Mexico Birds & Mayan Culture Small Group Tour

Great wildlife and birding hotspots amongst the fascinating Mayan ruins of the Yucatan

Mexico Birds & Mayan Culture Small Group Tour

On this tour to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, you will visit some famous and some less well known Mayan archaeological sites, all of which are surrounded by lush forests, which is great for birding and wildlife watching. You will also explore various other habitats, from broad leaved tropical dry forests, to wetlands, mangroves and Caribbean beaches, each with their own unique rich flora and fauna.

Mexico is the fifth country in the World in terms of biodiversity. Around 1200 bird species have been recorded here and we should see approximately 200 during this tour, including many local or regional endemics. Not many people realise that Mexico is not just the wintering place of hundreds of millions of incredible Monarch butterflies, but is also host to almost 10 percent of the total butterfly species of the entire globe, that is close to 1800 species. In the Yucatan Peninsula alone, there are five cat species, with the largest ones, Jaguar and Puma, having very strong populations. Also, just in this region 55 bat species can be found, many of them endemics.

This amazing tour, through the Land of the Mayas, takes you to some of the great wildlife hot spots amongst the fascinating Mayan ruins of the Yucatan. Beside breathtaking birds and butterflies, there will also be colourful wildflowers, various mammals, plus interesting amphibians and reptiles. On this tour, you will stay at some great locations and will be led by an excellent local guide, who is also an expert birder.

Dates for Small Group Tour – 10th – 25th February 2021

ACTIVITIES

  • Active

  • Culture

  • Photography

  • Wildlife

  • Caribbean & Latin America Birdwatching

DETAILED ITINERARY

Day 1:  Arrival at Cancun Airport – Puerto Morelos

You will be met on arrival and transferred to the small fishing village of Puerto Morelos, around 35km from the airport. After checking in to our hotel, depending on timing, there might be time to explore the surrounding area before dinner.
Overnight: Hotel Hacienda Puerto Morelos, Puerto Morelos

Day 2:  Puerto Morelos – Cozumel

This morning, we will make the short transfer (around 30 mins)  to Playa del Carmen, from where we will take the ferry to lovely Cozumel Island, known for its abundance of endemic bird species.  Here we will spot for specialties such as Cozumel Emerald hummingbird, Cozumel Vireo; Cozumel Wren and of course many resident species like Black Catbird, White-crowned Pigeon, Caribbean Elaenia, Western Spindalis.
Overnight: Hotel Hacienda Puerto Morelos, Puerto Morelos

Day 3: Puerto Morelos – Xelha – Coba – Valladolid

We depart from Puerto Morelos this morning for Valladolid, around a 2 hour transfer. En route, we will stop for a birding tour at Xelha, a small archaeological site which is also very good for birding. We will also stop at Coba Lagoon, which is near another archaeological site of the same name, before continuing on to Vallodolid, a small and charming colonial city located in the centre of the Yucatan Peninsula, so an ideal base for visiting all the nearby ruins and cenotes. With its pastel-coloured low-rise buildings and narrow cobble-stone streets, it is truly a beautiful and well-maintained town that feels authentic with a prominent Mayan culture.  
Overnight: Hotel & Suites Country, Valladolid

Day 4: Ek’ Balam – Valladolid

This morning, we will travel for about an hour’s drive to Ek Balam for a birding and archaeology tour. Dating from 100 BC to its height at 700-1,200 BC, Ek Balam is unlike any other Mayan site and has a feel all its own. The startling and amazingly well-preserved sculptures uncovered here are exciting to both newcomers and repeat visitors of Mayan sites. This site has 45 structures and it is surrounded by two concentric walls of stone, and another linking the central buildings. The main temple here is impressive, both in size and architecture. Its massive size of over 500 feet long and 200 feet wide easily makes it one of the largest structures ever excavated in the Yucatan. The whole site is surrounded by dense jungle and the birding is excellent with main targets being Scrub Euphonia, Cinnamon Hummingbird and Black-cowled Oriole.

