Mark Pretti Nature Tours, L.L.C.

El Triunfo Report
El Triunfo Bird List
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El Triunfo, Chiapas:
Birding and Natural History in Mexico's Greatest Wilderness

Future dates TBA

Over the years I've had the good fortune to travel in and enjoy the natural riches of many states in Mexico, from the borderlands of Sonora and Chihuahua to the lowland rainforests of the southeast.  Though all those journeys have been memorable, I have never experienced a landscape in Mexico as wild and pristine as that of the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve in southern Chiapas.  Perhaps the most bird and wildlife rich area in the country, the El Triunfo region is magical for many reasons, the most important, perhaps, being that people have left it alone.  With no roads, villages, livestock, or other habitat altering activities, and with superb management by several NGOs, the Mexican government, and local communities, El Triunfo provides an opportunity to experience a tremendous diversity of habitats and species.  Within the tropical dry forests of the interior valley and the Pacific lowlands, the evergreen tropical forests of the mid elevations, and the towering epiphyte-laden trees of the high cloud forest, one can find some of the rarest and most beautiful birds in the world while enjoying one of the most spectacular natural adventures anywhere.

We begin this unforgettable journey in Tuxtla Gutierrez where we start our trip with a visit to Sumidero Canyon, a deep and dramatic liquid incision through a limestone dome.  While mostly covered with tropical deciduous forest, there are a few patches of near-evergreen forest, making for an interesting mix of birds and plants from both western and eastern Mexico.  At Sumidero we'll look for white-throated magpie jay, white-lored gnatcatcher, Nutting's flycatcher, streak-backed oriole, banded wren, russet-crowned motmot, blue-and-white mockingbird, barred antshrike, northern bentbill, Couch's kingbird, Canivet's emerald, fan-tailed warbler, and some of the rarer species such as belted flycatcher and slender sheartail.  From Tuxtla, we head south to the small town of Jaltenango, our take-off point for El Triunfo.  The magic begins as we leave Jaltenango and travel along the Rio Jaltenango valley through forest that gradually becomes less and less altered as we reach the biosphere boundary.  Along the way, birds are plentiful and include white-winged tanager, orange-billed nightingale-thrush, plain wren, golden-olive woodpecker, green parakeet, azure-crowned hummingbird, blue-headed vireo, chestnut-collared swift, laughing falcon, black hawk-eagle, and many others.  As we arrive at Finca Prusia, a German coffee hacienda dating back to the late 1800s, we'll be surrounded by high, forest-covered mountains that seem to go on forever.  From here the real fun begins, at least if you think of a 7-mile uphill walk as fun.  We'll ascend through the shade grown coffee plantation and gradually enter the best cloud forest remaining in Mexico.  During our hike we'll look for blue-crowned motmot, gartered trogon, emerald-chinned hummingbird, scaly-throated foliage-gleaner, brown-capped vireo, blue-crowned chlorophonia, singing quail, and emerald toucanet.  As we near the camp at El Triunfo, we'll hopefully find some of the area's specialties such as the rare and wonderful horned guan, resplendent quetzal, spotted nightingale-thrush, black thrush, green-throated mountain gem, and maybe the rare scaled antpitta, which, though elusive, we've seen several times.

We'll spend three nights at El Triunfo where we'll be treated to the warm hospitality and great food of our Mexican hosts who seem to pull off miracle after miracle in coordinating our logistics in this remote and roadless area.  From our camp, where yellow grosbeak, flame-colored tanager, gray silky-flycatcher, spotted nightingale-thrush, brown-backed solitaire are common, we'll explore several gorgeous trails looking for horned guans and resplendent quetzals as well as highland guan, mountain thrush, gray-breasted wood wren, rufous-browed wren, unicolored and black-throated jays, white-faced quail dove, ruddy-capped nightingale-thrush, violet sabrewing, wine-throated hummingbird, black-crested coquette, spotted and spot-crowned woodcreepers, ruddy foliage-gleaner, yellowish flycatcher, yellow-throated and chestnut-capped brush-finches, fulvous owl and many more.

From the high camp, we'll make a three-day descent to the Pacific lowlands, intimately enjoying the changing habitats and the species variety they present.  From the trail and from our well chosen campsites, we'll hope to have good views of up to five species of motmot (blue-crowneed, turquoise-browed, tody, blue-throated, and russet-crowned), white-eared ground-sparrow and its rarer cousin, Prevost's ground-sparrow, rufous sabrewing, tawny-throated leaftosser, green-shrike vireo, elegant euphonia, rufous-and-white wren, blue-tailed hummingbird, fan-tailed warbler, rufous-breasted spinetail, spot-breasted oriole, and one of the most striking birds of the route, the long-tailed manakin.

Our trip concludes in Tapachula where we'll enjoy a great hotel with giant wren, Pacific screech owl, white-bellied chachalaca, yellow-winged cacique, cinnamon hummingbird, and Pacific and orange-chinned parakeets right on the grounds.  We may also, as we have in the past, in late March and April, be treated to a "river of raptors" show over the hotel.

Much of the cost of this trip goes to support FONCET - - and the local communities who provide amazing logistical support and make the experience fun, rewarding, and surprisingly comfortable.  It's a great opportunity to get a big bang for your conservation-based buck.

The El Triunfo trip is a wilderness adventure that is physically challenging.  We'll spend 3 nights in hotels and 6 nights in the reserve (3 of these will be in the dorm with beds and a hot shower, and 3 will be tent camping with a cold shower).  Walks are mostly at a birding pace and include distances that average about 2 (mostly level) miles while at the high camp, 5-6 miles (downhill) between the three Pacific slope camps, and the 7.5-mile uphill hike on the day we enter the reserve.  Horses will carry our gear so that we only need to carry daypacks in the field.  The rewards for the adventure, however, are memories of a lifetime.

Led by Mark Pretti and local expert guide Jorge Montejo, the cost will be about $3050 per person, double occupancy, all inclusive from Tuxtla Gutierrez to Tapachula.  Limited to 8 participants.

Detailed itinerary and references available upon request.

 Photos: Cabanis' tanager, and blue-throated motmot by Misty Vaughn
               Horned guan by Steve Zarate

Last updated: November 27, 2016.