The Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula has some 100 species of mammals. // © 2016 Mexico Tourism Board
Feature image (above): Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve in Veracruz // © 2016 Creative Commons user hagens_world
Mexico’s expansive beaches and historical sites are legendary, to be sure. But Mexico is also a surprisingly rewarding place to view wildlife, featuring an array of lesser-explored nature reserves, eco-conscious zoological foundations and other locales.
According to the Mexico Tourism Board, Mexico is home to some 1,500 species of reptiles, mammals and amphibians that inhabit protected areas. These reserves dot the landscape throughout the country, providing off-the-beaten-path ideas for travelers looking to add some wildlife excitement to their vacations. In Aguascalientes, nature lovers can camp at Ejido Eco Turistico El Ocote and spot wild animals, including lots of wild turkeys and white-tailed deer, as well as foxes, quails, rabbits, boars, coyotes, bobcats, snakes and pumas.
In the state of Veracruz, Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve is the UNESCO-recognized habitat of some 877 species of vertebrates, including 46 amphibians, 122 reptiles, 140 mammals and 569 birds — including sparrows, parrots, eagles, larks and toucans. Companies such as Discover Veracruz offer multiday tours that include hikes in the rainforest and boat rides to see monkeys and tropical birds.
The unique ecosystem on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula provides interesting opportunities for wildlife viewing, as well. The Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve, located in the Riviera Maya, is home to 103 species of mammals and 345 species of birds, not to mention more than 1,400 species of plants. Among the wildlife clients might spot here are pumas, ocelots and jaguars, as well as tapirs, spider and howler monkeys, white-tailed deer and white-cheeked wild boars. Tour operators including Espacio Natura, Jeep Safari Sian Ka’an and EcoColors offer day trips that may combine hiking, Jeep rides and boat rides to take in the full breadth of the reserve’s natural wonders.
Sandos Caracol Eco Resort, located in a jungle in the Riviera Maya, offers more than 80 eco tours as part of what it calls the Xcalacoco Experience. Animals that can be found at the resort include pigs, monkeys, Mexican hairless dogs, macaws, peacocks and coatis, and the hotel has identified more than 60 species of wildlife and 25 species of trees on property.
Also in the Riviera Maya is Aktun-Chen, where visitors can enjoy the excitement of a zipline as well as view Yucatan Peninsula wildlife such as deer, peccaries and spider monkeys, all of which reside in the park’s zoo area.
Indeed, zoological venues often provide the easiest way for visitors to view wildlife — and they can also provide a glimpse of animals from around the globe. According to TripAdvisor, the best zoo in Latin America (and the largest in Mexico) is Zoologico Guadalajara, which has more than 3,800 specimens representing 392 species, including 99 mammals, 87 birds, 67 reptiles and eight amphibians. Workshops and presentations (generally in Spanish) help to educate the public about the various residents — which range from eagles, anacondas and pumas to pythons, orangutans and hippopotamuses.
In Mexico City, Zoologico de Chapultepec, located in the capital’s largest park, has animals from around Mexico and the world, such as kangaroos, gorillas, hyenas, jaguars, giraffes, lemurs and African lions. Its facilities include an interactive museum, an aviary and a panda complex.
The Pacific resort city of Mazatlan is an excellent gateway for bird-watching. A Sierra Madre excursion offered by Onca Explorations includes a visit to the Tufted Jay Preserve, along the border of the states of Durango and Sinaloa. The protected area is home to — you guessed it — the tufted jay, and participants can spot other species during a hike through the preserve. Guests have the options of making the excursion a day trip or a two-day expedition, where they’ll stay in wooden lodges that accommodate two, six and 10 people.
For larger-scale animals near Mazatlan, head to Durango, where Sahuatoba Park has more than 270 animals from 65 different species, including lions, deer, snakes and monkeys, in habitats designed to re-create their natural living conditions.
A variety of global wildlife is also featured in Acapulco, where the island of La Roqueta has a small zoo that boasts a surprisingly diverse array of species, including iguanas, deer, monkeys, giraffes, crocodile, antelopes, tigers and lions.