Note: The information presented here is an abbreviated version of our formal General Information for Tours to Mexico: Oaxaca. Its purpose is solely to give readers a sense of what might be involved if they take this tour. Although we do our best to make sure that what follows here is completely accurate, it should not be used as a replacement for the formal document which will be sent to all tour registrants, and whose contents supersedes any information contained here.
ENTERING MEXICO: Mexico requires of U.S. citizens a passport valid for at least six months from the date of entry and with a least one blank page for an entry stamp. Tourist cards are required and are distributed by your entering airlines. Citizens of other countries may need a visa and should check their nearest Mexican embassy.
COUNTRY INFORMATION: You can review the U.S. Department of State Country Specific Travel Information at http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/mexico.html, and the CIA World Factbook background notes on Mexico at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/mx.html.
PACE OF THE TOUR: We plan to be in the field at dawn, about 6:45 a.m., which means a 6:00 a.m. departure most days. Birding sites are usually 30-45 minutes from the hotels. We usually finish our day’s birding before lunch, after which we’ll stop at a ruin, market, or the Tule Tree of more cultural interest, getting back to the hotel between 2:00 or 4:00 with time off until our checklist session and dinner starting at about 6:00. On one day we are back at the hotel for lunch, followed by a siesta and a 4:00 p.m. departure for the Noche de Rábanos downtown. We offer owling on two days; one starting with an early picnic dinner, and other before a later dinner back at our hotel.
Birding in and around the valley of Oaxaca is from 5,300 to 6,000 feet in elevation. Birding around the Monte Albán ruins involves walking on uneven ground. Some trails are narrow, scrubby, and thorny (shorts not recommended). There are short series of steps and some moderate slopes within Monte Albán as well as at Yagul.
The drive to and from Tuxtepec takes a full day (with birding stops) on a paved two-lane highway, with parts often in various stages of disrepair. On those two days, we start with a 5:30 departure. During our full day at Tuxtepec the afternoon birding outing and owling are optional.
One Tuxtepec trail is about a mile round trip is very uneven and on rocky limestone. We proceed very slowly and carefully. On Cerro San Felipe above Oaxaca City, we will be birding on dirt roads at about 9,000-9,900 feet. We will be walking slowly at this elevation, but some stretches of road are steep and pose possible difficulties for those with bad knees or hips. A hiking stick might be useful.
Throughout the tour we do lots of standing and watching, and we generally move very slowly. If this tends to tire your lower back a small, lightweight travel stool that you can carry with a strap over your shoulder would be useful.
A significant amount of group time will be devoted to outings of a more cultural interest, such as visiting the Night of the Radishes, viewing the calendas, seeing the famous Tule Tree and spending about one-half hour each at several of the markets and ruins. We’ll be at Monte Albán and Yagul ruins a bit longer but birding during that time. Some people find this an insufficient amount of time to enjoy the rich cultural offerings of Oaxaca at this season; you may wish to consider arriving earlier or staying on after the tour.
The Midnight Mass on the 24th is an attraction for some, Fridays offer a Guelaguetza dance performance, museums and an ethnobotanical garden are popular attractions, and several outlying villages are frequent tourist destinations for their market specialties. Arrangements to visit all of these can be made through the transportation company we use or with the travel desk in our Oaxaca City hotel. The Internet is also an excellent resource.
HEALTH: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all travelers be up to date on routine vaccinations. These include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot.
They further recommend that most travelers have protection against Hepatitis A and Typhoid.
Malaria: The CDC recommends travelers to rural areas in the Mexican state of Oaxaca are at risk for malaria. We presume they mean only the area near Tuxtepec, where we do spend three nights. Our leaders note that they have rarely, if ever, encountered a mosquito at this season on this tour, and Malaria is very rare here. Please consult your physician.
Please contact your doctor well in advance of your tour’s departure as some medications must be initiated weeks before the period of possible exposure.
The most current information about travelers’ health recommendations can be found on the CDC’s Travel Health website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/mexico .
Elevation: The Valley of Oaxaca is situated at between 5,300 and 6,000 feet. On Cerro San Felipe we’ll be birding (slowly) between 9,000 and 10,000 feet. Please consult your physician if you have cardiovascular issues.
Smoking: Smoking is prohibited in the vehicles or when the group is gathered for meals, checklists, etc. If you are sharing a room with a nonsmoker, please do not smoke in the room. If you smoke in the field, do so well away and downwind from the group. If any location where the group is gathered has a stricter policy than the WINGS policy, that stricter policy will prevail.
