Highlands & Horned Guan
A 12-day, small group birdwatching tour to Guatemala
Guatemala Birding Tours with Limosa Holidays: Guatemala has many unique attractions, but it says something about a country when even its currency is named after a bird - the exquisite Resplendent Quetzal! Indeed, as a birdwatching destination, this beautiful and incredibly scenic Central American country is right up there with the best of them. Our Guatemala birding tour focuses mainly on the central highlands, to the west of Guatemala City, visiting the best locations and lodges for a wonderful range of speciality birds. Join our quest for the fabulous Pink-headed Warbler, enigmatic Horned Guan and the rare Azure-rumped Tanager, plus a carnival of colourful hummingbirds and tanagers. For 2020 and beyond, our Guatemala birding tour has been extended to 12 days, to allow for a second night at Ram Tzul Lodge in our search for the revered Resplendent Quetzal!
Tour Dates & Prices
Sun 21st February 2021
Thu 4th March 2021
6 Spaces Available
Tour Cost: 12 Days from £3895* inc return flights London Heathrow
* 2020 tour costs shown. Please note costs for our 2021 tour TBA (available summer 2020)
- Limosa Tour Leader
- Expert English-speaking Guatemalan bird guide(s)
- Return flights - London Heathrow-Guatemala City
- 10 nights accommodation in Guatemala, staying at comfortable hotels, lodges and fincas
- All main meals - and drinking water provided
- Travel by comfortable minibus with local driver, switching to 4WD vehicle where necessary
- Boat transfers on Lake Atitlan
- All excursions, local guides, permits, entry fees
- All tour-based tips (lodges, drivers and local guides) & taxes
- Map and Limosa checklist of birds
Insurance, drinks, airport snacks/meals & other items of a personal nature
The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights.
- Beautiful and immensely scenic Central American country that’s bursting with great birding
- Horned Guan, Pink-headed Warbler, Blue-and-white Mockingbird, Resplendent Quetzal
- A host of hummingbirds, Golden-cheeked and other warblers, and “red-hot” rainforest tanagers
- Rufous Sabrewing, Tody Motmot, Bushy-crested Jay, Hooded Grosbeak, Golden-cheeked Warbler, Azure-rumped Tanager
- Lake Atitlan - set at 5,100 feet, ringed by volcanoes and described as the world's most beautiful lake
- Comfortable and characterful lodgings, with friendly people, good food - and great coffee!
- Small group tour - maximum 8 participants
- Expertly led by Limosa’s Fernando Enrique and resident Guatemalan naturalist guides
Fly London-Madrid-Guatemala City and transfer to our hotel in colonial Antigua. Antigua (2 nts)
Birding at Finca el Pilar, near Antigua
We look for Pink-headed Warbler at Rincón Suizo and pay a first visit the cloudforest at Fuentes Georginas en route to Quetzaltenango. Night Las Cumbres
We return to Fuentes Georginas to try for Horned Guan before continuing on for lunch and lots more great birding at Los Tarrales. Finca Los Tarrales (2 nts)
We make the short transfer to Lake Atitlán and next morning seek Horned Guan on Volcan San Pedro. Hotel Bambu, Santiago Atitlan (2 nts)
We leave Lake Atitlan and travel east to the arid Motagua Valley. Night Camino Largo
We bird the Motagua scrublands and try for the rare Golden-cheeked Warbler at Rio Escondido. Next day at Biotopo del Quetzal and Ranchitos del Quetzal reserves. Ram Tzul Lodge (2 nts)
Morning Biotopo del Quetzal, afternoon return to Guatemala City. Fly London
Afternoon arrival London
Guatemala is a beautiful and relatively compact Central American country with a great deal to offer the visiting naturalist. Its birds are brilliant, colourful and diverse. From the fabulous bright green-and-red of Resplendent Quetzal to the fantastic Pink-headed Warbler and rare Horned Guan – the latter now with newly discovered populations allowing easier access for groups to see this amazing beast. The quetzal is even the unit of currency in Guatemala (though not the actual bird, of course – that would be silly!)
