Yucatan Peninsula, 10-22 January 2016

Published by Neil Gilbert (prairiemerlin AT gmail.com)

Participants: Joel Betts and Neil Gilbert



10 January Arrive in Cancún. Night: Hostel Kankun ($6/night, grungy)
11 January Cancún to Felipe Carillo Puerto. Night: Camping along Vigio Chico Rd
12 January Felipe Carillo Puerto. Night: Camping along Vigio Chico Rd
13 January Felipe Carillo Puerto to Xpujil. Night: Hotel Becan ($24/night, decent)
14 January Xpujil to Calakmul. Night: Campamento Yaax’Che ($3/night)
15 January Calakmul. Night: Campamento Yaax’Che ($3/night)
16 January Calakmul to Valladolid. Night: Hotel Santa Lucía ($36/night, nice)
17 January Valladolid to Río Lagartos. Night: Camping by Ejido San Salvador
18 January Río Lagartos to Cancún. Night: Hostel Kankun.
19 January Cancún. Night: Hostel Kankun.
20 January Cancún to Isla Cozumel. Night: Hostelito ($8/night, excellent)
21 January Isla Cozumel to Cancún. Night: Hostel Kankun.
22 January Depart from Cancún.

I picked the Yucatán Peninsula as my first foray to the tropics because it is easy and inexpensive to access. For the planning and preparation for this trip, I relied heavily on Howell’s field guide and birder’s guide as well as trip reports and eBird lists from the hotspots. I went with my good friend from college Joel Betts, who, though enthusiastic about birds, isn’t a seasoned lister, so our trip might look a bit different from that of a hardcore endemic-chaser.

10 January, arrival in Cancún. We rented a car from America Car Rental. For nine days we paid roughly $450, which included all the necessary insurance (and additional insurance for body and tire damage). We had a great experience with America Car Rental—they picked us up at the airport, and within an hour we were driving off in our VW Gol. Other visitors we encountered spoke highly of this company. As in other tourist centers, it is common to find ridiculous prices for food, etc., but we found some great, inexpensive food in el centro. We got what we paid for with the hostel; it was cheap, and we had a private room, but it was a bit grungy.

11—13 January, Felipe Carillo Puerto. Braving the hectic traffic, poorly marked speed bumps, sporadic police checkpoints, and overwhelming tourist resorts, we headed south for FCP. The only significant stop we made was at Kantunchi EcoPark, a touristy park centered around several cenotes. The entry price was steep ($29USD), so we just birded around the parking lot and the entrance road. It was quite active, and we saw our only Yellow-winged Tanager of the trip.

Howell’s guide, though published over twenty years ago, was still very relevant for FCP. The birding was great along the road, though don’t expect to get lengthy or unobstructed views of many of the forest species. We had some of the most activity around an overgrown cattle pasture around Km 15ish; birding here in the early morning was extremely productive!
We camped along the road for two nights, finding spots wide enough to pull off and pitch a tent. There was quite a bit of traffic along the road in the afternoon (mostly bicycles and dirt bikes), but after late afternoon there was very little, and we saw no one on the road after dark. Camping proved a good way to hear night birds; on the first night, we heard Mottled Owl, Vermiculated Screech-Owl, and Northern Potoo.

Kantunchi: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27005097
FCP: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27005037
FCP: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27005719
FCP: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27004971
FCP: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27004848
FCP: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27004709

13—16 January, Calakmul area. From FCP we drove to Xpujil, the last town of decent size before Calakmul. Random roadside stops along the way produced our first Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Canivet’s Emerald, and others. Xpujil is your last chance before Calakmul to stock up on gas, water, and food (unless you want to eat at one of the restaurants closer to Calakmul, but we wanted to be save money). There is a big pond on the north side of town where we saw Gray-necked Wood-Rail and lots of herons.

Calakmul is fantastic. If you bird the Yucatán, it is well worth the effort to get out there. And it is worth noting that this location is not listed in Howell’s guide (too far afield to be included in the Yucatán section?), so you’ll have to glean information from the internet. It is a 60KM drive from the main road. You have to pay fees twice; once at the start of the road (112 pesos for a car and two people) and once when you enter the ruins (65 pesos/person). Campamento Yaax’Che is a good option for the budget traveler. It is only 7KM down the road, so you still have to drive a long way to get to the ruins. You can rent tents or hammocks for about $5-6USD a night, or bring your own equipment and get a slightly lower price. The location also has a 2KM hiking trail and a canopy observation tower, so it is worth birding, too.

