Rio Abajo Forest, Puerto Rico

Rio Abajo Forest is one of the Caribbean’s top birding hotspots due to the Puerto Rican Parrots.  It’s a huge forest with many hiking trails and if you had the time and energy you could spend a day or two here.  But I was not only limited by time, I was exhausted and running on empty due to lack of sleep, so all I wanted to so was find the parrots.  I had been in contact with Ricardo Valentin prior to our visit and he was going to show us around the aviary and breeding project but when we arrived at the gate, we couldn’t find anyone around.

Road leading to Rio Abajo.

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First gate, we just went through as we had an appointment.  There was no one around anyway.DSCN4417

This is the 2nd gate which is outside the breeding project.  We parked here and waited for someone to approach us.  We were early so thought maybe they didn’t show up until 9am which was when our appointment was.DSCN4409 DSCN4412

I tried the call box but no one answered.

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Signage about the aviary.DSCN4410 DSCN4411

A jogger did eventually show up and said his brother worked there.  He called out to his brother but no one answered so he left.  We waited while the trees cam alive around us.DSCN4413

They blend in quite well but this time (as opposed to other islands we had visited) we were close enough to see the parrots frolicking in the trees.IMG_8352 IMG_8355 IMG_8356 IMG_8362 IMG_8369 IMG_8377 IMG_8380 IMG_8382 IMG_8386 IMG_8392 IMG_8394 IMG_8402 IMG_8405 IMG_8406 IMG_8413 IMG_8415 IMG_8420 IMG_8457 IMG_8468

We actually had a good quality visit with the parrots as they hung around the area for awhile foraging in the branches.  They took off around 10am.  No humans ever showed up so at that point, we were starving and left to go forage for ourselves.  I later found out via email that Mr Valentin had taken ill and didn’t work that day.

Hotel Review: San Miguel Plaza, Puerto Rico

This may hold the record for the shortest (legit) hotel stay ever!  Due to Liat’s late arrival, then the formalities of entering the USA at SJU, getting the rental car, then trying to navigate to the prepaid hotel.  Of course I got lost a few times and had to stop for directions a few times so it was around 2am when we finally checked in to the San Miguel Plaza Hotel in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.  Why did I choose this out of the way place?  Mostly because we needed to get to Rio Abajo early to see the Puerto Rican Parrots and I wanted to avoid driving in traffic.

There’s secure parking under the building.  I always like a red rental car as they are easier to spot in parking lots.

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The room was fine, typical budget room, fine for a night but not for a whole holiday.DSCN4402

View from the room.DSCN4405

Breakfast is included.DSCN4406

Here is the location, which is why I chose this place (out of all the hotels that I could use my Expedia goodwill voucher on).  The yellow blob on the right is San Juan – old city and beach area.  The hotel is indicated in the middle.  The pink circle on the left is where we needed to go to see the parrots at Rio Abajo.  This put us well out of incoming city traffic the next morning.

San Miguel Plaza

We were up very early, I think I got 2 hours of sleep that night but I wasn’t expecting Liat to be THAT late!  Thank God it was the last time we had to fly them!  The hotel was fine for the location but on a future visit, I think we would choose to be near the beach just to the north of Rio Abajo.

Liat Late To Dominica, Surprise Airport Charges On Exit

Leaving St Vincent, I was annoyed (but not surprised when both Liat flights (connecting in Barbados) were late.  Especially because it meant that we would miss the last bus and have to get a very expensive taxi to the other side of the island.

It’s possible to get a good deal on this flight and the taxes are supposedly included.  This direct flight wasn’t available when we booked.  Dominica had been hit badly by a hurricane and some flights were curtailed for awhile.  It may look like taxes are included but there is an extra departure tax to be paid at the airport.  They want cash which I didn’t have since I had made a point of spending all our ECD save a few bucks for snacks and I knew there would be ATMs at SJU to get USD easily.  They finally took me upstairs to some kind of office and processed the fee on my credit card.

Liat DOM

Waiting in the departure gate area.  St Vincent Airport does have a small gift shop before security, nothing in the departure area.

