Oaxaca & Coastal Chiapas Itinerary

Intro Itinerary Tour Pricing and Information Gallery Birdlist Registration


DAY ONE – Arrival in Mexico City. Arrive independently at Benito Juárez International Airport (MEX) in Mexico City, Mexico. You will be met at the airport by your leader, Kim Risen. We’ll have a leisurely drive of about three hours broken by a stop for lunch and a couple of birding breaks. After getting everyone and their gear into their rooms, we’ll have a short birding outing as time permits. Night Cordoba.

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Bat Falcon – Photo by Kim Risen ©

DAY TWO – Tropical lowland forest covering karst hillsides, flooded grasslands & savannas enroute to Tuxtepec. 
Sunrise will light Volcan Orizaba, which dominates the northern horizon from our hotel, demanding a few photos before breakfast. If we’re lucky we’ll have good views of this “perfect” volcano before clouds obscure the cone. After eating, we’ll have a short drive to the small village of Amatlan. Just a short distance off the highway, Amatlan and the karst limestone hillsides here are home to one of Mexico’s most range restricted endemics—Sumichrast’s Wren. Although we may hear this species’ loud songs in Oaxaca, getting to those forest patches is often impossible. Here, the karst limestone hills are covered with plantations of coffee growing under shade trees. The many footpaths in the forest give us easy access to the habitat of this truly unique bird. Other sightings from the area on past trips include Thicket Tinamou, Singing Quail, Bronze-winged (Golden-olive) Woodpecker, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, toucans, Fan-tailed and Golden-crowned Warblers and Montezuma and Chestnut-headed Oropendolas.

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Sumicrast’s Wren – Photo by Kim Risen ©

After finding Sumichrast’s Wren, we’ll explore coastal lowland and wet savanna habitats of Veracruz, crossing the border into Oaxaca in the late afternoon. We’ll see incredible numbers of waterbirds of all varieties. We should find all of the herons and egrets found in this region of Mexico in numbers that at times may be staggering. Raptors are another highlight, and we’ve seen as many as 19 species during our day in this area. Kestrel, Merlin, Laughing, Peregrine and Aplomado Falcons, White-tailed and Snail Kites, Black-collared, Roadside and Gray Hawks, Common and Great Black-Hawks and even large numbers of Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures.

Huge numbers of highly visible birds may make this a favorite day for many participants. One year we saw 159 species on our Veracruz wetlands day! The area holds good numbers of spectacular species like Fork-tailed Flycatchers (a highlight from 2002 was a field with more than 100! of these graceful birds flycatching from grass perches low to the ground), Green-breasted Mango, Russet-naped Wood-Rail and even the familiar Vermilion Flycatcher. Night Tuxtepec.

DAY THREE- Tropical lowland forest, tropical evergreen forest and tropical cloud forest up to pine/oak forest above Valle Nacional. Morning will be spent birding areas that contain remnant forest on the hillsides above Valle Nacional. In this highly agricultural area even these small tracts of forest have good numbers of birds. Little and Thicket Tinamous calling in the early morning hours, White Hawk, Dusky Antbird, Barred Antshrike, Rufous-breasted Spinetail, Spot-breasted Wren, Northern Bentbill, Gray-headed Tody-Flycatcher, tanagers (Blue-gray, Crimson-collared and euphonias), hummingbirds (White-bellied and Canivet’s Emeralds, Little Hermit, and Wedge-tailed Sabrewing), Violaceous Trogon, Chestnut-headed and Montezuma’s Oropendolas, and Yellow-tailed, Audubon’s and Altamira Orioles are likely highlights.

We’ll enjoy a picnic lunch in the mountains before our return to the lowlands and additional birding before we return to our hotel. We may have an after dark owl prowl. Past outings have produced Northern Potoo, Pauraque, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Vermiculated Screech, Striped and Mottled Owls and sounds of the Mexican night. Night Tuxtepec.

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Masked Tityra – Photo by Kim Risen ©

DAY FOUR –  Sierra Madre del Oriente cloud forest above Valle Nacional, to Ciudad Oaxaca. Sunrise will find us birding tropical forest a bit higher up Oaxaca’s Eastern slope, particularly the cloud forest areas high above Valle Nacional. While some sights and sounds may be similar to our previous morning, many will be new. Possibilities include Little and Thicket Tinamous, Slate-colored Solitaires calling from moist canyons, Ruddy Foliage-gleaners giving their nasal calls from dark ravines, Keel-billed Toucans emitting their frog-like calls from exposed limbs above the forest, Unicolored Jay, Emerald-chinned, Azure-crowned and Bumblebee Hummingbirds dive-bombing each other at isolated flower banks, Hooded Yellowthroats and White-naped Brush-Finches can be found skulking about brushy roadsides and the incredible scenery of this higher elevation cloud forest all vie for your attention.