This exciting 12-day tour commences at Guatemala City and focuses mainly on the species-rich highlands of the Pacific Slope to the west. We'll explore cool, high-elevation pine-oak forests; a spectacular volcanic lake ringed by volcanoes; shade-grown coffee plantations; hot, dry thorn-forest and temperate cloudforests - each with their own unique set of special birds.
Our birding begins around the old Spanish colonial city of Antigua, with a visit to some superb hummingbird feeders. The regionally endemic Green-throated Mountaingem, recently split Rivoli’s Hummingbird and localised Rufous Sabrewing (endemic to the mountains of the Pacific Slope) are among many that await.
In the upper reaches of the pine-oak and cloud forests here, the trees can be full of birds: everything from Grey Silky-flycatchers to Rufous-collared Thrushes, while more difficult-to-find specialities include the spectacular Mountain Trogon and striking Hooded Grosbeak.
Each hill we visit seems to have its own subtly different avifauna. Sought-after regional highland endemics include the fabulous Pink-headed Warbler - one of the star birds on this tour - Rufous-browed Wren, Blue-throated Motmot and Black-capped Siskin. There's also a plethora of colourful Nearctic migrants to enjoy, with Townsend's, Hermit and Red-faced Warblers occurring here alongside the resident Slate-throated Redstart, and Crescent-chested and Olive Warblers.
Horned Guan is one of the key 'target species' and we have a couple of chances to find this endangered and highly localised bird. As big as a turkey, the adult male Horned Guan is notable for the 3cm scarlet ‘horn’ projecting straight up from its crown. This species is legendary for the difficulty in finding it in the cloudforests above 1650 metres (5400ft) - but our guides have recently discovered a more easily accessible site and we have our fingers crossed to repeat the success of our February 2019 tour!
In Guatemala, the diversity of montane birding is such that every day will bring new species: Crested Guan, White-bellied Chachalaca, Long-tailed Manakin, Tody Motmot, Rufous-breasted Spinetail, the rare Azure-rumped Tanager, Prevost's (White-faced) Ground Sparrow and many more!
Rounding off an exciting tour, we travel back east, beyond Guatemala City, where the arid Motagua Valley offers a contrasting avifauna to the moist cloudforests of Biotopo del Quetzal.
Motagua is the hottest and driest region of Guatemala, and the dry forest here is both very different to anything else we'll see on our tour and complete with its own special birds. The superb Turquoise-browed Motmot is one of the most conspicuous residents and Cinnamon Hummingbird, White-throated Magpie-Jay and Rufous-naped Wren also occur in the valley.
For our ‘grand finale’ we visit La Reserva del Quetzal, seeking the smart Azure-hooded Jay, Chestnut-headed Oropendola and, of course, the exquisite Resplendent Quetzal - widely regarded as one of the world's most beautiful birds. We also have a chance of finding the rare Golden-cheeked Warbler, a migrant which breeds sparingly in Texas and passes the winter here.
All in all, Guatemala today makes for a fabulous birding destination, offering much improved accommodation and tourist infrastructure, a rich cultural heritage, fine landscapes and a wealth of special birds - not to mention some of the best coffee in the world to wake up to! Our February tour combines all this to bring you a memorable Central American holiday, one that's jam-packed with exciting and very special birds!
Our 2020 tour will again be led by Limosa guide Fernando Enrique, returning for his 10th visit to Guatemala. Fernando is a fluent English and Spanish-speaker and, having also studied birds in Guatemala and neighbouring Belize, his love and enthusiasm for this beautiful country and its brilliant birds and wildlife is sure to inspire you!
FLY LONDON-GUATEMALA CITY & TRANSFER TO ANTIGUA
Our birdwatching tour to Guatemala begins with a morning flight from London Heathrow to Madrid, where Limosa guide Fernando Enrique will join us for the onward connection direct to Guatemala City. Arriving in the late afternoon, we will be met by our Guatemalan local guide and drive west (for about an hour) to Antigua, where we stay for two nights.
