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Mexico is a fascinating and vibrantcountry, a colourful land steeped inhistory, myth and legend. This wasthe home of the ancient Aztec, Toltec andMaya civilisations, whose great pyramidsrival those of Egypt, and landfall for thefirst of the Spanish Conquistadors as theysearched for the fabled Cities of Gold.Today, Mexico is a modern and welcomingcountry, far removed from our stereotypicimage of Hollywood 'Westerns' full of cacti,tequila and banditos wearing oversizesombreros and moustaches! Indeed it is abeautiful country of many contrasts, fromthe hot cacti-filled deserts, so favoured bythe movie-makers, to the lush tropicalrainforests of the south.In between these two extremes lie the coolpine forests of the central Mexican state ofMichoacán, which play host each winter toone of the world's most amazing wildlifespectacles. As the North Americansummer draws to a close, hundreds ofmillions of Monarch butterflies streamsouth to overwinter in a few small pocketsof forest high in these peaceful hills. Thesheer numbers involved in this migrationdefy belief, estimates varying from 250million to a staggering 600 millionindividuals! At the colonies the trees areso laden with butterflies that branchesbend, and occasionally break, under theirweight. The air is filled by millions offlapping wings, a snowstorm of orangeand black that sounds not unlike the quietrustling of myriad leaves. This amazingwildlife spectacle cannot fail to move anyperson fortunate enough to witness it, and this exciting holiday will allow you to experience this wonder of nature for yourself. Our tour begins with a flight to Mexico City,Mexico's bustling capital and the secondlargest city on Earth. We spend our firstnight away from this metropolis, at the pre-Aztec city of Teotihuacán - 'Place of theGods'. When the Aztecs first moved intothe region in the 14th century, Teotihuacánhad already lain abandoned for 800 yearsand, even today, we know very little aboutthe people who lived there, and even lessabout their demise. What remains isdominated by two great pyramids, thehuge 'Pyramid of the Sun' (the third largestin the world) and the smaller 'Pyramid ofthe Moon'. As we explore this fascinatingplace we are sure to encounter our firstMexican birds, including VermillionFlycatcher, Great Kiskadee, CanyonTowhee, Black Phoebe and Inca Dove.We next drive west, into the cool, pine-forested hills of the state of Michoacán.Here we will be based, for two nights, inthe small village of Angangueo that nestlesin a picturesque valley a short distancefrom the Monarch butterfly reserve of ElChincua. We will spend a full day at thereserve, giving us ample time to fullyappreciate the sight, and sound, of thisbreathtaking spectacle. The butterfliesspend the cool hours of the night andearly morning crowded onto every inch ofbranch and trunk. Then, as the day warms,the trees start to come alive as countlesswings begin to flex and quiver, warmingthe butterflies' flight muscles, ready to takethem out into the surrounding countrysideto feed. This is perhaps the mostspectacular sight of all, as the air starts tofill with millions of Monarchs, a blizzard of orange and black streaming past you with thousands more resting on path-side shrubs or taking salts fromstreams and puddles. The sight of all these butterflies is quitemesmerising, but if we can pull ourselvesout of the trance for a while, there shouldbe a variety of interesting birds to enjoysuch as Red Warbler, White-earedHummingbird, Blue-throatedHummingbird, Slate-throated Redstart,Russet Nightingale-thrush and theendemic Blue Mockingbird. Moving on, wespend two nights at Agua Blanca Lodgefrom where we will visit the newly openedEl Capulin Monarch Sanctuary beforeheading to the Valle de Bravo for the finaltwo nights of the tour. This typical Mexicantown, with its narrow cobbled streets andcolonial-style houses, sits on the shores ofthe Laguna de Avandaro. It is a beautifulspot and will be our base while we explorethe Piedra Herrada Butterfly Sanctuary, thethird Monarch glade of the holiday. Herewe can be enveloped by Monarchs for afinal time and search for such birds asCrescent-chested Warbler, Long-billedThrasher, Buff-breasted Flycatcher andhummingbirds from the mighty Magnificentto the tiny Bumblebee Hummingbird.Finally, retracing our steps back to MexicoCity, we may have time for some last-minute birdwatching before, with memoriesof a million Monarchs dancing in ourheads, we must sadly catch our returnflight home. Mexico's Monarchs A 9-day holiday to the highlands of central Mexico to enjoy the spectacular winter gatherings of Monarch butterflies.Friday 8th February - Saturday 16th February Cost: £2,495 Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Mexico City;overnight Teotihuacán.Day 2/3Angangueo.Day 4/5Agua Blanca Lodge.Day 6/7Valle de Bravo.Day 8Depart Mexico City.Day 9Arrive London.AccommodationComfortable hotels and lodges, allwith private facilities. FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Day walks only. FocusMonarch butterflies, birds andhistory. LeaderTom McJannet.Single room supplement£395.Web quick search: MEX02194Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryMEXICOMEXICOCITYMORELIAANGANGUEOTEOTIHUACÁNVALLE DEBRAVOGULFOF MEXICOPACIFIC OCEANEl Rosario Monarch ReserveTeotihuacánMonarch