Later this afternoon we will do a city tour of the magical town of Valladolid, filled with its beautiful and unique architecture, its friendly people and its delicious regional cuisine
Overnight: Hotel & Suites Country, Valladolid

Day 5: Valladolid – Chichen Itza – Izamal – Merida

We will have an early transfer to Chichen Itza, the World Famous Mayan site, which is not just a Unesco World Heritage Site, but was recently also voted to be part of the 7 Wonders of the World. Here you will visit the famous Kukulkan pyramid, the ball court, the observatory, the nunnery and the “cenote sagrado”(the sacrifice well). There is a good chance to find some good birds and butterflies on the trails that are not so visited, away from the areas that are always crowded. Altamira and Hooded Orioles, Green Jay and Golden-fronted Woodpecker are some of our target species, while warblers and vireos are always around.

On the way to Merida, we will visit Izamal, The City of Three Cultures. This stunning city is splendidly painted in white and yellow, which evokes a rich historical past that resonates to this day in life along its streets. We will visit the Convent of San Antonio de Padua founded in 1549 and built over the Mayan structure known as Papol Chac. With its colonial past, Mérida is one of the loveliest cities in the Yucatan and boasts a rich culture, history, art and traditions, which makes it a great base for the next couple of days
Overnight: Hotel Del Gobernador, Merida

Day 6: Celestun Reserve – Merida

This morning will begin with a trip to the Celestun Reserve, a journey of approximately 90 minutes. Located 95 km west of Merida on the Gulf of Mexico, this reserve has 51,139 hectares and a 20-km-long estuary which is bordered by a mangrove forest, providing food and shelter for shrimp and blue crab larvae, which in turn support the complex eco-system. The reserve is a wintering zone for migratory birds and more than 400 species have been identified in the biosphere reserve, of which many are permanent residents.

We will take a boat ride to explore the estuary looking for endemics like Yucatan Wren, Mexican Sheartail, Yucatan Bobwhite, Yucatan Flycatcher, and of course many Flamingos and shorebirds. The American Flamingo is Celestún’s signature bird and main feathered attraction. This flamingo is the largest and most brilliantly coloured of the six species that exist in the world.
Overnight: Hotel del Gobernador, Merida

Day 7: Merida – Haciendas – Uxmal

Breakfast and transfer to Uxmal, on route explore some Haciendas and do some birding, before arriving at our nice accommodation near to the archaeological site at Uxmal, and we will still have a chance to look for some birds or you can choose to rest by the pool. Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Orange and Altamira Oriole, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Spot-breasted Wren, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Wood Pewee, Rufous-browed Peppershrike all can be found in this area.
Overnight: Hacienda Uxmal, Uxmal

Day 8:  Uxmal Archaeological Site

We will visit the famous Uxmal Archaeological Site before the crowds arrive, spending a few hours exploring the finely decorated buildings and spotting the many interesting birds in this area. The site has 15 groups of buildings, including the Adivino Pyramid, an impressive structure that is 35 meters (115 feet) tall, and the Palacio del Gobernador (Governor’s Palace), considered one of the most beautiful constructions in Mesoamerica.

The ruins themselves are in the middle of the thorn forest, an excellent birding area, with easy trails surrounded by tropical forests and overgrown fields, offering a good variety of Yucatan species. We start our visit during the cooler part of the day before large tourist groups arrive, spending a half day at the ruins before lunch, and exploring tracks into the forest around the archeological area later on. At the ruins we may see Plain Chachalaca, Canivet’s Emerald, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Yucatan Flycatcher, Cave Swallow, Grey-throated Chat, Yucatán Jay, Green Jay, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Painted Bunting and many more.
Overnight:  Hacienda Uxmal, Uxmal

Day 9: Ruta Puuc – Campeche

A morning transfer to Campeche, with stops en route to enjoy birding and archaeology tours in the Ruta Puuc. This is rolling scrubland and in fact, the word Puuc comes from the Maya word for hill. Visitors can more closely connect with the spirit of the Maya on this string of five well-preserved Maya archaeological sites, than is possible in the bigger and more-trafficked Mayan sites of the region.

