Birding Flores & Tikal

Birding Flores & Tikal – THE BREAKDOWN

Situated at the edge of the great Maya Biosphere Reserve, Flores is a bright and sunny town on the lake Lago Petén Ítza. Along with delicious street food, cheap beer, and awesome sunsets, Flores is a great base to explore Tikal National Park; a breath-taking park of ancient Mayan ruins surrounded by giant rainforest. Birding in the lowland north of Guatemala is incredibly rich and rewarding. Not just with hundreds of bird species, but rich with food, culture, and adventure.

*All dollar($) amounts are in US dollars (USD), unless otherwise noted.
*Q = Guatemalan Quetzal (unit of currency)

Total spent: $567.50 for 2 people over 8 days
Average of $35.50 per day/per person

Accommodations: $159 (hostel, camping fee)
Transportation: $46.25 (around Flores, to/from Tikal, into GT from Belize)
Food: $176.75 (groceries, restaurants, snacks, drinks)
Excursions: $101.50 (National Park entrance fee, guided Tikal tour)
Misc: $84.00 (supplies, thrift store, SIM cards, souvenirs)


Flores

Read my blog post about our time in Flores for more details and bird photos!

ACCOMMODATION:
Hostel – 5 nights:
La Terraza Hostel is a comfortable basic hostel right at the head of the island of Flores. They offer only dorm rooms, but at $12 per person/per night it is one of the cheapest hostels on the island. Close to amazing street food and the grocery store, it’s in a great location. The shaded terrace is a perfect common area with plenty of seats and electrical outlets.

TRANSPORTATION:
Little red tuk tuks are everywhere and will take you anywhere you need to go. They are pretty cheap, at Q5 – Q10 ($0.62 – $1.25) depending on how far you need to go. They will take you to the bus terminal for Q5. Make sure to tell the driver your final destination (Tikal, Belize, Cobán, etc) so they know which terminal to go to.

FOOD:
There are a lot of restaurants in Flores to chose from, here are the few we visited…
Restaurante San Telmo: A dark and cozy restaurant with EXCELLENT lake views serving a wide range of dishes, from curry and rice to pizza to burgers to tacos and salads. Great bar with good cocktails, albeit a little expensive. With limited vegetarian options, I ordered the veggie panini and Stephanie got the veggie curry. Both were good, but we were looking to spend a little less than we did, with our dinner coming to $18.00 including two cheap beers. The sunset view is worth it, even if all you order is a cold beer!

Legumbres Mayas: A small vegetarian restaurant with excellent pasta! Priced a little better than other cafés catering to gringos (still about $6.00 for a plate), they do a good job creating unique pasta dishes! One can be enough for two people (if you aren’t terribly hungry), or you can take the rest “para llevar” (to-go) for easy leftovers at your hostel.

Restaurante Altamira: Stylish and hippie, this loft restaurant has a great view of the lake to go along with the more authentic Guatemalan menu. We didn’t find much for vegetarian options here, but did enjoy a hot sandwich (with lots of cheese) and a super good fresh smoothie to deal with the hot day. Our sandwich and smoothie only cost us about $11.00.

STREET FOOD: By far and away the best way to eat dinner in Flores is wait until after sunset and score some cheap and delicious street tacos or burritos from one of the many vendors along the south side of the island. They fire up the grill once the sun sets and the whole place gets active with tourists and locals chowing down on the freshest and cheapest tacos in town. At one of the vendors, we found veggie tacos at the cost of $2.30 (18Q) for 4 tacos!

The grocery store closest to Flores is the La Torre in the small strip mall building directly across the causeway. Just walk from Flores across the bridge/causeway and it’s on your left. Big building. Can’t miss it!

BIRDING:
The birding around Flores is rich if you know where to look.
Take a walk down the causeway early in the morning to the Playa del Pueblo area to look for a whole suite of birds, from Northern Jacanas and Ruddy Crakes to Barred Antshrikes and Olive-throated Parakeets. The Playa del Pueblo is on Google Maps, Maps.me, and eBird as a hotspot. Make sure you go into the forest area and walk the trails for some great birding!

Between the causeway and the Playa del Pueblo sits the Hotel Maya Internacional with huge trees surrounding it, right next to a parking lot. You can ask the hotel to bird the property, and you can bird the old playground across the parking lot from the hotel.

About a 30 minute drive out of Flores, in the town El Remate, is the Biotopo Cerro Cahui; a bioreserve with a hiking trail. Birding there seems to be good, as well as along the lake there.

Here is a map I made to show the 2 birding spots that I visited near Flores


Tikal National Park

Read my blog posts about our time in Tikal for more details and bird photos!

