Mark Smith Nature Tours
Natural History   •   Birdwatching   •   Flora   •   Wildlife   •   Travel Photography

Oaxaca, Mexico: Birds, Nature, Culture and
Monte Alban Ruins

Led by Mark Smith & Oaxacan Guides

January 4 - 15, 2020

  • Itinerary
  • pelican


    For over 25 years Mark Smith has led numerous private, Audubon and Nature Conservancy international tours. Mark has a broad knowledge of natural history, with special emphasis in animal behavior, ornithology, ecology, archaeology and photography. He is co-author of the book, Oregon Birds. Since his studies at Oregon State University he has worked as a researcher and educator for a variety of organizations including the National Marine Fisheries Service, The National Science Foundation, the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy and the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry. He has led more than 15 tours to Mexico (seven to Oaxaca), and over 50 to Latin America. His Spanish is functional.

    Oaxacan Guides with knowledge of anthropology, cuisine, and crafts accompany the tour.

    Local guides include: chefs, artisans, and regional naturalists.


    Comfortable hotels and cabins in attractive locations with attached bathrooms accommodate us throughout the tour. Travel by15-passenger van with air conditioning . Roads are generally good and most drives an hour or less with two half-day drives, with stops. Trails are generally level and good, with some short distances of moderate incline. The longest walks are 2 miles. More relaxed options are available. See the General Trip Information section at the end of this page for more details.


    Reading, packing, and bird lists, articles, maps, medical and release forms, and travel information will be sent to participants in late summer prior to the trip. Meanwhile, see the list of the Birds of Oaxaca.



    A deposit of $1000 is required to reserve one of the 9 available spaces.

    $ 1000 Initial reservation deposit
    $1985 Final Payment due 60 days before departure
    $2985 Ground Fare Total
    ($595) (Single supplement)
    AIR FARE: Various airlines reach Mexico City and connect with flights to Oaxaca City. A few flights are direct to Oaxaca City.

    Mark’s travel agent is Pam Davis of Willamette Travel
    Reach Pam at,  503-224-0180
    Pam will know of local lodgings and extensions in the area.
    Mark can also suggest Portland hotels.

    Please make the deposit and final payment payable to Mark Smith Nature Tours and send to:

    Mark Smith
    PO Box 3831
    Portland, OR 97208

    Phone: 503-475-1978


    Cancellations made more than 90 days prior to departure receives refund in full. Cancellations made between 90 and 60 days before departure forfeit $500, and for cancellations made within 60 days of the departure date 65% of the tour cost is forfeited. We recommend that participants consider trip cancellation insurance, which can be bought through Willamette International Travel.

    General Trip Information

    • Safety and travel - after more than 20 trips to Mexico, we have never experienced a safety problem. We pay close attention to health and safety issues. The pace is relaxed to moderate, the scenery and natural history fascinating, and the food excellent. Though always looking to improve our Spanish, we're completely comfortable with the language in the situations encountered; our driver is Oaxacan.Hundreds of thousands of Americans visit Oaxaca City and the coast each year.

    • Trip difficulty - the walks in the mountains outside of Oaxaca city are fairly short, about a mile in length. Surfaces are mostly level with a few mild to inclines. If you can comfortably walk two miles with some gentle inclines at an easy pace, you'll be fine. We will be taking our time and stopping frequently to enjoy flora and fauna, and we'll have afternoon breaks most days, as well as relaxation time on the coast.

    • Trip Cost - The price of the trip includes all meals, lodging, boat trips, entrance fees, hotel and restaurant tips, transportation in one vans from Oaxaca City, and one drink per person per meal. This includes sodas, lemonade, beer, etc. but doesn't include the more expensive mixed drinks like margaritas. Hotel and restaurant tips are covered in the trip cost, but if you feel that someone has provided exceptional service, feel free to add a tip of your own. The cost does not include airfare to and from Oaxaca.

