Mexico Monarch Butterfly Country: Immersive Ecology & Social Studies


This Discovery Expeditions and Natural Partners program is a research expedition to Mexico and its Monarch Country to study the ecology of the forest sanctuaries in Central Mexico where millions of Monarch butterflies gather to spend the winter after their 2,000-mile journey from the U.S. and Canada. To understand the key role of local communities in overwintering habitat conservation, we will also meet local students and teachers who are helping to conserve these ‘sacred places’ with support services of the Monarch Sister Schools Program.  


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Program:5 Day exploration of Monarch butterfly country in Mexico and rich cultural history: A partnership between Natural PartnersMonarch Sister Schools Program and Discovery Expeditions
Dates: Saturday, February 27 - Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Total Trip Price: $1125 (Land-Only)*
Deposit Due Upon Registration: $300                         
Remaining Balance due:  Feb 15, 2016                                    



*NOTE ABOUT FLIGHTS!  We want everyone to arrive on the same flight. Our preferred flight to Mexico City is American Airlines AA829 departing at 9:30 am from Charlotte, to Mexico City. DC area residents can take AA1716 from DCA to Charlotte (departing at 6:59 am) to connect to AA829 in Charlotte. If you are closer to BWI, there is flight AA806 departing BWI at 6:45 am for Charlotte to connect with AA829. We suggest you wait to buy your RT ticket until the registration deadline by which we will confirm that the trip is definitely on.
Who Can Travel?:  The trip is open to adults and children aged 12 and up accompanied by an adult.  The trip has some special benefits for teachers and others seeking professional development, as outlined below.  You should in be good health and able to make a moderate-effort hike up rather steep forested trails starting at an altitude of about 7,500 feet. Horses with trail-hands are available.
Minimum and Maximum Number of Participants: A minimum of 9 travelers is required to operate this trip, and the trip will be capped at a maximum of 18 travelers.  Should the trip be cancelled for lack of sign-ups, deposit and all monies paid will be refunded.  
Course CEU Credit: This trip is accredited through Dominican University.  Registration and payment for CEUs is separate and managed by Domincan University.  Please see details in the Overview, below.

Receipt of deposit and registration prior to February 15, 2016 will confirm your space and contracted pricing listed below. After that date, contracted pricing may change due to increase in costs in lodging or other associated costs. Please contact William Dent for updated pricing if contract has expired. Contracted prices are based on a minimum of 9 travelers and a maximum of 18 travelers.  Click below to register and save your spot.  For more details of the vision for the trip, the itinerary, and what is included in the trip price, read below.

Teachers: Some school districts offer tuition reimbursement for the Dominican University course. For Montgomery County, Maryland, teachers, please visit the MCPS website for more information.


Overview:  Mexico Monarch Country: Immersive Ecology & Social Studies

The Mexico Monarch Country Program enables teachers to witness the awesome gathering of tens of millions of Monarch butterflies in Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After a brief stay in Mexico City, we will make the 3-hour journey to ‘Monarch Country’ to visit the ‘El Rosario’ butterfly sanctuary, cared for by the local community.  A community member will serve as our local guide up to the groves of trees where the Monarchs are concentrated. Teachers will be given a Monarch Research Guide to help them observe key features of the Monarch’s overwintering habitat and take note of the measures local guides and Biosphere Reserve officials are taking to minimize the environmental impact of visitors.


Your Travel Coordinator & Guide will be William Dent, who is Executive Director of Natural Partners and leader of the Monarch Sister Schools Program (MSSP) in the USA and Mexico. William will share his extensive knowledge of the Monarch’s life cycle and remarkable 2,000-mile migration from southern Canada to Mexico’s ‘Monarch Country’, in most cases, to the very same groves of trees where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter. You will hear engaging talks on the factors impacting the Monarch population and its migration, with insights into what teachers and students can do to help conserve the Monarch’s unique migration. As examples, we will visit two MSSP schools whose students are operating tree nurseries to raise baby oyamel fir trees (the Monarch’s favorite) to reforest and restore illegally logged areas of the Monarch Biosphere Reserve.


William will introduce you to the teachers and students at local MSSP schools within the Reserve and share with you how they have incorporated hands-on activities to enhance student learning, plus the cultural exchanges they are doing with U.S. schools through Skype presentations.