The small colonial city of Antigua is situated 1500m (c. 5000ft) above sea level, and ringed by inactive volcanoes. Our hotel here comprises three restored Spanish colonial residences - one of which, the 300-year-old Casa de Los Leones, is a national historic monument - and perfectly captures the essence of old-world Antigua. The rooms are uniquely decorated, featuring original artwork, hand-painted ceilings, fireplaces and furniture hand-carved by local craftsmen.
After a delicious evening meal at the hotel, we'll get an early night so as to be ready for an early start tomorrow. Night Posada de Don Rodrigo
FINCA EL PILAR
Making an early start this morning, we have an exciting day’s birding in store at Finca El Pilar, a splendid private estate within 20 minutes of our hotel. Ranging from 1600m-2400m (5250-7870ft) above sea level, El Pilar protects a superb variety of bird-rich habitats, from dry forest lower down, up through moist pine-oak woodland to cloud forest at higher elevations.
We’ll head directly to the upper elevations, for the clearing near the top can be alive first thing with Grey Silky-flycatchers, Rufous-collared Thrushes, Black-headed Siskins and many more - though we may not linger here for too long as the montane oak forests host even more species!
The beautiful Mountain Trogon will be high on our list of specialities to look for here, as will the equally appealing - and difficult to find! - Hooded Grosbeak. Other good birds to watch for include the always elusive Singing Quail, Black-capped Swallow, Bushy-crested Jay, Bar-winged and Black-vented Orioles, and the ‘hot’ Flame-coloured Tanager.
Breakfast this morning will be at a lovely place overlooking Antigua, before we drop down to bird at lower levels and to enjoy the ceaseless activity at El Pilar's busy hummingbird feeders. Located at the start of the trail, the feeders are notable for five key species attending: Rufous Sabrewing (a species that’s endemic to the Pacific Slope mountains of Guatemala, Chiapas (Mexico) and El Salvador) and the recently-split Rivoli’s Hummingbird (formerly Magnificent), plus Berylline, Azure-crowned and Blue-tailed Hummingbirds. The regionally endemic Green-throated Mountaingem is also frequently seen along with White-eared Hummingbird, Mexican Violetear and the impressive Violet Sabrewing.
All in all, an exciting and bird-filled day is assured at Finca El Pilar before we must head back down to our hotel in Antigua for dinner. Night Posada de Don Rodrigo
RINCÓN SUIZO & FUENTES GEORGINAS
Leaving Antigua first thing, we travel northwest (about an hour) to Tecpán. Just to the north of the city of Tecpán, Rincón Suizo is a restaurant along the Panamerican Highway, at an elevation of 2500m (8200 ft) - and our first port of call today. We spend the morning birding near here - after first enjoying breakfast at the restaurant.
Nestling behind the restaurant is a small mountain forest reserve of pine, cypress, oak and alder. Less exotic and exuberant than the humid cloud forests on the Guatemalan Atlantic Slope, the forest at Rincón Suizo may remind visitors of North American or European woodlands, but the birds are very different! Trails offer access to a site that's home to a number of sought-after northern Central American highland endemics.
High on the list is the fantastic Pink-headed Warbler, but specialities also include Green-throated Mountaingem, Blue-throated Motmot and Rufous-browed Wren. Like many tropical forests, at times birding here can seem quiet - but sooner or later we will come across one of the mobile mixed feeding flocks. Joining the resident forest species then can be an assortment of Nearctic migrants, including Townsend's, Wilson's, Black-and-white, Hermit and Red-faced Warblers along with the resident Slate-throated Redstart, crest-like Hutton's Vireo and Crescent-chested and Olive Warblers, too.
As we search eagerly through the restless flocks for the much-wanted Pink-headed Warbler, the likes of Spot-crowned Woodcreeper and Brown Creeper are likely to come our way – the latter a southern form that may yet be split. With careful searching, we might also discover a colourful Chestnut-sided Shrike-vireo within the troupe as well as Bushtits passing through the forest - sometimes in flocks of more than 30 birds.
