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A Report from

Yucatan, Mexico 22/1-5/2 2007,

Lars Olausson/H-E Persson


After having visited the Oriental region twice on family vacations we decided on this occasion to go west. Yucatan peninsula with the famous Maya ruins, the coral reef just outside the east coast and with several interesting areas for birding was quite quickly selected as the destination.

Like previous reports we will give an immediate warning – this is no hard core birding 12 hours a day report - this was a family holiday.

The bird activity on Yucatan was much the same as in Asia, with almost no birds seen in the jungle during the hot hours in the middle of the day. We also felt that bird activity was a little bit slower here than in Asia during the late afternoon.

We enjoyed the birding very much though there was a new species for both of us around almost every corner. HEP had been to US a few times on family vacations before and therefore had some knowledge of the more common species and families, for LO this was the first western trip outside WP.

We birded almost every morning from dawn until breakfast at 9-9.30, a few mornings a little longer. Then some different activities such as looking around and bathing took place. There is a lot to do along the coast, but it’s quite expensive. If the children want to swim with dolphins at Puerto Aventuras or X-caret, for example -  look at the prices first!

There are also a lot of ruins from the ancient Maya culture and one of the most famous along the coast are those in Tulum some 60 km south of Playa del Carmen. This can easily be combined with good bathing and birding. There are several nice hotels in the area where lunch is served.


We bought this charter trip from Ving/My Travel with the small hotel Pelicano Inn as our base. The flight with Novair was without stopovers both ways.

Pelicano Inn was situated on the beach and not more than one minute from the shopping street Avenida 5, in the middle of Playa del Carmen. The hotel gave us only one positive thing, the site – on the beach and close to the city centre. We cannot recommend Pelicano Inn.

We made a road trip for five days visiting Coba for both ruins in the jungle and birdwatching. Then further north to Rio Lagartos and the famous flamingo reserve and ending up at the fantastic ruins at Chichén Itzá.

Along the coast it seems that there will be a highway within the next few years. A guess is that this road will run from Cancun to Tulum and with at least two lanes in each direction. Parts of the road south of Playa del Carmen were under construction. The road south of Tulum to Muyil was also under reconstruction.

The small unmetalled road called La Ruta de los Cenotes, going inland just opposite the entrance to Jardin Botánico Dr Alfredo Barrera Marin, outside Puerto Moreles was very bad in some parts but under reconstruction. The surface is raised by some 30-40 cm and rebuilt, by the time of our stay the road could be quite time consuming especially on our way back home with a lot of lorries and heavy plant. A guess is that at least the first 20-25 km will be in good shape next winter.

Prices for meals and shopping were quite expensive, even a little more than expected.

For visiting Mexico on a 2-3 week vacation no visa is needed. The Yucatan are 7 hours behind Swedish normal time.

Bring some insect repellent if visiting for example the botanical garden just outside Puerto Moreles and other places with jungle.

We used variuous websites, such as Club300, Birdtours and Surfbirds to search for trip reports and other information about birding. As a tourist we used the quite new Rough Guide to Yucatan and that one was really good. It has useful maps for the ruin sites and a lot of excellent general information for a first time visitor.


We rented a car for ten days, a Nissan from Hertz for the total of 10,035 Mexican pesos, free mileage and full insurance. We had great help with the car getting around; visiting different places; leaving when we were ready; not to be in need of taxis; local buses and so on. Even though the car rental was quite expensive.

Roads are generally good, except for parts of the road from Coba to Rio Lagartos, which were full of pot holes.

The traffic was quite fast on the highway, people seemed to take no notice of speed limits and the average speed was much higher than expected. We did not see any accidents and had no problems with the police. By the way, avoid making contact with the police except for the tourist police and along roads “the green assistance police”. If charged for a speed ticket it is a rule to pay off immediately, often with an extra fee to the policeman himself.

Driving around was actually no problem at all, often well signed and the major towns had convenient one way systems.


In Coba we stayed at Villa Arquelogical situated on the shore of the small lake. They charged 869 pesos per night for a nice double room. You can eat at the hotel and pay everything by card when checking out.

