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  • Photograph of Roseate Spoonbill

    A lovely image of a Roseate Spoonbill, a widespread bird in Central America, taken by Dave Irving.

    CENTRAL AMERICA and THE CARIBBEAN

    The destinations listed and linked below are the ones we believe are the best in Central America and the Caribbean. They have been chosen very carefully and for a multitude of reasons, but mainly based on personal experience of some of them and on dreams of visiting the rest, dreams resulting from what we have heard, read or seen.

    It is our intention to update this list regularly as we add destinations and it was last updated on the 10th of April 2015.

    If there are any other destinations you think should be on the list below then please Email us.

    The destinations are listed alphabetically with very brief, usually one-line, summaries for those linked to more detailed pages (to reach these pages click on the destination name). Those not linked to more detailed pages are described in a bit more detail here, in italics.

    For more information see Top 100 Birds, Top 100 Other Wildlife and Top 50 Other Natural Wonders.

    Destinations

    B

    Bahamas
    One of the best places in the world to swim with dolphins, as well as sharks and Sting Rays.

    Baja California - Mexico
    Whales and dolphins galore, including Blue Whale and confiding Grey Whales.

    Belize
    Whale Sharks, possibly West Indian Manatee and great coral reef fish.

    C

    Cayman Islands
    There are no endemic bird species on these three islands south of Cuba although they do support Vitelline Warbler which otherwise occurs only on the Swan Islands off Honduras. There are many endemic subspecies though including two of Cuban Parrot (caymanensis on Grand Cayman and hesterna on Cayman Brac) and Vitelline Warbler (vitellina on Grand Cayman and crawfordi on Little Cayman). Other specialities include West Indian Whistling Duck, Antillean Nighthawk, West Indian Woodpecker (Grand Cayman), Loggerhead Kingbird, Caribbean Elaenia, La Sagra's Flycatcher, (Western) Red-legged Thrush, Thick-billed Vireo, Yucatan Vireo (Grand Cayman), Bananaquit (sharpei), Western Spindalis (Grand Cayman), Cuban Bullfinch (Grand Cayman) and Greater Antillean Grackle, while more widespread spectacular species include White-tailed Tropicbird, Red-footed Booby (one of the largest breeding colonies on Earth (about 3500 pairs) is on Little Cayman), Magnificent Frigatebird (which also has a breeding colony on Little Cayman), and passage migrant and wintering warblers such as Black-throated Blue. Most resident breeding species nest from late May to July. The endemic fauna includes the Grand Cayman Blue Iguana while rich coral reefs, calm seas and warm, clear water make snorkelling and scuba-diving delightful, the most notable larger species being Blacktip and Whitetip Reef Sharks, Southern Stingray, Spotted Eagle Ray, Green Turtle and Atlantic Tarpon.

    Costa Rica
    Resplendent Quetzal, Red-eyed Tree Frog, sloths, monkeys and nesting turtles. Costa Rica's got the lot!

    Cuba
    Over 20 endemic birds including a tody, a trogon and the world's smallest; Bee Hummingbird.

    D

    Dominica
    Sperm and other Whales, dolphins and two endemic parrots.

    Dominican Republic
    One of the few places in the world where it is possible to swim with Humpback Whales.

    E

    El Triunfo, Mexico
    The cloud forest in this reserve in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas is one of the few accessible sites in Chiapas and neighbouring Guatemala where Horned Guan occurs, and this is also a good place to see other range-restricted highland specialities such as Highland Guan, White-breasted Hawk, Fulvous Owl, Resplendent Quetzal (the subspecies with the longest tail), Blue-throated Motmot, Green-throated Mountaingem, Emerald-chinned and Wine-throated Hummingbirds, Black-throated Jay, Blue-crowned Chlorophonia and Hooded Grosbeak. At lower altitudes the major speciality is Azure-rumped (Cabanis's) Tanager (most likely at Canada Honda), while others include Rufous Sabrewing, Sparkling-tailed Woodstar, Tody Motmot, Giant Wren (Tapachula area) and White-eared Ground-Sparrow. Other birds include Turquoise-browed Motmot (Paval area), Black-crested Coquette, Grey Silky and Long-tailed Manakin, and mammals present include Central American (Geoffrey's) Spider Monkey, Collared Peccary and Southern Ringtail (Cacomistle). Visitors must have permission from the Instituto de Historia Natural in Tuxtla Gutiérrez which can also help with the logistics in reaching the basic bunkhouse, which involves an uphill hike of about 11 km (6.5 miles), camping lower down, food and so on. The best time to visit is March when Horned Guans are usually calling.