Miscellaneous: Sun in Mexico can be very intense. Please bring adequate protection, including a sun hat and a strong sun screen of at least 15 rating. We have found that with careful eating habits, intestinal problems can be largely avoided.
Immodium or Pepto Bismol in tablet form can be recommended as the best treatment for occasional traveler’s diarrhea. Gatorade or other electrolyte-replacement drinks in powder form are also worth bringing, as they replace the vital salts and minerals lost during a bout of diarrhea.
Biting insects and arachnids are seldom a major nuisance although chiggers and biting gnats can be locally numerous at Tuxtepec, and there may a few mosquitoes active in the late afternoon/early evening the one day we go owling there. Careful application of repellent provides good protection and the leader will advise you when it will be necessary. In general, a repellent should contain 30% of the active ingredient, diethyltoluamide (DEET).
Perhaps the best prevention against chiggers (but also mosquitoes that might bite through clothing) is to treat your clothing with permethrin one to a few days before you leave home. This non-staining, odorless chemical is non-toxic to humans and protective on clothing through several launderings. Camping supply and drug stores sell sprays containing 0.5% permethrin, while online sources also offer pump sprays as well as a more economical 10% concentrate which you dilute and then treat clothing by soaking it in a large bag and then hang out to dry; be sure to look into this option well in advance of the tour. (One currently available brand is Duration, from Traveler’s Supply, Inc., http://www.travelerssupply.com/).
In most of Mexico it is unwise to drink untreated water. We will be carrying bottled water and other drinks with us during our days.
CLIMATE: This is the dry season, but we are far enough from the equator that cold fronts from the North America can have a strong effect. Near Oaxaca City and in the mountains early morning temperatures can be quite cold. If it’s clear and calm after a cold front, frost is even possible. During the passage of a cold front, a persistent mist and fog with wind at 45°F can feel even colder, and the high temperature in the mountains may not get much higher than 55-60°F. But most days it’s very pleasant, a chilly 45-50° first thing in the morning, then an hour or two after sunrise the temperatures rise with the sun, peaking around 65-75° in the mountains and possibly up to around 85° in the valley and at Tuxtepec (where it also much more tropically humid). We rarely encounter heavy rain, but light rain or mist is possible in some areas, especially on our trip to Tuxtepec.
In summary, you should be prepared with clothing layers, including gloves and hat, and if misty in the mountains above Oaxaca, rain/wind pants and jacket would be a good idea.
ACCOMMODATIONS: In Oaxaca City we stay in a very nice hotel on the hill overlooking the city. The extensive grounds have lots of trees and are surrounded by brushy habitat that can be full of birds. This is a swimming pool. We are not immediately next to downtown, but it is walkable and only a 10-minute taxi ride; the hotel also provides a complimentary shuttle that runs every hour in the late morning and evening. In Tuxtepec our hotel is much simpler but still modern, with air conditioning, private baths, and a hotel restaurant. Wifi is available in both hotels.
FOOD: Breakfasts will be picnics in the field, generally consisting of hard boiled eggs, yogurt, cereal, fruit, etc. Most lunches will be in restaurants, either at our hotel or near our birding, with at least three picnics in the field consisting of sandwiches with cheese and cold meat, fruit, fresh guacamole (made in the field!), snacks and cold drinks. All dinners will be in local restaurants, with the exception of one picnic dinner which will be a bit more substantial than our lunches, followed by owling. In general, the food in Oaxaca City is excellent to outstanding and is often regarded as the pinnacle of Mexican cuisine, which is generally only hot if you add hot sauce to it; restaurants will warn you if any dish is naturally hot. Rich chile-nut sauces of several kinds, called mole, and local vegetables and side dishes are consistently raved about during the tour. We make a point to visit three or four of the top restaurants in the city.
Food Allergies / Requirements: We cannot guarantee that all food allergies can be accommodated at every destination. Participants with significant food allergies or special dietary requirements should bring appropriate foods with them for those times when their needs cannot be met. Announced meal times are always approximate depending on how the day unfolds. Participants who need to eat according to a fixed schedule should bring supplemental food. Please contact the WINGS office if you have any questions.
WINGS tours are all-inclusive and no refunds can be issued for any missed tour meals.
TRANSPORTATION: Transportation is by 12-passenger vans with a local driver. Participants should be able to ride in any seat in tour vehicles.
Updated: January 2015