In San Felipe we were told to stay at a small 2 star hotel some ten minutes from Rio Lagartos. This small charming place was situated right on the waterfront with – at low tide in the morning – great birding right from the room. Ask for a room with view over the sea. We actually stared at pelicans, Wood Stork, White Ibis, herons, Yellow-crowned Night Heron and soaring frigatebirds less than 50 m from the window and even a Willet on the second morning. They charged about 480 pesos per night, but they do not take plastic. Food and service was excellent. We stayed two nights here.

The last night on the road trip was at Chichén Itzá and here we also stayed at Villa Arquelogical. We checked the price at the flashing Hotel Hacienda but they charged 190 US dollars for a night, which we found a little expensive for just sleeping a few hours. Another alternative is a five star hotel named Mayaland, just some 50 m from the entrance to the ruins but we did not enquire about the price. Villa Arquelogical was not more than a few hundred meters away anyhow. There are more hotels in the neighbourhood.

We used two guides during our visit. At Rio Lagartos we went to restaurant Isla Contoy and asked for Diego Nuñez. The restaurant is situated at the end of Calle 19, turn left quite early when coming in to Rio Lagartos. I even think there was a small sign with a flamingo showing the direction.

He had moved with his family to the city of Tizimin some 50 km south of RL. The people at Isla Contoy phoned him for us and we decided to do a boat trip to the flamingos with him the next morning. He charged 70 US dollars for a 3-4 hour boat trip showing us almost every bird on our wishlist. We can truly recommend him, he speaks good English and definitely knows his birds. In short – an excellent bird guide and a man with a great sense of humour.

Diego Nuñes, Rio Lagartos expeditions.

Cell phone 986 100 83 90, home 986 86 2 02 02.

Email: or


We also used Diego the next morning and got a good lesson for 500 Mexican pesos.

Our second guide was Luis Kú Quiñores. He works at Jardin Botánico Dr Alfredo Barrera Marin in Purto Moreles. We met him there one morning and he offered us a free tour through the garden, showing us several new species in a short time. When asking for a birding trip he offered us to join him and an English birder on a trip south of Tulum. He charged 260 US dollars for the whole trip, to be split between the three of us. Water, fruit, youghurt and some bread was included as a light breakfast. He brought us to a small area at the outskirts of the great Sian Ka´an reserve, near the village of Muyil. Luis does not speak fluent English but he knows the bird names in English and moreover, he is an excellent birdwatcher with a sharp eye and he knows the bird calls which is a must in the jungle. He really made our day and was well worth the money. We would unequivocally recommend him. Ask for him at the garden or call him.

Luis Kú Quinñores, cell phone 998 143-0833.

Email adress:


We used Luis at the very end of our two week stay and that was a bit of a luck. Jeff, our English friend during that morning had been here just three days so almost every bird we discovered was new to him. He admitted that it was quite frustrating. We could leave the common species and put the focus on the new ones. We ended up with 18 new species that day.


There are so many good trip reports on the internet that more than well describe the main birding areas we visited. What we do want to put a finger on is that if it is a first trip to Yucatan, as our, and not too familiar with the birds, then one do not have to bother too much. There will be enough to do in the beginning anyhow. We soon realized that if we stopped and birded in a small area, for example a clearing along the road, we could be standing there for the rest of the morning, especially if finding a fruiting or flowering tree.

Most of our mornings we left Playa del Carmen well before first light and went straight to La Ruta de los Cenotes. When coming from the south leave the highway when signed for Puerto Moreles. (You leave the highway well before the crossing into the town and will pass just outside the entrance to the botanical garden). Keep on to the crossing with traffic lights, take to the right and do an immediate U-turn (watch Your back). At the traffic lights turn to the left (going towards Playa del Carmen again) but be sure to take the inside road – not the highway – otherwise You will miss the the Cenote road. The entrance to the road is well marked by a concrete arch, impossible to miss if taking the right part of the road. Along this road there were quite a lot of settlements (small “ranches”), several small tracks to different cenotes and of course barking dogs. Some of those cenote names are to be mentioned. We stopped outside Cenote la Selvatica where we found a nice fruiting tree with many Rose-throated Becards and both Masked and Black-crowned Tityras one morning. Around the 3 Bocas Cenote was also good as around Cenote de Puma.

We were very pleased with this area even though it took us about half an hour to get there and a little more to get back to breakfast.

When speaking to Luis about this road he told us that the whole area from Cancun to Tulum was still suffering from hurricane Wilma and the cenote road was not as good as it had been before.