On our final day in Monarch Country we will help kick off the National Monarch Festival featuring local traditions to celebrate the Monarch butterfly and its influence on local people, including traditional dance, music, and colorful costumes, organized under the direction of MSSP’s Mexican Program Coordinator, Jesus Arriaga Vazquez.

Our trip to ‘Monarch Country’ will be preceded by an informative introduction to our arrival city, Mexico City, including the Zócalo (central plaza) and adjoining Cathedral, National Palace, and the ruins of the Aztec’s Templo Mayor (Grand Temple) on Saturday (2/27), and an excursion Sunday morning (2/28) to intriguing Teotihuacan including a climb of the Pyramid of the Sun (world’s 3rd largest), followed by a tour of Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology, one of the world’s top 10 museums.


There are three registration options for this course:
1. Non-credit (no additional fees, registered through Academic Expeditions)
2. Two credits (additional fee of $235 registered through Dominican University)
3. Three credits (additional fee of $350 registered through Dominican University)
For specific work requirements and syllabus for options 2 and 3 and to register for one of these courses (should you choose to do so now), please contact Allan Varni at Dominican University.


Trip Highlights


  • Aligned with your Curriculum: Enrich your life science, physical science, reading, writing and social studies lesson plans by gaining experience of the unique migration of the Monarch butterfly and incredible journey to Mexico, plus insights into millennial history and cultural heritage of Mexico.
  • Overwintering habitat & survival strategies: Observe firsthand the awesome sight of millions of butterflies from Canada and the U.S. gathered together to spend the winter in the same groves of trees where their great-grandparents had been a year before. How do we know from whence they came? How did they find their way here? What are their survival strategies to survive the cold and occasional snow storms at altitudes of 7,500 to 10,000 feet in the local mountains?
  • Winging it – your airplane trip versus the Monarch’s challenging journey: Learn how far a Monarch can travel in a day, what they need to fuel their journey, and how many months they spend in Mexico.
  • Hiking to reach the ‘inner sanctum’ of the ‘El Rosario’ butterfly sanctuary: We will start at the visitors center at an altitude of about 7,200 feet and make our way upward to where the Monarchs have chosen to congregate this year. Fortunately, after two days in Mexico City (a similar altitude), we are pretty well acclimated and ready to go. If needed, you can hire a horse to get you there.
  • Walking Tour of the Zócalo, Cathedral, National Palace (President’s office) and Templo Mayor. A visit to Mexico would not be complete without a visit to Mexico City, one of the world’s liveliest and culturally rich cities. We start in the “historic center” and the Zócalo which was also the heart of the Aztec’s capital. You will see the ruins of the Templo Mayor dating back to that time. In the evening, we will enjoy a dinner of authentic Mexican food at the beautiful Café Tacuba restaurant with live music.
  • Expert speakers: Learn from talks by conservationist William Dent in Monarch Country on the challenges of habitat conservation which you will observe and discuss. In Mexico City, we will be led by one of Mexico’s top tour guides, Alex Ramirez, who will guide our visit of the Zócalo and historic center, an excursion north of the city to Teotihuacan then back for a guided tour of Mexico City’s famous National Museum of Anthropology, one of the ten best in the world.


Itinerary: Mexico Monarch Country: Immersive Ecology & Social Studies

NOTE: Details below are subject to adaptation as more specifics are worked out on the ground.  The price quoted above is for land portion only of your trip. You are responsible for booking your own RT Airline ticket for the flights that the group will be taking, noted below.



Outbound - DC.  Unless agreed otherwise, all of us in the DC Area will travel first on Flight AA1716 departing at 6:59 am from DCA to Charlotte, where we will connect on American Airlines flight # AA829 departing at 9:30 am for Mexico City. This way we will all arrive together about 1:00 pm at Mexico City’s Benitez Juarez International Airport, where we will be met by our Mexican tour guide and van driver.

Outbound – Elsewhere. If you live closer to BWI, you can take flight AA806 to Charlotte departing BWI at 6:45 am to arrive in time to connect to Flight AA 829 departing Charlotte at 9:30 for Mexico City. Of course, if you are not in the Washington – Baltimore area, please check for flights that will get you to Charlotte in time.

