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Mexico: Yucatán, Cozumel, & Calakmul - Birding Tour

Tour Overview:

The Yucatán Peninsula is 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 rainforest and tropical savanna. We target endemics such as Cozumel Wren, Yucatan Jay, Mexican Sheartail, and Yucatan Woodpecker along with scores of more widespread but equally intriguing species like Ocellated Turkey, Gray-throated Chat, and Black-throated Shrike-Tanager. 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!

Upcoming Departures:



1 - 10 March* (TBA; 2024 price: $4390; single supplement: $520)
*We are planning on reworking the itinerary, so the dates may change slightly

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Other Tour Details:

Length: 10 Days

Starting City: Cozumel

Ending City: Cancún

Pace: Moderate

Physical Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

Focus: Birding, Ruins

Group size: 8 + 1 leader

Detailed Itinerary


There will be some small changes to this itinerary for 2025.

Day 1: Arrival in Cozumel

The tour begins this evening in Cozumel, where we spend the first of two nights in a hotel near the beach. Transportation from the airport to the hotel will be available.


Day 2: Cozumel

Cozumel is a small island off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula that is popular vacation spot and cruise ship destination. However, birders are attracted to it as well for its endemic species. 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.


Day 3: Cozumel to Río Lagartos

This morning will be spent trying to clean up any Cozumel specialties we might have missed the day before taking a ferry to the mainland. We'll then drive to Río Lagartos, where we spend one night.

Day 4: Río Lagartos and Chichén Itzá

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. After lunch, we drive back south to the breathtaking ruins of Chichén Itzá, where we intend to arrive in late afternoon when the light is better and the crowds tend to thin out a bit. Birding is rather limited here, but we may see a few species typical of the Yucatán, such as Turquoise-browed Motmot, Yucatán Jay, and Orange Oriole. We spend one night in nearby Valladolid.

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 situated in very nice forest. 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.

Day 6: Felipe Carillo Puerto to Xpujil. Just outside town a rough road passes through excellent forest that can be teeming with birds. We especially hope to see Rose-throated Tanager, Gray-throated Chat, Yucatan Flycatcher, and Yellow-lored Parrot, but we'll see many other birds along the way, perhaps including Ivory-billed and Tawny-winged Woodcreepers, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Barred Antshrike, Pale-billed Woodpecker, and Green-backed Sparrow. We'll then drive several hours south and west to Xpujil, where we spend two nights.

Day 7: 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 best place in Mexico to see Ocellated Turkey, which is common and confiding. 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 8: Xpujil to Felipe Carillo Puerto

After another morning birding in this area, we'll drive back to Felipe Carillo Puerto, where we spend the night. 

Day 9: Felipe Carillo Puerto to Cancún
This is very much a wildcard day as we look to target anything we have not yet seen in the area before heading to Cancún, where we spend the final night.

Day 10: Departure

The tour ends this morning; the hotel has a complimentary airport shuttle.

Trip Considerations

PACE: Moderate. Start times will typically be 5:30-6:30am. Many days will involve at least a couple of hours of driving (in the middle of the day whenever possible). There will be a few chances for a mid-day break, but these will be the exception rather than the norm. Since hotels rarely offer early breakfasts, we will have most of the breakfasts in the field.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate, with almost all of our walking along flat or slightly inclined roads or easy trails. On most days you can expect to walk around 2-3 miles (3.2-4.8 km) a day. Climbing the pyramids at the ruins is difficult and optional, though many people do ascend some of them to take in the amazing views.


CLIMATE: Generally warm to hot, from 65°F-90°F. However, cold fronts occasionally bring cooler weather. Some rain is possible, but it is relatively dry this time of year.


ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent. All of the hotels have typical amenities, including Wi-Fi, though the Wi-Fi sometimes only works in the common areas.


PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, but there are some good photography opportunities for casual photographers. These tend to be best in the drier forest and scrub near the coast. In the taller and more humid forests elsewhere, the photography can be difficult. There are almost no feeders on this trip. Note that tripods and high-end camera gear are not allowed in most of the ruins without special  permits that are difficult and expensive to obtain. 

Other Information

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; it must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Citizens of the US, Canada, EU, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, do not currently require a tourist visa. For other nationalities, please check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure. Travel requirements are subject to change; it is a good idea to double check six weeks before the trip.


WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips for drivers (if used) and restaurants; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 9; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 10 (unless you have to depart the hotel before breakfast service commences); safe drinking water only between meals; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 9; one arrival and one departure airport transfer per person (transfers will be via a hotel shuttle bus if one is available and may be shared with other tour participants if they arrive/depart at the same time); entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance). 


WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips to baggage carriers if you require their services; flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.

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