Along the road between Playa del Carmen and Puerto Moreles we noticed belatedly a lot of small ponds on the right hand when going north. If one can find a place to pull off the highway and find a track through the area it seems to have a potential for good birding.

We also must comment the situation in the northern parts of Playa del Carmen. When reading Roger Holmberg´s short but interesting trip report (in Swedish on he mentioned a small jungle area where he had very good birding during his stay in 2002. That forested area has disappeared and has been replaced by buildings. Playa del Carmen seems to grow quite fast at the moment.  We had really been looking forward to this small area as “our morning site”.

Sorry to say, but it seems that the whole stretch between Cancun and Tulum will in the near future be developed with huge, fenced off “all inclusive” Spa & Resort complexes and some activity parks like X-caret with huge entrance fees. If interested in the “all inclusive” kit stay near Tulum instead. Much better birding, but your wife will not have any evening shopping. 

We cannot leave the “sites part” without mentioning Rio Lagartos. Go there and you will understand why so many trip reports says “I would have stayed here more days if time was no problem” or “the best site on our whole trip” or something like that. The same is for the neighbouring village San Felipe, it is not more than ten minutes between those places. These are small lovely fishing villages with an absolute magnificent atmosphere, and great birding around the corner. Include a guide like Diego and the stay will be unforgettable.


We realized that there is no field guide covering the whole Mexican avifauna.

In the field we used Collins Field Guide Birds of Mexico & Central America, Ber van Perlo. This one is more like a species list with poor paintings and text. We also used Birds of North America, David Sibley or part of that one, for example the volume covering the eastern part.

Best text is found in A Guide to the Birds of Mexico & Northern Central America, Steve N.G Howell & Sophie Webb. This book is too big and heavy for use in the field and does not cover the American warblers.

The old Peterson guide is too old and inaccurate and does not include paintings of the American vagrants.

For the localities use Steve N.G Howell´s Where to Watch Birds in Mexico. Still very useful. The only thing to add is that the comment about no use of tripods inside Chichen Itzá is inaccurate. We had no problem with that.


The species list is produced in and follows the taxonomy in Wildlife Computing program.


21-22/1. Left Sundsvall on Sunday evening for a night at Ibis hotel, Arlanda though the departure time was early in the morning. Even though we were quite early at the check in desks the whole procedure took much longer than usual. New rules for hand luggage, very long queues or too few security control desks were the main problem. We therefore did not have time for breakfast. Finally we boarded the aircraft just to be told that we were going to be delayed one hour. Flight time is a little more than 11 hours and we landed at Cancun airport 12.15 local time. Inside the terminal everything went fine and then a bus transfer for about 50 minutes to our hotel. We took an afternoon walk trying to find the little forested area in the northern parts of PdC, but failed because it was gone and replaced by buildings.

23/1. Got up at the first light and started to walk northwards towards a small wet area near Grand Coco Beach hotel that we discovered from the transfer bus yesterday. The morning was warm but cloudy. We had just reached the small wetland when it started to rain so we headed back. Best birds this morning were Blue Bunting. We had now realized that a rental car was a must for having any chance of morning birding. We had breakfast and then we started to negotiate prices with rental companies, discuss with each other and finally we agreed a Nissan from Hertz. Parking outside our hotel was impossible so we were told to use Walmart´s parking area, some ten minutes away from the hotel. Picked up the rest of the families and headed north to Puerto Moreles while the sky was clearing up and the sun began to dry the wet roads. Enjoyed the small village, had lunch and decided to search for the “cenote road” on our way back. No problem, we drove a few km along the road, found an area with low bushes and birded for half an hour. Highlight this afternoon Red-billed Pigeon. Back to PdC before dark.

24/1. The morning was clear, calm and warm. We drove the cenote road some more km than yesterday. Found a track through the jungle and took a walk. Highlights were Thicket Tinamou, Squirrel Cockoo and Orange Oriole.

After breakfast we went to Akumal and a small logoon named Tel-Ha where we had lunch, went snorkelling and did some birdwatching. On the way back to PdC we stopped and looked around and at one of those stops where we had good views of our first hummingbird, a Cinnamon.  During the afternoon the weather turned cloudy and rather windy with a little rain.