While walking the trails we may cross a Tufted Flycatcher territory and these can sometimes be joined by Pine, Buff-breasted and Hammond’s Flycatchers, along with Greater Pewee and the local races of Plumbeous Vireo and Mountain Trogon. Lowering our gaze to the understorey, sharp eyes might detect a furtive Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, the bright and rusty cheeked Golden-browed Warbler or a smart Chestnut-capped Brushfinch.
Amongst a plethora of hummingbirds zapping about the forest, White-eared Hummingbird is frequently found, to be joined by Amethyst-throated and Rivoli’s, while the stunning Garnet-throated Hummingbird also occurs. In open areas we will seek Yellow-eyed Junco, Spotted Towhee and the endemic and strikingly bibbed Rufous-collared Thrush. If we are very lucky, and with our eyes to the skies, we may spot the elusive White-breasted Hawk, soaring overhead with the local race of Red-tailed Hawk.
Reluctantly tearing ourselves away from Rincón Suizo, we continue west towards our ultimate destination this evening - Las Cumbres, an enchanting ‘Posada Rural’ in the province of Quetzaltenango. We’ll pause along the way to enjoy lunch at a local restaurant and later pay a rewarding first visit to Fuentes Georginas, a public hot spring within an area of cloud forest. The likes of Unicoloured Jay, Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer and Common Chlorospingus could all be new here - and participants on our 2019 tour also enjoyed Mexican Whip-poor-will and amazing close views of a pair of Fulvous Owls as the day drew to a close! Night Las Cumbres
DAYS 4 - 5
FUENTES GEORGINAS & FINCA LOS TARRALES
With the endangered Horned Guan firmly in our sights we set off early this morning, leaving the hotel before sunrise (06:30am) to travel the short distance back west to Fuentes Georginas. This hot spring resort is not only popular with the locals, but the pristine cloudforest here is also well preserved and offers our first real chance to find the near-mythical Horned Guan. Although the chances of seeing one here are perhaps smaller than in the San Pedro area later in our tour, this spot certainly turned up trumps for our 2019 group, so it's well worth a look!
Even if we don’t manage to find the elusive guan, this place hosts an extraordinary array of cloudforest birds - many of them easily seen around the car park or after a short walk along the road. Highland Guan, Wine-throated, Amethyst-throated and Garnet-throated Hummingbirds, Mexican Violetear, Blue-throated Motmot and Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush are among mouth-watering possibilities at Fuentes Georginas, along with a fine collection of warblers including Olive, Crescent-chested, Hermit, Townsend’s and the scrummy Pink-headed.
Having enjoyed at least some of these amazing birds, we'll return to the hotel for a late breakfast before looping first south and then east to reach our next destination: Finca Los Tarrales.
Los Tarrales is a birder's paradise - if you had to pick just one place to bird in Guatemala, this would be it! More than 350 bird species have been recorded from this superb private protected area, where primary rainforest and cloudforest is interspersed with coffee and flower plantations on the southern slope of the Atitlán volcano.
The economy of this enlightened finca is based on shade grown coffee and ecotourism. While it's important to support and encourage that, one of the great things about staying at Los Tarrales is that this place is very 'authentic'. The guest accommodation is rather modest, although clean and very comfortable, and you'll see the families working on the finca on their way to the coffee plantations. The homemade cooking is among the best we'll have anywhere in Guatemala; the scenery is spectacular - you can see the Atitlan Volcano from the lodge... and there are birds everywhere. Indeed, it's not unusual to see 100 species here before lunch!
At Los Tarrales, we will bird from a number of accessible trails that run through the excellent forest, seeking out species that are restricted in Guatemala to the Pacific Slope. Pacific, Orange-chinned and yellow-spectacled Orange-fronted Parakeets, Rufous Sabrewing, Blue-tailed Hummingbird and the cobalt-backed Long-tailed Manakin will all be high on the list - and we have a great chance of seeing the rare and range-restricted Azure-rumped Tanager, too!