    G

    Guatemala
    Although Guatemala is little more than one-twentieth the size of Mexico it has a birdlist of about 700, almost two-thirds of the Mexico total. Down south, Central American specialities include Crested and Highland Guans, Resplendent Quetzal, hummingbirds such as Rufous and Violet Sabrewings, Blue-throated and Tody Motmots, Chestnut-sided Shrike Vireo, Bushy-crested and Unicoloured Jays, Pink-headed Warbler and the rare Azure-rumped (Cabanis's) Tanager (Finca Los Andes), mostly in patches of remnant forest in and around shade-coffee plantations, and on the highest, steepest slopes of the dramatic volcanic landscape, at places such as El Espinero. On the high slopes of Volcan San Pedro around the beautiful crater lake Lago de Atitlan (where the endemic grebe became extinct in the early 1980s) it is also possible to see the localised, rare and spectacular Horned Guan, above 2500 m on the notoriously steep El Sendero de Lagrimas (The Trail of Tears). Up north is the Classic Mayan site of Tikal where the birdlife includes several Yucatan endemics such as Ocellated Turkey, Ocellated Poorwill and Grey-throated Chat, with numerous other spectacular birds, not least King Vulture and Keel-billed Toucan, as well as Black (Yucatan) Howler Monkey, Central American (Geoffrey's) Spider Monkey and confiding White-nosed Coatis. The peak time to look for birds is January to April.

    H

    Honduras
    Whale Sharks, coral reef fish and birds such as Tody and Keel-billed Motmots.

    J

    Jamaica
    This small tropical island supports a staggering 30 endemic bird species (including the endemic nana subspecies of the widespread Olive-throated Parakeet, and Jamaican Oriole which occurs only on Jamaica and the remote island of San Andres). Many endemics are widespread. There are three hummingbirds, including two stunning streamertails, two parrots, a tody, an owl and Arrow-headed Warbler, as well as Ring-tailed Pigeon, the tricky Crested Quail Dove which is most likely along Ecclesdown Road, a lizard cuckoo, Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, a woodpecker, an elaenia, a pewee, two other flycatchers, a becard, two thrushes, a crow, two vireos, a tanager, a euphonia, a grassquit, Orangequit and a blackbird. Twelve more widespread Caribbean endemics present include West Indian Whistling Duck, Vervain Hummingbird and Rufous-throated Solitaire, and other, more widespread, spectacular species include White-tailed Tropicbird, Magnificent Frigatebird, Northern Potoo (the endemic jamaicensis race) and wintering warblers from North America, including Black-throated Blue, Cape May and Prairie. There are some spectacular butterflies too, not least the rarely reported endemic Giant Swallowtail (Papilio homerus) which with a wingspan of up to 15 cm is the largest swallowtail butterfly in the Americas. The best time to look for birds is February to early May, later for butterflies.

    M

    Mexico - Baja California
    Whales and dolphins galore, including Blue Whale and confiding Grey Whales.

    Mexico - Central (Michoacan)
    Millions of Monarch butterflies at their winter roosts make this A Top Ten Destination.

    Mexico - El Triunfo
    See El Triunfo, Mexico, above.

    Mexico - Oaxaca
    See Oaxaca, Mexico, below.

    Mexico - Southern (Yucatan-Chiapas)
    One of the best places in the world to swim with Whale Sharks.

    Mexico - Veracruz
    The best raptor migration in the world, with 4-6 million birds each autumn/fall.

    Mexico - Western (including the Durango Highway, San Blas, and Colima and Jalisco)
    The spectacular endemic Tufted Jay can be seen in the Sierra Madre Occidental, accessible along the Durango Highway, along which also occur the rare Sinaloa Martin, Red-headed Tanager and Mexico's famous flocks of warblers which here contain Crescent-chested, Olive, Red and Red-faced. Lower down, specialities include Military Macaw, Purplish-backed Jay and wintering Black-capped Vireos. At the coast, on the Gulf of California, rocky islets viewable (with telescopes) from Mazatlan support breeding Red-billed Tropicbirds and Blue-footed Boobies. Further south along the Pacific coast lies the small holiday resort of San Blas where it is possible to see 250 species in a week, less than a thousand miles south of the U.S. border, including about 30 endemics (such as Citreoline Trogon and San Blas Jay), as well as Rufous-necked Wood Rail, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Collared Forest Falcon, Northern Potoo, Military Macaw, Russet-crowned Motmot, Fan-tailed Warbler and Rosy Thrush Tanager. Humpback Whales spend the northern winter in Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta, where on organised whale-watching trips it is also possible to see Bottlenose and Spotted Dolphins. Not much further south is the small state of Colima which together with parts of neighbouring Jalisco supports about 40 endemics including San Blas Jay, Aztec Thrush, Red Warbler and Orange-breasted Bunting, as well as Grey Silky, Chestnut-sided Shrike Vireo, many warblers including Colima and Golden-browed, and Red-breasted Chat. The smoking Volcan de Fuego is one of the best sites, although the vast flocks of Yellow-headed Blackbirds winter on the Ciudad Guzman Marshes. At the coast, boat trips can be arranged out of Manzanillo to a big rock called Piedra Blanca where Red-billed Tropicbirds breed. The best time to bird Western Mexico is January-February.

