I recently returned from participating in the 5th International Bird Watching “Encounter” in Antigua, Guatemala. The encounters have been developed by the Guatemalan National Bird Watching Roundtable (Mesa Nacional de Aviturismo) with the assistance of INGUAT, the Guatemalan Tourism Institute.
Based on this visit, I am convinced that Guatemala is ready to go as a major destination for birding/avitourism/ecotourism (however you want to describe it). The country has everything you might want in a destination: well over 700 species of birds (more on this below), great infrastructure for tourism, knowledgeable guides, a rich and very much living culture, and a past without parallel. How can you not go there?
For birders, Guatemala offers a delectable mix of resident and migrant birds (the latter only if you go in the “winter” months). Many of the resident birds are spectacular, rare and eagerly sought after by birders — birds such as the Resplendant Quetzal, Horned Guan, and Pink-headed Warbler.
Even the migrants, though most North Americans are likely to have seen them before, occur in different mixes and habitats. For example, where else are you going to see flocks of Townsend’s and Tennessee Warblers hanging out with Crescent-chested Warblers? Even the songs seem to be a bit more magical there — for example, that of the Brown-backed Solitaire.
Guatemala’s archaeological sites are world-famous, and justly so. For example, Tikal National Park is without peer in many ways. However, if you are like me, when you go to places like this, it is hard to decide whether to look at the spectacular ruins or the wildlife — both catch your eyes, although in different ways.
Tikal is part of the larger Maya Forest region, where The Nature Conservancy has worked for many years, userbin, both in Guatemala and in adjacent Belize and Mexico. This area has much to offer the ecotourist, whether birder or archaeologist. Check it out!
(Image: Logo of the 5th International Birdwatching Encounter, courtesy http://www.birds-guatemala.org/en/.)