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Sierra Madre Oriental

Mexico's Mysterious East

The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, occupying the northern third of the State of Querétaro, is at the top of the Mexican biodiversity league. From the oldest semi-desert in the country, enduring for around 65 million years, to the coniferous forests of the highest ridges, life flourishes here. The extraordinary richness found within its oak forests, tropical forests, riparian forests, and the ever-shady cloudforests, provide a home to a staggering 800 species of butterfly, fully one-third of the Mexican total.

Anna’s Eighty Eight © Ian And Kate Bruce

Amongst a host of fine species are Superb Cycadian, Mexican Bluewing, Orange-striped Eighty-eight, Florida Purplewing, Surprising White, the elegant Pearly Leafwing, and the brilliant Stoplight Catone. There’s 340 bird species including Magnificent Hummingbirds and Bumble-bee Hummingbirds, Mountain and Elegant Trogons, Blue-crowned Motmot, and endemics Bronze-winged Woodpecker & Crimson-collared Grosbeak. There’s 110 species of Mammal and an amazing 134 species of Reptiles. British aristocrat Edward James built a surreal sculptural garden known as “Las Pozas”. This garden, surrounded by lush vegetation, became his resting place. It is an eminently surreal site for its sculptures, as well as being full of wildlife! And all of this is just in the first place we’ll visit!

Orizaba Volcano © Yuri Islas

We’ll visit the canyonlands that flank the eastern fringes of the great Orizaba Volcano, Mexico’s highest peak, a stunning snow-capped cone. The extraordinarily complex landscapes here are full of amazing birds and butterflies – gorgeous Anna’s Eighty-eights are common, and we’ll also see Navy Eighty-eights, Ruby-spotted Swallowtails, Pearly Leafwings, Orange Crackers, Splendid Mapwings, Lamplight Actinotes and Broad-banded Swallowtails. In the strange limestone karstic terrain south of the great volcano lives the enigmatic and rare Sumichrast’s Wren, and here we’ll also find Emerald Toucanet, Collared Trogon and the Wedge-tailed Sabrewing. We’ll visit an ‘ex-farm’ where the local landowner is doing his bit for re-wilding and replanting Quercus insignis – we’ll also see mature trees of this lovely oak tree – it has the biggest acorns of any oak in the World.

We’ll have a couple of days to explore the Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Biosphere Reserve, the greatest cacti forests in a country that is famous for them. Giant Barrel Cactus, Ferocactus robustus, squat amidst an impressive ‘Cardonales’ forest of Pachycereus and Cephalocereus, both of which can reach 15m in height – truly an extraordinary sight. Amongst them are pretty little flowering Mammillarias and all manner of strange and wonderful flowering shrubs, trees and herbs. Many Hummingbirds visit these blooms, notably the local Green-fronted Hummingbird and the well-named Beautiful Hummingbird. Roadrunners zip hither and thither and Ocellated Thrashers stab at passing insects.

We’ll finish in lovely Oaxaca, full of fine green-stone architecture and wonderful food, and surrounded by marvellous habitats. We’ll visit Monte Alban, the zenith of the Zapotec culture. Founded around 500 BC and dominating the region from its ridgetop position for more than a thousand years, Monte Alban faded into anonymity well before the conquistadors arrived. Blue Mockingbirds, Slaty Vireo and White-throated Towhee are amongst the many birds around the ruins and we’ll spend time in the nearby Sierras where we can find some real avian gems such as Red Warbler, Blue-hooded Euphoniua, Dwarf Jay and Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo.

Blue-crowned Motmot by Fiona Dunbar

Dates and Prices

31st October - 15th November 2025 (16 days)

London - London £5,845
Mexico City - Mexico City £4,850
Mexico City - Oaxaca £4,785
Single Supplement* £315
Deposit £500

* doesn't apply if you're willing to share and a room-mate can be arranged

or ask us a question.

Please note; dates and prices are provisional and will be confirmed by August 2024

Tour Summary

Day 1
Arrive Mexico City
Day 2
Bernal Pueblo Magico and into the Sierra Gorda Mountains
Days 3-4
Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve
Day 5
Sotano de las Golondrinas (the “Cave of Swallows”) and Edward James’s "Las Pozas” Garden, Xilitla
Days 6-7 (am)
El Tajin, Cienega del Fuerte, Playa Maracaiba & The Gulf of Mexico
Days 7 (pm)-8 (am)
Xalapa Botanical Garden
Days 8 (pm)-10
Huatusco Cloud Forests
Day 11
Orizaba & Sumichrast’s Wren
Day 12
Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Biosphere Reserve and Botanical Garden
Days 13–15 (am)
Oaxaca: Monte Alban Zapotec Site & the Sierra Juarez
Days 15 (pm)
Flight to Mexico City and departure
Day 16
Arrive Europe

Tour information


Birds, Butterflies and Culture – modern and ancient. Mexican Cuisine.


Chris Gardner , Eric Miranda

Group Size

The minimum is 5 and the maximum is 12. Both Leaders will be with the group.

Included in the Price

All flights. All transport, meals and accommodation in Mexico. Services of your leaders. Please note: drinks, tips and items of a personal nature including travel insurance, are not included. Bird, butterfly and mammal checklists are available.


After a night at the Camino Real Hotel close by Mexico City’s airport we move to lovely Concá in the heart of the Sierra Gorda for a two-night stay. The Hotel Misión Concá has very comfortable rooms and lovely bird and butterfly-filled grounds – so much so that we’ll schedule some time in the grounds for just that. Next we’ll move to the Posada James just a ten-minute walk from the famed gardens and situated on a verdant hillside. This is a little gem of a place with beautifully furnished elegant rooms, a swimming pool, and excellent food. After two nights here we’ll move down to the Costa Esmeralda in Vera Cruz for a night by the Gulf of Mexico at the Hotel Torre Molino. Next is a night at the Misión Exprés Xalapa just ten minutes drive from the botanical garden. This a typical modern business hotel. In a tour that features many lovely places to stay the Misión los Cocuyos in Huatusco really stands out. The rooms are typical nice modern comfortable hotel rooms but it’s the hotel gardens that really stand out, being staggeringly full of all sorts of beautiful birds! After three nights here we move to the cactus forests of the central valley and the town of Tehuacan for a night. Here we’ll stay at the modern and comfortable Hotel Zenith for a night. We’ll finish the tour with three nights at the Hotel Victoria in Oaxaca. The hotel is delightfully situated in lush grounds with plenty of wildlife to be seen before you’ve even reached the excellent breakfast spread! All rooms on this tour have en-suite facilities.


Relaxed and easy. Up to three or four miles a day and always at a slow pace, perfectly suited to photographers.


UK return flights are direct from Heathrow to Mexico City. At the end of the tour an internal flight takes us from Oaxaca to Mexico City. Add-ons are available from various UK airports*. Other indirect routes from regional UK Airports* are available.

*These routes may incur a supplement.


Pleasantly warm for the most part though it can become quite hot in the middle of the day so relaxing siestas are certainly in order in Oaxaca! Occasional showers can be expected.

How to Book

Contact us to check if there is availability for the number of places you require. Click on the ‘Book this Tour’ button on this page to be taken to the online booking form or contact us and we will send one to you which you can complete and send back to us. You will receive confirmation of your place, and then a detailed information pack will be dispatched to you about twelve weeks before departure. This will contain up-to-date health information.