Mexico’s Magical Monarchs with Optional Gray Whale Extension

2021 Photographic Expedition with Cheryl Opperman

Every winter, cloud forests in central Mexico play host to millions, perhaps a billion monarch butterflies. This aggregation of monarchs ranks as one of the most impressive wildlife spectacles on the planet. When masses of butterflies take flight, the beating of their wings sounds like rain falling. The cumulative weight of massive monarch clusters on oyamel fir trees bends branches. 

Journey to the heart of Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Reserve with award-winning photographer Cheryl Opperman. This small group photographic expedition offers unparalleled access with the maximum amount of time possible in the heart of the monarch reserve. An optional extension to Baja California Sur for gray whales is also available.

Cheryl Opperman is a nationally acclaimed nature photographer who has traveled to every continent in the world capturing spectacular images of nature, wildlife, and indigenous cultures. Widely published, her photographs have appeared in print, on the web, on television, and in solo and group exhibits, resulting in a list of clients or credits which include The American Humane Association, The Denver Post, the National Geographic Society, and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Cheryl’s esthetic compositions, artistic use of light, and exquisite detail have been honored with several prestigious awards from organizations including The Earth Day Network, Nature’s Best Photography, the International Photography Awards, and the National Wildlife Federation. She was also featured as a leading female nature photographer by Outdoor Photographer Magazine and has appeared in on-camera interviews by 9News Denver, the Luminous Landscape, and Smithsonian Earth. Using the power of photography to inspire interest in the environment and other cultures, she has presented slide shows or classes on various topics to schools, camera clubs, and organizations including the Intermountain Regional Headquarters of the National Park Service, the Colorado Environmental Film Festival, and the North American Nature Photography Association. Cheryl is a 1992 honors graduate of Brooks Institute of Photography holding a Bachelor of Arts degree in Industrial/Scientific photography. 

ITINERARY

DAY 1 (Sat, Jan 30)Upon arrival to Mexico City,you’ll be met by your local guide for the transfer to your hotel. 

Accommodations: Zócalo Central

Meals: None

DAY 2 (Sun, Jan 31): Morning departure to the Monarch Butterfly Reserve with a photography stop at Cosmovitral Botanical Garden en route.Housed in a former marketplace in Toluca, Cosmovitral is surrounded in huge stained glass murals. When sunlight shines through the windows, the building is awash in color. Afternoon photography session at the monarch reserve. Our accommodations for the next two nights are community-run cabins close to the reserve. There’s no electricity at the cabins, but having unparalleled access to the monarch reserve is worth it.

Accommodations: Community-run cabins near the sanctuary

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

DAY 3 (Mon, Feb 1): Full day of photography sessions at the reserve.  We will hike to the monarch cluster sites. Expect hikes to take 45 mins to 1 hr each way over rocky and sometimes steep terrain at elevations between 9000-11,000 ft. Porters will assist us with camera gear. 

Accommodations: Community-run cabins near the sanctuary

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

DAY 4 (Tues, Feb 2): Photography sessions at the reserve until our afternoon departure to nearby Avandaro. 

Accommodations: Hotel Misión

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 5 (Wed, Feb 3): Today brings a visit to El Capulin monarch sanctuary. The trails here are more rugged so the group will travel by horseback most of the way. Horses are not allowed to go all the way so we will have a hike at the end to reach the monarch congregation site.

Accommodations: Hotel Misión

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 6 (Thurs, Feb 4): As we make our way back to Mexico City, we’ll stop for another monarch photography session en route. Recap trip highlights during our Farewell Dinner this evening overlooking the historic Zócalo.

Accommodations: Zócalo Central

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

DAY 7 (Fri, Feb 5): Transfer to the airport in time for flight home or to La Paz, Baja California Sur (BCS) for our gray whale extension.

Meals: Breakfast

IMPORTANT NOTE: Accessing the monarch cluster sites includes hiking and often horseback riding over steep, rocky terrain at elevations between 9000-11,000 feet. This trip is rated as moderately challenging.

DETAILS

Price: $5995* per person based on double occupancy (two people sharing a room).  Supplement for private, single occupancy room: $750* 

Inclusions:

  • Accommodations
  • Private transportation with driver
  • Full-time local bilingual guide
  • Exclusive access to individual sessions and instruction with Cheryl Opperman
  • Local guides at monarch reserves
  • Horseback rental and porters to carry photography gear at monarch reserves
  • Entrance fees
  • 6 breakfasts, 5 lunches, and 5 dinners
  • Gratuities at meals and monarch reserves

Exclusions: 

  • International airfare
  • Passport/visa fees
  • Travel insurance
  • Optional activities
  • Taxis
  • Optional gratuities
  • Personal expenses

Group size: 6 participants

Optional Gray Whale Extension (Feb 5 – 8, 2021)

Baja California Sur (BCS), Mexico, a long peninsula stretching 800 miles to the south from California, is one of the best places in the world for up close encounters with whales. The Pacific coast of Baja Peninsula and the Sea of Cortez become home to thousands of whales for approximately four months each year. Visitors to Baja’s wild coasts have the chance to spot a greater variety of whales in a week’s time than anywhere else.  The star of the show is undoubtedly the gray whale. 

 Day 1 (Fri, Feb 5): Arrival to La Paz, the capital of  BCS. We’ll have time to check in and relax before heading to Playa Balandra for a late afternoon/sunset photography session.

Accommodations: Hotel Catedral

Meals: Dinner

Day 2 (Sat, Feb 6): Morning departure to Magdalena Bay, a winter breeding and calving ground for gray whales and one of the best places in the world for encounters with this charismatic species. Friendly encounters, when mothers and calves approach the boat, are regular occurrences in the lagoons of BCS.  Friendly encounters aren’t guaranteed, but having multiple excursions at Magdalena Bay increases the likelihood of such an experience. Afternoon whale watching excursion.   

Accommodations: Mar y Arena

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 3 (Sun, Feb 7): We have the entire day to explore Magdalena Bay during two boat excursions.  In addition to whale watching, there’s time for birding and sand dune photography sessions.

Accommodations: Mar y Arena

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 4 (Mon, Feb 8): Transfer back to La Paz in time to connect to your flight home.

Meals: Breakfast

DETAILS

Price: $3495* per person based on double occupancy (two people sharing a room).  Supplement for private, single occupancy room: $375* 

Inclusions:

  • Accommodations
  • Private transportation with driver
  • Full-time local bilingual guide
  • Exclusive access to individual sessions and instruction with Cheryl Opperman
  • Three guided boat tours at Magdalena Bay
  • Entrance fees
  • 3 breakfasts, 2 lunches, and 3 dinners
  • Gratuities at meals and for crew during boat excursions

Exclusions: 

  • International airfare
  • Passport/visa fees
  • Travel insurance
  • Optional activities
  • Taxis
  • Optional gratuities
  • Personal expenses

Group size: 6 participants