FEES:
Tickets cost Q150 / $20.00 USD per day.
Entry tickets can be purchased at a BanRural bank or at the first entrance gate upon arrival. The first gate is at the park border, some 15 kilometers before the Tikal village and the archeological site, where you can cross a second gate to get into the archeological site to wander the ruins.
Remember, you only need to get tickets for the days you will enter the archeological site behind the second gate!
EXAMPLE: If you plan on staying for 3 nights, but only go into the Mayan ruins area behind the second gate for 1 day, only get 1 ticket!

ACCOMMODATIONS:
Camping – 3 nights:
We camped (Q50 / $6.50 per person/per night) at the campground inside the national park, which allowed us to save some money but still spend 3 mornings and nights birding the area. Cement pads with roofs make for interesting tent sights, but you can rent a hammock with mosquito net for an additional Q85 / $11.00 per night.

There are 3 different lodges on site, offering varying degrees of comfort from cabins to full rooms to open-air bungalows. Prices range from Q360 / $47.00 USD a night for a single bed to Q850 / $110.00 USD for a triple bed room.

TRANSPORTATION:
You can take a bus, taxi, or colectivo. Buses depart for Tikal from the terminal in Flores. Take a tuk tuk and ask the driver to take you to a bus to Tikal. Your hostel can also help you find the right bus or colectivo.
Our bus cost us Q50 / $6.50 USD and included the return! There are scheduled returns from Tikal back to Flores. Ask once you are in the Tikal village for the times as they seem to change.

FOOD:
There are a couple comedores (eateries) on the right side of the entrance road right as you get to the tourist village. They offer inexpensive local food from 6:30am to sometime after sunset.
The restaurant at the visitor center has more options, but is also a little more expensive. We brought enough food to cook our own meals, but getting a cold fruit smoothie during the hottest part of the day was well worth it!
There is a small shack selling cold drinks at the base of Temple IV(4), so keep some cash on you as you walk the complex.

BIRDING:
The Tikal village offers some fantastic birding just as you walk around between the hotels and restaurants! 4 species of parrots, 3 toucans, 2 trogons, Montezuma Oropendolas, Brown Jays, Bright-rumped Attilas, and the famous Ocellated Turkeys are common birds seen around the buildings. At night, you can hear and even see Mottled Owls and Common Pauraques!

The Old Airstrip trail:
Running straight east out of the village, the old airstrip trail is slowly being reclaimed by the forest. This dense second-growth area is great for species that don’t hang out in the large primary forest around the ruins. Some common birds are Spot-breasted Wrens, Northern Bentbills, Yucatan Flycatchers, Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, and Gray-headed Dove. If you’re lucky, you can find Pheasant Cuckoo and even Rose-throated Tanagers along the trail!
Don’t forget to check out the small Crocodile pond!
At night, it is a great trail to walk down in search of Common Pauraque, Yucatan Poorwill, and owls like Mottled and Black-and-White Owl and Middle American Screech-Owl.
Check out the eBird hotspot here: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L744195

Tikal Archeological site and ruins:
The main attraction! The whole complex is very very birdy, full of great birds wherever you look! But there are few tips to finding good spots with better viewing opportunities.

1) The main plaza is a great place to watch Montezuma Oropendolas at eye level, along with 4 species of parrots, including Mealy Parrot. Temple I has hosted the Orange-breasted Falcon nest in the past, so scan the tops of the temples and trees for this rare and endangered species! Late morning is a good time to scan above the canopy from a viewing platform for circling Ornate Hawk-Eagles.

2)The trails to Grupo Norte are less traveled and offer great birding with less people. I had Great Curassow, Great Tinamou, Mayan Antthrush, and Scaly-throated Leaftosser along this trail.

3)Complejo/Conjunto Q has had Red-capped Manakins in the past

4)Take the trails to Templo de las Inscripciones and watch for Lesson’s Motmots, trogons, and other species that hangout in the lower canopy.

Explore the eBird hotspot for the site for a better list of what birds to expect!
https://ebird.org/hotspot/L452907


I think the best piece of advice for birding Tikal is TAKE IT SLOW.

Birding in the rainforest can seem bleak at times, but if you move slow and always keep watching, you will see birds materialize in front of you.
I HIGHLY recommend spending 3 nights in the area, and spending 2 days wandering the ruins. You will need both days to see it all and find as many birds as possible.

Here is a map of the Tikal village and where some key features are.


Thank you for checking out my breakdown of birding in Flores and Tikal!
If you have anything to add, please leave me a comment or contact me here.


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