Our two-day visit to Centro Ecoturismo Amixtlán in Jalisco was part of an 18-day birding trip (including Sinaloa, Nayarit, Colima, and Jalisco) covering the well-known birding destinations, primarily those in Steve Howell's A Bird-finding Guide to Mexico (1999). (NOTE: Howell’s guide remains the “bible” for birding in Mexico, but things inevitably change. For example, anyone planning a visit to Volcán del Fuego above Atenquique, should be aware of changes caused by major floods around Atenquique in the last couple of years. The dirt road accessing Volcán de Fuego above Atenquique, as described by Howell, is open through the second campsite, but about a mile past this campsite the road is closed where it crossed an arroyo. Based on the extent of flood-related remodeling along this arroyo and geological features of the site, it doesn’t appear likely that the road will re-open beyond this point any time soon.)
On our trip, we were on the lookout for “new” places to bird beyond the regular circuit. For us, Amixtlán qualifies as a landscape that deserves more coverage by birders. It is an extensive forest that increases the options for birding on the slopes of Volcán de Fuego. Plus there are modern accommodations on site (two lodges with 3 bedrooms each, an indoor restaurant and conference area, an outdoor kitchen), and by advance arrangement meals are prepared for a nominal fee.
Centro Ecoturismo Amixtlán is a 900-hectare area managed by members of Ejido San José del Carmen, as part of the federal program known as CONAFOR Services Ambientales. The ecotourism center and ejido project are situated in a much larger contiguous moist forest on the west slope of Volcán de Fuego (amixtlán is Nahuatl for “entre las nubes” — among the clouds). We came upon the forest while exploring the area around Laguna la Maria on the afternoon of March 6, 2014. We were on the highway to Zapotitlán de Valid, passing through an oceanic monoculture of sugar cane, when we saw signs to "Centro Ecoturismo Amixtlán.” We followed the final sign that turned us off the highway onto a cobblestone road through the sugar cane fields. One member of our exploratory party (Suzanne) was skeptical that there was anything remotely resembling ecotourism anywhere nearby. However, the cane fields gave way to forest and 4.6 miles from the highway turn-off, now in ever-better forest, we came to a locked gate for Centro Ecoturismo Amixtlán. As it was late in the day, we decided to return early the next morning.
On March 7, 2014, we encountered workers from the ejido going to Amixtlán for the day. They said the gate would be open. When we arrived at the center (~0.3miles beyond the gate), we met the site manager Melesio Mendoza and the ejido leader Isidro Ceja Alonzo. Melesio, who has lived in the U.S. for many years and speaks English proficiently, joined us to guide us on the primitive road leading into the forest. We stopped and birded briefly in a couple of spots with him. We asked and were given permission to camp for the night so we returned to Laguna la Maria to check out of our motel and get our stuff and we returned to Amixtlán at about 1 p.m. (We did not stay in the lodge because we were traveling with our dogs.) We birded for the remainder of the afternoon along approximately 4 miles of the primitive road that goes through the forest. The next morning we covered the same distance stopping to walk on the road at a couple of places that seemed particularly birdy. We birded for about 3 hours, returning to break camp and go for the breakfast we had requested the day before. This was a wonderful meal of traditional Colima-Jalisco fare (e.g., sopitos layered with crema, frijoles, queso fresco, and fresh-made salsa) prepared by Petra Garcia, Luz Cortez, and Herminia Rodriguez, women who are part of the group that manages the ecotourism project. We ate on stools and chatted with them as they prepared our breakfast in the small outdoor kitchen equipped with a wood-burning stove and stone metate for making tortillas.
Long/lat for Amixtlán:
The highway distance from the Laguna La Maria turnoff to the Amixtlán turnoff is 4.7mi/7.8 km. At 1.9mi/3.1 km you cross a bridge over the Río La Lumbre at the Colima-Jalisco state border.
The road distance from the highway to the buildings at Amixtlán is 4.9 mi/8.1km. The turnoff from the highway to Amixtlán puts you onto a cobblestone road through cane fields. In 0.2 mi/0.3 km, the dirt road to Amixtlán branches to the right. This road was in good shape and appeared suitable for a cautiously driven rent car; however, seasonal erosion could be an issue. The road branched at a few junctures, but the direction to Amixtlán was marked at each intersection.
There is a gate and unoccupied guard house (4.6 mi/7.7 km) at the entrance to Amixtlán. If the gate is locked, which it can be during the week when there are no guests and little work going on, you will need to crawl over the fence and walk to the main headquarters to find Melesio or another caretaker to open the gate. It would be better to call ahead of time to assure that the gate is open in anticipation of your arrival.
The primitive roads through the forests above the headquarters are extensive but require a high-clearance vehicle. (We barely touched the possible birding areas.)
The road up to Amixtlán passes through cane fields that soon yield to tree plantations, pasture, and eventually to dry oak forest. There are a couple of arroyos along or crossing the road that offer good birding opportunities. As the road climbs, the forest habitat becomes moister and richer.
The grounds around the Amixtlán Center (elev. ~1500 meters) have been cleared, thus affording good opportunities to observe soaring birds as well as amazing views of Volcán de Fuego.
The forest above the Amixtlán Center does not appear to have been logged. It is much moister and distinct in composition from the forest above Atenquique. The closed canopy of large mixed hardwoods arrayed with vines and orchids are consistent with old-growth cloud forest.
On this initial trip, we drove no further than about 4 mi/7 km beyond the center. We camped at 1.1 mi/1.8 km. In 1.7 mi/2.8 km we took the left fork in the road and at 2 mi/3.3 km encountered a birdy canyon. At almost 4 mi/6.7 km, we hiked a short distance down a track to the left into a canyon populated with massive fir trees (elev. ~2000 meters).
Lodging, Food, and Contact Information
Lodging and meals are available. There was not a price sheet available for the rooms. Our breakfast was $50 pesos per person; we added a generous tip. We gave a tip to Melesio for guide services and made a donation to the ejido for their conservation work. While the ejido was very generous to let us camp on short notice, we do not know if camping will be routinely part of the Centro Ecoturismo Amixtlán's management plans.
Contact: Isidro Ceja Alonzo, telephone 01-343-410-1003 (he does not speak English)
also see: https://es-la.facebook.com/public/Centro-Ecoturistico-Amixtlan
Given our brief visit, and our current lack of familiarity with a number of bird songs/calls for this part of Mexico, we felt like we barely “scratched the surface” of the bird potential for this forest. We look forward to returning to Amixtlán and we are eager for more birders, especially veteran birders of Mexico, to spend time here exploring the forest.
West Mexican Chachalaca
Crested Guan (seen on road into Amixtlán)
Western Screech Owl
large swift species
American Kestrel (seen on road into Amixtlán)
Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler