A lovely image of a Roseate Spoonbill, a widespread bird in Central America, taken by Dave Irving.
The destinations listed and linked below are the ones we believe are the best in Central America and the Caribbean. They have been chosen very carefully and for a multitude of reasons, but mainly based on personal experience of some of them and on dreams of visiting the rest, dreams resulting from what we have heard, read or seen.
It is our intention to update this list regularly as we add destinations and it was last updated in August 2020.
If there are any other destinations you think should be on the list below then please feel free to Email us.
The destinations are listed alphabetically with very brief, usually one-line, summaries for those linked to more detailed pages (to reach these pages click on the destination name). Those not linked to more detailed pages are described in a bit more detail here, in italics.
The first and arguably most important destination to consider is a Local Patch, somewhere a short walk from home where it is possible to see a wide range of birds and other wildlife any day of the year.
Up to six endemic birds including a very rare nuthatch and one of the best places in the world to swim with dolphins, sharks and Sting Rays.
Baja California - Mexico
Whales and dolphins galore, including Blue Whale and confiding Grey Whales.
Baja's not all about whales. The birds include Red-billed Tropicbirds. Image by Dave Barnes.
There is not much natural habitat left on the coral island of Barbados, much more famous for its sugar plantations and white beaches than the few birds present but they do include the ubiquitous endemic Barbados (Lesser Antilles) Bullfinch, as well as Masked Duck, Royal Tern, Scaly-naped Pigeon (more easily seen here than on many other islands in its Caribbean range), Common Ground Dove, Zenaida Dove, Green-throated Carib, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Black-whiskered Vireo, Caribbean Martin, Caribbean Elaenia, Yellow (Barbados Golden) Warbler (in and around the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary mangroves, arguably the best birding site on the island), Bananaquit, Black-faced Grassquit, Shiny Cowbird and Carib Grackle (a population with males and females in similar plumage). Good places for shorebirds are Chancery Lane Swamp and Woodbourne Refuge.
Whale Sharks, possibly West Indian Manatee and great coral reef fish.
There are no endemic bird species on these three islands south of Cuba although they do support Vitelline Warbler which otherwise occurs only on the Swan Islands off Honduras. There are many endemic subspecies though including two of Cuban Parrot (caymanensis on Grand Cayman and hesterna on Cayman Brac) and Vitelline Warbler (vitellina on Grand Cayman and crawfordi on Little Cayman). Other specialities include West Indian Whistling Duck, Antillean Nighthawk, West Indian Woodpecker (Grand Cayman), Loggerhead Kingbird, Caribbean Elaenia, La Sagra's Flycatcher, (Western) Red-legged Thrush, Thick-billed Vireo, Yucatan Vireo (Grand Cayman), Bananaquit (sharpei), Western Spindalis (Grand Cayman), Cuban Bullfinch (Grand Cayman) and Greater Antillean Grackle, while more widespread spectacular species include White-tailed Tropicbird, Red-footed Booby (one of the largest breeding colonies on Earth (about 3500 pairs) is on Little Cayman), Magnificent Frigatebird (which also has a breeding colony on Little Cayman), and passage migrant and wintering warblers such as Black-throated Blue. Most resident breeding species nest from late May to July. The endemic fauna includes the Grand Cayman Blue Iguana while rich coral reefs, calm seas and warm, clear water make snorkelling and scuba-diving delightful, the most notable larger species being Blacktip and Whitetip Reef Sharks, Southern Stingray, Spotted Eagle Ray, Green Turtle and Atlantic Tarpon.
Resplendent Quetzal, Red-eyed Tree Frog, sloths, monkeys and nesting turtles. Costa Rica's got the lot!
Over 20 endemic birds including a tody, a trogon and the world's smallest; Bee Hummingbird.
There are a lot of rather spectacular endemic birds on the island of Cuba, not least the Blue-headed Quail Dove. This fine image was captured at Bermejas near Zapata by Dubi Shapiro.
Sperm and other Whales, dolphins and two endemic parrots.
One of the few places in the world where it is possible to swim with Humpback Whales.
Birds do not come much cuter than todies which are endemic to the Caribbean. This is a Broad-billed Tody on the Sierra de Bahoruco in the Dominican Republic by Dubi Shapiro.
The smallest country in Central America has the highest human population density hence there ain’t a lot of forest left. However, all the birds of the dry tropical forest belt that ranges along the Pacific coast from southern Mexico to northern Costa Rica and many species endemic to the highlands between southern Mexico and northern Nicaragua are present including the range-restricted Rufous Sabrewing. The best birding sites include El Imposible National Park (Long-tailed Manakin), Los Volcanes National Park (White-faced Quail Dove, Green-throated Mountain-gem, Rufous-browed Wren, Bushy-crested Jay and Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer), Montecristo National Park (Highland Guan, Green-throated Mountain-gem, Rufous-collared Thrush and Rufous-browed Wren) and the Perquín area (Buffy-crowned Wood Partridge and Bushy-crested Jay).
El Triunfo, Mexico
The cloud forest in this reserve in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas is one of the few accessible sites in Chiapas and neighbouring Guatemala where Horned Guan occurs, and this is also a good place to see other range-restricted highland specialities such as Highland Guan, White-breasted Hawk, Fulvous Owl, Resplendent Quetzal (the subspecies with the longest tail), Blue-throated Motmot, Green-throated Mountaingem, Emerald-chinned and Wine-throated Hummingbirds, Black-throated Jay, Blue-crowned Chlorophonia and Hooded Grosbeak. At lower altitudes the major speciality is Azure-rumped (Cabanis's) Tanager (most likely at Canada Honda), while others include Rufous Sabrewing, Sparkling-tailed Woodstar, Tody Motmot, Giant Wren (Tapachula area) and White-eared Ground-Sparrow. Other birds include Turquoise-browed Motmot (Paval area), Black-crested Coquette, Grey Silky and Long-tailed Manakin, and mammals present include Central American (Geoffrey's) Spider Monkey, Collared Peccary and Southern Ringtail (Cacomistle). Visitors must have permission from the Instituto de Historia Natural in Tuxtla Gutiérrez which can also help with the logistics in reaching the basic bunkhouse, which involves an uphill hike of about 11 km (6.5 miles), camping lower down, food and so on. The best time to visit is March when Horned Guans are usually calling.
The extraordinary Horned Guan at El Triunfo, Mexico by Jon Hornbuckle. It is only possible to see this bird at remote El Triunfo in southern Mexico or in adjacent Guatemala.
Although Guatemala is little more than one-twentieth the size of Mexico it has a birdlist of about 700, almost two-thirds of the Mexico total. In the south of this country with some of the most active volcanoes in the region Central American specialities include Crested and Highland Guans, Spotted Wood Quail, Resplendent Quetzal, hummingbirds such as Rufous and Violet Sabrewings, Blue-throated and Tody Motmots, Chestnut-sided Shrike Vireo, Bushy-crested and Unicoloured Jays, Pink-headed Warbler (at Rincon Suizo) and the rare Azure-rumped (Cabanis's) Tanager, mostly in patches of remnant forest in and around shade-coffee plantations, and on the highest, steepest slopes of the dramatic volcanic landscape, at places such as Finca Los Andes. The best spot in the world for the stunning Goldman’s Warbler, a potential endemic currently considered a subspecies of Myrtle/Yellow-rumped Warbler which occurs only in high-elevation juniper and pine forests in Guatemala is Todos Santos Cuchumatan near Huehuetenango where there is also a chance of Ocellated Quail, Olive Warbler and the Guatemalan subspecies of Yellow-eyed Junco (a possible split from the northern Yellow-eyed Juncos). On the high slopes of Volcan San Pedro around the beautiful crater lake Lago de Atitlan (where the endemic grebe became extinct in the early 1980s) it is also possible to see the localised, rare and spectacular Horned Guan, above 2500 m on the notoriously steep El Sendero de Lagrimas (The Trail of Tears), as well as Amethyst-throated, Sparkling-tailed and Wine-throated Hummingbirds, Blue-throated Motmot and Hooded Grosbeak. Up north is the Classic Mayan site of Tikal where the birdlife includes several Yucatan endemics such as Ocellated Turkey, Ocellated Poorwill and Grey-throated Chat, with numerous other spectacular birds, not least King Vulture and Keel-billed Toucan, as well as Black (Yucatan) Howler Monkey, Central American (Geoffrey's) Spider Monkey and confiding White-nosed Coatis. The peak time to look for birds is January to April.
