Guatemala Nature Wonders
by Maynor Ovando
Maynor Ovando is a dedicated and passionate Guatemalan naturalist, who left his profession as a civil engineer to find birds every single day of his life. He became an expert birder and guide and now works for Birding Expeditions
Because of his knowledge of bird distributions in the country, Maynor designed routes for birdwatchers that take them through the natural diversity of birds of Guatemala and has lead annual Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) in Atitlan, Tikal, and Antigua Guatemala since 2007. Starting in 2015, he worked with Birding Expeditions staff to promote and lead the CBC of the Biological Corridor of the Resplendent Quetzal—Guatemala’s iconic and dramatic national bird.
Maynor has the first record for Guatemala of a Southern Lapwing (Vanellus chilensis). He reports nearly every one of his bird observations to the citizen scientist database eBird.org, making him among the very top native Guatemalan reporters to eBird. He wants to provide ornithologists an accurate data about bird distributions, especially recent information of the number of species and location of birds. He also shares pictures and song recordings of rare and geographically restricted birds.
<Guatemala Nature Wonders
Day 1: Arriving to Guatemala
Reception at La Aurora International Airport and transfer Antigua Guatemala.
Day 2: Antigua Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala City is located 30 miles from La Aurora International Airport, at an elevation of 5000 feet above sea level. This city is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage since 1979 due to the well state of conservation structures from 1700’s. Some of the more emblematic places are: Palace of the Captains General, Saint Joseph’s Cathedral, Santa Catalina Arch, La Merced Church, Capuchin’s Convent and Saint Francis The Great Church.
Day 3: Birding around Antigua Guatemala
El Pilar Private Nature Reserve is located at San Cristóbal El Bajo village, 10 minutes from Antigua’s Main Plaza. This is a Watershed Reserve and is part of a tropical premontane moist forest. In this place we can find some representative bird species of Northern Central America like Rufous Sabrewing, Green-throated Mountain-Gem, Black-capped Swallow, Black-vented Oriole, Velasquez’s Woodpecker y Black-headed Siskin.
There’s a diversity of butterflies like Guatemalan Patch, Karwinski’s Beauty, Cloud-forest Monarch, Pithy Sister, Black Crescent y Pink-spotted Cattleheart.
Deppe’s Squirrel y Long-tailed Weasel are some of the mammals can be found in the reserve.
Day 4: Todos Santos Cuchumatán
On route we will have breakfast in a swiss family owners’ restaurant, nested in the middle of tropical lower montane moist forest at 6500 feet above sea level. The trails lead you into a pine-oak forest which is the perfect spot to birds like Pink-headed Warbler, Blue-throated Motmot, Hooded Grosbeak, Crescent-chested Warbler, Mesoamerican Brown Creeper y Golden-browed Warbler. During the fall migration we can observe mixed flocks with Red-faced Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Hermit Warbler and Wilson’s Warbler.
Guatemalan Copper, Two-tailed Swallowtail, Cloud-forest Poan, Mexican Silverspot, Golden-banded Dartwhite y Spring Azure are some of the nice set of butterflies that is possible to observe here.
After a couple of hours in this place we will be heading to Cuchumatanes Mountains with a stop in the middle to have lunch.
Day 5: Quetzaltenango
We will have a unique experience walking through the tropical sub Andean rain forest. This is a paramo grasslands with some scattered groves of Stanley’s Juniper, Hartweg’s Pine, Guatemalan Fir and Agave hurteri, located at 11500 feet above sea level, the highest plateau in Central America. Todos Santos Cuchumatán Regional Park is a sanctuary for the conservation of the only endemic bird of Guatemala, Goldman’s Warbler, and some other specialties like Guatemalan Flicker, Olive Warbler, Spotted Towhee, Rufous-collared Robin, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Guatemalan Junco, Savannah Sparrow, Chiapas Siskin, Spotted Towhee and Golden-crowned Kinglet, all of them isolated resident subspecies of north American populations. With recent studies from ornithologists they will be recognized as full species in the next years.
Before noon we will travel to Quetzaltenango province for our next destination with a stop in the middle for lunch.
Day 6: Quetzaltenango
After breakfast we will be immerse into the culture of the local ethnicity. Quiché people is the largest population living in the Western Highlands and we will witness the way they
buy and sell the fresh vegetables produced in the region at Zunil market. That process allows to feed people from Guatemala to Costa Rica.
Later we will go to San Andrés Xecul village, a little town with a splendid and colorful church welcomes people all around the world. This is a very local and artistic way to express their beliefs in the Mayan tradition. At noon we will go to one of the nicest restaurants in Quetzaltenango City, a restored old house with a lot of details from the first half on 20th century. After lunch we will discover some architectonic jewels of the historical district and the Main Plaza.
We will finish our day back in our hotel to enjoy the volcanic hot springs in our rooms
Day 7: Santiago Atitlan
We will start our day with an early transfer to Fuentes Georginas Regional Park. This reserve is famous for the Sulphur hot springs and pools in the middle of a tropical lower montane wet forest at an elevation of 8000 feet above sea level.
This is a unique place because is the proper environment and the right altitude to find very restricted species of birds like Wine-throated Hummingbird, Garnet-throated Hummingbird, Unicolored Jay, Rufous-browed Wren, Black-capped Siskin, Highland Guan, Fulvous Owl, Mexican Whip-poor-will and sometimes the mythical Horned Guan with a short effort.
Some butterflies you would expect to find are Guatemalan Gemmed Satyr, Blue-spotted Satyr, Yellow-striped Gemmed-Satyr, Mexican Pedalio, Black-pointed Tilewhite and Orange-striped Eighty-eight. Also, is possible to spot White-nosed Coati y Mexican Gray Squirrel.