    • Money - Items one needs to pay for are drinks, any tips you wish to leave, and purchases you make. Excellent crafts are available in Oaxaca - carpets and other weavings, hammocks, coffee, and alebrijes (whimsically carved and elaborately painted wooden creatures). We change dollars to pesos in Oaxaca City at a bank or at one of the many Cambios which are open most of the day and into the evenings. Note that they are picky about the condition of the US dollar bills. The smallest tear or blemish will make them unchangeable. There is a safe where we can store valuables at Azucenas in Oaxaca City and at the coast.

    • Health and Water - All our hotels have bottled water in your room. Be sure to drink only bottled water and also use it to brush teeth. We'll also provide additional bottled water. The food throughout the trip is excellent and varied. We will have a first aid kit with pepto-bismol tablets and Imodium, but consider bringing some. We will be eating in restaurants where we have eaten many times with no problems. There are presently no vaccinations required for visiting Mexico.


    • Phones - The hotel phone rates in Oaxaca City are very reasonable, and there is internet access.

    • Packing, Comforts, and Laundry - All hotels have soap and towels. Most don't have washcloths and some don't have shampoo. Plumbing in Mexico requires that toilet paper be tossed in a bin beside the toilet, not in the toilet itself. We have alcohol-based hand cleaner along. Pack all you need; there is plenty of space in the van. Laundry service is available at most hotels. A packing list will be sent.

    • RESPONSIBILITY: Mark Smith Nature Tours and its Agents act only as agents for the passenger in regard to travel, whether by railroad, motorcar, motorcoach, boat, or airplane and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay, or irregularity which may be occasioned either by reason of defect in any vehicle or for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the tour. Mark Smith Nature Tours and its Agents can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay or changes in air or other services, sickness, weather, strike, war, quarantine, or other causes. All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as tour rates provide for arrangements only for the time stated. The right is reserved to substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary where deemed necessary or caused by changes in air schedules. The right is reserved to cancel any tour prior to departure, in which case full refund will constitute full settlement to the passenger. No refund will be made for any unused portion of the tour. The right is reserved to decline to accept or to retain any person as a member of any tour. Baggage is at owner's risk entirely.



    Day 1 January 4 Home to Oaxaca City

    Travelers generally depart various US gateways early this morning and arrive this evening at the Oaxaca City airport, where they take a taxi or arranged van to the Hotel Casa de los Frailes about 20 minutes away. This attractive hotel is perfectly situated in a quiet neighborhood about 5 blocks (5-10 min. walk) from the bustling zocalo (central plaza) and restaurants and will serve as a comfortable base from which to explore the Oaxaca City region.

    Day 2 January 5 Oaxaca City, Cultural Day

    A day to sleep in. We depart at 9 AM to the nearby Mercado Abastos, a vast market where cultural guide Edgar Mendoza will teach us about local vegetables, herbs, traditions, and cuisine. Evocative colors, scents, tastes, and sounds, and vibrant activity abound at the market. We'll lunch while sampling foods. This afternoon, within walking distance of the hotel, are the attractive and bustling central plaza, and the Museum of Archaeology, with its small garden that attracts birds to drink and bathe.

    Day 3 January 6 Oaxaca City & Teotitlan del Valle

    After early breakfast, we head east to the weaving town of Teotitlan del Valle, 40 minutes away. Here the habitat is oddly reminiscent of the grasslands and desert scrub of southeast Arizona, with some of the same plants. The avifauna also shares similarities but with a few interesting twists. Instead of Gila Woodpecker, we'll be looking for its cousin, the endemic Gray-breasted Woodpecker, and instead of Canyon Towhee, here it's White-throated Towhee. Just above town is a small reservoir that, like other open bodies of water in arid areas, can be attractive to grebes, herons, ducks, shorebirds, and a variety of passerines. A grove of coral bean trees should be in peak flower, the crimson blooms hosting hummingbirds like Dusky, Beryline, Ruby-throated, and Green-fronted, as well as orioles including Black-vented. The hills above town harbor several Oaxaca Valley specialties including Ocellated Thrasher, West-Mexican Chachalaca, Boucard's Wren, and Bridled and Oaxaca Sparrows. Also in the area are Blue Mockingbird, Golden Vireo, wintering sparrows and warblers, and various flycatchers. In the oaks and pines we look for Oaxaca Sparrow, Rufous-capped Brushfinch, Green Violet-ear and Red Warbler.