A Pink-headed Warbler by Nigel Voaden. This beauty occurs only in Guatemala and the adjacent highlands of eastern Chiapas in southern Mexico.
In July 2020 the British Foreign Office advised against all but essential travel to Haiti due to the volatile security situation, mainly involving unpredictable and sometimes violent demonstrations, protests and roadblocks since July 2018, with a notable increase in civil unrest since September 2019.
The island of Hispaniola supports over 30 endemic bird species although one, Grey-crowned (Palm) Tanager, is virtually confined to Haiti, at the western end of the island shared with the Dominican Republic. This rare endemic known to the locals as ‘Quatre-yeux’ (Four-eyes) because of the white areas around the eyes, can be seen around the Saut Mathurine waterfall in the last pristine cloudforest in the country in Pic Macaya National Park near Les Cayes, 196 km west of the capital Port-au-Prince. Also present in and around the park are West Indian Whistling Duck, Broad-billed Tody, Palmchat (both at the botanical gardens) and many other species which also occur in the Dominican Republic. As for the rest of Haiti well this is the poorest, most environmentally degraded country in the Caribbean, a country composed mainly of rugged highlands rising to 2674 m at Pic La Selle in the southeast. The slopes of these mountains were once cloaked in beautiful forests but only tiny fragments remain and therefore few tree-dwelling birds, but the peaks do support the only known significant breeding populations of Black-capped Petrel. The best time to visit is mid-March to mid-April when many resident birds start to breed and wintering species are joined by spring migrants heading to North America.
Whale Sharks, coral reef fish and birds such as Tody and Keel-billed Motmots.
This small tropical island supports a staggering 30 or so endemic bird species (including the endemic nana subspecies of the widespread Olive-throated Parakeet, and Jamaican Oriole which occurs only on Jamaica and the remote island of San Andres), many of which are widespread. There are three hummingbirds, including two stunning streamertails, two parrots, a tody, an owl and Arrow-headed Warbler, as well as Ring-tailed Pigeon, Crested Quail Dove (most likely like several endemics along Ecclesdown Road in the John Crow Mountains), a lizard cuckoo (most likely at Hardwar Gap in the Blue Mountains), Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, a woodpecker, an elaenia, a pewee, two other flycatchers, a becard, two thrushes, a crow, two vireos, a tanager, a euphonia, a grassquit, Orangequit and a blackbird (most likely at Hardwar Gap). Twelve more widespread Caribbean endemics present include West Indian Whistling Duck, Vervain Hummingbird and Rufous-throated Solitaire, and other, more widespread, spectacular species include White-tailed Tropicbird (at Hector's River), Magnificent Frigatebird, Northern Potoo (the endemic jamaicensis race) and wintering warblers from North America, including Black-throated Blue, Cape May and Prairie. There are some spectacular butterflies too, not least the rarely reported endemic Giant Swallowtail (Papilio homerus) which with a wingspan of up to 15 cm is the largest swallowtail butterfly in the Americas. The best time to look for birds is February to early May, later for butterflies.
A wonderful image of a Black-billed Streamertail at Port Antonio in Jamaica by Dubi Shapiro.
Mexico - Baja California
Whales and dolphins galore, including Blue Whale and confiding Grey Whales.
Mexico - Central (Michoacan)
Millions of Monarch butterflies at their winter roosts make this A Top Ten Destination.
The one-and-only Chestnut-sided Shrike Vireo in Colima, Mexico, by Brian Field.
Mexico - El Triunfo
See El Triunfo, Mexico, above.
Mexico - Oaxaca
See Oaxaca, Mexico, below.
Mexico - Southern (Yucatan-Chiapas)
One of the best places in the world to swim with Whale Sharks.
Mexico - Veracruz
The best raptor migration in the world, with 4-6 million birds each autumn/fall.