Having arrived at Los Tarrales in time for lunch (Day 4), we'll then check the feeders for White-bellied Chachalacas before heading out for our first look at birds in the surrounding forests and plantations. The tricky Rufous-breasted Spinetail and Spot-breasted Wren will no doubt occupy some of our time this afternoon, while at a small plantation, a pair of stunning red-billed Blue-throated Sapphires sometimes set up territory – the male often calling and performing from small sticks. As the day draws on, the likes of Lineated Woodpecker, Collared Aracari, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper and White-winged Tanager will come our way and we should see Yellow-naped Amazon, too.
For our second day here, we'll spend the whole time at Los Tarrales, leaving our lodgings 30 minutes before sunrise so as to be at the right spot in the half-light of pre-dawn to await the Highland Guans displaying. As the light slowly improves we should be treated to better views before they slope off to be replaced by Crested Guans and White-bellied Chachalacas. Nearby, we will search for the tricky Tody Motmot and with patience will hope for ‘scope views of this wonderful little bird! Concealed within the local trees, our guides might also find a day-roosting Mottled Owl before we head back to the finca for a well-deserved breakfast.
Replete, the rest of our morning will be spent looking for the many other avian specialities Los Tarrales has to offer. It's an immense property, one that encompasses a large portion of the Atitlan Volcano - from the lower grounds around the base, all the way up to the top.
There should be a great assortment of hummingbirds, with Green-breasted Mango, White-bellied Emerald, Long-billed Starthroat and Emerald-chinned Hummingbird among many delights in store. The brilliant orange Spot-breasted Oriole is often about, as we try for the rather less showy White-faced and Ruddy Quail-Doves, Rufous-breasted Spinetail and the delectable Prevost's Ground Sparrow. As the day warms, the skies above Los Tarrales are home to large raptors such as Black and Ornate Hawk-Eagles and the impressive King Vulture.
After lunch (and a short siesta for those that want it), we'll pick up a new trail, hoping for views of the shy White-throated Thrush and keeping a sharp eye out for the diminutive Northern Bentbill and Worm-eating Warbler.
Returning before dusk, we can again try for Highland Guan and, as we wait for them to appear, groups of Yellow-naped Amazons may pass over to roost and neat White-eared Ground Sparrows may be picked out on the ground.
Night birds at Los Tarreles include the stunning Black-and-white and Mottled Owls, and there's often a Common Pauraque about, hawking for moths. The strange Northern Potoo sometimes appears and can give great views, while other nocturnal creatures we can try spotlighting for after dark include Kinkajou, Possum and several interesting amphibians. Two nights Los Tarrales
DAYS 6 - 7
LAKE ATITLÁN & THE SAN PEDRO VOLCANO
Bidding a reluctant farewell to Los Tarrales, we transfer the short distance north (about an hour) to Santiago Atitlán, where we'll spend the next two nights at a hotel within a five-minute walk of the shore of Lake Atitlán - ringed by volcanoes and often described as the world's most beautiful lake.
We’ll enjoy a little birding beside the lake during our stay here, hoping to catch up with the elegant Slender Sheartail and visiting one or two sheltered bays around the shore, which can be good for waterbirds - including a good variety of herons and egrets, Sora, Purple Gallinule, Blue-winged Teal and Lesser Scaup.
The cloudforests that cloak the immense Atitlán and San Pedro volcanoes which rise up from the lake are the best place to look for Horned Guan - and if we haven’t been lucky before we'll make a special effort to find this spectacular bird first thing tomorrow!
The rare and endangered Horned Guan is a relic of the Cracidae family that persists today only in small fragments of its previous range. Its sole habitat is limited to cloudforests above 1650 metres (5400ft). As big as a turkey, adult males have a 3cm scarlet ‘horn’ - which projects like a ‘Tom and Jerry cartoon bump’ straight up from the top of the head!
