Guatemala has gained significant traction in recent years as a top bird-watching destination. The country holds fantastic birding opportunities shrouded in the mysterious allure of cultural antiquity. And though to some it falls in the shadow of more established places like Costa Rica and Panama it deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence.
What does Guatemala offer that rivals what you can see in other popular countries? A wide selection of colorful and intriguing birdlife, including a nice array of endemic species (native only to that country). Guatemala also shares regional endemics with southern Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize and El Salvador. Species like Pink-headed Warbler, Horned Guan, Wine-throated Hummingbird, Cabanis’s Tanager, Yucatan Poorwill, Ocellated Turkey and about 30 others are most easily seen in Guatemala.
The central chain of volcanic mountains dominates southern Guatemala and many of the cloud forests and pine-oak forests on these peaks harbor some fantastic birds. Many of the lower slopes are given over to coffee plantations but many of the higher peaks are richly forested. To the north the region of Petén borders the Yucatán peninsula making for a nice suite of humid forest species.
Laying within Tikal National Park are the remnants of one of the largest and greatest central American civilizations, the Mayas. Here their temples heave towards the sky and penetrate above the forest that now encapsulates them, which makes for a mysterious birding setting where parrots, toucans and oropendolas chatter amongst towering temples and an ancient buildings. The descendants of this huge civilization still persist and 22 dialects of the Mayan language are still spoken today.
There are also some remarkably beautiful lakes including Atitlán and Petén Itzá. Atitlán itself is surrounded by towering volcanoes and Petén Itzá is surround by humid forest both make for some scenic birding. The largest market in central America also lies in the highlands at Chichicastenango where local traders bring their wares to sell at the weekly market. There are established birding routes and the country is keen to expand its birding clientele. The tourist agency, Inguat, is behind the matter and local fincas are being encouraged to preserve habitat for birds. Shade-grown coffee is becoming more prevalent which is a boon for migrant species. Together with the Guatemala birding round table they have come out with a guide for some of Guatemalas most birdy hotspots. All this will lead to more bird tourism and hopefully soon Guatemala will be included in the same conversation as other central American countries.
Stay tuned for more from Mike on Guatemala: Birding the Central Highlands, soon.
Have you been to Guatemala: What did you see? What did you think of this country?