    After morning in the foothills, we return to Teotitlan del Valle for a cooking class and lunch, then visit a master Zapotec weaver who will demonstrate how local artisans spin wool, use natural dyes, and create finely woven products. If you're interested in purchasing a carpet or other weaving, this is an excellent place. En route to Oaxaca City, at Santa Maria del Tule we find the "biggest" tree on Earth, a Montezuma cypress (Taxodium distichum) with a circumference of about 50 meters and a footprint of about 2000 sq. ft. We'll have dinner in town.

    Day 4 January 7 Oaxaca City and Cerro San Felipe

    After breakfast we depart for Cerro San Felipe in the Sierra Juarez (sometimes called the Sierra Aloapanec) about 45 minutes north of the city. We spend most of the day around 8000 ft. in forests where firs, pines, and oaks are dotted with epiphytic bromeliads, lichens, ferns, and orchids. The area is lush and excellent for birds, with the forests protected by local communities. Mixed flocks, which may be more common when the weather is cool and foggy, are of two general types. One is led by noisy Steller's Jays and Gray-barred Wrens amidst which may be inconspicuous Dwarf Jays (endemic to the mountain range). The other type includes smaller songbirds such as warblers (Townsend's, Hermit, Red, Crescent-chested), White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Hutton's Vireo, Chestnut-sided Shrike-vireo and Spot-crowned Woodcreeper. The understory is punctuated with fine wildflower blooms. Hummers include Green Violet-ear, Amethyst-throated (a cousin of the Blue-throated), Bumblebee, and White-eared, and Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer occurs, too. Lunch at a mountaintop restaurant, and afternoon we explore another mountain road. We'll have time to relax at the hotel before dinner. Due to the altitude on Cerro San Felipe, temperatures will be colder than Oaxaca City. Layers are important.


    Day 5 January 8 Oaxaca City, Monte Alban

    After breakfast, we spend the morning at the nearby Monte Alban ruins. We'll walk the nearby trails and search for some of the same birds as in the Teotitlan del Valle area: Ocellated Thrasher, Boucard's Wren, Beautiful and Dusky Hummingbirds as well as others including the rare Pileated Flycatcher and the hard-to-find Dwarf Vireo. Monte Alban (a name given by the Spanish to the site known to its native Zapotec inhabitants as Danni Dipaa) is a major site that dominated this region between Teotihuacan (in the Valley of Mexico to the north) and the great Mayan sites to the south for about 1200 years. During its peak, from 500 B.C. to 750 A.D., corn, beans, squash, chilies, and fruit cultivated in the surrounding hills and valleys sustained about 40,000 people. Fine architecture, carvings, pottery, and elaborate mythology reflect the extremely rich culture. After lunch at Monte Alban, we return to the hotel for a break.

    Note: On days 2 and 5, some travelers might like to return to the nearbye foothills of Cerro San Felipe for gentle hikes searching more birds along creeks and on brushy slopes.

    Day 6 January 9 Monte Alban, San Jose del Pacifico

    We meander south 60 miles through the Valley of Oaxaca, enjoying sights of villages and agriculture, and visiting the workshops and galleries of well known Oaxacan potters (black and glossy) and wood carvers (the alebrijes are fanciful and colorful animal figures). We'll watch them at their craft and buy beautiful items at good prices; these products are shipped to galleries all over the world.

    At Ocotlan we'll have free time to explore markets, shops and churches, then have lunch overlooking the attractive plaza.