Horned Guans are active first thing in the morning so a very early start (optional for those who wish to take part) will be essential on Day 7 if we are to have any real chance of seeing one. Our adventure begins with a 20-minute boat trip across the emerald-and-blue waters of Lake Atitlán, from Santiago Atitlán to San Pedro La Laguna (it being much quicker to take a boat than to drive around the shore). The boat trip may only be short, but it is both beautiful and scenic for the caldera lake is surrounded by dramatic volcanoes which soar to 3000m (9800ft).
Birders have two bites of the Horned Guan cherry at San Pedro: one at a relatively easy 'new site' discovered nearby; the other at a traditional area high on the slopes on Volcan San Pedro. As luck would have it, the 'new site' has recently proved to be the best place to find the guan - and has the added attraction that the walk to this area is both shorter (about an hour) and much less arduous than the very steep hike required to reach the 'old site' on San Pedro.
After (hopefully!) having seen the Horned Guan well at the new site, we have a chance to pick up a few more of the volcano's special birds. Wine-throated Hummingbird, the diminutive and highly localised Belted Flycatcher, Rufous-browed Wren and perhaps even orange-bellied Elegant Euphonia - all are possible up here.
As we descend again, in drier areas lower down we have a great opportunity to find the tricky Blue-and-white Mockingbird (looking not unlike an outsize Black-throated Blue Warbler) before catching the boat back across Lake Atitlán and relaxing after a well-deserved lunch back at our hotel.
For anyone who doesn't wish to participate in the early morning excursion for the guan, our hotel is located close by the shore of Lake Atitlán, with the most amazing views you can imagine - and a wonderful diversity of birds to be found on the hotel grounds. Two nights at Hotel Bambu, Santiago Atitlan
LAKE ATITLÁN TO MOTAGUA
Departing Santiago and the Lake Atitlán region after breakfast today, we travel east, fringing the outskirts of Guatemala City on our way to the Motagua Valley. We'll break our journey with a stop for lunch at Guatemala City and also to visit a local reserve there in search of Buffy-crowned Wood Partridge and other highland specialties.
Continuing east, we'll aim to arrive at our next hotel, in the hot and dry Motagua Valley around 5.00pm, with time to enjoy a little late afternoon birding around the hotel. The habitat here will be totally new to us - and so too will be the birds! Night Hotel Camino Largo
MOTAGUA VALLEY, RIO ESCONDIDO RESERVE (GOLDEN-CHEEKED WARBLER), & BIOTOPO DEL QUETZAL
The central valley of the Motagua River is the hottest and driest region of Guatemala - and indeed, is the driest area in Central America. Located on the leeward side of the Sierra de las Minas Mountains, very little precipitation reaches the Motagua Valley, with just enough rain falling to allow sparse thorn scrub and dry forest with a 3-5m tall canopy. Characteristic plants include spiny shrubs, cacti (including tall columns), acacias and Guayacan trees.
Making the most of the lower temperatures first thing, we'll set off early this morning to visit the dry forest reserve at Estación Biologica Heloderma. As the sun begins to rise and bird activity increases, we'll await the arrival our first feeding flock. White-lored Gnatcatchers, argumentative Northern Beardless Tyrannulets, Nutting’s Flycatcher, Streak-backed Oriole and the gorgeous Varied Bunting are among likely component species.
Taking tracks down by the river, we may spot a fleet-footed Lesser Roadrunner darting across the road, while the more verdant riverine forests hold Squirrel Cuckoo, Cinnamon Hummingbird and a good selection of northern migrants, such as American Redstart and Northern Parula.
Of the many bird species that make Motagua's thorn scrub and dry forest their home, we shall be watching for Spot-bellied Bobwhite, Russet-crowned Motmot, Lesser Ground Cuckoo, Plain-capped Starthroat and Stripe-headed Sparrow. The handsome Turquoise-browed Motmot is one of the most conspicuous valley residents and we also hope to find Altamira and Spot-breasted Orioles, White-throated Magpie-Jay and Rufous-naped Wren. Checking the skies might reward us with a Black Hawk-Eagle or a passing White-fronted Amazon.