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We had a longer layover than expected in Barbados but at least they had a good variety of fast food places that take credit cards.dscn4275 dscn4276 dscn4277 dscn4278 dscn4279 dscn4280

Some of the gates are in a different building down this long-ish hall.  The shops and restaurants are in the main terminal.dscn4281 dscn4282

Is this flight EVER going to leave?dscn4283

Boarding at rear only.dscn4284 dscn4285

You better put that backpack on the plane!dscn4286

By this time I had caught on and we were sitting in the rear.dscn4287

Goodbye Barbados!dscn4288

Hello Dominica!dscn4290

Another small airline.dscn4291

Yay, the backpack is on the truck!dscn4292

Outside the terminal, we met a man who had come to pick up his son and was headed our way so we paid him about half the taxi would have cost to take us to our hotel (which was on his way).dscn4392

After birding in Dominica (post to follow) Dr Birdy dropped us at the bus stop outside Portsmouth.  We waited about 15 minutes until a minibus arrived.  They dropped us on the road outside and we walked into the airport.dscn4394

Last minute birding outside the airport.dscn4395 dscn4398

Goodbye Dominica!dscn4400

Even after the airport tax hassle our troubles weren’t over.  The flight to Antigua was only about an hour late.  Much to my surprise, the flight from Antigua to San Juan left on time.  It was a puddle jumper that stopped at St Kitts and Tortola enroute.  It was in one of these islands that the schedule went all to hell.  We were stuck on the tarmac for 2 hours waiting for another late Liat plane which had passengers connecting to our plane. At first they left us sweltering with no AC or water until everyone on the plane was in near mutiny, then they turned the AC on and brought us water.  We finally arrived in San Juan just after midnight.  Already exhausted, I had to navigate a rental car to our hotel, finally arriving around 2am.

 

Planning A Birding Trip To The Caribbean

The Caribbean is one of the most challenging regions to go birding in, especially if you are on a budget.  You can get to most of the best islands for birding with miles but if you want to hop around between islands you are stuck with very expensive short flights.  Sooner or later, you will probably have to fly on Liat which is popularly known as “Leave Island Any Time or Luggage In Another Termnal”.

The other option is birding from a cruise ship.  This will get you to several islands and if you choose your itinerary wisely you could position yourself for some excellent birding.  I was successful in birding Jamaica & Grand Cayman from a cruise ship several years ago.

The islands highlighted in yellow are some of the most popular ones for birding and for parrot lovers, they all have endemic parrot species.

caribbean-map

CHOOSING THE ISLANDS TO VISIT

This was the easiest part.  The islands are fairly small and it’s easy to find out where the birds are.  I used eBird to get an idea but knew I would be hiring a guide at least on St Lucia and Dominica since time was short.  I was after several amazing Amazon Parrot species which are endemic to particular islands.  Puerto Rico has the Puerto Rican Amazon.  Dominica has the Imperial Amazon (Sisserou) & Red-necked Amazon (Jaco).  St Lucia has the St Lucia Parrot.  St Vincent has the St Vincent Parrot.  Trinidad has a couple of Parrotlets I was chasing – Green-rumped Parrotlets & Lilac-tailed Parrotlet.  There are also several Macaws and Amazon species plus lots of hummingbirds & manakins around the island so it was a great all-rounder.

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GETTING AROUND

We used United miles on Copa to get from Bogota to Trinidad via Panama.  Then we used miles from Port-of-Spain to St Lucia, only 4500 Avios for the short flight.  After that, we had to use Liat to St Vincent, Dominica & San Juan.

On Trinidad & Puerto Rico, we rented a car and drove around on our own.  On St Lucia, St Vincent & Dominica, we used a combination of guided birding tours (St Lucia), buses & taxis to national parks (St Vincent) and a private birding day trip on Dominica.

ACCOMMODATION

The Caribbean can be very expensive and even small lodges can be at least $150 a night.  Luckily I had some Hotels.com free nights, 2 Expedia credits for a promo they messed up on and some Orbucks from a photo competition they ran in 2014 which got our small hotels on St Lucia, St Vincent & Dominica plus one night at a small hotel south of San Juan for free.

We had 2 nights free in Trinidad at the Radisson thanks to the 2 for 1 redemption opportunity that came with the Club Carlson Visa booked just one month before that particular benefit went away.

We had one free night at the San Juan Intercontinental courtesy of the Chase free night with the IHG Rewards Visa.

Yes, you read that right, getting lucky with some hotel promos got us the entire week in the Caribbean for FREE!