Our route takes us up and over the mountains, and the afternoon hours will find us descending into the mile high Valley of Oaxaca. A charming colonial city, we’ll enjoy our first night on the highly entertaining central square or zocalo. Night Oaxaca.

DAY FIVE – Reserva Santa Caterina de Ixtepeji, Yuvila, scrub above Oaxaca. Early morning departure for Cerro San Felipe. We climb through several habitat types ending up in a humid pine-oak forest near 11,000 feet. Several endemics (Gray-barred Wren, Red Warbler and Collared Towhee) reach their southeastern limits in this area. Several others are more easily found here (Long-tailed Wood-Partridge, Dwarf Jay, Rufous-capped Brush-Finch, and Aztec Thrush) than any other locations we plan to visit. Other birds we may encounter include Garnet-throated, Amethyst-throated & Bumblebee Hummingbirds, woodcreepers (Strong-billed, White-striped and Spot-crowned), Pine Flycatcher, Black Robin, Brown-backed Solitaire, Crescent-chested Warbler and Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer. We’ll eat a picnic lunch in the forest and, if conditions and stamina allow, may stay until dusk for some night birding. This may be our best night for owling in the mountains to the north of the city. Species to be looked for include Whiskered Screech-Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Flammulated Owl, Stygian Owl and recently discovered in this area, Fulvous Owl. Night Oaxaca.

Garnet-throated Hummingbird – Photo by Kim Risen ©


DAY SIX – Monte Alban Ruins, Tule, Teotitlan del Valle. Early morning visit to the scrub habitats found below the ruins of Monte Alban. Monte Alban was an important social and religious site of the Zapotec and the impressively restored ruins are one of the most significant archeological zones in Meso-America. As we explore the scrub-covered slopes below the ruins, we should find Ocellated Thrasher, Slaty Vireo and many of the same species observed previously. We’ll thoroughly explore the ruins before returning Oaxaca and exploring areas east of town. A stop in the picturesque village of Tule is in order. Close-up views of the impressive Mexican Cypress amid the church courtyard (supposedly the tree with the largest circumference in the world) is planned. Lunch may be at the central plaza in Oaxaca or in Tule to give us another taste of rural Mexico. We may also visit the scrub oak hillsides to the north of Oaxaca in the afternoon for Slaty and Dwarf Vireos and Oaxaca Sparrow. Night Oaxaca.

DAY SEVEN – Yagul and Dainzu Ruins, Teotitlan del Valle.  Early morning finds us birding desert scrub surrounding the picturesque Ruinas de Yagul. Possible endemic birds here include Gray-breasted Woodpecker, Dusky Hummingbird, Beautiful Hummingbird, Boucard’s Wren, Bridled Sparrow and White-throated Towhee. Time spent exploring thorn scrub blanketed hillsides below these interesting ruins will pass rapidly as the sun becomes quite warm shortly after clearing the mountains. After cleaning up at Yagul, we’ll depart for other locations in the eastern end of the Valley of Oaxaca for goodies as Lesser Roadrunner, Slaty Vireo, Ocellated Thrasher, Oaxaca Sparrow and anything we might have missed thus far. Night Oaxaca.

DAY EIGHT – Eastern Valley of Oaxaca, to Tehuantepec. We’ll have time to to a concerted search for any species that might be missing from our lists. Usually we’ll enjoy sunrise from the Eastern end of the Valley of Oaxaca searching for Oaxaca Sparrow, Slaty Vireo, Lesser Roadrunner and other birds of this scrub zone. We’ll have our lunch at “The Home of Mezcal”, where, after an introduction to mescal production and an enlightening tour, a tasting session might be in order. Scrub hillsides, woody ravines and shaded slopes occupy our afternoon hours as we travel south toward the Pacific Coast. New bird possibilities include: colorful Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, Green-fronted & “Doubleday’s” Hummingbirds, Red-breasted Chat and Orange-breasted Bunting. After checking into our hotel, we’ll search hard for Sumichrast’s (Cinnamon-tailed) Sparrow—our only opportunity to see this very range restricted, Isthmus of Tehuantepec endemic—hoping to free up the following morning for an early departure. Night Tehuantepec.

