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WINGS Birding Tours – Information


Tour Information

Note: The information presented here is an abbreviated version of our formal General Information for Tours to Guatemala. 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 AND LEAVING GUATEMALA: US citizens must have a passport valid for at least six months beyond the date you plan to leave Guatemala. At the time of writing, there is no visa requirement for US citizens, but a tourist card is required and will be issued either during your flight or on entry. Citizens of other countries may need a visa and should check their nearest Guatemalan embassy. If required by the embassy or visa-granting entity, WINGS can provide a letter for you to use regarding your participation in the tour.

A departure tax of US $30 is due at the airport in Guatemala City upon departure, although this is usually included in the price of your international air ticket. A security fee of US $3 may need to be paid in cash (U.S. dollars or Guatemalan quetzales) after you pass through airport security.

PACE OF THE TOUR: This tour is moderately strenuous*. Most days will begin with breakfast starting between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m. (sometimes earlier), followed by several hours of walking on trails or roads that are usually somewhat steep and rocky. There is not much flat ground in the highlands of Guatemala, so please be prepared to walk on some incline most of the time. Even the flatter roads are often made of uneven cobblestones. All of our walks will be at a relatively slow pace, with abundant opportunity to pause for a rest, but please expect to be walking an average of three to five miles per day. If you can’t keep up with the pace of the group, there will usually be an option to stay back at a hotel or in the tour bus. Most days we will take a boxed breakfast with us in the field. Some days will also include a boxed lunch, but most days we will have a sit-down midday meal in a hotel or restaurant, followed by more relaxed birding in the afternoon or a drive to our next hotel. 

*The hike to look for Horned Guan is very strenuous. This is an optional excursion, and involves a relentlessly steep hike up the flank of one of the local volcanoes. It requires an early breakfast at 4:30am, followed by a drive of about an hour to the base of the trail. We are now using an easier location with a shorter trail; the total hike will only be around one-and-a-half miles round-trip (but still very steep, and difficult on the knees on the descent). The trail is fairly well-maintained, but with some loose dirt and rocks. Depending on the location of the guans, we may even have to divert onto one of various steep side trails with loose dirt and roots. There is a chance we might need to split up the group, with some proceeding at a slower pace with another guide. We’ll make every effort to show this special bird to anyone who is able, but this is a situation where honesty and flexibility are crucial. The hike will be very challenging! Depending on the overall composition of the group, we may be able to offer another birding option for those who do not even wish to attempt the hike, probably involving some easy roadside birding around the base of the trail. 

There is a fair amount of driving on this tour, an unavoidable necessity in order to reach all of our birding destinations. Guatemalan roads are generally in poor shape, so traveling relatively short distances can take a long time. Expect several afternoon journeys that could take at least three to five hours, with a couple pit stops and snack breaks along the way. We do our best to estimate drive times, but frequently encounter unexpected traffic or slow trucks. It’s a good idea to bring a book to read or music to listen to during these journeys.

HEALTH: The Centers for Disease Control recommends that you consult with your physician or a physician specializing in travel medicine, and that you make sure that all routine vaccinations are up to date. Yellow fever is not a disease risk in Guatemala, but travelers arriving from a country where yellow fever is present must present proof of vaccination. At the time of writing, the CDC notes that there is no malaria risk in Guatemala City, Antigua, or Atitlan. The CDC has determined that a malaria risk does exist in rural areas below 5000’ elevation and this may include areas we visit in the lowlands around Tikal. You should discuss with your doctor the best preventive measures to take. Using insect repellent and wearing long pants and sleeves to prevent mosquito bites is also effective as a preventive measure.

You should bring adequate supplies of all prescription and special medications, as they are not likely to be conveniently available in the areas this tour visits. Many travelers to Guatemala experience digestive upsets; consult with your physician about the need to bring with you anything beyond over-the-counter diarrhea medication, and drink only bottled water and other beverages during your visit.

Biting insects are scarce nearly everywhere on this tour, but biting gnats can be an annoyance at Los Tarrales; long sleeves, long pants, and perhaps a head net will ward off most of them. Some mosquitos are possible anywhere, and chiggers are present around Tikal but usually not a major problem. The sun can be surprisingly strong, making a hat a necessity at most sites and sunglasses useful.

