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SOUTHERN MEXICO

The Land of the Horned Guan

Birdquest’s Southern Mexico birding tour explores a fascinating part of North America that offers some truly awesome birdwatching opportunities in one of the most exciting birding destinations on earth. Our comprehensive Southern Mexico tour includes Oaxaca and Chiapas, as well as several other areas, producing a fantastic list of Mexican endemics and near-endemics including Beautiful and Slender Sheartails, Oaxaca and Cinnamon-sided Hummingbirds, Blue-throated Motmot, Belted Flycatcher, Unicoloured, Dwarf, Black-throated and White-throated Jays, and Giant, Sumichrast’s and Nava’s Wrens, not to mention the stunning Red-breasted Chat, Pink-headed and Red Warblers, and Orange-breasted and Rosita’s Buntings. During the El Triunfo extension we will be looking for the near-mythical Horned Guan, Fulvous Owl, Resplendent Quetzal (the local form has the longest tail of them all!), Rufous Sabrewing, Wine-throated Hummingbird and Cabanis’s Tanager amongst many other great birds.

Sunday 3rd March — Tuesday 19th March 2019
(17 days)


El Triunfo (Horned Guan) Extension: Tuesday 26th February — Sunday 3rd March (6 days)

Leader: Mark Van Beirs

Group Size Limit: 8

Tour Category: Easy walking for the most part and comfortable accommodations on the main tour, easy to moderate grade walking and mostly simple accommodation during the extension

The endemic Citreoline Trogon is one of a whole series of endemics that we'll be looking for during our endemic-rich itinerary (Pete Morris)

The endemic Citreoline Trogon is one of a whole series of endemics that we'll be looking for during our endemic-rich itinerary (Pete Morris)

Mexico, land of the Mayas, Aztecs, Zapotecs and Conquistadores, is one of the most charismatic countries in the world. Sombreros, white-clad peons on a stubborn mule and siestas conjure up a sleepy image which disguises (as well as any Zapata-style moustache) a country rapidly entering the modern world, where good roads, accommodation and food are the norm, and birding always rewarding. It is the second most populous and the third largest country in Latin America, with an incredible variety of habitats ranging from steamy tropical lowland jungle and barren cactus-studded hills to refreshing pine forests and high alpine vegetation above the treeline. Over half of the country is at an altitude of over 3300ft (1000m) and much of that at over 6600ft (2000m), and more than 80% of this splendid nation is classified as having a semi-arid climate.

Mexico basically consists of a high central plateau flanked by an eastern and a western range of mountains set back from the coast. Mexico City, one of the largest conurbations on Earth with more than 20 million inhabitants, is located in a high inter-montane basin measuring only 30 miles (50 kilometres) across, and was founded as Tenochtitlan under the militarist rule of the Aztecs. As well as experiencing cactus-covered plains and sleepy adobe villages dominated by white-painted churches, a Hollywood-inspired stereotype of Mexico over a hundred years ago, we shall visit modern cities, well preserved Zapotec sites inspiring awe for Mexico’s rich cultural history, tranquil oak and pine forests and fabulous mountains.

Mexico, both culturally and ornithologically, is a land of stark contrasts. A transitional zone between the temperate North American continent and the lush rainforests of Central America, Mexico’s position, physiography and contrasting habitats have produced an endemic-rich avifauna which, remarkably, is third only to Brazil and Peru amongst New World countries. Amazingly, no fewer than 213 species of birds are restricted to Mexico and northern Central America! Mexico is also the wintering ground of a splendid selection of colourful migrants from North America and the mixed warbler flocks are a real feature of its woods. This tour is designed to thoroughly explore the central and southwestern parts of the country, the richest region for birds in all Mexico, and our itinerary is the most comprehensive available for this endemic-rich part of the country. Accommodations, food and roads are mainly of a good standard, making travelling and birding in Mexico a pleasure.

Our journey starts in the state of Chiapas, in far southeastern Mexico. Breathtaking scenery at the El Sumidero Canyon near Tuxtla Gutierrez is augmented by the delightful Red-breasted Chat, the nomadic Slender Sheartail and the rare Belted Flycatcher, while not far away the striking but almost unknown endemic Nava’s Wren inhabits limestone karst outcrops. The sprightly, near-endemic Pink-headed Warbler is just one of our target species in the cool mountain forests surrounding the lovely town of San Cristobal de las Casas, where we will also keep our eyes open for gems like Blue-throated Motmot and Black-throated Jay.

The arid scrub of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and coastal Chiapas is home to Orange-breasted and Rosita’s Buntings, two of the most stunning of Mexico’s many endemic birds, and the amazing Giant Wren and the retiring Cinnamon-tailed (or Sumichrast’s) Sparrow are likewise found nowhere else.

