Learn about marine conservation and sea turtle biology. // © 2017 Velas Vallarta
Feature image (above): Thousands of monarch butterflies migrate to central Mexico each year. // © 2017 Getty Images
Mexico has long been known as a destination with a vibrant history and delicious cuisine. But an underrated reason to visit Mexico is its wide range of wildlife, both on land and at sea.
And with this abundance of species comes extensive opportunities for animal interactions with travelers across the country. From releasing baby sea turtles to spotting unique birds, here are a few wildlife experiences travelers can have while in Mexico.
Gray Whales in the Sea of Cortez
From its many different types of birds to its whale sharks, the Sea of Cortez is rich with wildlife. Exodus Travels’ Journey to the Sea of Cortez cruise itinerary will give passengers the opportunity to get up close and personal with various species for five days. Clients can kayak through reefs and lagoons before going ashore to explore islands. At a sea lion habitat, guests might spot a female caring for its young, while snorkeling sessions may involve swimming alongside dolphins.
One of the highlights of the journey is visiting Magdalena Bay, a lagoon renowned for gray whale sightings, as it’s a common birth site for the whales. The ship will spend a whole day with these giants of the sea.
Monarch Butterflies in Central Mexico
Each year from January to March, thousands of monarch butterflies make their way to central Mexico and spend the winter months in a much warmer climate. Because of this phenomenon, a number of sanctuaries have been established to protect the creatures during their time of breeding and rest.
Natural Habitat Adventures’ Kingdom of the Monarchs trip includes visits to three sanctuaries, where clients can hike and horseback ride through remote protected areas that are rich with the orange- and black-winged insects. They’ll also learn how these sanctuaries contribute to the preservation of monarch butterfly habitats as well as stop by a local market in a mountain village.
Sea Turtles in Puerto Vallarta
Beginning in late June and lasting until December, female sea turtles come ashore to lay eggs during their annual nesting season. These nesting areas are often located just a short walk away from the many resorts lining the coast, and, as a result, several properties have developed programs enabling guests to witness the breeding process.
Velas Vallarta is one such resort; it offers a program that showcases female sea turtles laying their eggs as well as baby turtles hatching. After an educational talk, guests will receive their own hatchling to be released into the ocean.
Then, they have the option of accompanying biologists in search of new nests.
Finally, clients can help transport found eggs back to the hatchery at the resort, where biologists will nurture them until they hatch.
Tufted Jays in the Sierra Madre Mountains
Near the border of Chihuahua and Durango sits the Sierra Madre mountain range, home to the Tufted Jay Preserve. The blue-and-white tufted jay can only be found in this region, and it is considered endangered under Mexican law because of loss of habitat due to deforestation. Thanks to the preserve and with the help of a tour operator, clients will be more likely to spot the elusive birds.
On Onca Explorations’ Bird Watching Adventure day tour, clients can spend about three to four hours hiking through the preserve with a naturalist while trying to spot jays and other bird species that call the mountain range home. For those wanting a bit more time to explore, the operator also offers an overnight tour where guests will be able to stay at lodges near the forest.
Whale Sharks in Baja
Despite being in the same family as the often-feared great white shark, the whale shark is better known as a gentle giant. These creatures can come in at up to 40,000 pounds and 40 feet, but their swimming speed of about 3 mph isn’t exactly Olympic-worthy. However, this slow speed makes it very easy for clients to tread water alongside whale sharks, and it’s an activity that can be found on many bucket lists.
Baja Airventures can help cross off this must-do thanks to their whale shark tours, which take place from mid-August to mid-November. Starting at the operator’s Las Animas Ecolodge, guests will spend six days sailing out to known feeding areas. Then, they will snorkel alongside whale sharks as the sharks enjoy a meal of plankton. There’s also a chance of running into other aquatic wildlife, including manta rays and dolphins.