Go somewhere new this season to restore your bonds with nature. Visit one of the Yucatan’s great wild places, Rio Lagartos. Witness one of its natural wonders, thousands of flamingos feeding in the salt flats or taking wing; there are so many of them that they literally turn the horizon pink. In addition, you’ll see flocks of white pelicans that fly south from the Artic Circle and many other species of waterfowl, waders, shorebirds, songbirds and even hawks that migrate south to the Yucatan to escape the winter chill of northern climes.
A Natural Treasure
Stretching along the coast of northern Yucatán, Rio Lagartos is a 60,348-hectare biosphere reserve of mangroves, salt marshes, dunes and tropical forest that is a magnet for bird watchers and nature lovers. It was the first area of marshland in Mexico to receive global attention and to be included on the UNESCO Ramsar list of internationally important wetlands and the federal government declared it a reserve in 1979.
The reserve’s biological diversity is incredible. Scientists have identified 365 bird species, 58 mammals, including the jaguar and spider monkey, the prehistoric horseshoe crab, 95 reptiles and amphibians, including four species of sea turtles and the crocodiles or lagartos that gave the reserve its name.
Pretty in Pink
Rio Lagartos is a refuge for the North America’s largest nesting colony of Caribbean flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber). You’ll see them everywhere you look, searching for food, preening their bright plumage or in flight formation. Flocks of these striking birds fan out from the reserve to feed in lagoons stretching along the coast from El Cuyo to Dzilam Bravo, Telchac, Uaymitun and Chabihau and a second colony inhabits the Celestun Biosphere Reserve on the west coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Flamingos feed with their heads upside down, underwater, moving their beaks from side to side in a sweeping motion as they walk forward. They stir up the mud, sieving it with their spine-covered tongues and extracting minute crustaceans. Sometimes they stamp their feet in a circle to stir the silt up. Biologists have discovered that they spend up to 70 per cent of their day feeding and believe that the vivid salmon pink plumage of the Yucatan flamingos is the result of a diet based on tiny brine shrimps and other crustaceans found only in this area.
Exploring the Wetlands
Fishermen from the waterfront village of Rio Lagartos offer boat trips along the ria or estuary and through the mangroves to the lagoons and salt flats where the flamingos feed. Many have been trained as bird guides and carry checklists to help you identify the species you see. Often spotted are reddish egrets, great white egrets, green and blue herons, wood storks, white pelicans and skimmers. Look out for ibis, roseate spoonbills, kingfishers, osprey and even hummingbirds.
Getting to Rio Lagartos
Ask your Concierge to help you plan a visit to Rio Lagartos. If you want to explore at your own pace, the reserve is a three and a half hour drive from Cancun via the toll road or Highway 180 to Valladolid and then Highway 295 to the coast, via Tizimin. You’ll see birds at any time of the day but remember that they are more plentiful at daybreak and also at sunset when they fly back to their roosts.