in this region of Mexico is unrivalled - these include manta rays, whale sharks, blue whales, sealions and Bryde’s whale.

From mid December to end of March, Banderas Bay in Puerto Vallarta is the summer feeding ground for humpback whales, and March is the time when calves become more active and playful.

  • Humpback whale 
  • Grey whale
  • Bottlenose dolphin
  • Californian sealion 

Insects

The monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration as birds do as they cannot survive the cold winters of northern climates. The incredible 4,000-kilometre journey from east of the Rocky Mountains to Central Mexico is accomplished by approximately 60 millions Monarch butterflies and is considered to be one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the world. 

  • Monarch butterfly
  • Tropical buckeye
  • Mayan setwing 
  • Black-winged dragonlet

Flora

Baja California peninsula, with its unique position and topography, is home to a wide range of vegetation including coastal chaparral, conifer forest, low desert scrub, and tropical deciduous forest, with more than 4,000 plant taxa, of which 700 are endemic and only exist in Lower California. 

  • Mexican giant cardon
  • San Lucan xeric scrub
  • Phacelia scariosa
  • Boojum tree

Scenery

Be prepared for some stunning scenery as we travel in the southern part of Baja California, with pristine natural habitats such as the Sonora desert filled with the strangest looking cacti, the beautiful coastline with beaches and turquoise crystalline water and across the granite mountains of the Sierra de la Laguna range rising from the dry tropical forest.

San Blas is very popular with surfers and known for its gorgeous beaches with strong breaking waves; the surroundings are covered with mangrove swamps, estuaries, lagoons and beaches, making it one of the most important natural shelters for birds in the Western Hemisphere.

Boat trips

In the sheltered Magdalena Bay, we enjoy a half day whale watching tour with a naturalist guide, offering close encounters with inquisitive grey whales and their young calves. In Puerto Vallarta we watch the charismatic humpback whale breaching, accompanied by an expert biologist.

Other excursions

While in Cabo Pulmo National Park, we have the opportunity to go snorkelling to see the spectacular coral reef and rich sea life.

Photography

Photographic opportunities on this trip are excellent, especially the millions of monarch butterflies in the local sanctuaries and grey whales as they come extremely close to us. The scenery throughout the tour is spectacular and sunsets are particularly bright and beautiful.

The sheer variety of birds should also provide some great photography opportunities; one of our leaders is a professional birding photographer and will therefore be able to help you achieve the perfect shot.

Climate

The geographic position and topography of the Baja California peninsula give the region a mix of climates including Mediterranean, winter rainfall, extremely arid, hot desert conditions; and tropical, summer rainfall patterns. February-March is springtime with mild temperatures of 20 to 24C.. 

Walking

The monarch butterfly sanctuaries trails lead to up to 3,000 metres above sea level and are quite steep and uphill, therefore you must have a good level of fitness to do this hike. Alternatively, we recommend you use the horses, accompanied by a local horseman (additional charge).

Late February / early March is springtime in the Sonoran desert, so we expect mild temperatures, and little rain. It is also the main flowering season for annuals, shrubs and trees. Walks aren’t challenging there.

Sierra La Laguna highest point is only 2,090 metres above sea level, so there should be no altitude effects when walking in this area. We use an SUV car in this area and the walks aren't challenging.

Flights

Price includes return scheduled flights London – Mexico City – London, plus domestic flights Mexico DF to Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta to Mexico DF.

Ferry

We take an overnight ferry cossing on board the Baja Star from La Paz in Baja California to Mazatlán on the mainland, taking approximately 12 hours.  

Ground transport

Ground transportation will be by minibus or 4 wheel drive vehicle, with driver.

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