25/1. Cloudy weather with only a few glimpses of the sun before breakfast. Once again an early morning along the cenote road. Drove another few km further along the road, found a clearing and birded there for the rest of the morning. Best birds were Olive Sparrow, Olivaceous Woodcreeper and our first Rose-throated Becard.

After breakfast we drove to Puerto Aventuras where one can pay to swim with the dolphins. We enjoyed this spectacle for a while before heading further south, to Tulum. Found a lovely peaceful beach where we were almost the only visitors. Had lunch at a bungalow hotel called Diamante K. This was a charming place in Maya style and good food also. Visited the famous ruins during the afternoon while the sky cleared and we enjoyed a fantastic end to the day. Quite good birding in the ruin area with a lot of orioles, including our first Black-cowled. Also a nice show of a Cinnamon Hummingbird feeding in a flowering tree.

26/1. The morning was rather cloudy and chilly, not more than +20. Drove the cenote road non stop until we reached the entrance to cenote La Selvatica where we found a nice fruiting tree with becards and tityras. Headed back towards Puerto Moreles and visited the botanical garden for an hour or so. Met a group of American birdwatchers with local guides. They were really helpful even though we did not belong with them. Highlights this morning were Olive-throated Parakeet, Black-headed Trogon, Masked & Black-crowned Tityra.

After breakfast we went to Akumal for bathing and family life. Finished the day with a quick drive to Aktun Chen. Looked around and asked if we could go inside and do some birding, but they allowed only guided tours inside the gates. Got views of a agouite and up to ten “nosebears” along entrance the road. The surrounding forest looked pretty interesting with quite huge trees good for woodpeckers and woodcreepers.

27/1. The morning trip was cancelled today though we were going for our road trip to see some ancient Maya cities and to have a look around of the inner parts of the Yucatan peninsula. Left PdC at 10 o´clock and headed to the small beach in Tulum for a break. Really nice weather and we stayed here until 14.30. Drove the last 42 km to Coba and checked in at Villa Arqueológica by the lakeside. Went out and birded along the lake until almost dusk. At dusk we looked out over the lake and found at least 2 huge crocodiles swimming around. The bird life was different from the one along the coast and several new species were seen during the afternoon. To mention some of them we recorded Limpkin (2), Northern Jacana, Yellow-wingedTanager and Black-headed Saltator. When we were eating dinner a Common Pauraque started to call. We went outside and tried to locate the bird, just to discover that there was also a Yucatan Nightjar calling a little further away.

28/1. Started the morning walk by 06.30 and headed straight to the entrance of ruin site. The sky was cloudy and by 7 it started to rain. We found some shelter inside the area and got stuck there for almost an hour. Finally some nice birding with both Violaceous and Black-headed Trogons and Lineated Woodpecker as top birds. Headed back to the hotel for breakfast at at 10.30 we went inside the ruin area for the tourist part of the visit. Found a pair of Red-throated Ant-tanager, but this was just the only species to mention from that part of the visit. Had lunch at the entrance and headed towards Rio Lagartos. Went to the neighbour village San Felipe and found the small two star hotel San Felipe de Jesus by the waterfront. Yes, really by the waterfront. The wind was rather strong and was howling in the windows, but what a view. We decided to stay here two nights instead of rushing away.

Late afternoon we went to Rio Lagartos to rendezvous with Diego Nuñes. Found the restaurant Isla Contoy quite easily and he met us there, though he had moved to Tizmin with his family after hurricane Wilma. We Made an agreement for a boat trip tomorrow after breakfast, with our families. On or way to Rio Lagartos we had a Crested Caracara on the road, feeding on a road kill. 

29/1. We went to the salines at Las Coloradas before breakfast. Found a small track down to the salt ponds and we quickly discovered a huge gathering of waders. Sorry to say it was rather bad light though, as we had the rising sun in our eyes.

On our way back a guy on a scooter turned up and it was Diego who was out searching for us. He offered us one hours birding around the San Salvador ranch. We were not disappointed, in less than an hour he had showed us Yucatan Wren, Mexican Sheartail, Lesser Roadrunner, Laughing Falcon, Canivet´s Emerald and when going back he raised his voice – JABIRU. This was absolutely the rarity of the trip.