CLIMATE: Occasional rain is always possible, but the dry season in the Guatemalan highlands is characterized by bright, sunny days and cool temperatures ranging from the mid-40s to upper-50s at higher-elevation sites (at San Marcos and the Sibinal area, for example) to the 80s or even 90 F at Los Tarrales, where it is also somewhat more humid. A sweater or light jacket will add to your comfort for our mornings in the highlands. The coldest location of the tour is at Los Cuchumatanes, where we’ll be looking for Goldman’s Warbler. Here, it can be in the 30s or lower 40s at night with a biting wind, although typically it warms up into the 50s and 60s quickly during the day. It is recommended that you bring some layers for this day, including a jacket, gloves, and a hat.

Weather in the El Peten lowlands (Tikal) is likely to be hot and humid with temperatures ranging from the 60s or 70s in early morning to the 90s or even 100 by mid-day. Rain showers are possible at any time and the air is constantly heavy with humidity, so light, quick-drying clothing is recommended. We try to take a break after lunch to avoid the worst heat of the day.

ALTITUDE: The city of Antigua is at about 5,000 feetr. Los Tarrales is lower, with most of our birding taking place between around 1,000 and 5,000 feet. We’ll ascend to Atitlan, which is between 5,000 and 6,000 feet. San Marcos is situated just below 8,000 feet. In the vicinity of Sibinal we’ll be birding from around 8,000 to 10,000 feet. The highest location of the tour is at Todos Santos Cuchamatan, where we’ll be looking for Goldman’s Warbler. Here, we’ll reach over 12,000 feet in elevation, so we will make a special effort to go at a slow pace, drink plenty of water, and apply sunscreen! 

For the Tikal extension, all birding is at or below 1,000 feet in elevation.

FOOD: The food in Guatemala is generally of good to excellent quality. We often take simple packed breakfasts, often egg or ham-and-cheese sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, and/or fruit. Hotel breakfasts generally consist of eggs, bread, fried plantains, black beans, juice and coffee or tea (decaffeinated coffee is not widely available). Midday meals and dinners usually feature chicken or beef, tortillas, black beans or pasta. Expect to eat a lot of chicken!

The food in Sibinal, where we base for two nights to look for Horned Guan, is more basic. Fresh vegetables are hard to find in this part of the country, so please be prepared to eat simple meals consisting of chicken, rice, beans, and/or eggs. 

ACCOMMODATIONS: Our hotel in Antigua is comfortable and quaint, with private bathroom facilities; it is built on the site of a baroque convent and incorporates some of the ruins. The rooms at Los Tarrales are comfortable (although fairly small) and all have private toilets; two of the rooms may share a shower. The hotel at San Marcos is a comfortable business-style hotel with nice rooms; the food at the restaurant is more basic. The hotel at Sibinal is quite basic but comfortable, with private bathrooms and hot water. In Huehuetenango we stay at a comfortable modern hotel. Our hotel in Guatemala City is of very good quality and has all the expected amenities. 

The Jungle Lodge at Tikal is a resort-style hotel, with comfortable rooms and private bathrooms, a restaurant, bar, swimming pool and many modern comforts and amenities. Electricity is sometimes shut off for a couple hours at a time depending on the solar-powered batteries, but is not usually a major inconvenience.

WIFI: All of our hotels have WiFi, with at least occasional connectivity. Expect slow or intermittent signal; sometimes the internet won’t work at all. At some places, such as the Tikal Jungle Lodge and Los Tarrales, WiFi might only be available in the main lobby or restaurant, and may not reach every room.

TRANSPORTATION: We will be traveling in a comfortable, air-conditioned minibus.

SMOKING: We request that you not smoke in the vehicles or when the group is gathered for meals, checklists, etc. If you are sharing a room with a non-smoker, please do not smoke in the room. If you smoke in the field, do so well away and downwind from the group. If any site where the group is gathered has a stricter policy than the WINGS policy, that stricter policy will prevail.

GENERAL INFORMATION AND CONDITIONS OF WINGS TOURS: Please take a moment to read the WINGS General Information and Conditions. This section contains important information about how we conduct tours, e.g., what is included in the tour price, refund and cancellation policies, pace of the tours, and other information that will help you prepare for the tour.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: A more complete General Information for Tours to Guatemala will be sent to each registrant on receipt of booking. Final information with instructions for meeting the group, hotel addresses, etc., will be mailed about three weeks before trip departure. Other news will be communicated as necessary.

Updated: 02 May 2023