I just returned from my 5th visit to Mexico, this time exploring western Jalisco and northern Colima, including the spectacular Colima volcanoes. I love Mexico. The people are warm, the sunshine is warm, and the birding is pretty dang hot. I understand that some folks might need a little encouragement to get their passports stamped in Estados Unidos Mexicanos, citing safety and security issues when balking at the border. But is it any less safe in Mexico than in the good old U S of A?
To help make up your mind, here are my top 5 reasons why you should go birding in Mexico:
#5 – Real Mexican food
We’re not talking about your standard refried beans, colored rice, and bulk tortillas here. We are talking about hand-made-daily corn tortillas; a rainbow of fresh sauces; a cornucopia of fresh tropical fruits; and melt-in-your-mouth fresh cheeses. We’re also talking about a profusion of delectable flans, chocolates, and pastries. Delicious specialty drinks keep your whistle wetted, like the spirited raicilla, ponche, and sangria, and plenty of freshly squeezed pineapple, guava, papaya, and orange juice.
I still do not drink the tap water in most places (the locals don’t either), but purified water and purified ice are available in all restaurants and most street-corner stores. I have never gotten sick in Mexico. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, and I still carry my “cipro” antibiotic just in case, but I do not let the tiny probability prevent me from enjoying the delicious local cuisines.
#4 – Warm Mexican hospitality
Everyone we meet in Mexico is happy to see us. We get smiles down every street, and all the non-English speakers are patient and helpful with our horrible shredding of the Spanish language. Many locals even seem genuinely interested in practicing their English when we come into their shop or restaurant.
We especially like venturing into rural, or “real,” Mexico, where the locals see few gringos. The streets are quiet in these areas—except for the clatter of goats and chickens—and the birding is excellent. We wander these remote roads on our quest for each region’s specialty birds, and passers-by wave pleasantly, sometimes even stopping to ask us what birds we are watching (it helps to have your field guide handy, or better yet, to know the bird names in Spanish!).
#3 – Mexico offers more tropical birds for your buck!
Your U.S. dollar goes a long way against the Mexican peso, and flights to popular resort destinations often cost less than our domestic fares. Round-trip tickets to Puerto Vallarta can cost as little as $300, depending on your point of origin. Flights to other popular tropical countries typically cost 2 or 3 times this amount. Food and lodging expenses in Mexico allow you to enjoy an extended visit without feeling like you have blown your whole vacation fund.
Compare the costs of traveling and birding in Mexico with other destinations where you can tally similar numbers of birds, and you will see that Mexico offers better birding for your American buck.
#2 –Mexican resort destinations are still safe for tourists
The U.S. media and the U.S. State Department (USSD) have convinced many U.S. citizens that Mexico is unsafe for travelers. For example, the USSD says you should not travel to the border between Jalisco and Michoacan. Let’s say that violence on the Jalisco-Michoacan border affects safety in Puerto Vallarta; then, could we also say that violence in East Los Angeles affects travel safety in Tucson, Arizona? Would you avoid birding in southeastern Arizona because of gang violence in LA?
“Puerto Vallarta is said to be a very safe area with an unusually low crime rate. … Many people say they feel safer walking in Puerto Vallarta at night than they do in their home cities.” tripadvisor
And the #1 reason why you should go birding in Mexico …
#1 – MEXICO IS FOR THE BIRDS!
Mexico offers a unique destination for easy tropical birding. On this last trip to Jalisco and Colima, we found over one-third of the 600+ bird species on the combined Jalisco/Colima bird list. We saw at least one representative from each of 56 different families, including 21 warblers, 17 flycatchers, 10 hummingbirds, and 8 woodpeckers. My combined list for 5 visits to Nayarit, Jalisco, and Colima is 337 species, including nearly 50 regional endemics.
Many of these specialty and endemic birds are amazingly conspicuous. Sitting at the Rancho Primavera bird feeders, just an hour from Puerto Vallarta, you can see Yellow-winged Cacique, Black-vented Oriole, Blue Mockingbird, Black-throated Magpie-Jay, and Golden-cheeked Woodpecker—at the feeders. If those birds bore you, turn 90 degrees and see Russet-crowned Motmot, Golden Vireo, and Happy Wren in the trees and shrubs off the porch. The region’s songbirds readily respond to simple pishing, and the mix of open, forested, and aquatic habitats offers excellent diversity. Watch Blue-footed Boobies fishing off the Puerto Vallarta pier while you sip a fresh margarita. It’s rough.
Go to Mexico. Enjoy some easy, affordable tropical birding. Enjoy the people and the food. Enjoy the slower pace of life. And, in the words of my good friend Chuck Gates, who first took me to San Blas, “Kiss a motmot for me.”