After breakfast we met Diego for a boat trip to see various wetland birds, and maybe especially the flamingos for our wives. Our excellent guide showed us some species we just dreamt off when looking at them in the fieldguides, some species we had not even been thinking off. To mention a few Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Boat-billed Heron, American Oystercatcher, Marbled Godwit and Forster´s Tern, as well as a couple of huge crocodiles. The day until lunch time offered us a wonderful day, sunny, calm and warm. Gone was yesterday’s strong winds. After a lunch at Isla Contoy we drove the road to Las Coloradas and stopped at a public beach for a while. A Grey Fox crossing the road was the most exciting thing that turned up. During the afternoon the weather got worse again. Headed back to our hotel rather late and between the Rio Lagartos/San Felipe crossing and San Felipe a Gray-necked Wood-rail was standing on the roadside. Another of those unforgetable memories from the visit in the Rio Lagartos area.

Here30/1. We had decided to meet up with Diego by 6.30 for a few hours of birding. We headed towards the San Salvador ranch again and we were not disappointed. Diego showed us another dozen new species. We had unforgettable views of Mexican Sheartail, a splendid male Painted Bunting and we found our first Rufous-browed Peppershrike to mention a few. Had breakfast at 9.30 and one hour later we drove towards Valladolid were we would have a look at the old Spanish colonial city. Stayed hear a few hours including lunch. In the early afternoon we stopped at Cenote X-kekén near Dzitnup. The cenote was inside a big cave system where one was allowed to bath. Inside the cave we found several quite big bats and also 3 Cave Swallows. We drove the last km and arrived at Chichén Itzá at 17.00. Checked in at the Villa Arquelogical. Situated just a few hundred meters from the entrance to the ruin area.

31/1. Just a short morning walk because we wanted an early breakfast to get into the ruins well before the crowds. This morning we was rewarded with a Turquoise-browed Motmot. We then visited the ancient Maya town until lunch and then we drove back towards Playa del Carmen with a stopover at beach in Tulum. The weather still mostly cloudy with a few rain showers during the drive. Arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon after a successful road trip.

1/2. Up early for another morning, birding along the cenote road. Birded mainly around the entrance to 3 Bocas Cenote. Top birds this morning were undoubtedly a Scaled Pigeon, a nice pair of Barred Antshrike and a pair of Rose-throated Tanager.

Drove back to Puerto Moreles and went in to the botanical garden. Today we met Luis Ku who kindly offered us a one hour guided tour through the garden. He showed us, among others, Louisiana Waterthrush and a singing male Red-crowned Ant-tanager. Also in the park six Spider Monkeys and an Agouite. Stopped at a small pond on our way back to PdC. We indulged ourselves for the rest of the day on the beach.

2/2. Our last day with the rental car. Got up even earlier to get even further inside the jungle along the cenote road. Started around the entrance at the cenote Puma. Here we found an Olive-sided Flycatcher and heard at least 2 calling Blue-crowned Motmots. Drove on and found a nice clearing around an abandoned small ranch. In a small fruiting tree 2 Red-legged Honeycreepers were feeding, really a big surprise. Drove back to the botanical garden and tried to find Luis for a guided tour the following day. He was not there so we birded around for almost an hour and found a Lesser Greenlet. Left the rental car at Hertz at lunch and spent the rest of the day on the beach. Called Luis in the afternoon and made an agreement for the next day.

3/2. Already at 5.10 we were on our way towards the small village Muyil, some 20 km south of Tulum. Here we birded together with an English birder called Jeff and Luis pointed out all the birds for us. The species list ended up with 86 species on this tour. Top birds was Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan (only heard calling), Royal Flycatcher, Gray-collared Becard, Grey-headed Tanager and Yellow-tailed Oriole. We were back at the hotel at 14.15 and then we enjoyed the beach for the rest of the day. The weather had changed the in the last two days; more sun, less wind and really hot during the afternoons.

4/2. Our last full day and today we made a one day trip to Cozumel. We rented a car from Budget and drove to the south along the coast. Found a nice beach and did some snorkelling. It was really hot so bird activity was really slow. The only birds we found were Banaquit (a pair) and a singing Cozumel Vireo. Tried the “Bello Caribe” area in the afternoon but the only “species” we recorded was “Golden Warbler”. Went back to PdC before dark and had dinner on the beach.

5/2. Bus transfer at 10.00 and then another 12 hour flight back to Stockholm/Arlanda where we arrived early in the morning. We than had to wait some hours for the train back to Sundsvall.



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