on-line contest

What's New

Most Popular


Story and photos by

We are on a birdwatching tour of La Tovara National Park, near the town of San Blas on the Riviera Nayarit in Mexico. You can see 300 species of birds here in winter and 500 species year-round, if you include migratory birds and endemics.

Birdwatching from boat in La Tovara National Park
Birdwatching from boat in La Tovara National Park
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

San Blas is located on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, on Highway 15, about two hours north of Puerto Vallarta and 40 miles (64 kilometers) northwest of Tepic, the Nayarit state capital.

Boat tour

Tovara's bird sanctuary is in 1,606 acres (650 hectares) of protected mangrove wetlands around San Blas. Birding trips, by boat, depart from La Aguada and El Conchal.

Our boatman and birding guide was Jose Inocencio Banuelos, who is locally known by his nickname, Chencho. As the sun rose, he manoeuvred our motorboat up the Rio San Cristobal toward the Pacific Ocean, and then along the smaller Tovara waterway.

At times, the waterside mangroves arched over the water. We felt like were cruising through a leafy tunnel.

From above and both sides, we heard tweets, cackles and the noisy call of the rufous-bellied chachalaca (scientific name: Ortalis wagleri), which looks like a small grey-brown turkey. It lives only in Mexico.

Boat-billed heron
Boat-billed heron
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Boat-billed heron

A blue heron took off from the water in front of us. In the mangroves around us, we spotted white herons, bare-throated tiger herons and a beautiful boat-billed heron (scientific name: Cochlearius cochlearius).

As Chencho steered the boat to the edge of the mangrove forest, so we could take close-up photos, we heard the chattering of orange-fronted parakeets. Chencho explained that they make their nests in termite mounds so the chicks can eat termites after they hatch.

A green kingfisher flew in front of our boat. An anhinga stretched out its snake-like neck and took flight.

It was hard to believe that we could identify so many birds in just two hours. We wished we had a checklist. White ibis. Check. Yellow-crowned night heron. Check. Magpie jay. Check.

Muscovy ducks flapped their wings above us. With our binoculars and long camera lenses, we spotted a snail kite (scientific name: Rostrhamus sociabilis) watching us from a high tree branch.

Snail kite
Snail kite
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Best time to go birding

The best months for a San Blas birding tour are October to late March. The annual Christmas bird count and the dates for the San Blas International Festival of Migratory Birds (the last week of January, every year), coincide with the peak birdwatching season.

Our visit to La Tovara was in November, after the summer rainy season, so water levels were high, about 23 feet (seven meters). In January, the channel depth can be as low as three feet (one meter).

La Tovara wildlife

In addition to birdwatching, a diverse assortment of reptiles, crustaceans and plants captured our attention.

A crab crept up a mangrove root. Pink bromeliads and white spider lilies brightened the mangrove foliage, while yellow water lilies sprouted in the water. Transfixed, we watched a lime-green iguana slowly climb a tree limb.

Green iguana
Green iguana
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

At the end of our birding tour, Chencho brought us to La Camelota and the Laguna Kiekari wildlife sanctuary, where we walked along a wooden boardwalk to observe baby and adult crocodiles.

Bird identification

We returned to our hotel in San Blas, Hotel Garza Canela, for a delicious breakfast. The translated Spanish name of the family-owned hotel means "cinnamon heron."

At the reception desk, we spoke with the general manager, Josefina Vázquez. (She's the sister of Nayarit's best chef, Betty Vázquez.)

Josefina showed us several Mexico field guides that she lends to birders staying at the hotel. The two books most popular with San Blas birdwatchers are: A Guide to the Birds of Mexico & Northern Central America by Steve N.G. Howell and Sophie Webb and A Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico, also by Steve Howell.

Diane, Josefina and Betty Vazquez. Hotel Garza Canela.
Diane, Josefina and Betty Vazquez. Hotel Garza Canela.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The hotel's gift shop sells Rosalind Novick's and Lan Sing Wu's brochure, Where to Find Birds in San Blas, Nayarit. "We have birds in the San Blas area year-round, and the second highest bird count in the Western Hemisphere, after Panama," explained Josefina.

Guided tours

"We arrange birding guides and boats, on request," she added, noting that Hotel Garza Canela is the base for Rick Taylor's birding trips in San Blas with Borderland Tours.

One of the most popular guides is Mark Stackhouse. He brings birders on half-day, full-day and multi-day trips to La Tovara, as well as other San Blas birding sites, such as Singayta, La Bajada, Cerro de San Juan and Tecuita.

All San Blas birdwatching trips can be combined with Nayarit eco-tours to view butterflies, animals and plants.


Riviera Nayarit

Hotel Garza Canela

Visit Mexico

More things to see & do in Riviera Nayarit:

Mexcaltitan, Riviera Nayarit - Seafood Restaurants and Mexican Culture

Jala Nayarit Mexico - Pueblo Magico (Magic Town)

Mexican Breakfast - Almuerzo in Nuevo Vallarta

Salsa Huichol - Hot Sauce from Nayarit Mexico

Sayulita - The Best Fish Tacos in Nayarit Mexico