Mexico - Western (including the Durango Highway, San Blas, and Colima and Jalisco)
The spectacular endemic Tufted Jay can be seen in the Sierra Madre Occidental, accessible along the Durango Highway, along which also occur the rare Sinaloa Martin, Red-headed Tanager and Mexico's famous flocks of warblers which here contain Crescent-chested, Olive, Red and Red-faced. Lower down, specialities include Military Macaw, Purplish-backed Jay and wintering Black-capped Vireos. At the coast, on the Gulf of California, rocky islets viewable (with telescopes) from Mazatlan support breeding Red-billed Tropicbirds and Blue-footed Boobies. Further south along the Pacific coast lies the small holiday resort of San Blas where it is possible to see 250 species in a week, less than a thousand miles south of the U.S. border, including about 30 endemics (such as Citreoline Trogon and San Blas Jay), as well as Rufous-necked Wood Rail, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Collared Forest Falcon, Northern Potoo, Military Macaw, Russet-crowned Motmot, Fan-tailed Warbler and Rosy Thrush Tanager. Humpback Whales spend the northern winter in Banderas Bay, Puerto Vallarta, where on organised whale-watching trips it is also possible to see Bottlenose and Spotted Dolphins. Not much further south is the small state of Colima which together with parts of neighbouring Jalisco supports about 40 endemics including San Blas Jay, Aztec Thrush, Red Warbler and Orange-breasted Bunting, as well as Grey Silky, Chestnut-sided Shrike Vireo, many warblers including Colima and Golden-browed, and Red-breasted Chat. The smoking Volcan de Fuego is one of the best sites, although the vast flocks of Yellow-headed Blackbirds winter on the Ciudad Guzman Marshes. At the coast, boat trips can be arranged out of Manzanillo to a big rock called Piedra Blanca where Red-billed Tropicbirds breed. The best time to bird Western Mexico is January-February.
The striking Tufted Jay at Reserva Chara Pinta by Nigel Voaden.
In August 2018 the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised against all but essential travel to Nicaragua because of prolonged political unrest. This has badly affected the economy and tourism which is a great shame because although the largest country in Central America has long been overshadowed by its southern neighbour Costa Rica as far as birding goes it still has swathes of good forest, especially in the Caribbean lowlands where the Indio Maiz Reserve and Rio Indio Lodge are situated. Elsewhere there are Pacific slope forests, highland forests and the huge Lake Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua) which together support the near-endemic Green-breasted Mountain-gem (El Jaguar private reserve), Nicaraguan Seedfinch and Nicaraguan Grackle, as well as Great Curassow, Agami Heron, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Green Ibis, Great Green and Scarlet Macaws, Resplendent Quetzal, trogons, Black-crested Coquette, Snowcap (Refugio Bartola), Turquoise-browed Motmot, Keel-billed Toucan, Ocellated Antbird, Three-wattled Bellbird, Long-tailed and Red-capped Manakins and Golden-cheeked Warbler, while mammals include Mantled Howler and Geoffrey’s Spider Monkeys, and Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth. Some of the best birding sites are Montibelli private reserve near Managua, Refugio Bartola on the Rio San Juan and El Jaguar private reserve. The rainy season normally runs from May to November when hurricanes are also possible. Hurricane Otto made landfall in November 2016 and affected the forests around Refugio Bartola and in the Indio Maiz Reserve.
Oaxaca - Mexico
There are probably more bird species in Oaxaca than any other Mexican state; nearly 700, and almost 100 of these are regional endemics. The area around the city of Oaxaca is also one of the richest regions in Mexico for endemic birds and many of these occur: on Cerro San Felipe (La Cumbre), notable for Dwarf Jay and lots of warblers including Red; along Route 175 North (the striking Slaty Vireo and, nearer the town of Valle Nacional, Tody Motmot); and at Monte Alban, home of the skulking Ocellated Thrasher. Other great birds around the city include Grey Silky and Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, with a chance of Aztec Thrush. Further afield, the Sierra Madre del Sur near Puerto Angel on the Pacific coast supports more endemics and Red-breasted Chat (most likely in Parque Nacional Huatulca), and on pelagic boat trips out of places such as Huatulca and Puerto Angel it is possible, on good days, to see Townsend’s Shearwater, as well as Audubon's (Galapagos) and Pink-footed Shearwaters, Black and Least Storm Petrels, and Nazca (Masked) Booby. At the far eastern end of the state, live two fantastic endemic birds; Orange-breasted and Rosita’s Buntings, which can be seen side-by-side in the Tapanatepec Foothills along with such birds as Citreoline Trogon, Russet-crowned Motmot and White-throated Magpie Jay. The endemic Giant Wren (a real giant!) occurs not far away, near the small town of Puerto Arista in the state of Chiapas, and beyond there in Chiapas lies the Biosphere Reserve Selva el Ocote (Nava's Wren), El Sumidero Canyon (Belted Flycatcher and a chance of Slender Sheartail) and the warbler-filled woods of San Cristobal de las Casas (Golden-cheeked and Pink-headed Warblers, and a chance of Blue-throated Motmot and Black-throated Jay). The best time to look for birds is January to April.