DAY NINE – Tehuantepec to Arriaga. If needed, we’ll have an additional morning to search for Sumichrast’s Sparrow. If we have no misses on our birdlist, we’ll leave early towards the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. There are a number of reserves, ‘secret spots’ and traditional areas to visit, so we’ll have a ‘game-time decision’ as to which sites we’ll visit. To birders there are a number of species of interest we can find in these scattered, tropical deciduous woodlands. We should encounter the second of our Isthmus endemics—Rose-bellied (Rosita’s) Bunting—as we approach Arriaga. Other species to expect include Citreoline Trogon, Canivet’s Emerald, Green-fronted Hummingbird, Long-tailed Manakin and the amazing Orange-breasted Bunting. Night Arriaga.

DAY TEN  – Arriaga foothills, coastal Isthmus of Tehuantepec to Puerto Angel.
Visiting areas a bit further afield, we’ll search for Giant Wren, our final endemic of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Searching coastal areas should yield a number of water and shore birds. Boobies, pelicans, herons, egrets, ‘Mangrove’ Black-Hawk, White-bellied Chachalaca, Collared, Snowy, and Wilson’s Plovers, gulls, terns, Pacific Parakeet and Fuentes’s (Ochre) Oriole might fill our well rounded lists. Our day will end with a fine dinner (fresh seafood is my choice!) on the shores of a scenic bay at our home for the next three nights, Puerto Angel. Night Puerto Angel.


Hotel in Puerto Angel – Photo by Kim Risen ©


DAY TEN & ELEVEN – Thorn forests & wetlands of southwestern Oaxaca. Predawn will find us beginning our drive west along the coast toward the state of Guerrero. We’ll enjoy habitats as coastal lagoons, large wetlands and thorn forest covered hillsides. We may see White-throated Magpie-Jay, Gray, Roadside and Black-collared Hawks, ducks, herons & egrets from our car. We’ll spend as much time as possible walking roadsides, side-roads and pathways through the arid thorn forest—a habitat that is fast disappearing from the landscape. We’ll look for West Mexican Chachalaca, Lilac-crowned and White-fronted Parrots, Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, Cinnamon, Doubleday’s and Green-fronted Hummingbirds, Russet-crowned Motmot, Citreoline Trogon, Banded, Sinaloa and Happy Wrens, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Streak-backed Oriole, the enigmatic Red-breasted Chat, Orange-breasted Bunting and Stripe-headed & Black-chested Sparrows. Birding in many different habitats before we arrive in Puerto Escondido for lunch will give us a large day list. Thorn forest, wet grasslands, ponds, lagoons, rivers and ocean shore will all be visited. We should find many ducks, herons, shorebirds, raptors and passerines too. Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Limpkin, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Northern Jaçana, and many migrating shorebirds. When we return to Puerto Angel we’ll have a chance to see several oceanic species including Brown Booby and Red-billed Tropicbird. Dinner may be in Puerto Escondido or Puerto Angel…depending upon our day’s activities. Night Puerto Angel.


Orange-breasted Bunting – Photo by Rick Bowers ©

DAY TWELVE – Pelagic trip, thorn forest of coastal Oaxaca. One day we plan to charter the necessary number of boats (depending upon our final group size) to take us to sea in order to explore the deep waters that come quite close to shore in this part of Oaxaca. November is a good month to find the endangered Townsend’s Shearwater and, if fortune—and sea conditions!—smiles upon us, we hope to find several interesting species. A series of large rocks just off-shore hold an impressive array of Brown Boobies, Magnificent Frigatebirds and variable numbers of dazzling Red-billed Tropicbirds. When encountering flocks of shearwaters, our small boats are often able to get quite close affording us cracking views of variably plumaged Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, elegant Galapagos Shearwater (recently split from Audubon’s Shearwater) and a host of more common pelagic species.

After lunch we’ll travel a bit up the coast searching for any of the thorn forest species that might still be missing from our lists. A sunset visit to a couple of favored ravines for Colima Pygmy-Owl is likely. Night Puerto Angel.