In the Pacific lowlands and foothills around Puerto Angel the semi-deciduous woodland holds three extremely localized endemics: Oaxaca (or Blue-capped) and Cinnamon-sided Hummingbirds, and the stunning little White-throated Jay. The offshore waters often produce Black Storm Petrel and Townsend’s Shearwater, together with an excellent selection of other pelagic species.

Continuing north, we shall explore the deserts and woods around the attractive city of Oaxaca. This is the richest area in the country for endemic birds, home to Beautiful Sheartail (or Beautiful Hummingbird), Dwarf Jay, Ocellated Thrasher, Collared Towhee and Bridled and Oaxaca Sparrows amongst others.

In the state of Veracruz the pine-oak forests of the Sierra de Juarez should yield a rich crop of specialities, including Unicolored Jay, Slate-colored Solitaire and White-naped Brush Finch, while in the Cordoba area we will search limestone outcrops for the restricted-range Sumichrast’s Wren.

Our journey ends in the cool forests on the volcanic slopes just to the south of Mexico City. Here we shall search for the rare Sierra Madre Sparrow at one of only two known remaining localities. Striped Sparrow and Black-polled and Hooded Yellowthroats are amongst the other endemics likely here.

During the optional pre-tour extension we will seek out a very special bird that very few birders have ever seen. In a remote corner of this incredible country lives a semi-mythical bird that every international birder craves to see, the spectacular Horned Guan. The best place to admire this mind-boggling species is the wonderful Biosphere Reserve of El Triunfo, located on the highest ridges of the Sierra Madre mountains in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.

The El Triunfo cloud forest is often enveloped in a mantle of mist (although early mornings are often clear at the time we visit), and is one of the most pristine and diverse natural areas remaining in Mexico. The reserve covers about 460 square miles (1,200 square kilometres) and comprises several vegetation zones, including the most extensive area of cloud forest remaining in Mexico.

With an avifauna of more than 400 species, El Triunfo holds some of the most fascinating and enthralling birds of the American tropics. Best of all is the wonderful Horned Guan, a truly bizarre member of the cracid family that only occurs in the Mexican state of Chiapas and in neighbouring Guatemala. With its striking red ‘horn’, piercing white eyes and arresting blue-black and white plumage, this is surely one of the most outstanding birds in the world.

The smart, but very localized Cabanis’s (or Azure-rumped) Tanager keeps a low profile in its humid evergreen forest habitat and has a similar range. The brilliant Resplendent Quetzal is one of those ‘must see before you die’ birds and the local subspecies is favoured with an even longer tail than the ones in Costa Rica! The powerful Fulvous Owl is yet another much wanted inhabitant of these untouched forests.

We begin our journey in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of the state of Chiapas, before driving into the foothills of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas. As we head for El Triunfo we should come across such regional specialities as Green Parakeet, Russet-crowned Motmot, Velasquez’s Woodpecker, Black-capped Swallow, White-throated Magpie-Jay and Prevost’s Ground Sparrow.

The El Triunfo experience involves a fairly long hike into the reserve, but at a relaxed pace and with plenty of time to bird and to rest, in order to reach the El Triunfo clearing. We will spend four nights in a comfortable bunkhouse there. This is a small price to pay as, by doing so, we stand an almost certain chance of seeing two of the most spectacular birds in the world: the unique Horned Guan and the stunning Resplendent Quetzal.

On the Birdquest tour we reach El Triunfo by the much shorter, faster and easier hike on the northern slope, starting at quite high altitude and taking less than a day, rather than hike for several days all the way up from the Pacific lowlands near sea-level. This is much the physically easiest way to access El Triunfo.

At night we will endeavour to locate the gorgeous and impressive Fulvous Owl in one of the forest giants, while listening to the loud, wailing calls of Cacomistles (or Southern Ring-tailed Cats). Other great birds of these wild, untouched cloud and evergreen forests are Highland Guan, White-breasted Hawk, Blue-throated Motmot, Green-throated Mountaingem, Emerald-chinned Hummingbird, the charming, miniscule Wine-throated Hummingbird, Paltry Tyrannulet, Yellowish Flycatcher, Black-throated Jay and the attractive Hooded Grosbeak.

At lower altitudes, in semi-deciduous and upper tropical evergreen forest, we should encounter such specialities as the sneaky Pheasant Cuckoo, the delicate Rufous Sabrewing, the exquisite Sparkling-tailed Woodstar, the endearing Tody Motmot, Cabanis’s (or Azure-rumped) Tanager and White-eared Ground Sparrow.

El Triunfo truly is a remarkable birding experience that you will never forget.

Birdquest has operated tours to southern Mexico since 1987.

El Triunfo-only Option: You may opt to take just the El Triunfo section as a stand-alone tour.