From here, we travel on to the Reserva Natural Privada Rio Escondido, home to the rare and endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler which overwinters here and migrates north to Texas where it breeds. We will enjoy lunch near the reserve before travelling the short distance (12km) to our next hotel, Ram Tzul Lodge, on the northeast slope of the Biotopo del Quetzal.
Ram Tzul, where we stay for two nights, is a rustic eco-lodge that was set up to help fund and preserve the threatened habitat of Guatemala's National Bird - the spectacular Resplendent Quetzal. The lodge enjoys panoramic views to pristine cloud forest. Night Ram Tzul EcoLodge
BIOTOPO DEL QUETZAL
La Reserva del Quetzal, in the Biotopo del Quetzal, protects a vast swathe of cloud forest. Only a small section of this 1000 ha. reserve is open to visitors, with access via two trails that begin at the Visitor Centre and follow a circuit through the forest.
The reserve offers good opportunities to see birds of mid-elevation cloud forest, but our main focus will be on finding the smart Azure-hooded Jay, Chesnut-headed Oropendola and of course, the exquisite Resplendent Quetzal. Though it is indeed spectacular with its long tail and bright emerald-green colouration, this species can also be elusive! But as we wait a fine supporting cast comes in the form of Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, Spotted and Black-headed Nightingale-Thrushes, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, Slate-coloured Solitaire, Common Bush Tanager and Blue-crowned Chlorophonia. We have another chance here of seeing the lovely Golden-cheeked Warbler, too.
The grounds of our lodge are also fantastic for birds, with lots of warblers and tanagers - and not far away is the much smaller but equally productive Ranchitos del Quetzal Reserve, which we shall also visit. Second night at Ram Tzul EcoLodge
BIOTOPO DEL QUETZAL, RETURN TO GUATEMALA CITY & FLY LONDON
It's our final day in Guatemala so we'll start early to enjoy some further birding in the Biotopo del Quetzal, when bird activity is at its peak.
Leaving La Reserva del Quetzal mid-morning, sadly we must return to the hotel to collect our bags and depart for Guatemala City. We'll stop along the way to enjoy a farewell lunch, before continuing on to the airport. Our flight home departs Guatemala City early this evening, travelling overnight to Madrid.
Afternoon arrival at Madrid and onward connection to London, where our birdwatching tour to Guatemala concludes late this afternoon.
WHAT TO EXPECT
We will be making early starts on this tour, which is the norm for birding tours in the tropics where the daylight hours are relatively short and where bird activity is at its peak early and late in the day. For certain key species it is essential to be out in the field at first light so we can hear the birds singing and calling as the day starts up - in some instances, this may be our only chance to find some species, so we will naturally want to make the most of this opportunity. During late February and early March, sunrise in Guatemala is around 6.15am and sunset around 6.15pm.
Much of our birding in Guatemala will be in tropical forest. Very little of the country is flat so we’ll mostly be walking on hill trails, birding from tracks and trails with occasional steeper sections. Where possible, we aim to drive uphill and bird as we walk back down. It will be warm to hot, humid at times (though often cooler and more refreshing at altitude), and we may be on our feet for up to several hours at a stretch watching for birds - participants may find it handy to carry a lightweight collapsible stool.
Overall, the tour is not a strenuous one (see also Walking, below), but you should be prepared for early starts in order to enjoy the best of the day's birding before the heat and humidity builds and activity starts to wane. After a lull during the hot middle part of the day (there will be afternoon rests after lunch some days), the birding tends to pick up again from mid-afternoon and, though the daylight hours are relatively short in the tropics, you should be ready for some long field days as we are likely to be out until near dusk on more or less a daily basis.
Our guides will be able to advise you locally about the day's events - if you prefer to opt out of a particular activity or walk, please don’t be afraid to ask them.