Return. Unless you plan to extend your stay in Mexico, our minibus will return you to Mexico City’s Benitez Juarez International Airport at 10:30 am on Wednesday to check in. Most of us will probably take American Airlines Flight AA2246 departing at 1:35 pm for Miami, where we will connect to AA1486 at 8:04 pm in Miami. Other return flight options are available. Just remember you will not be arriving at the airport until 10:30 am, so book accordingly.


Tourist card. You must have a valid U.S. passport (not expiring in the next 6 months). Citizens of the USA or Canada (and 38 other countries) visiting Mexico solely for tourism are not required to obtain a visa. On board your flight to Mexico City, you will complete a form for a Mexican Tourist Card, (valid for up to 180 days) which you must carry during your stay.  The card will be stamped at customs/immigration inside the Mexico City airport, showing you are in the country legally. Upon departure you must return the Tourist Card to Mexican authorities at the airport. If you lose it, a small fine may be charged. Note: The cost of the tourist card (about $25) is included in your plane fare.


Arrivals area.  Just outside of Mexican Customs, we will be met by our local tour guide, Alex, who will take us to our minibus to begin our afternoon tour of the Centro historico, Zócalo, etc.  


Pre-Trip Orientation: All those registered will be invited to participate in a Skype call for a brief orientation on logistics, program content, and other trip details. Of course, we will be happy to take any questions you may have. Date TBD.  You will receive an email from your Guide to coordinate the call.


Day 1. Feb. 27th - Saturday
We depart early by plane for Charlotte, NC where we catch our flight (AA829) to Mexico City. Early afternoon we arrive at Mexico City’s Benitez Juarez International Airport. After clearing passport control & customs, we meet our Mexican Tour Guide, Alexander. Before checking into our hotel, we will spend a couple of hours touring the Centro historico of Mexico City, including the Zócalo (the world’s third largest city square), the main Cathedral, the National Palace and its Diego Rivera murals, and ruins of the Templo Mayor  dating back to Aztec times. After this colorful City Tour, we check in at the Hotel Casa Blanca, a half block from the City’s beautiful  Paseo de la Reforma Boulevard lined with statuary and a one-minute walk from the Monument of the Revolution. After freshening up, we leave about 7:00 pm for our Welcome Dinner at the renowned Café Tacuba restaurant to enjoy authentic Mexican cuisine and be serenaded by live musicians in a beautiful traditional setting frequented mainly by local people.


Day 2. Feb. 28th - Sunday

After a good night’s rest, we enjoy a leisurely Mexican-style breakfast (so many options to choose from!) before departing for an excursion north of the city led by our guide Alexander Ramirez Cruz to the Pyramids of Teotihuacan where most of us will want to climb the Pyramid of the Sun, reportedly the third largest pyramid in the world, and touch its ‘power point’ at the top.

In early afternoon we depart Teotihuacan to return to Mexico City and visit the famous National Museum of Anthropology, where we will have a late lunch or ‘Sunday dinner’ in the museum’s spacious outdoor patio. Afterwards, Alexander takes us on a two-hour tour of the Museum itself highlighting the incredibly rich cultural history of Mexico’s pre-colonial civilizations. You will soon understand why the Museum ranks as one of the 10 best in the world!  

After our inspiring tour, we pause just outside the Museum to take in the atmosphere of the Chapultepec Park, the City’s huge green area, before returning to our Hotel. The rest of the evening is free, though we must remember we will be rising early tomorrow to depart early in the morning for ‘Monarch Country’.


Day 3. Feb. 29th - Monday

KidsAs we check out of the hotel early in the morning, we pick up a box breakfast provided by the hotel and head west out of Mexico City in our Mercedes minibus in time to escape the heavy rush hour traffic. After cresting the high hills that separate Mexico City from the State of Mexico, we take in the beautiful scenery on our way to Zitácuaro, ‘capital’ of Monarch Country and the place where we will stay the next two days. At the top of our agenda today is a visit and ‘welcome breakfast’ with students of Leona Vicario Elementary School, which was the first Mexican school to join the Monarch Sister Schools Program and collaborate locally on doing reforestation projects to restore areas of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. Students will make a brief presentation to us on their work, which includes the operation of a tree nursery to raise baby oyamel fir trees for their reforestation work.

