Western Highlands

(El Altiplano)

The Western Highlands (El Altiplano) range from roughly 6500 to 14,000 feet (2000 to 4220) meters above sea level. Within this altitude range, we can find many different habitats, including semi-arid pine/oak woodlands, humid evergreen forest, and, in special undisturbed areas, cloud forest. Since the Highlands are primarily indigenous in character, much of the land is given over to subsistence-level agriculture, creating an interesting mix of habitats. Year-round pleasant temperatures (60°-80°F or 16°- 27°C), infrequent rains and a notable absence of biting insects make the birding conditions in the Western Highland virtually optimal. Of course, cloud forests often are, true to their name, cloudy, but we know the best times and locations for sunny birding.

With its altitude and habitats, the Western Highlands -- extending down from Chiapas, Mexico -- are unique to Central America, and consequently, we find many species endemic to the region: Black-capped Siskin, Rufous-collared Thrush, Blue-and-white Mockingbird, Horned and Highland Guan, Pink-headed Warbler, Wine-throated Hummingbird and Goldman’s Warbler. Other non-endemic highlights include Resplendent Quetzal, Brown-back Solitaire, Mountain Trogon, Chestnut-capped Warbler and Unspotted Saw-whet Owl.

The Western Highlands should leave you breathless – not so much because of the altitude as the because of the birds. Nevertheless, the Highlands will challenge all fitness levels, so our tours take into account each birder’s ability and desires. We have less-demanding tours that are primarily downhill on well-maintained trails, as well as more-demanding hikes in remoter and steeper areas. Fortunately, between 80% and 90% of the Highlands species are accessible to both levels. 

To arrange a tour, please contact us.  gbrc@xelapages.com

Pacific Coast Foothills

(La Boca Costa)

La Boca Costa is what Guatemalans call the foothills of the Pacific Slope that descend from the Western Highlands (El Altiplano) and open up into the Pacific Coast Lowlands (La Costa). A lush region of coffee plantations, moist gallery forest, rivers and streams, the Pacific Coast Foothills offer splendid views of many volcanoes and the coastal plain spreading out below. The climate is generally warm – sunny during the dry season (November to May) and humid during the rainy season (June to October), with most the the rain occurring in the afternoon after a clear morning. Above 5000 feet (1500 meters), we find mixed deciduous forest, and below, broadleaf evergreen rainforest. Generally, the foothills are gently rolling, but steep trails do occur.

In the Pacific Coast Foothills, one can take advantage of a phenomenon described by John Terborgh in his book Where Have All the Birds Gone?  Terborgh noted that bird diversity and density is generally greatest between 500 and 1500 meters above sea level. This zone roughly corresponds to the Pacific Coast Foothills, and our experience of the outstanding birding opportunities there confirm Terborgh’s observation. Over 380 birds call the Foothills home, representing 58 families and subfamilies. In winter large numbers of migrating warblers descend upon the Foothills, complementing the resident bird population, many of which are endemic to the Mundo Maya: Azure-rumped (Canabis’) Tanager, Rufous Saberwing, Maroon-chested Ground-Dove and Pacific Parakeet. Warm Lowland air and cool Highland air meet to create rising thermals for soaring raptors: Great Black Hawk, Grey Hawk, Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle and Grey-headed Kite.

Pacific Coast Lowlands

(La Costa)

What Guatemalans call costa is not just the beach; the best translation is probably "coastal lowlands," or, "coastal plain"; really, costa is any terrain that is low, flat, wet and warm. Most of the state of Florida, for example, could be considered costa, even though much of it is far from any beach. Here, on the Pacific side of Guatemala, La Costa (or, "Pacific Coast Lowlands") consists of a long, narrow (25 mile) strip of land bordered by the ocean and La Boca Costa – the Pacific Coast Foothills that eventually lead up to El Altiplano, that is, the Western Highlands. 

