Belize and Guatemala | Neotropical Birds and Mayan Ruins: A Flyway Expedition

Belize and Guatemala | Neotropical Birds and Mayan Ruins: A Flyway Expedition

About this trip

In what are now the countries of Belize and Guatemala, the ancient Maya civilization once flourished, leaving behind cities, temples, pyramids, and observatories still standing, enshrouded in tree cover. Amid rainforests and valleys, archaeological sites tell the story of this culturally rich region while also providing habitat for a diversity of flora and fauna, including hundreds of bird species. As you seek out resident and migratory avifauna across a variety of ecosystems, you’ll also gain a behind-the-scenes look at Audubon’s current bird-based tourism initiatives and flyway conservation efforts in partnership with local community-based organizations.

About Flyway Expeditions

Holbrook Travel is a supporting partner in Audubon and its partners’ conservation work in Latin America and in the Caribbean. Participants on these tours have a direct economic impact on local people and communities, help preserve IBAs, and nurture an emerging ecotourism industry.  
Learn more about Flyway Expeditions.

Highlights

  • Discover both concentrated flocks and rare sightings of avifauna, such as the Jabiru, Yellow-headed Parrot, Yucatan Jay, and Yucatan Woodpecker, in the wetlands and pine savannas of Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary.
  • Examine Maya history at the Tikal, Yaxha, and Cahal Pech archaeological sites, and go birding amid the ancient structures and surrounding forests.
  • Meet with members of the Petén Birding Association, a local group dedicated to birding, environmental education, and conservation through ecotourism.
  • Hike the trails at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Refuge, a tropical moist forest sheltering some 300 avian species, including trogons, tanagers, flycatchers, and the Yellow-billed Cacique.
  • Learn about a community-based conservation project in the village of Red Bank aimed at saving and creating habitat for the Scarlet Macaw.
  • Enjoy up-close encounters with some of the country’s native fauna, including a pair of Harpy Eagles, at the Belize Zoo.

Meet your leader

Stan Walens

Stan Walens began birding after graduate school and hasn’t stopped for a minute since. His early years as a birder in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia involved owl population surveys and documenting hawk and warbler migrations. But once he moved to San Diego, he became an avid seawatcher. He has collected almost-daily observations of seabird populations in San Diego County for nearly 40 years, and for over 25 years organized pelagic trips out of San Diego. His professional work as an archaeologist and psychological anthropologist focuses on the art, rituals, and religions of the indigenous cultures of North and Central America. He is a classical musician who plays 13 instruments, and during those rare moments when not birding, can be found listening to opera.

Arrival, Belize City

Mar 6, 2025

Upon arrival at the airport, you will be met and transferred to Black Orchid Resort in Burrell Boom, about a 30-minute drive from the airport. Gather this evening with your guide for an orientation to the program, followed by a presentation on birding and conservation in Belize by a local expert. Enjoy a welcome dinner at the hotel. Arrival to Belize City should be no later than 2:30 pm. Check in starts at 2 pm.

Dinner included
Overnight at Black Orchid Resort

Tikal

Mar 7, 2025

Start the day with birding around the hotel grounds to look for Ringed and Green Kingfishers. After breakfast, check out of the lodge and begin the transfer to Tikal, Guatemala. Note: The journey will include a stop at the Belize/Guatemala border for an examination of our documents. PLEASE HAVE YOUR PASSPORT READILY AVAILABLE. Once in Guatemala, stop to go birding at Yaxhá National Park, where we will meet up with the local Guatemalan guide who will join us during our time in Guatemala. Not as well-known as Tikal, Yaxhá is an important archaeological site that is gaining prominence as researchers delve deeper into its history. The area is part of the Yaxhá-Nakum-Naranjo National Park, which protects the archaeological sites as well as a large expanse of forest. Here, large flocks of several parrot species move through the area, including Red-lored, White-fronted, White-crowned, and (less often) Mealy Parrots. The nearby lake provides habitat for water birds as well as shorebirds during migration; in open savanna along the shores of the lake, Yellow-tailed Orioles can be found. In the forests of Yaxhá, find a diversity of woodcreepers, Slaty-tailed, Gartered, and Black-headed Trogons, hummingbirds, and tanagers. Considered the third largest ancient Maya city in the region, Yaxhá comprised more than 500 structures, including nine temple pyramids. There are fewer crowds than at Tikal, making it advantageous for birding. On the quiet trails, you may run across one of the four species of Tinamou-Great, Little, Slaty-breasted, and Thicket-or perhaps the hard-to-find Pheasant Cuckoo. After lunch, continue to Tikal National Park, arriving late in the afternoon. This evening enjoy dinner and talk with members of the Peten Birding Association.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Jungle Lodge