Accommodation & Road Transport: During the main tour the hotels are mostly of good standard, occasionally of medium standard. During the extension, the hotel in Jaltenango is of medium quality. At the clearing at El Triunfo the accommodation is in a building with up to four beds in each of four large rooms. There is a separate dining room with a table and chairs. There are four showers (with hot water) and four toilets. Conditions here at the research station accommodations are clean, well-maintained and surprisingly comfortable. Road transport is by minibus/passenger van and roads are mostly good.

Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy during the main tour, sometimes moderate. During the extension it mostly ranges from easy to moderate. The walk into and out of El Triunfo is perfectly straightforward. Although it is about 11 kms (6.5 miles) in length it is on a mostly broad pack trail with only a moderate rate of altitudinal change. We do this walk slowly over about six hours as there is plenty of good birding en route. However, while at El Triunfo there is one optional fairly demanding excursion to Cañada Honda to look for Cabanis’s Tanager and Rufous Sabrewing in particular. Although on a mostly broad and well-maintained pack trail, there is a long and sometimes fairly steep ascent back up to El Triunfo.

Climate: Generally warm or hot, dry and sunny at lower altitudes, but much cooler in upland areas. Whilst overcast weather is quite regular, rain is infrequent at this season. It will be rather humid in the lowlands.

Bird Photography: Opportunities are quite good.

Prices are provisional

Tour Price: £4690, €5530, $6140 Tuxtla Guttierez/Mexico City. Single Room Supplement: £768, €906, $1006. Deposit: £600, €720, $780.

El Triunfo taken as an extension: £1390, €1640, $1820 Tuxtla Guttierez/Tuxtla Guttierez. Single Room Supplement: £20, €23, $26. Deposit: £150, €180, $200.

El Triunfo taken as a stand-alone tour: £1490, €1760, $1950 Tuxtla Guttierez/Tuxtla Guttierez. Single Room Supplement: £70, €83, $92. Deposit: £300, €360, $390.

Includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals, water, entrance fees and tips/gratuities.

The El Triunfo single room supplement refers to the night in Jaltenango only.

For anyone taking the El Triunfo Extension as a stand-alone tour, the price includes an overnight stay with the main tour group in Tuxtla. It will not be possible to fly out of Tuxtla until the morning of Day 7.

Base prices for this tour are in US Dollars. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.110.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

The charismatic Lesser Roadrunner is always a crowd-pleaser! (Pete Morris)

The charismatic Lesser Roadrunner is always a crowd-pleaser! (Pete Morris)

The unique Horned Guan is the main target at El Triunfo. The “unicorn” is the only member of the genus Oreophasis and only lives in remote cloud forests in Chiapas and Guatemala (Mark Beaman).

The unique Horned Guan is the main target at El Triunfo. The “unicorn” is the only member of the genus Oreophasis and only lives in remote cloud forests in Chiapas and Guatemala (Mark Beaman).

The impressive Fulvous Owl is one of the star birds at El Triunfo (Mark Beaman).

The impressive Fulvous Owl is one of the star birds at El Triunfo (Mark Beaman).

The tiny Tody Motmot is not uncommon and often well behaved on the Pacific slope (Mark Beaman).

The tiny Tody Motmot is not uncommon and often well behaved on the Pacific slope (Mark Beaman).

The exquisite Wine-throated Hummingbird is endemic to Chiapas and northern Central America and favours clearings abounding in flowers in evergreen forest (Mark Beaman).

The exquisite Wine-throated Hummingbird is endemic to Chiapas and northern Central America and favours clearings abounding in flowers in evergreen forest (Mark Beaman).

The mysterious White-faced Quail-Dove is readily seen at El Triunfo (Mark Beaman).

The mysterious White-faced Quail-Dove is readily seen at El Triunfo (Mark Beaman).

Giant Wrens only occur in a narrow zone along the Pacific coast of Chiapas (Mark Beaman).

Giant Wrens only occur in a narrow zone along the Pacific coast of Chiapas (Mark Beaman).

The secretive Spotted Nightingale-Thrush is a very widespread species in the montane forests of the Neotropics (Mark Beaman).

The secretive Spotted Nightingale-Thrush is a very widespread species in the montane forests of the Neotropics (Mark Beaman).

The magnificent Grey Silky (or Grey Silky-flycatcher) is usually seen in small flocks and often perches on top of tall trees (Mark Beaman).

The magnificent Grey Silky (or Grey Silky-flycatcher) is usually seen in small flocks and often perches on top of tall trees (Mark Beaman).

We hope to find the widespread Mottled Owl (Mark Beaman).

We hope to find the widespread Mottled Owl (Mark Beaman).

The El Triunfo forests comprise the largest cloudforest wilderness area of Mexico (Mark Beaman).

The El Triunfo forests comprise the largest cloudforest wilderness area of Mexico (Mark Beaman).