    O

    Oaxaca - Mexico
    There are probably more bird species in Oaxaca than any other Mexican state; nearly 700, and almost 100 of these are regional endemics. The area around the city of Oaxaca is also one of the richest regions in Mexico for endemic birds and many of these occur: on Cerro San Felipe (La Cumbre), notable for Dwarf Jay and lots of warblers including Red; along Route 175 North (the striking Slaty Vireo); and at Monte Alban, home of the skulking Ocellated Thrasher. Other great birds around the city include Grey Silky and Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, with a chance of Aztec Thrush. Further afield, the Sierra Madre del Sur near Puerto Angel on the Pacific coast supports more endemics and Red-breasted Chat (most likely in Parque Nacional Huatulca), and on pelagic boat trips out of places such as Huatulca and Puerto Angel it is possible, on good days, to see Townsend’s Shearwater, as well as Audubon's (Galapagos) and Pink-footed Shearwaters, Black and Least Storm Petrels, and Nazca (Masked) Booby. At the far eastern end of the state, live two fantastic endemic birds; Orange-breasted and Rosita’s Buntings, which can be seen side-by-side in the Tapanatepec Foothills along with such birds as Citreoline Trogon, Russet-crowned Motmot and White-throated Magpie Jay. The endemic Giant Wren (a real giant!) occurs not far away, near the small town of Puerto Arista in the state of Chiapas, and beyond there in Chiapas lies the Biosphere Reserve Selva el Ocote (Nava's Wren), El Sumidero Canyon (Belted Flycatcher and a chance of Slender Sheartail) and the warbler-filled woods of San Cristobal de las Casas (Golden-cheeked and Pink-headed Warblers, and a chance of Blue-throated Motmot and Black-throated Jay). The best time to look for birds is January to April.

    P

    Panama
    Resplendent Quetzal, sloths, monkeys, Manta Rays and turtles.

    Puerto Rico
    This small island supports 15 endemic bird species. There is a tody and the brilliant Elfin-woods Warbler, as well as a lizard cuckoo, a nightjar (difficult to see), two hummingbirds, a woodpecker, a pewee, a vireo, two tanagers, a bullfinch, a blackbird (only likely to be seen at La Parguera), an oriole and a parrot although this is very rare and unlikely to be seen, even where most of the wild and released birds are, in the Caribbean National Forest in the Luquillo Mountains, particularly at Rio Abajo. Three other species are near-endemics; a screech-owl and a flycatcher, which otherwise occur only sparingly on the Virgin Islands, and Adelaide's Warbler, which otherwise occurs only on Barbuda and St Lucia. More widespread Caribbean endemics include two more hummingbirds and Red-legged Thrush, while other spectacular species present include White-tailed Tropicbird, Magnificent Frigatebird and wintering warblers from North America such as Prairie. It is possible to see all of the endemics except the parrot in a few days hence many birders combine a trip to this island with the Dominican Republic. Mosquito Bay on the island of Vieques glows blue-green at night with millions of microscopic phosphorescent dinoflagellates, a wonderful sight best seen on a cloudy moonless night all year round. The best time to look for birds is March-April.

    S

    St Lucia
    This island in the Lesser Antilles is just 43 km (27 miles) long and 23 km (14 miles) wide. Its forested slopes support the richest avifauna in the Lesser Antilles including four endemic bird species; a parrot, a warbler, a black finch and an oriole, with three more possibles; the island forms of Rufous Nightjar, House Wren and Lesser Antillean Pewee. Another endemic, Semper’s Warbler, has not been seen since 1967 and is now thought to be extinct. There are also several Lesser Antillean endemics; Lesser Antillean Swift, Purple-throated Carib, Lesser Antillean Flycatcher, Scaly-breasted and White-breasted Thrashers, Grey Trembler, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch and Lesser Antillean Saltator, and five more widespread Caribbean endemics; Bridled Quail Dove, Green-throated Carib, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Rufous-throated Solitaire and Antillean Euphonia. Other spectacular species include Red-billed Tropicbird (most likely at Cape Moule à Chique at the southern tip of the island), Magnificent Frigatebird and Mangrove Cuckoo. The Des Cartiers Trail in Quilesse Forest Reserve, about two hours south of Anse Chastanet, is arguably the best forest trail on the island. On boat trips off Soufriere, Fraser's, Spinner and Pantropical Spotted Dolphins are possible and also offshore there are many coral reef fishes, and Green and Hawksbill Turtles. The best time to look for birds is February-April.

    T

    Trinidad and Tobago
    Nesting turtles and some fine birds, not least Scarlet Ibis and Oilbird.

    V

    Veracruz - Mexico
    The best raptor migration in the world, with 4-6 million birds each autumn/fall.

    Photograph of Where to Watch Birds in Central America and the Caribbean

    Don’t know which country/countries to visit? Why not take a look at Where to watch birds in Central America & the Caribbean written by this website’s author and David Brewer. It is many years old of course, having been published by Helm in 2001, but it still provides a starting point, an overview and a guiding light to the best birds and the best places to look for them in the region, and could save hours of searching for similar information on the internet. However, it is important to check more up-to-date sources for sites which have been opened up, sites and species which have been discovered, lodges that have been built etc. since it was published.

    Reviews of the six books in the 'Where to Watch Birds' series written by this website's author, and covering most of the world, can be read at Reviews (pdf 236KB).