Tikal

Mar 8, 2025

Enjoy a full day of birding in Tikal National Park, with lunch at a local restaurant in the park. The 54,610 acres of rainforest in and around Tikal protect a wide range of insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, and plant life. Some iconic wildlife found within the park includes spider monkeys, margays, ocelots, jaguarundis, tapirs, howler monkeys, Ocellated Turkeys, coatis, and giant anteaters. Tikal, the ancient city around which the park was formed, is one of the most famous sites in Guatemala, with a long and mysterious history. The ruins are dominated by five enormous pyramidal temples, as well as an impressive network of causeways, aqueducts, and canals. Nearly 400 bird species have been recorded at Tikal, including many migrants that frequent the area during the North American winter, making the site an extraordinary backdrop for birding. Species here include the Collared Aracari, Northern Emerald-Toucanet, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Royal Flycatcher, Roadside Hawk, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Lesson's Motmot, Stripe-throated Hermit, Crested Guan, Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Montezuma Oropendola, Brown-hooded Parrot, White-crowned Parrot, and Red-lored Parrot, among others. Tonight there will be optional owling near the lodge.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Jungle Lodge

San Ignacio

Mar 9, 2025

Wake up early for birding in Tikal National Park. After breakfast, check out and say goodbye to our Guatemalan expert. Start the journey back to Belize (PLEASE HAVE YOUR PASSPORTS READILY AVAILABLE). Lunch will be at a local restaurant in San Ignacio, followed by a visit to the Cahal Pech Maya archaeological site for birding. Afterwards, continue to Crystal Paradise Hotel to check in and have dinner.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Crystal Paradise

Mayflower National Park

Mar 10, 2025

This morning have breakfast and then transfer to Red Bank Village to see the Scarlet Macaws that are rebounding in this region. Visit with a local community member for lunch and a discussion about this important community-based project focused on Scarlet Macaw conservation. After the visit, continue to Bocawina Resort, situated in Bocawina Mayflower National Park. Dinner at the hotel.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Bocawina Resort

Mayflower National Park

Mar 11, 2025

Depart early for a day of birding at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, a tropical moist forest sheltering an abundance of biodiversity including 300-plus bird species. Walk along its extensive trail system on the lookout for trogons, tanagers, flycatchers, and maybe a glimpse of a Yellow-billed Cacique. The sanctuary is also recognized as the world’s first designated jaguar reserve, so keen observers might even spot a paw print in the forest. In the late afternoon, return to the lodge and bird along the trails for various hummingbirds, woodcreepers, flycatchers, and tanagers, plus Pheasant Cuckoo, Green Honeycreeper, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Nightingale Wren, Green Shrike-Vireo, and White-winged Becard, among others.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Bocawina Resort

Crooked Tree

Mar 12, 2025

Early morning birding around Bocawina Resort, have breakfst then check-out and depart for the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center. Situated upon 29 acres of tropical savanna, the zoo exhibits more than 150 animals representing over 45 species, all native to Belize. Residents include orphaned, rescued, and rehabilitated animals, as well as those born at the zoo or sent as donations from other zoological institutions. Here, have the opportunity to see the critically endangered Yellow-headed Parrot, Aplomado Falcon, White-tailed Hawk, and Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture. After lunch at a local restaurant, continue to Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary and settle in. Before dinner, enjoy a talk on Yellow-headed Parrot research and conservation efforts in Belize. (Note: This talk might take place at the Belize Zoo, depending on the expert's schedule.) This evening, search for potoos, owls, and nighthawks during an evening birding exploration around the lodge.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Bird's Eye View Lodge

Crooked Tree

Mar 13, 2025

Today, enjoy a full day of birding activities in the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. Established in 1984 to protect resident and migrant birds, the sanctuary is managed by the Belize Audubon Society and encompasses a network of inland lagoons, swamps, and waterways. During the dry season (November-May), tens of thousands of birds congregate here, taking advantage of abundant food resources in the wetlands. Bird along the lagoon and its tributaries in search of Wood Stork, Jabiru, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Black-collared Hawk, Snail Kite, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Limpkin, and American Pygmy Kingfisher. After lunch, spend the rest of the afternoon birding in the sanctuary. The pine savannas provide an opportunity to see near-endemic Yucatan Jay, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Yellow-headed and Yellow-lored Parrots, Aplomado Falcon, Canivet's Emerald, and Yucatan Woodpecker. Gather tonight for a farewell dinner at the lodge.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Bird's Eye View Lodge

Farewell!

Mar 14, 2025

Transfer to the international airport for flights back to the US. Check out is at 11 am.

Breakfast- included