Guatemala enjoys a tropical to temperate climate, according to altitude. Our February-March tours run during Guatemala’s ‘dry season’, but note rainfall can (and does!) of course occur year-round in the mountains and rainforests! It can be cool and misty in the mountains and cloud forest, especially early in the day. It's generally hotter and sunnier on the Pacific Slope (Los Tarrales) and in the Caribbean Lowlands (Motagua Valley), with temperatures typically in the range of 10-30C (50-86F).
Good to excellent photographic opportunities in more open habitats, especially at the feeders around the lodges - birds, wildlife and some splendid scenic shots. Trickier in the forest due to low light levels.
5-10 species. Forest mammals can be tricky but possibilities include White-tailed Deer, Red Brocket Deer, Collared Peccary, Central American Agouti, Kinkajou and the enigmatic Cacomistle - a poorly known relative of the Raccoon. Jaguar and Puma still roam the most remote areas but are most unlikely to be seen.
10 nights accommodation in Guatemala, staying at a varied selection of comfortable, characterful and conveniently located hotels, lodges and fincas (private estates) described above. All rooms have private facilities.
All main meals (and with drinking water provided during the day) are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner on arrival in Guatemala on Day 1 and concluding with lunch there on Day 11.
Food is good to excellent throughout, appetising and very tasty. Most restaurants offer a good selection of traditional Guatemalan dishes - such as Pepian (meat, vegetable and spice stew, the national dish of Guatemala); Jocon (chicken in tomatillo sauce); Guatemalan enchiladas and Kaq’ik (Guatemalan spicy turkey broth)... all served with tortillas.
Our tour concentrates mainly on the Central Highlands to the west of Guatemala City. Most of our walks here are short and easy (moderate for Horned Guan), but please note that Guatemala is a mountainous country in places so we will often be walking up or down trails. You should expect some trails to be steeper in parts - but we take all our walks slowly, with frequent stops to rest and bird. Walking poles and/or lightweight collapsible stools can be handy.
The walk to look for Horned Guan at San Pedro Volcano (Day 7) is more strenuous. We will depart very early and will be visiting Cerro Paquisis, the 'new site' for this species (the walk up to which is relatively easy compared to the relentless three-hour slog uphill to the 'old site', which we will not be attempting on our tour).
The walk to Cerro Paquisis takes an hour or so along a path that is well maintained by local foresters, but with lots of steps. We'll take this at our own pace, pausing to rest as often as necessary. At the top, there is a plateau where the cloud forest begins. This limit between the montane forest and the cloud forest is very birdy - with Wine-throated Hummingbird among specialities to watch for - and we'll regroup here before seeking the guan.
Though it is the 'dry season' rainforest trails can nonetheless be uneven, muddy and/or slippery underfoot at times, so sturdy waterproof walking shoes or lightweight boots with good grip are recommended for this tour.
Maximum elevation this tour: 3000m.
There are no direct flights from the UK to Guatemala, so we fly with British Airways / Iberia from London Heathrow to Guatemala City with a change of planes in Madrid.
Ground Transport We travel by comfortable minibus with air-conditioning and experienced local driver.
At Los Tarrales, an early start is essential in order to be at the right spot at first light to look for Highland Guan. We'll plan to leave the lodge 30 minutes before sunrise and use two 4x4 vehicles to cover the nearly 2 miles (15-20 mins) drive into the reserve. After seeing the guans, we'll drive back down again, this time stopping along the way to enjoy some more birding.
A very early start is essential for the (optional) Horned Guan trip at San Pedro Volcano, which begins with a 20-minute boat ride across Lake Atitlan (from Santiago Atitlan to San Pedro La Laguna). Here, modified pick-up trucks will be waiting to transfer us from the lake to the start of the volcano trail. It’s a fun ride since the trucks have space to sit or stand up (there is a rail to hold and seats) while enjoying the beautiful landscape. Note that it can feel cold early in the morning, so layer up with warm clothing that can be peeled off as the day begins to warm.
View a gallery of images for this tour below, click on an image to view as full size with caption