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Quintana Roo birding without a guide? (1 Viewer)


Well-known member
I am going to Quintana Roo at the end of March and hope to do a fair bit of birding. It sounds like there's some great places to go in the area, like Si'an Kaan and Reserva Toh, but literally every review I read about these places mentions a guide. I haven't necessarily read anything that says you are required to take a guide to visit these places, but I strongly get that impression (please correct me if I am wrong!).

I know this probably sounds strange to most on this board, but I would prefer to bird without a guide. I recognize that this means I see less total species, miss birds, screw up IDs, etc; but I started birding alone and now only bird with my wife and occasionally a friend. It's always been a personal hobby and I value the self-discovery of it. Anyway, just trying to illustrate where I'm coming from.

Of the major sites like Si'an Kaan, Reserva Toh, Zona Arqueologica de Coba, and others, are there any that do not require guides?

I could imagine that the impenetrability of the jungle would require a guide if these places are 100% completely undeveloped and untrailed. Is this the case? If so, are there other good birding sites in the area that would be navigable to someone who's pretty good at remembering their path and/or reading maps?


Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
You can do many sites in QRoo without a guide, and there are many threads in this section of birdforum detailing one or another of them. Many of the Zona Archeologica sites including Coba are good and accessible without a guide. Si'an Kaan might be the exception as I have never been inside the reserve; Vigia Chico road from Felipe Carrillo Puerto has been good at the majority of my visits. I have been without a guide on the majority of my birding in the Yucatan peninsula.



Well-known member
As Niels mentioned, the Zona Archeologica sites are a good place to start. If you don't mind paying the modest entry fees, the ruins sites are pretty good for birding, because they have been largely cleared, (for visibility and restoration of the Mayan ruins), which give you good access to the margin of the jungle. The birds seem to like the clearings also. We have toured in the Yucatan WITH a guide, and much of the birding we did was within the archeological sites. If you are birding with a scope, that may be an issue, because the tripods are generally not allowed.

Yes, Coba is great. Also check out Muyil-- it is a smaller archeological site, but within Sian Kaan, and very close to the water. Didn't see a lot of birds at Tulum, but the archeological site shouldn't be missed, anyway.

Are you staying within QR, or maybe venturing into Yucatan or Campeche? If you go up the the Gulf of Mexico side, check out Rio Lagartos-- I would hire a boat ride in the lagoons, for Spoonbills, Herons, Storks, Flamingos, etc.


Well-known member
Thanks for the helpful replies. We'll be staying on the coast between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. Not sure if we'll venture as far as Rio Lagartos but I'll keep the recommendation in mind.

My one remaining question is if anyone has knowledge of Reserva Toh's guide requirement specifically!


missing the neotropics
No guides are necessary anywhere in the Yucatan, honestly. I birded Mexico independently for 7 months and used guides / went on organized trips only a very few times, in locations that are otherwise inaccessible (El Triunfo where I went with a University research trip, Yaxchilan where you need to go with a boatman and have a guide with you within the ruins, and with local trail guides while looking for Bearded Wood-Quail in Veracruz.

Birding in the Yucatan is for the most part straightforward, safe, easy to access, etc. Some other comments:

Most of the archeological sites are good birding with the possible exception of Chichen Itza - too many people / no special birds. Uxmal is quite nice for Cave Swallow and just general diversity. Coba is excellent as mentioned. Calakmul is excellent if you get all the way there. I think Si'an Kaan is kind of an unnecessary destination in my opinion, there is better birding elsewhere and you might be limited in how much of the road you can bird by opening hours and mud vs. your vehicle.

While I was birding on that trip my partner and I maintained a blog. We stopped updating the blog in Ecuador but all the content is still there. I've not looked at these posts or re-read them in eons, but I'll link them to you here in case they're of interest or help. I doubt much in the way of access should have changed in ~6 years.


I'd say get a rental car, check eBird and trip reports for hotspots and go have fun!


Active member

I've been on Reserva Toh in 2017, by that time I just need to pay for the entrance to the reserve and I did not require a guide, but I don't know if the reserve's politics changed. Near Reserva Toh is another site called Central Vallarta that is a small town surrounded with good habitat for the target birds of the area

this is a video of my travel to Yucatan Peninsula in 2017, I talk about several sites (in spanish)


Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
Two comments: I mentioned the Vigia Chico road from which a lot of Si'an Kaan specialties can be seen even though it is outside the preserve itself.

If you want to go to Chichen Itza, then it is worth while to splurge for a night or two at Hazienda Chichen which is expensive but really nice including access to some nice trails. I have for example seen two species of Becards on their grounds (the other being Grey-collared).

Just the access road to Calakmul would probably be known as one of the best birding locations in Yucatan if it was more easily accessible/cheaper.



Well-known member
I agree with most of the comments already made. My wife and I have done much of Quintana Roo in two trips without a guide, though one actually offered his services for free to get some guiding experience! The ruins are good for birding, Tulum, and Chichen Itza being popular and therefore crowded by mid morning when the tour buses arrive. Coba, Muyil and Rio Largartos were our favorite places close to Playa del Carmen. If you can get to Vigio Chico road, there's days of birding there if you cover it well.
No one has mentioned Cozumel which has a few endemics, if that's of interest. Plus snorkeling, a nice way to revive from non-stop birding.
Though terrific birding, Calakmul and the other southern ruins are too far from where you are staying. I think you should be content with what's fairly close; there will be plenty of sites to choose from.

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Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
Agree with comments so far, except that if you have a hire car Calakmul is easily within reach if you stay at the very inexpensive tented camp along the entrance road to the site. The birding (and forest and ruins) there is mindblowing and not to be missed if possible, and you don't get the big crowds of tourists.
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