DAY THIRTEEN – Sierra de Miahuatlan to Oaxaca. An early morning departure for birding in the Sierra de Miahuatlan range on our way into the central valley of Oaxaca. Birds to be looked for include Gray-crowned Woodpecker, Wagler’s Toucanet, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Squirrel Cuckoo, hummingbirds (Mexican Hermit, Blue-capped, Cinnamon-sided, Berylline and Bumblebee Hummingbirds and Golden-crowned Emerald), Pileated and Tufted Flycatchers, Bright-rumped Attila, Masked Tityra, Gray Silky-Flycatcher, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Golden and Black-capped Vireos, Fan-tailed, Golden-crowned and Rufous-capped Warblers, Black-headed Saltator, Rusty Sparrow and Yellow-winged Caçique. Our primary goal for the day is locating three endemic birds restricted to this small mountain range—Blue-capped and Cinnamon-sided Hummingbirds and Wagler’s Toucanet. We’ve never missed this spectacular trio on our tours, and we’ll do all that we can to insure that none of these endangered beauties will be missed this on this year’s tour either!

Incredible scenery, spectacular vistas and picturesque mountain villages often compete with Oaxaca’s higher elevation birdlife for the day’s most memorable sightings. Mexican (Green) Violet-ear, Red Warbler, Golden-browed Warbler, White-throated Jay—even the bird names are colorful and exciting!

We’ll arrive in Oaxaca in the late afternoon, hopefully with time to enjoy activities around the central square or zocalo. With large trees, elegant 17th Century Churches, wrought iron railings and large stone edifices framing the courtyard our visit here is always a treat with our dinner on the zocalo a fitting end to our last night in Oaxaca. Night Oaxaca.

DAY FOURTEEN – Valley of Oaxaca clean-up, to Cuernavaca. We’ll have a final morning to enjoy the offerings of Oaxaca and ample time to conduct an earnest search for any species missing from our lists. We’ll enjoy lunch somewhere on our journey northward to Cuernavaca. While this is primarily a travel day, our drive is broken by several birding breaks. We need to arrive at our hotel in time to catch one of the true bird spectacles of this area—the oft spectacular evening roost flights of swifts. Past experiences include clouds of Chestnut-collared and Vaux’s Swifts, and more importantly for us, numbers of White-naped Swifts (the largest swift in the world!) that can exceed a 1000 birds. After the swifts have completed their nightly rituals, we’ll enjoy a short walk to the historic square fronting Cortez’s Castle for a relaxing dinner. Night Cuernavaca.

DAY FIFTEEN – La Cima, Lerma marshes. Visiting pine forest, bunch grass/pine savannah & high wetlands. Early departure into the mountains north of Cuernavaca where we’ll visit several select locations looking for a few rare birds whose distribution is among the most restricted in the world. Sierra Madre Sparrow and Black-polled Yellowthroat both have ranges that are extremely small and are considered endangered due to severely declining numbers and habitat loss. Other goal birds for the day include Strickland’s Woodpecker, Transvolcanic Jay, White-striped Woodcreeper, Pine Flycatcher, Striped Sparrow, Green-striped Brush-Finch and Black-backed (Abielle’s) Oriole.

Our first destination is a collection of bunch grass meadows for the most difficult of our goal birds—Sierra Madre Sparrow. As we search for this critically endangered endemic, we’ll be entertained by more common, and surprisingly large, Striped Sparrows. Also possible in the pine-oak woodlands and bunchgrass meadows are Gray-barred and Brown-throated Wrens, Red and Olive Warblers and another of our primary goal birds of the day—Strickland’s Woodpecker.

After a late breakfast/early lunch at a nearby town we’ll journey to the Lerma Valley and the remnants of the once extensive marshes near Almaloya del Rio. Our purpose for this side trip is to see Black-polled Yellowthroat, which can be surprisingly easy to find in the weedy margins of the marsh. After our visit to the marshes, we retrace our steps to Cuernavaca with a few birding stops in the mountains on our return. We’ll arrive back to our hotel before the evening roost flights of swifts begin so that we can experience this incredible spectacle once more. Night Cuernavaca.

DAY SIXTEEN – Clean-up birding and transfer to airport for flights home. We’ll have a final morning to search for any species that we may still need. As the international airport is just an hour away, we’ll be able to transfer to the airport with ample time for participants to shower, change clothes and repack before their flights. During your journey home, your mind can focus on memories of colorful birds, people and scenery to last until your next visit to Mexico!

Intro Itinerary Tour Pricing and Information Gallery Birdlist Registration