In the mist of the sea there is a horned island with deep green harbours. a place of light with luminous valleysunder thunderous clouds . Her mountainstinkle with springs among moss-beardedforests . a volcano, stinking with sulphur,has made it a healing place.' So DerekWalcott (1990) - poet, playwright andNobel laureate - sums up the stunningtopography and ecology of St. Lucia. First inhabited by Arawak Indians, theisland was later conquered by the fierceCaribs who, in turn, were deposed by theBritish in 1667. Rule over the island thenalternated between the French and theBritish until its independence in 1979.Today, of course, St. Lucia is well known as 'the Honeymoon Isle', and is noted forthe beauty of its scenery. However, it alsosupports a surprising variety of endemicflora and fauna, having long been isolatedfrom the other islands of the Lesser Antilles,and the islanders' pride in its naturalresources is evident in the country'songoing protection and conservationefforts. Ours is a single-centre holiday, based atthe Anste Chastanet Hotel situated close toPetit Piton - one of St. Lucia's two extinctvolcanoes which tower 800 metres from thesea. Consequently this is one of the mostrelaxing and flexible of Naturetrek holidays. ideal for the enthusiastic birder ornaturalist whose partner might be moreinterested in the luxuries offered by ourresort, the nearby beach or the culturalexcursions laid on. With the opportunity tocomplete each day with a glorious sunsetand a traditional rum punch, this isdefinitely one of the more civilised ofbirdwatching and wildlife tours! The hotel is close to some of the mostspectacular scenery and habitats on theisland, and we will enjoy these on our dailyexcursions as we search for the island'swildlife, in particular its four species ofendemic bird, plus its 14 Lesser Antilleanendemics. The first of these are likely to beseen from our breakfast table, for LesserAntillean Bullfinch, Antillean CrestedHummingbird and Purple-throated Carib alllive in the hotel grounds.The twin peaks of Les Pitons are St. Lucia'smost famous landmark and, during ourstay, we will take a leisurely day walk to thetop of Gros Piton, which providesbreathtaking views of the coast and ocean with the island of St. Vincent visibleto the south. We will also head into the hills of the Edmond National Rainforest,which covers 19,000 acres of lushmountains and valleys. It is home to treeferns, bromeliads and many orchids. Thebirdlife here is very special and many of theendemic species may be found includingthe St. Lucia Parrot, St. Lucia Oriole and St.Lucia Blackfinch. Later, a walk along theEnbas Saut Falls Trail is a remote, wild andunbelievably scenic experience, with acombination of rainforest, cloudforest andelfin woodland for habitat and anotheropportunity to find the St. Lucia Parrot, as well as Antillean Euphonia and Lesser Antillean Flycatcher. The Sulphur Springs is probably the world's only drive-in volcano, affordingclose views of bubbling mud pools andsteaming vents. The vents release greatquantities of sulphuric gases, giving thearea its unique odour. Some of the groupmay be tempted to test the efficacious, and allegedly rejuvenating, properties of this volcanic mud before washing awaythe residue under a refreshing waterfall! A trip to the tiny Maria Islands, just off thesouth-eastern coast of St. Lucia, is veryworthwhile. They are home to two endemicsnakes: the St. Lucia Racer, one of theworld's rarest snakes with a population ofless than a hundred; and the St. LuciaWhiptail, of which there are less than athousand individuals. The breeding birds onthe island include Sooty Tern, BrownNoddy, frigatebirds and tropicbirds.Snorkelling from the beach will reveal manyCaribbean fish and the possibility ofencountering a Hawksbill Turtle gracefullyswimming in the warm waters. Back on themainland, we will appreciate St. Lucia'seast coast, ravaged by the fury of theAtlantic and thereby boasting a spectacularcoastline of sculptured rocks andsedimentary cliffs, stacks and arches. Herewe find a windswept vegetation that islargely xerophytic, with a very high speciesdensity, and the world's smallest snake,Leptotyphlops bilineata.Having explored the interior of the island, we now take to the sea for an excitingconclusion to the holiday. Whale-watchinghas become an increasingly popular activityand the species regularly seen offshoreinclude Sperm, Humpback and PilotWhales, and both Spinner and SpottedDolphins. As we cruise along thepicturesque Caribbean coastline the sceneryalone will provide a splendid finale to ourstay on this most delightful of islands. St. LuciaA relaxing 9-day holiday to this beautiful Caribbean island to enjoy its birds, marine mammals and other natural history.Friday 4th January - Saturday 12th January Cost: £3,295Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationPRASLINBAYSAVANNESBAYHEWANNORAAIRPORTMARIAISLANDSNATIONALRAINFORESTCASTRIESSOUFRIÈREPETIT PITONGROS PITONST. LUCIAOutline itineraryDay 1Fly St. Lucia for aweek's stay at a resorthotel.Day 2Anste Chastanet.Day 3Les Pitons.Day 4Sulphur Springs andAnse Chastanet.Day 5Maria Islands andSavannes Bay.Day 6Edmond State Forest.Day 7Whale-watching.Day 8Depart St. Lucia.Day 9Arrive London.AccommodationAn award-winning hotel with privatefacilities. FoodAll included in the price.GradingGrade A/B. Leisurely day walks (allof them optional), but often in fairlysteep and mountainous terrain.FocusBirds, whales and other naturalhistory of the island.LeaderMartin Kenefick.Single room supplement£890.Web quick search: LCA01195'Les PitonsSt. Lucia ParrotHumpback Whale