The San Blas area offers a wide spectrum of birding opportunities, from ocean shorebirds to inland estuary birds, and from foothill plantation birds to higher elevation birds. Hundreds of resident and migratory species can be seen throughout this area, and many great birding sites are easily accessible from San Blas. The banana and coffee plantation area just outside of La Bajada is one of the best.
San Blas is located on the Pacific Ocean, about 170 miles south of Mazatlan and about 100 miles north of Puerto Vallarta. Good roads connect all three, with a new high-speed cuota (toll road) from Mazatlan and the libre (free road) highway 200 from Puerto Vallarta. A well-marked exit from the Mazatlan toll road turns off about 20 miles north of Tepic, with a narrow scenic road tracing the last 20 miles into San Blas.
Although San Blas is tiny compared with Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta, there are many good places to stay in and around town, including hotels, motels and Bed and Breakfasts. Most of these can be found on Internet web sites. There are also many excellent restaurants in and around San Blas, as well as a Pemex gasoline station and a bank.
Getting to La Bajada Through La Palma
From San Blas, drive east on the main road out of town toward the Mazatlan/Tepic toll road. About two miles from the town, this road intersects with the road south to Matanchen Bay and on to Puerto Vallarta. Turn south on this road and follow it past La Tovara, where the jungle boat trips originate, about ten miles to the intersection with the road east (left) toward La Palma. This intersection was unmarked in January, 2009, but is the first and only significant road to the east in this stretch. There is a small blue and white bus stop at this intersection as well, and it is three miles south of an engineering school. If you enter into the speed-bumped town of Aticama, you have gone a mile too far.
About a mile up this road, you enter La Palma. Stay on the paved road through town, which makes a couple of turns before heading directly east on to La Bajada. Keep vigilant through the town, since fruiting fig trees will attract Citreoline trogons out of the surrounding mountain forest.
From the outskirts of La Palma, it is a short drive up the hill into La Bajada.
Driving Through La Bajada to the Birding Area
Once you enter La Bajada, the narrow cobble-stoned street has a two-track paved auto path through the town, past the church and to the end of town, where the road continues as a rocky plantation road. The townspeople are very friendly and quick to return your smile, greeting and wave.
Although the road beyond the paved track is passable, it is recommended that you pull off the road and park to one side at the first good opportunity beyond the cobble-stoned street. The road area beyond here is commonly used by plantation workers on horseback or in pickup trucks, and these often are tied or parked in the middle of the road. Besides, birding on foot is good from this point on. Note that the circular stone wall indicated as a parking site by Steve Howell in his book, A Bird Finding Guide to Mexico, is no longer visible.
Three Choices From the Parking Area
The main plantation road continues directly up the hill, and there are wide trails both to the left and to the right. The trail to the left is relatively short, terminating against a steep hillside, although it is worth a look, especially for Orange-fronted parakeets, Mexican parrotlets, Kingbirds and Great kiskadees.
The main road up the hill continues further than most birders would be interested in walking, but the first mile, which rises nearly 500 feet, from 845 feet to 1,310 feet, is well worth birding. Winter birds commonly seen along this stretch include Golden-cheeked and Pale-billed woodpeckers, Short-tailed hawk and Ivory-billed woodcreeper.
The wide trail to the right is also an excellent choice. It drops down to cross a creek bed, where birders would do well to pass some time watching birds enter the area. Winter birds here include many warblers such as Wilson’s, Black-throated grey and MacGillivray’s, Rose-throated becards, Cinnamon hummingbirds, Streak-backed orioles, Tufted flycatcher and numerous Citreoline and Elegant trogons. As the trail climbs into the Paper tree forest above, fewer birds are found, although Lineated and Pale-billed woodpeckers will be heard, if not seen. Russet-crowned motmots also can be found in this area.
The Butterflies of La Bajada
In addition to the many incredible birds, La Bajada’s butterflies are a special treat. The trails are often congested with hundreds of tropical butterflies, including Small postman, Zebra longwings and Julias.
Mexico is truly a birder’s paradise. The San Blas area and especially La Bajada should be placed high on any serious birder’s priority list.