5 Amazing Wildlife Encounters in Mexico

Woman with backpack and binoculars on path in jungle, Mexico
Ken Kaminesky / Getty Images

If you're an animal and nature lover, you will surely enjoy Mexico's great biodiversity. It's one of the top five countries in the world with the greatest biological diversity, and naturally, there are a great many opportunities to encounter wildlife. Having the chance to see animals in the wild can be one of the most memorable aspects of your vacation.

Whether it's being surrounded by fluttering Monarch butterflies, spotting whales, swimming with some of the biggest sea creatures in the world, or helping endangered sea turtles to find their way, these experiences you can have in Mexico will surely leave you feeling awed and inspired. Just remember not to get too close and follow your guide's instructions. It's important to make the safety and wellbeing of these beautiful creatures a priority so many generations to come can enjoy them also.

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Be Surrounded by Butterflies

Monarch, Danaus plexippus, Winter colony roosting in eucalyptus tree, Pismo Beach State Park, California, USA
Don Johnston / Getty Images

Every winter when temperatures get colder up north, millions of Monarch butterflies migrate from Canada and the United States to the oyamel forests in central Mexico where they enjoy the warmer temperatures. There they cling to every available bush and branch, filling the air with the sounds of their fluttering wings. A trip to the monarch butterfly reserves offers visitors a chance to witness this wonder of nature. Being surrounded by thousands of fluttering butterflies and seeing them carpeting the forest floor and weighing down the branches of the trees is truly a remarkable experience.

Visit the monarch butterfly reserves in the states of Mexico and Michoacan from November through February to see the butterflies at their maximum population. Learn more about Mexico's Monarch Butterflies Reserves.

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Release a Baby Sea Turtle

Baby Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Caretta caretta, running from its nest to the sea, turtle project, Lara Beach, Akamas, Cyprus
Juergen Richter / LOOK-foto / Getty Images

Each year female sea turtles return to the beaches where they were born to lay their eggs. They clamber onto the beach at night, dig a hole, lay their eggs and cover them with sand before retreating back into the ocean. A month and a half later the baby sea turtles hatch and make their way into the ocean. Each step of this process is fraught with danger for the turtles. Groups seeking to protect the turtles organize night watches to ensure the turtles lay their eggs without interruption and then collect the eggs so that they can incubate and the baby turtles can hatch in a safe environment. They then organize sea turtle release events so that locals and visitors can participate in releasing the baby turtles into the ocean.

In general the mother turtles arrive on the beaches from May through September. The hatchlings emerge from their eggs some 40 to 70 days later and are ready to be released on the beach. There are many places in Mexico where you can participate in baby turtle release programs, including Baja California, the Pacific coast, and the Riviera Maya.

Read more about Saving Sea Turtles in Mexico

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Go Whale Watching

Humpback Whale
Daniela Dirscherl / Getty Images

Humpback whales migrate yearly from the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean to the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico and Baja California. The journey takes about four months to make. Once the whales reach their destination on the Mexican coast, they breed and give birth. There are other species of whales inhabiting Mexico's coasts, including the blue whale, sperm whale, grey whale and killer whale, but the humpbacks are the most energetic and friendly, and therefore it's the species that you're most likely to see on a whale watching expedition.

Go on an excursion in a boat out on the ocean and see mama and baby whales swimming alongside your boat, coming up for air, and breaching (leaping out of the water). Viewing the whales in their natural habitat is an awe-inspiring experience. Peak whale season in Mexico runs from December to March, when humpback whales by the thousands migrate to the region.

You can enjoy whale watching in Los Cabos or other places in Baja California Sur, or in Puerto Vallarta or along the Riviera Nayarit.

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04 of 05

Feast Your Eyes on a Flock of Flamingos

Celestun Biosphere Reserve
by wildestanimal / Getty Images

A trip to Mexico will offer many opportunities for birdwatching, but one of the most impressive experiences is seeing the huge flocks of flamingos at either the Celestun Biosphere Reserve or Rïa Lagartos in Yucatan state. These are natural habitats of the American Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber), of which there are some 40,000 living year-round in Yucatan State, mainly dividing their time between two biosphere reserves. They mate in Celestun and then travel to Ria Lagartos to nest and care for their young in the spring, and make the journey back to Celestun in the fall.

From a distance you will see a line of pink along the horizon and as you approach by motor boat you will see some soaring in the air, stretching their expansive pink wings with black tips, flying overhead. The boat won't get too close because the flamingos are shy and scare easily, so bring some binoculars and a camera with a good zoom.

The Celestun Biosphere Reserve is located on the west side of the Yucatan Peninsula, on the Gulf of Mexico. It can be visited on a day trip from Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan, or you can stay at the nearby rustic-chic Hotel Xixim. Rio Lagartos is located in the north of Yucatan state, about 50 miles north of Valladolid.

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Swim with Whale Sharks

Swimming with Whale Sharks
Comstock / Getty Images

The largest fish in the world visits the coasts of the Mexican states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo during the summer months. They can reach up to 65 feet in length and these gentle giants move through the water filtering plankton and tiny fish through their wide mouths. Their gentle nature and their enormous size makes swimming with them thrilling but it's perfectly safe, as they have no interest in eating humans!

Visit the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula from May through September for a chance to take a swim with these enormous fish. Many tour companies in the region offer swimming with whale shark excursions.

Or, during October through April, head to La Paz—the capital of Mexico's Baja California Sur state—to swim with whale sharks just off shore in the Sea of Cortez.  

If you enjoy seeing these animals, you'll surely also love to see some beautiful natural wonders and landscapes. Check out the top 10 natural wonders of Mexico.

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