Friday, February 6, 2015

Birding Coban and Semuc Champey

The lagoons of Semuc Champey
Some birding treks can be rough on the body.  After our comfortable stays in Antigua and near Tikal in Guatemala, we headed off to an unknown destination known as Coban.  While most areas in Guatemala are safe to travel, Coban has had a history of being a challenge for some tourists. 

Royal Flycatcher
It's a popular destination for tourists because it's located near some epic landscapes full of incredible birds!  One would think Spanish is the main language spoken, but here in this region, the Mayan language of Q'eqchi is dominant. Coban is really a wonderful city, but the traveler does need to take care of his or her things while in this town.  Theft has been a problem here in the past. There has also been an anti-tourist attitude(when compared to the comforts of Flores and Antigua) towards visitors hoping to spy the Resplendent Quetzal or needing a rest before making the trek down to Semuc Champey. Part of that "anti" feeling is also caused by obnoxious tourists. So tread lightly here and enjoy what this magnificent city has to offer!  Plus the coffee is quite nice:)

Yellow-throated Euphonia-female
With all that said, Coban and surrounding areas are worth the extra effort. However be warned!  Even if you think a bus or minivan is full, you're wrong.  There were many tight spaces on our bumpy treks throughout the countryside:)  I even had a 3 hour ride in the back of a truck standing up!  It took every ounce of will power to stay positive.  And for the pain and bruises?  A Common Pauraque. Okay, it was worth it:)

Yellow-throated Euphonia-male
I brought my water pack with me daily as it was June or what the locals call the wet season.  During this time of year, the weather is humid, overcast and WET!  But the wildlife is spectacular!   

Semuc Champey is a rough ride down into a wild and beautiful area. Once inside the park, you'll want to take a dip in the crystal blue waters.  There are little brown fish that will nibble on your hairs and dead skin.  I know.  It sounds gross, but you'll find yourself oddly liking it:)  Word of caution.  If you do go for a swim, don't leave your belongings unattended.  Kids will come out of the forest and steal them!  Also, it can be rainy with the trails muddy and slick at times.  But my lifer, the Swallow-tailed Kite, at the top of Mirador, was so worth it. 

Chestnut-headed Oropendula
While you are trekking throughout this gorgeous park, keep an eye out for monkeys and plenty of birds!  The place is basically a limestone bridge over a deep cavernous river.  Be careful walking near the edge because there is no return.

Below is a shot of the Cahabón river flowing underground where it resurfaces on the other side of the bridge.  This special area is unique in that it has created a network of underground caverns.  It was here that I discovered hundreds of swifts flying under and around this natural bridge. I safely clung to the side as I observed them fly in and out of these underground caverns.

Swifts are naturally difficult to capture with photos, but here are the White-collared Swifts in the dark gray skies on this day. 

White-collared Swifts
While I'm freaking out about the birds, my friend is loving the water and laughing at me. I get in the moment!  But I think we all can agree here at Birding Is Fun! that observing birds in the wild is pretty awesome:)   I can swim at my hotel:)

Our trek out to Semuc Champey was eventful and worth the pain. But we weren't done.  I said good-bye to the park for the last time and tried to remember it all. We had a couple more stops to make. So we headed back to the village of Lanquín for a late dinner and a trip back to our headquarters in Coban.

Coban is a MUST stop if you're wanting the Resplendent Quetzal on your list.  We hired a taxi for the early morning so that we would arrive to our destination on time.  We stopped at a local ranch where the Quetzals were being seen.  They had wild avocado trees and a delicious breakfast waiting:) The link above will tell you about that special trip.

Resplendent Quetzal
This is a great bird to introduce to your non-birding friends and a fun place to hike.

It's different now.  I don't know if I'll make it back to Coban in this lifetime because there are so many other places to explore, but it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited in my life! Sure, it's rough, but on a stressful day at work, all you have to do is transport yourself back to the memory and everything will be okay. It's that beautiful.

Howler Monkey
So after a rough trek to areas like these, it's always nice to take a couple days off for relaxation. 

Stay tuned for more....


  1. Looks like an amazing trip and amazing pictures!

    1. Thank you! Guatemala is epic! Best place for birds and cultural diversity. I wish I could back every year to study that place.

  2. Great report and awesome birds, Chris! I love the photos.. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post.. Have a happy weekend!

  3. What a wonderful trip and fantastic report and images you have given us today. Thanks. Have a wonderful weekend.

  4. Awesome photos! Amazing birds and critters.

  5. It's always a joy to read about your birding adventures, Chris! The Resplendent Quetzal certainly lives up to its name ... gorgeous! I scrolled through this post a second time just to marvel at all the amazing wildlife you saw on your trip. Fantastic!