We will visit Sayil, a site that flourished briefly, during the last Classic period. We will also visit the sites of Labna & Kabah. Labna is an archaeological site and ceremonial center of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization, famous for having a beautiful Mayan construction carved in stone, Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for Motmot birds, iguanas and other wildlife. Modern day Maya still live in the region and stopping to chat about the local flora and fauna is always a welcome break.Overnight: Holiday Inn, Campeche

Day 10: Calakmul Biosphere Reserve

This morning we will transfer to Calakmul, and en route will stop at Edzna, for an archaeology and birding tour. Not an often-visited site, but one of the more spectacular, it is a fascinating Mayan city that has a unique combination of styles and features that reflect its position at a crossroad of trade and cultural influences. Our hotel tonight will be in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and at dusk it might be possible to visit a cave where millions of bats rise like a huge swirling cloud. It is no surprise that Bat Falcon should be around as well!
Overnight: Puerta Calakmul

Day 11: Calakmul Biosphere Reserve

Today we will spend the whole day at one of the largest and most powerful ancient cities ever uncovered in the Maya lowlands, Calakmul. This famous Mayan Archaeological site is at the end of a 40-mile-long road, which starts just a couple of miles from our hotel. This is a very good road for wildlife watching, so we will do it step by step, stopping and listening wherever possible. There are huge tracts of forests both outside and inside the attractive ruins, which are home to many interesting species including Ocellated Turkey, Great Curassow, Crested Guan, Bicolored Hawk, White-necked Puffbird, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, Rufous-breasted Spinetail, Mexican Ant-thrush, Yellow-winged Tanager, Black-throated Shrike-Tanager and Green-backed Sparrow. Hummingbirds will be represented by Western Long-tailed & Stripe-throated Hermit, White-bellied Emerald, Buff-bellied & Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. White-breasted Wood-wren is a nice endemic to find, as well as several species of Woodpeckers. At dusk when there is a good chance to see different mammals.
Overnight: Puerta Calakmul, Calakmul

Day 12: Calakmul -Felipe Carillo Puerto – Sian Káan Biosphere Reserve

Today, we will continue east on a journey of around 4 hours towards Felipe Carrillo Puerto, stopping on the way at forested areas from time to time. It is possible to see a wide variety of birds here, from Royal Flycatcher to Keel-billed Toucan and with luck, we should be able to observe Spider Monkeys in the canopy. Parrot species can include the local endemic Yucatan Parrot or the more common White-fronted Parrot and it might also be possible to find Black-headed Saltators as well. After lunch, we will stop at the beautiful Bacalar Bay which offers a fantastic panorama and Bacalar itself, also boasts the interesting remains of a fortress. We will then continue towards Felipe Carillo Puerto which is at the Southern border of the Sian Káan Biosphere Reserve.
Overnight: Hotel Turquesa Maya, Felipe Carillo Puerto

Day 13: Sian Káan Biosphere Reserve

Sian Ka´an Reserve is a very big biosphere, we will explore the famous edge of the Reserve known as Vigia Chico Road, which offers fantastic opportunities to see rare mammals and also a long list of birds. There should be plenty of flowering plants, bushes and trees, so we should be treated to a number of birds and of course butterflies to admire. Yucatan Jay, Orange Oriole, Rose-throated Tanager, Yucatan Woodpecker, Yucatan Parrot. Other species like Ruddy and Tawny Woodcreeper, Royal Flycatcher, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, White-bellied Emerald should be around, while we look for the more challenging Mexican Antthrush, Stub-tailed Spadebill or Northern Bentbill, just to mention a few out of the few hundred species possible here. This is also an area where we can meet one of the large cats, Puma or even Jaguar and tonight we will go out to find Yucatan Nightjar and Yucatan Poorwill.
Overnight: Hotel Turquesa Maya, Felipe Carillo Puerto

Day 14: Muyil Archaeological Site – Playa del Carmen

Today you will have a fascinating cultural immersion with a local nature guide who will share the mysteries of Muyil archaeological site, located within the northwest boundaries of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Muyil Ruins is small, lush, has few visitors and feels magical. This is an easy site to navigate, and the lagoon adds a new dimension to this Mayan history lesson. Hike through the forest to the shore of the turquoise water lagoon of Chunyaxche, before enjoying a typical Mayan lunch.The target list for today are Grey-headed Tanager, Ruddy Woodcreeper, Collared Forest-falcon, Red- throated Ant-tanager, Collared Aracari. Later in the afternoon, transfer to Playa del Carmen on the coast.
Overnight: Hotel Las Golondrinas, Playa del Carmen

Day 15: Playa del Carmen – Cancun Airport

In the morning, we will have time for some final birding oor relaxing. You will then have a one hour transfer to the International airport, arriving in time to catch your flight back home.

Day 16: Arrive back to the UK.