We spent the majority our time wandering around the ruins, but birding can be good anywhere along the entrance road. The ruins actually had the highest concentrations of forest birds anywhere we visited; they are easy to view and also attracted to the many fruiting trees around the ruins. We were impressed by how few visitors there were at the ruins (though, it was during the week); Calakmul, more remote and less well-known in tourism circles, might give a quieter option than the spots closer to Cancún. In addition to birding right around the ruins, there are lots of quiet foot paths that go off into the forest, and one of the park employees showed us a track that travels 2KM through good forest to a dry laguna. It was along this road that we saw the only Gray-throated Chat, Blue-crowned Motmot, and Squirrel Cuckoo of the trip.

Calakmul: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27003633
Calakmul: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27003082
Campamento Yaax’Che: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27001623

16-17 January, Valladolid. We didn’t bird in Valladolid, but it’s a beautiful town (very Spanish-feeling) with some great things to see (a beautiful cenote—only 30 pesos to get in, and great swimming—and an old cathedral).

17-18 January, Río Lagartos. Río Lagartos did not disappoint. Once again, Howell’s guide nailed it. On our first afternoon, we took a boat tour to see the flamingos. When choosing a guide (and you will probably have many choices—we were hailed by multiple guys!), be sure to barter. We ended up settling on 600 pesos for a two hour tour with a guy named José. The trip is well worth it. Our guide, while not a bird expert, had a great eye. We missed some of the alluring birds (Boat-billed Heron, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, etc.), but that was made up for with great looks at American Flamingos, Common Black-Hawks, lots of herons and shorebirds, and even a monster alligator.

There is some good birding along the waterfront in Río Lagartos, including a (slightly derelict) boardwalk through mangroves on the east side of town.

Howell’s guide gives you all the information you need to find the land bird specialties, including Mexican Sheartail, Yucatan Wren, and Lesser Roadrunner. We camped at the San Salvador dirt road pull off described in Howell. In the evening, the police came by the check up on us—they said it was fine for us to camp there, just that we should be careful and aware that it might be a little dangerous (mala gente), but we were fine (except for our only illness of the trip, brought upon us, we suspect, from a too-old can of vegetables we bought from a corner store in Río Lagartos.

Rancho San Salvador: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27001413
Río Lagartos (estuary boat tour and waterfront):
Rancho San Salvador: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27001378
Road out to Las Colorados: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S26989362

20-21 January, Isla Cozumel. We originally had another day slated for Isla Cozumel but were incapacitated from our illness and took the 19th as a rest day in Cancún. We returned car on the 18th, as one can easily reach Isla Cozumel via public transport. The passenger ferry departs from Playa del Carmen. One can take a bus from Cancún for 60 pesos or take La Playa Express (a shuttle van used by locals) for 35 pesos. The Express leaves every ten minutes or so and takes about an hour. The ferry is 300 pesos a person for a round trip and leaves every hour. Cozumel is a very big island, and very touristy, so you can get pretty much anything you need out there (but, watch prices—you can pay 150-200 pesos for a meal in the tourist center and then walk down the road a few blocks and get something very similar for 50 pesos from a hole in the wall.) Lots of options for rental transportation exist (and you will be assailed with offers upon exiting the ferry), though you can see all the specialties within such a small radius that renting a car seems like overkill. We paid 300 pesos to rent two bikes for 24 hours, and this option was a great way to get around and bird. We stayed in Hostelito, which was very cheap and of incredible quality for its price.

I birded the main road that crosses the center of the island out perhaps 8KM and found some great little dirt tracks that were very birdy (Western Spindalis, Yucatan Woodpecker, Yucatan Vireo, Cozumel Emerald). Just watch for unfriendly dogs (the majority seem pretty harmless, but I found that if they got too annoying, a couple rocks hurled towards them would send them packing) and be respectful of people’s dwellings (I found my first Cozumel Emerald feeding on flowers in someone’s yard.) We also birded the road that follows the western shore northward. The overgrown areas in between hotels were hopping with warblers (and goodies like Green-breasted Mango, Caribbean Elaenia, and Bananaquit). We made it out to the sewage plant described in Howell (and nailed Cozumel Wren and Cozumel Vireo in the forest along the way), where we saw lots of birds (mostly warblers) and heard Ruddy Crakes.

Cozumel (north): http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27025480
Cozumel (road across center of island): http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27025582
Cozumel (sewage treatment plant): http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S27034057