Blue, blue, electric blue, that's the colour of a Rosita's or Rose-bellied Bunting. The superb image of this one was captured in the Tapanatepec Foothills of Oaxaca, Mexico, by Nigel Voaden, the same place the very colourful Orange-breasted Bunting occurs, both species being endemic to Mexico.
Resplendent Quetzal, sloths, monkeys, Manta Rays and turtles.
This small island supports an endemic monotypic bird family (Puerto Rican Tanager) and 16 other endemic birds; a lizard cuckoo, a screech owl, a nightjar (difficult to see), two hummingbirds, a tody, a woodpecker, a tyrant flycatcher, a vireo, Adelaide's and Elfin-woods Warblers, a spindalis, a bullfinch, a blackbird (only likely to be seen at La Parguera), an oriole and a parrot although this is very rare and unlikely to be seen even where most of the wild and released birds are, in the Caribbean National Forest (El Yunque) in the Sierra de Luquillo, particularly at Rio Abajo. Caribbean endemics include two more hummingbirds and Red-legged Thrush while other spectacular species present include White-tailed Tropicbird, Magnificent Frigatebird and wintering warblers from North America such as Prairie. It is possible to see all of the endemics except the parrot in a few days hence many birders combine a trip to this island with the Dominican Republic. Other natural wonders include the karst country of the northwest where there are many similar sized and shaped 100 ft (30 m) high hillocks or mogotes; the Rio Camuy Caves, also in the northwest, one of the largest cave systems on the planet covering 268 acres (110 ha); and Mosquito Bay on the island of Vieques which at night all year round glows blue-green thanks to the presence of millions of microscopic phosphorescent dinoflagellates, best experienced while swimming on a cloudy moonless night. The best time to look for birds is March-April.
Elfin-woods Warbler at El Yunque by Dubi Shapiro.
This island in the Lesser Antilles is just 43 km (27 miles) long and 23 km (14 miles) wide. Its forested slopes support the richest avifauna in the Lesser Antilles including four endemic bird species; a parrot, a warbler, a black finch and an oriole, with three more possibles; the island forms of Rufous Nightjar, House Wren and Lesser Antillean Pewee. Another endemic, Semper’s Warbler, has not been seen since 1967 and is now thought to be extinct. There are also several Lesser Antillean endemics; Lesser Antillean Swift, Purple-throated Carib, Lesser Antillean Flycatcher, Scaly-breasted and White-breasted Thrashers, Grey Trembler, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch and Lesser Antillean Saltator, and five more widespread Caribbean endemics; Bridled Quail Dove, Green-throated Carib, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Rufous-throated Solitaire and Antillean Euphonia. Other spectacular species include Red-billed Tropicbird (most likely at Cape Moule à Chique at the southern tip of the island), Magnificent Frigatebird and Mangrove Cuckoo. The Des Cartiers Trail in Quilesse Forest Reserve, about two hours south of Anse Chastanet, is arguably the best forest trail on the island. On boat trips off Soufriere, Fraser's, Spinner and Pantropical Spotted Dolphins are possible and also offshore there are many coral reef fishes, and Green and Hawksbill Turtles. The best time to look for birds is February-April.
Trinidad and Tobago
Nesting turtles and some fine birds, not least Scarlet Ibis and Oilbird.
A male Ruby Topaz hummingbird on the island of Trinidad by Steve Garvie.
Veracruz - Mexico
The best raptor migration in the world, with 4-6 million birds each autumn/fall.