37 photos View Gallery Photos From SOUTHERN MEXICO
During the tour we will seek out a large number of endemics and specialities such as Abeille's Oriole (Pete Morris)

During the tour we will seek out a large number of endemics and specialities such as Abeille's Oriole (Pete Morris)

... Aztec Thrush (Pete Morris)

... Aztec Thrush (Pete Morris)

... the amazing Orange-breasted Bunting (Pete Morris)

... the amazing Orange-breasted Bunting (Pete Morris)

... the stunning Russet-crowned Motmot (Pete Morris)

... the stunning Russet-crowned Motmot (Pete Morris)

... the superb Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo (Pete Morris)

... the superb Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo (Pete Morris)

... the endemic Pine Flycatcher (Pete Morris)

... the endemic Pine Flycatcher (Pete Morris)

... and the splendid White-eared Hummingbird (Pete Morris)

... and the splendid White-eared Hummingbird (Pete Morris)

We should find the secretive Prevost’s Ground Sparrow along a brushy edge (Mark Beaman).

We should find the secretive Prevost’s Ground Sparrow along a brushy edge (Mark Beaman).

White-eared Ground Sparrows are really attractive when seen well (Mark Beaman).

White-eared Ground Sparrows are really attractive when seen well (Mark Beaman).

There is no better place to get to grips with the striking Hooded Grosbeak than El Triunfo (Mark Beaman).

There is no better place to get to grips with the striking Hooded Grosbeak than El Triunfo (Mark Beaman).

The Azure-rumped (or Cabanis’s) Tanager is one of the main targets at El Triunfo, as it is restricted to just a few localities in Southern Mexico and Guatemala (Mark Beaman).

The Azure-rumped (or Cabanis’s) Tanager is one of the main targets at El Triunfo, as it is restricted to just a few localities in Southern Mexico and Guatemala (Mark Beaman).

The male of the local race (aurantiacus) of the Yellow Grosbeak shows a beautiful golden orange colour (Mark Beaman).

The male of the local race (aurantiacus) of the Yellow Grosbeak shows a beautiful golden orange colour (Mark Beaman).

Black-headed Saltators travel through the lowland treetops in boisterous parties (Mark Beaman).

Black-headed Saltators travel through the lowland treetops in boisterous parties (Mark Beaman).

Flame-coloured Tanagers are usually easy to spot in fruiting trees (Mark Beaman).

Flame-coloured Tanagers are usually easy to spot in fruiting trees (Mark Beaman).

The male of the Elegant Euphonia is a gorgeous creature (Mark Beaman).

The male of the Elegant Euphonia is a gorgeous creature (Mark Beaman).

The adorable Sparkling-tailed Woodstar favours scrubby woodland abounding with flowers  (Mark Beaman).

The adorable Sparkling-tailed Woodstar favours scrubby woodland abounding with flowers (Mark Beaman).

The uncommon Slender Sheartail only occurs in the Sumidero Canyon when its favourite flowers are available (Mark Beaman).

The uncommon Slender Sheartail only occurs in the Sumidero Canyon when its favourite flowers are available (Mark Beaman).

We will encounter several leks of the  tiny Emerald-chinned Hummingbird (Mark Beaman).

We will encounter several leks of the tiny Emerald-chinned Hummingbird (Mark Beaman).

The Green-throated Mountaingem is a cloud forest inhabitant of Southern Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras (Mark Beaman).

The Green-throated Mountaingem is a cloud forest inhabitant of Southern Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras (Mark Beaman).

The Blue-diademed Motmot is a recent split in the Blue-crowned Motmot complex (Mark Beaman).

The Blue-diademed Motmot is a recent split in the Blue-crowned Motmot complex (Mark Beaman).

The Turquoise-browed Motmot prefers drier scrubby areas at lower altitude (Mark Beaman).

The Turquoise-browed Motmot prefers drier scrubby areas at lower altitude (Mark Beaman).

Singing Quail are easily heard, but much harder to see (Mark Beaman).

Singing Quail are easily heard, but much harder to see (Mark Beaman).

The Crested Guan is an impressive species! (Mark Beaman)

The Crested Guan is an impressive species! (Mark Beaman)

We will hear the loud whistles of the Cacomistles (or Southern Ringtails) at night around our camps but seeing them will require a bit of effort (Mark Beaman).

We will hear the loud whistles of the Cacomistles (or Southern Ringtails) at night around our camps but seeing them will require a bit of effort (Mark Beaman).

The Magnificent Swallowtail is one of many butterflies that visits the flowerbanks (Mark Beaman).

The Magnificent Swallowtail is one of many butterflies that visits the flowerbanks (Mark Beaman).

We may encounter the attractive Godman’s Pit Viper in the forests of El Triunfo (Mark Beaman).

We may encounter the attractive Godman’s Pit Viper in the forests of El Triunfo (Mark Beaman).

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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