In mid-morning, we depart for the hour-long trip up into the mountains to visit the ‘El Rosario’ Monarch butterfly sanctuary, which is managed and cared for the El Rosario community, on whose (collectively owned) lands the largest concentrations of Monarchs are found, usually in the same groves of trees where their great-grandparents overwintered the year before. We expect to arrive at the sanctuary’s colorful Visitors Center in late morning and secure a local guide from the community to usher us up the steep trails. Our starting altitude at the Center is about 7,200 feet. The climb takes about one hour.

Mid-afternoon we head back down past the Visitors Center to check out the handicrafts of local artisans. It is hard to resist buying something unique to this very special place. We then head back to town making a brief stop to meet the students of the afternoon shift at the Leona Vicario School, before returning to Zitácuaro to check into the Hotel México near the town’s main square. After freshening up, we have dinner, followed by a walking tour of this charming small Mexican town.


Day 4. Tuesday, March 1st

We enjoy breakfast at our hotel then leave to drive up to the nearby highlands for two walking tours: (1) one of the Alternare Training Center that teaches local community leaders (within the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve) how to manage their community forests and watersheds and produce more food on less land for a more sustainable future (amazing work!); and (2) a tour of Angangueo, an old gold mining town facing the challenges of building a greener future. We will enjoy a light almuerzo (lunch) before beginning our intense afternoon program in the community of Valle Verde (near Zitácuaro), involving:

  • Student presentation at the ‘Forestry’ Secondary School with youth leader Jésus Arriaga Vazquez
  • A visit to the ‘Carpinteros’ Secondary School and discussion of student reforestation projects.
  • La ComidaMid-afternoon we will partake of a typical Mexican ‘main meal of the day’ prepared by a well-known local chef at Hotel México
  • Opening ceremony of the Festival Nacional de la Mariposa Monarca (National Monarch Butterfly Festival) with:
  •    Presentation by local artists from the schools
  •    Presentation by the 'Raices Otomies' Folkloric Dance Group
  • Mexican-style dinner or "Cena" [Yes, it is true Mexicans eat four times a day … and the food is wonderful!]


Day 5. Wednesday, March 2nd

Morning: Breakfast / Early departure from Alternare Lodge for Mexico City
Minibus transfer to Mexico City Airport 


Trip Inclusions & Exclusions: Discovery Expeditions agrees to provide each of the following goods and services for the duration of the tour to each participant:

  • Custom-designed itinerary based on years of experience in Mexico.
  • Top tour guide (Alex Ramirez Cruz), one of the most knowledgeable and engaging  in Mexico City.
  • Full-time bilingual TC and professional guide (William Dent) accompanying the group during entire tour.
  • Hotel accommodations based on Double Occupancy (4 nights total) / Note: Single rooms available (US$50 single supplement)
  • Meals: Sat. (2/27)-Welcome dinner // Sun. (2/28) Breakfast at hotel, mid-afternoon Sunday dinner // Mon. (2/29) Breakfast & Dinner // Tues.(3/1) Breakfast, lunch, dinner; // Wed. (3/2) Breakfast. 
  • Private mini bus and driver between sites in Mexico and shuttle service to and from the airport.
  • Entrance fees to all program sites and activities listed on the itinerary
  • Optional graduate credit from an accredited university, Dominican University.  Please contact Allan Varni to register or if you have questions.
  • Recommended resources/teaching materials (age appropriate books, lesson plans, and online resources)
  • Peer connections
  • All taxes and gratuities where the group is together (tour leader and driver included)
  • Complete tour participant accounting including option to pay by credit card
  • Comprehensive Accident, Medical, Liability, and Travel Protection/Cancellation/Interruption Insurance for the Land portion of the trip
  • Liability Insurance included - Professional General Liability and Errors and Omissions Insurance Policy ($5,000,000).
  • Optional Cancel for Any Reason Insurance - Cancel up to 48 hours prior to departure and receive a 75% refund


Not included in the trip price:

  • Airfare and any baggage fees (to be purchased at the discretion and responsibility of each participant).
  • Customs and immigration fees at airports or border crossings.
  • Any other meals, snacks, drinks, taxes, and gratuities when the group is dispersed for self-exploration.
  • Additional nights lodging or additional touring days if one chooses to remain in country longer.