Birding the Paradiso Resort, San Carlos, Mexico: Hotel Grounds on the Sea of Cortez are a Paradise for Bird-watchers

Just 260 miles south of the Arizona border, San Carlos lies on the Sea of Cortez in a stunning combination of mountains, desert, cliffs, bays, islands and beaches. This consolidation of multiple habitats draws a rich variety of resident and migratory birds. The area offers many choices for bird-watching, and the Paradiso property is one of the most varied.

San Carlos, a Premier Tourist Destination in Sonora, Mexico

With warm, sunny winters, San Carlos is a popular getaway destination for visitors from Canada and the U.S. Easily reached in a day’s drive from Tucson, the seaside area is especially appealing to land-locked Arizonans. The small town is scattered across cactus-covered hillsides that descend to azure bays and ocean. Tile roofs and stucco characterize the neighborhoods. Water sports dominate outdoor activities, and the incredible range of venues, from estuaries to calm bays, from hidden harbors to windy beaches, provide something for everyone. Fishing, sailing, windsurfing and kayaking all have a place at San Carlos.

Birding is richly productive in and around San Carlos, as well. Bird-watching sites are as varied as those appealing to water enthusiasts, with rocky canyons, Sonoran desert, estuaries, palm oases and ocean shoreline. Algodones Beach, where the movie Catch 22 was filmed, lies to the northwest of San Carlos’s main business center, and is home to oceanfront hotels and private villas. At the far north end of Algodones Beach, sits the Paradiso Resort & Beach Club, landfall for past hurricanes.

The Paradiso Resort & Beach Club Hotel in San Carlos

The Paradiso opened in 1984 as a Club Med, and the hotel occupies 62 acres of prime Algodones beachfront on the Sea of Cortez. The resort’s grounds were extensively and expensively developed, with 30 lighted tennis courts, a swimming pool, tropical landscaping and sweeping patios and walkways. Unfortunately, a devastating hurricane nearly destroyed the property and buildings in 2003, and much of that destruction is still evident.

The property was reopened as the Paradiso in 2005, beginning a long period of repair and rebuilding. Most of the 62 acre gardens and all of the tennis courts, however, have yet to be touched. The tennis court surfaces are cracked and faded, light posts are in shambles and the pathways linking the courts and grounds are overgrown and not easily walked. Feral dogs also roam the open areas.


As uninviting as this is, birders willing to be a bit adventurous will be well-rewarded. Besides, the hotel bar still serves an authentic and ample Margarita.

Getting to Algodones Beach and the Paradiso Hotel

The drive to Algodones Beach and the Paradiso is well-marked from town. The main street ends at the entrance to the San Carlos Marina and the Marinaterra Hotel. From this intersection, the road to Algodones turns right, crosses a hill, drops down to Esterito, circles another harbor and finally reaches views of the open ocean. From the Marinaterra intersection, it is 4.3 miles to the entrance to Paradiso.

Birding at the Paradiso Resort & Beach Club

The cobblestoned entrance drive into the Paradiso winds through a beautiful garden of mature Saguaro and Cardon cactus. Birders can park at the side of this drive (or just outside of the entrance), and bird the cactus garden. Species commonly found here include Gila Woodpecker, Gilded Flicker, Cactus Wren and Hooded Oriole. The drive exits the cactus garden, passes through a gated entry and enters an open grassland, with trees lining the roadway. This area is also productive, with Lark Sparrows, Northern Mockingbird, Inca Doves, Vermilion Flycatcher and White-winged Doves usually present.

A parking area is found to the left of the hotel’s main entrance. Tall trees in and around the parking lot harbor many species, including Yellow-rumped and other warblers, Say’s Phoebe, Black Phoebe, Western Tanager and American Robins. Hummingbirds are also found along the flowered fringes of this area, including Broad-billed, Costa’s and Black-chinned.

From the parking area, a walkway leads left toward an abandoned restaurant, and then turns left again into the landscaped gardens and the tennis courts. The walkway is cracked, broken and overgrown, and should be taken with care. The walk skirts many of the deteriorated tennis courts, and offers a variety of bird refuges, from dense undergrowth to Osprey nests atop light poles. Black-crowned Night-herons perch on the tennis court barriers, and other herons are also found around the grounds, including Tri-colored, Green and Yellow-crowned. Hermit Thrush, more warblers, sparrows and vireos can be found among the undergrowth, which can also reveal rare surprises, such as a Brown Thrasher spotted here in January, 2010.

Back at the hotel’s entrance, a long walk through the open corriders leads to an oversized bar, and exits to the hotel’s pool, a small lagoon and a deserted sandy beach. Shore and other typical water birds, including Brown Pelicans, Caspian Terns and Heerman’s Gulls can be found here, as well as Brown and Blue-footed Boobies diving for fish beyond the surf.

The Variety of Birding Sites Around San Carlos

San Carlos and Guaymas, Mexico, offer a wide range of birding opportunities, ranging from oceanfront to desert scrub and rocky canyons. The Paradiso Hotel grounds on Algodones Beach combine several of those habitats in one 62-acre site.