Mexico: The Yucatán, Cozumel, and Calakmul

The popular resort town of Cancún lies at the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, a land of endless turquoise seas and ancient Mayan ruins hidden beneath dense jungle. We’ll visit a wide array of habitats, from mangrove-lined salt flats and desert scrub to lush canopy rain forest and tropical savanna. It’s also an archaeologist’s dream, and we will visit several spectacular Mayan ruin sites, including Chichén Itzá, Cobá, and Calakmul. It’s tough to beat seeing trees full of toucans from atop an ancient pyramid!



Day 1: Arrival in Cancún. The tour begins this evening in Cozumel. The hotel offers complimentary airport transfers.

Day 2: Cancún to Cozumel. We’ll start birding this morning in a superb botanical garden just south of town. While searching for Rose-throated Tanager and Yucatán Vireo, we should be entertained by some more widespread birds like Red-throated Ant-Tanager and Black-cowled Oriole. By late morning we’ll board a ferry to cross over to the island of Cozumel. Of the four island endemics, Cozumel Wren, Cozumel Vireo, and Cozumel Emerald should show themselves without too much effort. There are many endemic subspecies on Cozumel as well: Western Spindalis, Bananaquit, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Roadside Hawk, and Rufous-browed Peppershike all have distinctive populations that should pique our interest. Cozumel offers a unique mix of these mainland species plus Caribbean birds like Caribbean Elaenia and White-crowned Pigeon. An added bonus is a load of migrants, such as Black-throated Blue, Prairie, and Cape May Warblers. Afternoon birding is optional; those wishing to enjoy the beach or go snorkeling may do so. We will spend the night on Cozumel.

Day 3: Cozumel and Chichén Itzá. This morning will be spent trying to clean up any Cozumel specialties we might have missed the day before. Then it’s back to the mainland and west to the breathtaking ruins of Chichén Itzá, where will spend the next two nights. Here we hope to see birds more typical of the Yucatan mainland, such as Turquoise-browed Motmot, Yucatán Jay, and Orange Oriole.

Rio Lagartos is world-famous as a location to see American Flamingo
Rio Lagartos is world-famous as a location to see American Flamingo (Michael Retter)

Day 4: Río Lagartos. Situated on the north coast of the Yucatán, Río Lagartos is most famous as a location to see hundreds of American Flamingos. Habitats are varied, from salt flats and mangroves to thorn forest and desert-like scrub. The thorn forest supports three birds we cannot see elsewhere: White-lored Gnatcatcher, Yucatán Wren, and the gorgeous little Mexican Sheartail. We’ll also keep an eye out for Lesser Roadrunner and Yucatán Bobwhite. A boat ride through the mangroves may yield Boat-billed Heron, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Mangrove Cuckoo, Mangrove Vireo, or even a sprightly American Pygmy Kingfisher.

Day 5: Cobá and Felipe Carillo Puerto. After an early morning rise, we’ll head south towards lush coastal forest. The first stop is Cobá, a ruins site famous for a population of Spotted Rail. Among the ruins we’ll search for Thicket Tinamou, Yucatán Woodpecker, Yucatán Parrot, and Gray-collared Becard. We continue south to Felipe Carillo Puerto for the night, where we’ll look for Yucatán Nightjar and Yucatán Poorwill after dusk.

Day 6: Felipe Carillo Puerto to Xpujil. After morning birding and lunch at Felipe Carillo Puerto, we’ll drive toward the Belizean border, and then west to our hotel in the village of Xpujil.

Ocellated Turkeys are ridiculously common and confiding at Calakmul
Ocellated Turkeys are ridiculously common and confiding at Calakmul (Michael Retter)

Days 7-8: Calakmul. Picture walking through lowland rainforest and stumbling upon a decaying stone staircase. The vegetation is thick, and you can only see the first twenty stairs or so. As you ascend the stairs, you’re completely surrounded by layers of canopy. Finally, you reach the top of the staircase and turn around to see untouched rainforest in every direction, studded by the tops of half a dozen ancient pyramids, complete with frolicking spider monkeys. Awesome—in both senses of the word! Five species of wild cat live here, and the birds are equally thrilling. This is the only place in Mexico where Ocellated Turkey is common and confiding. Widespread antswarms host Gray-throated Chat, Swainson’s Warbler, and myriad woodcreepers. Other exciting possibilities include Black-headed Shrike-Tanager, Great Curassow, Agami Heron, and Royal Flycatcher.

Day 9: Calakmul to Felipe Carillo Puerto. After morning birding at Calakmul, we’ll return to Felipe Carillo Puerto for another night.

Day 10: Felipe Carillo Puerto to Cancún.

Day 11: Departure. The tour ends this morning; the hotel has a complimentary airport shuttle.

_____________________________

TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

CLIMATE: Warm to hot and variably humid. Usually dry but some rain is possible.

DIFFICULTY: Easy. Almost all birding is done from roads, ruins complexes, level trails, and boats.

ACCOMMODATION: Generally yery good to excellent.