Breathtaking Birding in Mexico

The Best Spots in the Yucatan


Birding in Mexico is for everyone, even if you can't tell the difference between a crane and a heron. The sight of thousands of startlingly pink flamingoes taking flight over the marshy lagoons of Celestun or returning to roost at sunset will take your breath away.

But there's a whole lot more!

Hundreds of species of birds migrate to the Yucatan jungles and wetlands in winter and just the Sian Ka’an reserve itself is estimated to host at least a million migratory birds.

There are an estimated 546 species of birds in the Yucatan, 11 of which you will not see anywhere else in the world. These species include the bright red Yucatan parrot, the Yucatan nightjar and the Yucatan wren.

Birding in Mexico is celebrated through a yearly Yucatán Bird "Toh" Festival which takes place in November in Merida and Uxmal. While the schedule differs yearly, one of the most sought-after events is the 28-hour long Xox ch'ich', a contest in which groups compete to come up tops on the bird count.

On this page we profile four of the most popular birding destinations:

Important Note: To fully enjoy birding in Mexico, be well-armed with a pair of binoculars and insect repellent as much of it takes place in marshy wetlands and jungle.


Celestun is a small fishing village on the west coast of the Yucatan. The pink flamingos make their home here and you will see the greatest numbers from March through August.

A birding tour on the river is easily arranged as local fishermen trained as guides have their boats moored at the entrance to the Celestun Wildlife Refuge. Keep your eyes peeled for other birds such as snowy egrets and herons and innumerable spectacular migratory birds in Mexico.

Location and Directions 45 miles southwest of Merida at the end of Route 281

Places to Stay In downtown Celestun, there are very basic 2-star hotels, some on the beach. Eco Paraiso Xixim is a beautiful 280-room eco-resort on a beach, 6 miles north of Celestun village.


Rio Lagartos

Rio Lagartos

Biosphere Reserve is home to the largest colony of pink flamingoes in Mexico, numbering more than 40,000. Although it is 140 miles northeast of the Celestun Refuge, the two are sister sites as together they house nearly 90% of the world’s pink flamingo population in winter and are the only mainland breeding and feeding grounds to be found in North America. Licensed tour guides offer day and night tours; crocodiles might be seen during the latter.

Location and Directions 65 miles north of Valladolid on Route 296, an hour away from Chichen Itza

Places to Stay Lodgings are to be found in the nearby fishing village of San Felipe to the west of Sian Ka’an. El Cuyo, a fishing community inside the biosphere, has beachside cabins.

El Cuyo is 21/2 hours northwest of Cancun and 25 miles due north of a small town called Colonia Yucatan.


Isla Contoy

A small island close to Isla Mujeres, Isla Contoy is a national park and a bird sanctuary and an essential destination for birding in Mexico. As only 200 visitors are allowed daily, it is necessary to join an organized trip or get a permit from the Park offices in Isla Mujeres or Cancun. The 100 plus avian species to be found in the lagoons, wetlands and low jungle are mainly marine birds such as the double-crested cormorant, the frigate, the brown pelican.

Organized bird tours will also include a stop for snorkeling, a lunch on the white sandy beaches of Isla Contoy and more snorkeling before returning. Look out too for the sea turtles as the hawksbill, the logger head, the green and the leatherback as they nest on this island.

Location and Directions 18 miles north of Isla Mujeres.

Places to Stay No accommodation on the island; many choices from basic to drop-dead posh are available in Isla Mujeres.


The Sian Ka'an Biosphere

Please note:  For a detailed, full text article on the Sian Ka'an Bioreserve, click here.

Those looking for the best sites for birding in Mexico will find a dazzling array of wildlife teems in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere which covers more than 1.3 mllion acres of land and lagoons. This is the icon of the environmental movement in Quintana Roo and was created not just to protect the birds in Mexico, but also 1,200 other species of animals which call this home.

A land of lagoons, mangrove swamps, tropical forests, cenotes and coral reefs, this is a premium destination for birding in Mexico. There are non-profit community birding tours for groups as small as two people to spot some of the 360 species that roost here.

Some guides are able to identify these birds in Mexico by their song. Some of the birds more easily seen are the ibises, blue and white herons, storks, egrets, orioles, kingfishers and big black vultures.

Location and Directions A few miles south of Tulum, with Playa Del Carmen a little over 40 miles to the North.

Places to Stay Lots! Small hotels on the coastline between Tulum and Sian Ka’an and your choice of anything and everything between rustic to luxurious in Tulum.

For a review of a wonderful small hotel in Tulum town itself, see our review of the Posada Luna Del Sur.


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