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WINGS Birding Tours – Information

Guatemala

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., followed by several hours of walking on trails or roads that vary from level to somewhat steep – particularly around Sibinal and Los Tarrales. All of our walks will be at a slow pace, with abundant opportunity to pause for a rest, but please expect to be walking an average of four to six miles per day. Some days we will take a boxed breakfast or boxed lunch with us in the field, 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. We are now using an easier location with a shorter trail; the total hike will only be around two 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. 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! Those who do not even wish to attempt the hike will be offered another birding option for the day, 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. It’s a good idea to bring a book to read or music to listen to during these journeys.

At Tikal, we will be on our feet a lot. Expect to walk at least five miles per day (perhaps up to eight) on broad, fairly level trails with some short, gentle hills. It is possible to climb some of the buildings at Tikal for a spectacular view of the ruins and jungle; this requires some fleetness of foot on high, steep stairs. Those who stay on the ground will find the pace of the extension fairly easy. Our lodge is situated only a hundred yards from the entrance to the Tikal archaeological site, so if you need a break from walking, you have the option to stay at the lodge and enjoy the birdy lodge grounds. 

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 50s and 60s F at higher-elevation sites (including Finca El Pilar, the Sibinal area, and Fuentes Georginas) to the 80s at Los Tarrales, where it is also somewhat more humid. A sweater or light jacket will probably add to your comfort for our mornings in the highlands. The coldest location of the tour is at Todos Santos Cuchumatan, where we’ll be looking for Goldman’s Warbler. Here, it can be in the high 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 Petén lowlands (Tikal) is likely to be somewhat warmer with temperatures ranging from the 60s in early morning to the 80s or even 90s in the afternoon. Rain showers are possible at any time and the air is constantly heavy with humidity, so light, quick-drying clothing is recommended.

ALTITUDE: The city of Antigua is at about 5,000 feet, with Finca El Pilar slightly higher. In the vicinity of Sibinal we’ll be birding from around 8,000 to 9,000 feet. Los Tarrales is lower, with most of our birding taking place between around 1,000 and 5,000 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! We’ll descend slightly lower at Fuentes Georginas, which is just over 8,000 feet, and various locations around Lake Atitlan at around 5,000 feet.

FOOD: Our hotel breakfasts generally consist of eggs, bread, fried plantains, black beans, sugar cookies, 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.

ACCOMMODATIONS: Our hotel in Antigua is comfortable, verging on the luxurious, with private bathroom facilities; it is built on the site of a baroque convent and incorporates some of the ruins. The hotel at Sibinal is fairly basic but comfortable, with private bathrooms and hot water. Our hotel in San Lucas Toliman is comfortable with private bathroom facilities. The rooms at Los Tarrales all have private toilets; two of the rooms may share a shower. Our hotel in Guatemala City is of very good quality and has all the expected amenities. In Huehuetenango we use an old converted posada, or rustic family ranch home. It may be necessary to share bathrooms with one or more people for this one night (and depending on our rooming configuration, a couple singles may need to share a room). We use this hotel because it’s the closest to our birding location and all other options are an hour or more away.
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 it not usually a major inconvenience.

WIFI: Most of our hotels have WiFi, with the exception of Los Tarrales. At some places, such as the Tikal Jungle Lodge, 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.

MAP AND COUNTRY INFORMATION: You can view maps of Guatemala in the University of Texas series on line. You can also review the US Department of State Background Note on Guatemala.

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: 15 July 2019