The colourfully adorned King Vulture looks almost like some Mayan god, and appropriately it is a bird we should see on the Lacandon tour. Photo: Steve Howell
Not so many years ago, a visit to Mexico’s Lacandon rainforest and the Maya ruins of Bonampak and Yaxchilán was a major undertaking. Today, with new paved roads and new lodges, the Lacandon is surprisingly easy to visit. Scarlet Macaws, Great Curassows, howler monkeys, hawk-eagles, and perhaps even a tapir or jaguar can be seen amid spectacular rain forest, home to the lowland Maya civilization.
The region lies in the watershed of the Usumacinta (“sacred monkey”) River, which served the Maya as a network of water highways for commerce, war, and cultural exchange; sites such as Yaxchilán lie along the Usumacinta itself, while Bonampak (unknown to westerners until 1946) lies along the Lacanja River, a tributary of the Usumacinta.
Mexico’s Lacandon rainforest represents the northernmost extension of truly Amazonian fauna: puffbirds, toucans, jacamars, antbirds, leaftossers, manakins, cotingas, and woodcreepers all occur here. Unlike in Amazonia, however, the number of forest species is quite manageable, which makes for a good introduction to tropical forest birding. The region also hosts a handful of species restricted to Mexico and northern Central America, including Rufous-breasted Spinetail, Green-backed Sparrow, and White-bellied Wren.
Day 1: The tour begins at 8 pm atour hotel in Villahermosa.Night in Villahermosa.
Days 2-4: We’ll head into the Lacandon region, birding along the way, and reach Frontera Corozal, overlooking the mighty Usumacinta River. This river is still an artery of local travel and commerce. Based in Corozal we’ll visit the renowned Maya archaeological sites of Yaxchilán and Bonampak, reminders of a civilization that melted into the forest. To reach Yaxchilán we’ll take a boat down the Usumacinta, with Mexico on our left bank, Guatemala on the right, and handsome King Vultures sailing overhead - unconcerned by human boundaries, past or present. Birds such as White Hawk and Lovely Cotinga may distract us from the ruins at Bonampak, home to the famous painted figures, remarkably well preserved in a spectacular temple surrounded by luxuriant forest. Mixed-species forest flocks here will entertain with antvireos, antwrens, woodcreepers, flycatchers, tanagers, and migrant warblers. And almost everywhere we go, the sound of howler monkeys is a constant background (at times foreground!) companion. Nights in Frontera Corozal.
Days 5-7: We’ll visit the time-honoured favourite site of Palenque. Amid the ruins and forest edges we’ll see “the usual” toucans and parrots, and also look for regional endemics such as Rufous-breasted Spinetail and Green-backed Sparrow, along with a host of wintering migrants from North America, including thrushes, vireos, and some 20 species of warblers. We’ll also visit some nearby savannas, home to a suite of different species, including Aplomado Falcon, Double-striped Thick-knee, White-fronted Parrot, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Grassland Yellow-finch, and the ever-popular Vermilion Flycatcher. Nights in Palenque.
Day 8: We’ll head back to Villahermosa by way of some extensive wetlands packed with waterbirds - we soon lose count of Northern Jacanas, and before long Bare-throated Tiger-Herons and sometimes even Pinnated Bitterns fall into the realm of “guesstimates” amid thousands of other herons, egrets, ibis, spoonbills, and storks. The marshes also host a good variety of other species including handsome Black-collared Hawks and numerous Snail Kites, while woodland patches mark the western range limit of species such as Yucatan Jay and can hold impressive numbers of migrant warblers.
Day 9: The tour concludes this morning in Villahermosa.
Updated: 17 November 2020