    We'll continue south across savanna, watching for Aplomado falcon and white-tailed hawk until we reach the base of the Sierra Miahuatlan we climb gradually about an hour to the ridgetop town of San Jose del Pacifico and the Hotel Puesta del Sol. In flower thickets on the hotel grounds we'll look for Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer, Hooded Yellowthroat, and hummingbirds such as Bumblebee, Garnet-throated, Beryline, Rufous, and Blue-throated. Madrean birds such as Greater pewee, Hepatic tanager, and maybe Chestnut-sided Shrike-vireo are also possible. Fruiting trees attract Gray Silky Flycatchers, White-throated Robin, Russet Nightingale-thrush, and Brown-backed Solitaire. We'll have dinner at the hotel restaurant. Due to the altitude at the Puesta del Sol, the temperature will be colder than in Oaxaca City. The rooms all have fireplaces, extra blankets, and a good supply of wood.

    Day 7 January 10 San Jose del Pacifico to Puerto Angel beaches

    We begin with an optional pre-breakfast walk around the hotel grounds at 7:00 AM. After breakfast, we embark on the gradual descent to the coast. We'll make several stops en route on quiet side roads to enjoy the forests which transition from mixed conifer to tropical evergreen (with shade grown coffee in the understory) to tropical deciduous on the coast. Birds and butterflies will be numerous, and likely will include the diminutive Bumblebee Hummingbird and the highly endemic Blue-capped Hummingbird. With luck we'll find standouts like Wagler's Toucanet or perhaps mixed flocks with Red-headed Tanager, Golden and Slaty Vireos, Common Bush Tanager, Gray-crowned Woodpecker, and others. We'll travel about 75 miles, , and arrive at our lodge overlooking the Pacific in late afternoon, with time for an optional swim in the warm Pacific. We stay here three nights.

    Days 8, 9 January 11, 12 The Puerto Angel Coast

    Near our hotel are many trails and roads through hilly dry forest and around lagoons, bays and beaches. Lesser Ground-cuckoo, Russet-crowned Motmot, Orange-breasted, Blue, and Painted Buntings, Banded Wren, White-throated Magpie Jay, Yellow-winged cacique, West-Mexican Chachalaca, Citreoline Trogon, and White-lored Gnatcatcher are regularly seen. Before breakfast nearby trails can be extremely productive, with Altamira, Streak-backed and Spot-breasted Orioles as well as Olive Sparrow, Red-breasted Chat, Colima Pygmy Owl, and Happy Wren. One morning we take a boat to offshore rocks with nesting Magnificent Frigatebird, Red-billed tropicbird, and Brown and often Blue-footed Boobies.

    The weather will be much warmer on the coast, and after our busy week in the Oaxaca valley and mountains, we'll make ample time for relaxing and swimming. We'll have along a small library, or you may want to bring a good book.


    Day 10 January 13 Puerto Angel to Puerto Escondido

    On our final morning near Puerto Angel we return to favorite side roads before a late breakfast, then continue west to Puerto Escondido, we stay here two nights. where we stay two nights. Late afternoon we visit the Rio Colotepec and its rich river mouth where American crocodile, herons, shorebirds, terns, and gulls, and hopefully the Collared Plover, may be found. The nearby scrub can be good for White-collared and Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters.

    Day 11

    January 14

    Pt. Escondido, and Estuary Cruise

    After an early breakfast, 30 minutes west is Laguna Manialtepec, a beautiful estuary lined with tall red mangroves, which we tour by boat. Both water and forest birds are found in and around the lagoon, including Bare-throated Tiger Heron and Boat-billed Heron, waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls and terns, and songbirds like Mangrove Vireo and Ruddy-breasted Seedeater. With luck, West-Mexican chachalaca may be found. This afternoon we have options in delighful Puerto Escondido. The beach and many shops are near our hotel. Others may want to return to the estuary. This evening we have a sumptuous banquet.

    Day 12

    January 15

    To Huatulco Airport and Flights Home

    A relaxed morning, then we drive east 1 1/2 hour to midday flights home from Huatulco.

Monte Alban Ball Court
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