Thursday 22 June 2023

Mexico - The South-eastern Yucatan - Logistics and itinerary

South-eastern Yucatan Peninsula, 25th February - 2nd March 2023
Fancy a bit of winter sunshine and some easy neotropical birding? Mexico has the answer. Fly to Cancun and then get it in your rear view mirror as soon as you possibly can. Frankly Cancun and its vast "strip", extending for over 100km without a break, Playa this and Playa that, is the kind of place I absolutely detest. However it's enduring popularity with the all-inclusive zero taste brigade means that there are frequent and inexpensive flights as well as cheap car hire. Provided you are prepared to drive for a bit you can largely avoid this excess. Sign me up.

I planned this trip myself, Mick as ever my birding buddy. I booked a holiday package with a car, and then developed an itinerary with Calakmul as the furthest point south. Much of the Yucutan is a concrete jungle or behind high walls, the rest is impenetrable. Mayan Ruins are the key to getting into the prime habitat as they often have access roads penetrating deep into the jungle. Calakmul is extremely remote, the access road is some 60km long and gets you pretty close to the Guatemala border, and the very fact that it is such a trek (>8 hours from Cancun) means that few people visit. We took a day to get down there, spent a day at the ruins, and then took two days to get back, birding all the way. 

Had we had an extra day I would have been tempted to return to Cancun via Merida in order to visit different habitat in the west and the north of the Yucatan, but it just felt like too much driving in the time we had. A good excuse to go back and head west to Rio Lagartos and Chichen-Itza, and possibly spend a day on Cozumel for the endemics on the way back.

It was a great trip, we saw over 150 species including most of the available endemics like Ocellated Turkey and Yucatan Jay. Most of the time we were birding completely alone, and we experienced no hassles whatsoever. Great weather, nice food, easy access to birding sites and good accomodation, what's not to like? 

  • A five day trip in late February
  • Flights: from Gatwick to Cancun on British Airways.
  • Covid logistics: Like many countries, Mexico had removed all restrictions at the time of travel.
  • Car Hire: Avis as part of a package. Can't remember the model, but a regular car rather than a 4x4, which is not necessary.
  • Driving: No hassle, for the most part decent roads and we were cautious with speed limits and did not fall foul of any of the well-documented petrol station scams around the major settlements.
  • Accommodation: All booked in advance, there are tons of options south of Cancun, but beyond Tulum it becomes a little scarcer.
  • Food: Very straightforward. Cheap and mostly good, we mainly ate at truck stops outside the towns. Don't eat from the chicken guy opposite Muyil....
  • Literature: The Birds of Mexico and Adjacent Areas, 3rd Edition, E P Edwards & E M Butler (Corrie Herring Books),  eBird. 

Day 0: Arrived in Cancun late afternoon and drove south to a hotel in Tulum, about 2 hours / 130km. No birding.
Day 1: Early start to Felipe Carrillo Puerte to bird the famous Camino Vigia Chico that cuts diagonally NE into the Sian Ka'an Bisosphere. Afternoon drive to Xpujil via Chetamul for a failed attempt at Belize. Overnight just west of Xpujil at Becan.
Day 2: Early start to get to Calakmul as it opened. All day birding the ruins and the lengthy access road. Dusk stop at the famous Zotz (Murcielagos) Bat Cave. Overnight Becan again.
Day 3: Early morning at Hormiguero Ruins, south of Xpujil. Birding the main road east to Kohunlich, some time around those ruins, and then up to Buenavista where we stopped overnight.
Day 4: Morning at Buenavista and Bacalar, afternoon along the Camino Vigia Chico again. Overnight at Tulum.
Day 5: Morning at Muyil ruins south of Tulum, then slowly birded north back to Cancun attempting to access the coast whenever we could (very hard!). Early evening flight back to London.

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