Long-legged pink birds greet you in the town of Rio Lagartos even before you hit the water. We’d traveled to town on a day trip from Valladolid and it was clear from the moment we arrived that the quiet, dusty town had one claim to fame: flamingos, which explains the plastic versions that decorate the main drag into town.
We veered off and head for the water determined to see some of the thousands of flamingos that come to the protected Río Lagartas Biosphere Reserve to feed, breed, nest and rest. We were hoping to see some from the shore since we’d heard that the guided boat trips through the watery reserve were pricey.
We hadn’t gotten in much shore-searching when one of the local guides approached us and started bartering. Before we knew it we were in a boat with his colleague, guide Henry Jesus Pat Celis (more about him later), and on our way to flamingo-central for 450 pesos (about US$34) instead of the usual 600 pesos. Still a lot of money for us, but there are only a handful of places in the world where wild flamingos congregate like this which is why the Río Lagartos Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We headed out through a beautiful mangrove-ringed waterway and started seeing the first smatterings of flamingos within 10 minutes. Henry was non-plussed and kept assuring us that there were thousands more of the long-legged pink creatures to come.
He wasn’t kidding. We must have seen more than 2,000 flamingos before our two hour tour was over, sometimes in groups of 100 or more. Some groups were striding through the shallows scooping up krill with their funny backward beaks. Other groups were taking a running start at flying—followed by even more comical running landings—which made them look like they could walk on water. Still other clusters were standing along the water’s edge like, well, lawn ornaments.
Watch our video, below, for more quirky flamingo antics at the Río Lagartos Biosphere Reserve.
We also saw ospreys, crocodiles, frigate birds, great blue herons and a salt farm making the most of the area’s super-saline water—perfect for the brine shrimp that the flamingos feast on and which give them their delightful color.
Henry also took us ashore on a stretch of beach that had holes punched through the salty, sandy crust to reveal silky, mineral-rich clay beneath it. Henry told us that the mud in this region was considered medicinal and beautifying by the Mayans and it’s still applied head to toe by some people today.
June is prime flamingo viewing time in the Río Lagartos Biosphere Reserve with plenty of birds close to the embarkation point.
July and August are the peak months with lots of birds and lots of international and Mexican tourists.
September and October is the priciest season since the flamingos are further away from the embarkation point with means a longer and costlier boat ride to reach them.