By middle morning we will go back to hotel and then travel to Panajachel, one of the villages around Atitlan Lake to have lunch in a very scenic hotel at lake shore. After lunch we’re going to take a boat to reach our hotel at Santiago Atitlan.
Day 8. Santiago Atitlan
Los Tarrales Nature Reserve is a world-famous destination on the Guatemalan Pacific Foothills where more than 300 bird species are easily found. The property grounds start at 2000 to 10000 feet above sea level, at the top of Atitlan Volcano, which means that are different ecosystems, but tropical lower montane wet forest is dominant. There are several near endemic birds like Yellow-naped Parrot, Lesson’s Motmot, Pacific Parakeet, White-bellied Chachalaca, Rufous-naped Wren, Rufous-breasted Spinetail, Tody Motmot, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Violet Sabrewing, and Spot-breasted Oriole.
Noon is a great time to watch butterflies like Common Morpho, Yellow-fronted Owl-Butterfly, Thoas Swallowtail, Blue Metalmark, Sky-blue Greatstreak, Two-barred Flasher, Red Cracker, White-spotted Greta, Confused Tigerwing, Variable Tigerwing, Great Southern White and Guava Skipper.
Some other mammals are also found, White-tailed Deer, Central American Agouti, Kinkajou and Gray Fox.
Day 9: El Rancho
We will start the day with an early fresh brewed organic coffee to prepare ourselves to the quest of the Guatemalan national bird, Resplendent Quetzal. We will look for this spectacular bird inside the tropical lower mountain wet forest of the Rey Tepepul Regional Park. This cloudy environment is located at 5800 above sea level where we can find other specialties like Black Thrush, Azure-rumped Tanager, Emerald-chinned Hummingbird Elegant Euphonia, Bushy-crested Jay, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, Blue-crowned Chlorophonia and Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird.
Butterflies are also incredible like Heliconian, Klug’s Clearwing, Orange Mapwing, Thick-tipped Greta, Variable Prestonian and Dot-banded Oxeo.
At midmorning we will continue our travel to Motagua Valley with a stop in the middle to have lunch.
Day 10: Heloderma
After a traditional Guatemalan breakfast, we will be headed to Heloderma Private Nature Reserve. This reserve is located at 900 feet above sea level and is part of tropical very dry forest; it was stablished to protect this fragile ecosystem and is home of the Guatemalan Beaded Lizard, an endemic of Motagua Valley and close related to Gila Monster from North America.
This valley is the driest place in Central America, with an average temperature of 79°F and an annual precipitation of 29 inches. The dominant vegetation are thorn scrubs, bromeliads and cacti which provides a perfect scenery to find Varied Bunting, Lesser Roadrunner, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Yellow Grosbeak, Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, Elegant Trogon y Russet-crowned Motmot.
After lunch we will visit Guaytan, a very important pre-classic Mayan city related to trade and jade industry.
Day 11: Río Dulce
After the tropical dry forest experience, we will go straight into the tropical moist forest to discover the refined rock carving art of the Mayas at Quiriguá, a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site. As usual in these parks we are going to find a lot of colorful birds along the trails, as an example Turquoise-browed Motmot, Brown Jay, Gray Hawk y Altamira Oriole.
After lunch in a local restaurant we will continue to Tijax Nature Private Reserve, a lodge on the shore of Río Dulce. We will spend some time looking for Orange-fronted Parakeet, Blue-black Grassquit, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and Common Black-Hawk.
Day 12: Flores
Río Dulce is the natural drainage of Guatemala’s largest lake into the Caribbean, a National Park created to protect the tropical wet forest where we can witness an ancient geological process responsible for the creation of mountains. After a couple of hours traveling along the river we will find an afro Caribbean community, Livingston. This small, vibrant and colorful village is a unique spot in Guatemala, where the rhythm of drums and the songs performed by the Garifuna people will blow your mind.
We will have lunch in a restaurant and then going back to Río Dulce to continue our journey to the cradle of the Maya civilization… Tikal
Day 13: Tikal National Park
The first light in the morning will get us on the trails of the tropical dry forest at Tikal National Park. This famous destination has both categories of a UNESCO Heritage Site, culture and nature, and is part of the largest protected area in Guatemala: Mayan Biosphere Reserve.
Even with average temperature of 85°F and 90% humidity the opportunity to get colorful and noisy birds like Olive-throated Parakeet, Pheasant Cuckoo, Gray-throated Chat, Rose-throated Tanager, Keel-billed Toucan, Montezuma Oropendola, Brown-hooded Parrot, Red-lored Parrot, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron y Russet-naped Wood-Rail will make the experience unforgettable.
After breakfast we are going to walk through the ancient structures of this classic Mayan city to learn about the importance of this ancient megapolis. Time to time Yucatan Black Howler Monkeys, Geoffroy’s Spider Monkeys or even an Orange-breasted Falcon will catch your attention high in the canopy or we can observe Ocellated Turkeys or Great Curassows walking along the plazas.
Day 14: Guatemala City
On this last day we are going to visit another important Mayan city, Yaxhá.
This magnificent place is located at the shore of a lake with turquoise color water that blends the surrounded forest and the exceptional architecture. Walking along the wide causeways we can find Gray-headed Tanager, Bat Falcon, Royal Flycatcher, Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper and Collared Trogon.
After our archaeology tour we are going to have lunch in a local restaurant and then we will be transferred to Mundo Maya International Airport to take a flight to Guatemala City to finish our journey.
Day 15: Back Home
Flight back home.