Ecotourism

Birding and Ecotourism in Guatemala

Golden-olive Woodpecker. Photo: Juan Jose Arango

Birding and Ecotourism in Guatemala

Set in the heart of Central America, Guatemala is one of the New World’s prime migratory corridors and offers a lush and vibrant paradise for birders. In addition to numerous Mayan archaeological and cultural sites, Guatemala is home to the largest tropical rainforest north of the Amazon Basin, the Mayan Biosphere Reserve, which hosts numerous tropical and rare bird species.

With deforestation rates as high as 11 percent annually for this ecosystem, bird tourism provides an economic incentive to support conservation of this rich natural area and its inhabitants. In Guatemala, Audubon has partnered with Asociación Vivamos Mejor, Wildlife Conservation Society-Guatemala, and the country’s Tourism Board (INGUAT) to develop and enhance the bird tourism market. To date, the project has trained over 80 locals to be bird guides and in Basic English for Bird Guides. 

Audubon offers two sample itineraries designed for birding in Guatemala: the Guatemala Highlands and Lake Atitlán.

Some highlights:

Paso Caballos

Paso Caballos is a Maya Q’eqchí community (population around 1,500) located near Laguna del Tigre National Park, the largest core zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve and the largest national park in Guatemala. It's an area of lowland tropical forest where a Crested Guan may call from the trees, or where a Great Curassow may walk across the trail. At least eight species of woodcreepers are found here, as well as huge Lineated and Pale-billed Woodpeckers, several species of trogons, Blue-crowned Motmot, and myriad wintering migratory warblers and tropical flycatchers. The east end of the park contains two of the country’s most important Scarlet Macaw nesting sites. 

Lake Atitlán

Lake Atitlán has sometimes been called the most beautiful lake in the world. It is just above 5,000 feet in elevation, nestled in the mountains; some areas are dry forest, while others are wetter. Birds may include Sparkling-tailed Hummingbirds and the rare Slender Sheartail, along with the Golden-olive Woodpecker, Band-backed Wren, Blue-and-white Mockingbird, Rufous-collared Robin, Slate-throated Redstart, Black-vented Oriole, and the pretty Belted Flycatcher, a local rarity. The Atitlán area also offers access to the highlands, where the Horned Guan is the real star of the show for those who are fit and strong enough to hike up the San Pedro Volcano. 

Lake Atitlán. Photo: Amanda Segur/Flickr CC (BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Tikal

Tikal was the premier site of classical period Maya, one of the most mystical and important cultural sites in the Americas, and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fortunately for naturalists, there is forest with many birds and other wildlife among the ruins. There is amazing diversity here including tinamous, parrots, motmots, aracaris, jacamars, puffbirds, leaftossers, antthrushes, and the odd Northern Royal Flycatcher. One specialty is the Orangebreasted Falcon, a rare tropical falcon that over time has chosen to nest in one of the Mayan Temples.

Finca Los Tarrales

Los Tarrales ranges in altitude from 2,300 to 11,500 feet (700 to 3,500 meters) and is home to diverse wildlife, including more than 340 bird species. The reserve is part of the Atitlán Important Bird Area, and harbors 21 regional endemic bird species, including Horned Guan, Highland Guan, Azure-rumped Tanager, and Blue-tailed Hummingbird. The abundance of migratory birds here, including Swainson’s Thrush, Tennessee, Magnolia, and Black-and-white Warblers, Western Tanager, and Orchard Oriole, is impressive. It is a good place for raptors as well, including the Black Hawk-Eagle, and sometimes the gorgeous Black-and-white Owl. Morning and evening are great for commuting parrots, with four species of parakeets and parrots typically seen.