Bird watching on holiday-or “avitourism” as it’s now known in the travel industry-is big business. Whether you’re a seasoned birder, or can’t tell a Blue-footed Booby from a Bananaquit, here are the top tropical destinations for bird watchers to indulge their hobby.
Birders flock to Panama to stay at The Canopy Tower-one of the best-known birding resorts in the world. Here, you can sleep eye-to-eye with the your rainforest friends in bird-filled Sobernia National Park. Each fall, the annual mass raptor migration sees millions of birds-of-prey darken the skies over Panama City on their journey from North to South America. Darien Park’s mountainsides also lure serious birders, and those with the Quetzal (shown here) on their birding bucket list should head to Los Quetzales eco resort where the notoriously elusive specimens are most plentiful.
Costa Rica is an ideal place to get your birding beak wet, as few places on the planet offer such a colourful kaleidoscope of tropical beauties. Much of the country is made up of protected national parks that play host to one-tenth of the world’s bird species. Stay at eco-aware Rancho Naturalista near the still-smoking Turraliba Volcano where fans of our fine-feathered friends can spot hundreds of species. Or head to the heavenly hot springs at Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa, located just minutes from Arenal National Park where fabulous guided bird watching tours are available.
The lush country of Ecuador is definitely on the radar of avian enthusiasts, with the western part of its Pichincha Province rightly renowned for its exotic species. Take advantage of the many accommodations that cater to the amateur ornithologist (a fancy name for “bird watcher”), like the Tanday Bird Lodge. One of the coolest birding experiences in the country involves cruising through the Galapagos Islands for up up-close and personal encounters with some 750,000 seabirds, including the giant Albatross and the curious Blue-footed Booby (shown here). For something completely different, you can even snorkel with the penguins there on an Ecoventura Toursexcursion.
From the little blue heron to the pheasant cuckoo to the azure-crowned hummingbird, Guatemala boasts over 700 exotic bird species. Crested by volcanoes, the highlands of scenic Lake Atitlan make an excellent roost for birders and the region surrounding around the lake is protected as a national park. For an ideal home base, roost at Casa Palopo where guided tours for birders include boat trips from their private dock. They also offer treks into indigenous Mayan towns and reserves such as Los Tarrales-a stronghold for the endangered Azure-rumped Tanager and the Pink-headed Warbler.
5. Trinidad & Tobago
The sister islands of Trinidad & Tobago are home to 425 diverse bird species, including the Scarlet Ibis-Trinidad’s national bird, which you’re sure to spot at the island’s Caroni Bird Sanctuary. The Asa Wright Nature Center and Lodge is a perfect place for birders to stay, and Pointe-a-Pierre Wild Fowl Trust is a must-visit. On Tobago, visiting birders often lodge at the Blue Waters Inn, making stops at the Grafton Caledonia Sanctuary, the Main Forest Ridge Rainforest, and Little Tobago Island for eclectic bird sightings.
Mexico’s most bio-diverse region is Huatulco in the state of Oaxaca, and the government’s been very careful to plan local tourist development with conservation in mind. That’s why you can enjoy stellar creature comforts in super-classy spots like Secrets Huatulco Resort & Spa, yet still be steps away from lush wilderness-the natural habitat of hundreds of species of birds in vast stretches of preserves. You’ll find more top-notch birding in the nearby mountains where you’ll find an interesting assortment of bird species. For expert guided birding treks, Homie Tours is your best bet.
Dubbed the “Nature Island”, Dominica is a natural choice for bird watchers. Boasting more than 160 kilometres of hiking trails, 12 waterfalls and 365 rivers, it’s a landscape of ancient rainforests that feels positively primeval. Of special interest to visiting birders is Dominica’s national bird, the rare and endangered Sisserou Parrot-one of the oldest species of Amazon parrots, and one that’s exclusive to this island. Eco-friendly spots to stay include Papillote Wilderness Retreat (be sure to check out the thermal pools!) and the charming Rosalie Bay Resort.
8. St. Maarten/St. Martin
A hot spot for migrating sea birds, the dual-nation island of St. Maarten and St. Martin has a burgeoning bird watching scene. Visitors to the annual Migratory Seabird Festival can enjoy guided tours to the island’s 164 species in a variety of locations via SeaGrape Tours, and learn more about the birds through local environmental organizations like Les Fruit de Mer and the Nature Foundation. You won’t need your binoculars to spot St. Maarten’s national bird, the Brown Pelican-it can be found on every beach!
9. Inagua Islands, Bahamas
Did you know that a flock of flamingoes is called a “flamboyance”? That’s just one of the many fascinating facts you’ll learn while ogling the 80,000 specimens that call the Bahamian Inagua Islands home. In addition to the pretty pink birds, these islands also play host to 140 species of native and migratory birds including the endangered Bahama Parrot. With a human population of only 1,000, there’s not much by way of upscale resorts-these islands truly *are* for the birds!-but there are a few intimate accommodations like Erica’s Inn and The Main House.
Best known for its beautiful beaches, Aruba has a surprise for bird lovers right in between its two most populated tourist strips. The Bubali Bird Sanctuary is an important protected marshland with a tower for viewing the 60 species of migratory birds that often nest there. It’s beside the Divi Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort, an ideal stay within easy walking distance. Avitourists will also enjoy Arikok National Park, where you can seek out the island’s national symbol, the cute and quirky native Shoco Owl-an endangered burrowing bird that nests in the ground. For more, visit the Aruba Birdlife Conservation.