The climate in the Lowlands is generally very warm – generally sunny during the dry season (November to May) and humid during the rainy season (June to October), with most the the rain occurring in the afternoon after a clear morning.

The Pacific Coast Lowlands is blessed with a diversity of habitats. Besides its numerous rivers, lakes, streams, canals and estuaries, we can find (among others) gallery forest, ranchland, sugarcane plantations, marshes, mangrove swamps and, of course, beaches. Such a variety of habitats always makes for productive birding, but especially from April to May and August to October, with thousands of migrating shorebirds, seabirds and waterfowl passing through.  Many even wait out the cold northern winter months in the warm backwaters of the Lowlands’ network of swamps and miles of black volcanic sand beaches.
On the Pacific Coast Lowland tours, we experience some of the most lush tropical environments available in Central America, ranging from lowland jungles studded with Mayan ruins to emerald-green mangrove forests. We will bird between 150 meters above sea level down to the beach. In the swamps, river mouths, estuaries and beaches, we can see Magnificent Frigatebird, Roseate Spoonbill, Collared Plover, Muscovy Duck, Least Grebe, Sungrebe, Limpkin, Boat-billed Heron, Pygmy and Amazon Kingfisher. Further inland, we will be looking for Yellow-naped Parrot, White-fronted Parrot, Rose-throated Ant-Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Great Black Hawk, Grey Hawk, Laughing Falcon and Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture. Between 60 and 120 species are possible on the trip, depending on the season, birding conditions and length of the tour.

Day One

  • Leave Quetzaltenango in private transportation and make a quick stopover at a special archaeological site in lowland forest for lunch and two hours of birding.
  • Arrive late afternoon to Pacific Coast and settle into accommodations near beach.
  • Dinner and discussion about Day Two expeditions.
Day Two
  • Awake at dawn for early breakfast.
  • Explore mangrove waterways in fully-guided boat.
Highlights: Yellow-naped Parrot, Pygmy Kingfisher, Mangrove Vireo, Boat-billed Heron
  • Return for lunch.
  • Bird nearby freshwater wetlands.
Highlights: Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill (right), Muscovy Duck, caimans 
  • Return for dinner.
  • Evening campfire on beach.
  • Optional Owl Prowl by boat in mangrove swamp.
Day Three
  • Awake at dawn for early breakfast.
  • Explore beach and river mouth.
Highlights: Magnificent Frigatebird (left), Collared Plover, Royal Tern, dolphins
  • Leave lowlands late morning.
  • Snack on the road.
  • Arrive in Quetzaltenango early afternoon (2pm).

Guides:     Jason P. Berry (GBRC founder)
                  Guillermo Jimenez (Amigos del Bosque representative)

Meals:     Homemade meals of fresh fish and meats, eggs, fruits and vegetables. 
                 Vegetarian meals available with  prior notice.

Lodging:  We will be staying in a simple thatched-roof bungalow near the beach. 
                  It has five beds and water, but no electricity.

What to bring: (The items in bold are available from GBRC)

1. binoculars

2. field guides

3. sunscreen

4. insect repellant (primarily May-October)

5. hiking boots

6. swimming suit

7. light-weight pants and long-sleeve shirt

8. large-brimmed hat

9. sunglasses

10. camera

11. spending money (about 100 quetzals)

General Advice:

Be prepared for tropical heat. While the temperatures depend on the season, and the mangrove swamps, beaches and forest canopies often give welcome relief, it is a good idea to always drink lots of liquids.

If you bring a camera, decide on your priorities beforehand: Do you want to see the maximum number of birds or photograph what you happen to see? The two activities are often mutually exclusive! Please let us know in advance so that we can make arrangements.


GBRC strives to keep our tours as economical as possible while at the same time upholding a standard of quality our members and clients have come to expect. For a complete list of prices for our day trips, three day costal tours, and our seven and ten birding packages, please email us at: gbrc@xelapages.com

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