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting in detail about our birding in the Caribbean so stay tuned!

Reminder: Only One Month Until The Parrot Lover’s Cruise

If you have been thinking about joining this fantastic cruise, don’t delay as it’s only a month away!  It’s pretty easy to get to Puerto Rico using airline miles and spend a few extra days pre or post cruise as well!

If you are a dedicated conservationist, eco-tourist or birder who has been looking for an excuse to ease your spouse/partner into the adventure; this is soft ecotourism at its best!  What could be easier than boarding a luxurious cruise ship in San Juan and relaxing at sea while you cruise to a different Caribbean island just about every day.  Many of these islands have native parrot populations and there will be other bird species too.  And best of all, your participation benefits the World Parrot Trust’s conservation efforts!

Parrot Lovers Cruise

In order to participate in the seminars and dedicated birding excursions, you must book with the official travel agency, Carol’s Travel Time.

Book The Parrot Lover’s Cruise By 19 June For Extras!

Just got this by email, I wish Puerto Rico wasn’t so far from Australia!  Remember, you can save heaps by using miles to get there which is pretty cheap from the USA and spend a few extra days in San Juan before and after the cruise on hotel points too!  To get the deal, you MUST book via the official travel agency.

CAROL CIPRIANO
Carol’s Travel Time
570-470-0034

carolstraveltime@gmail.com
www.parrotloverscruise.com

If you’ve been waiting to book your seat on the 5th annual Parrot Lover’s Cruise, the deal just got even better!

Discover some of the bluest waters and best sightseeing in the world as you cruise the Southern Caribbean.

Educate yourself with onboard parrot seminars featuring some of the top parrot experts in the world, and visit exotic ports of call where you’ll have a chance to see parrots in the wild.

Book before June 19, 2013
Choose from one of the following “extras” when you book now:

1. Classic Beverage Package (includes wine and spirits), or

2. Pre-paid gratuities for two, or

3. A $300 onboard credit, or

4. Up to $400 in credit if your airfare is booked with Celebrity!

Hurry, “extras” offer ENDS June 19!
Go online to book now »

Parrot Lover’s Cruise Shore Excursions

The Parrot Lovers Cruise which I blogged about a couple of months ago have posted details of two of their shore excursions but I was unable to post while I was in West Papua due to poor internet so better late than never!

PUERTO RICO

October 26 – Discover how scientists and aviculturists are working together to save the critically endangered Puerto Rican Amazon Parrot with this exclusive tour available only to guests aboard the Parrot Lover’s Cruise. Departing at 8:30am local time, attendees will get a chance to visit the Vivaldi (or Rio Abajo) Aviary, a research station which is closed to the general public and located in the 5,000 acre Rio Abajo Forest Reserve.

While on site, you will meet with members of the PR Amazon Recovery team. During a tour of facilities and surrounding area, you will learn about the captive breeding and release program and may be able to glimpse one of the parrots that have recently been returned to the wild. A small donation is included in your excursion price and will assist with efforts to save this critically endangered species. With a stop at the mall for some lunch and shopping, then back to the cruiseship to find your luggage awaiting your arrival, there’s no better way to start your trip!

Ticket Price: USD $110 per guest (excludes lunch.) Each ticket includes a $36 donation to aid parrot conservation. Contact Carol to book your spot »

ST THOMAS

November 1 – Departing at 10:00 am local time, you’ll be met at the cruise ship pier and taken to the famous Coral World, where you’ll be fascinated by the many species of underwater life represented here. You’ll experience what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to touch a shark, hand-feed a stingray, or watch newborn seahorses learn to swim! As you explore Coral World, you’ll be surrounded by native trees and plants, as well as fabulous views of the ocean, the shoreline of St. Thomas, and neighboring islands. Enjoy the Caribbean reef encounter, shark shallows, lagoon, turtle pool, nature trail, touch pool, stingrays, and much more! You’ll stay dry while watching non-captive fish and other marine life from the Undersea Observatory, which takes you 100 feet offshore and 15 feet beneath the sea in the middle of a living coral reef. You’ll also visit the Lorikeet Aviary, where you’ll have the opportunity to feed the many exotic birds and observe them playing. In addition to all of this, Coral World also has shops, bars, restaurants, restrooms, and a nature trail. We will then head over to the Butterfly Farm, where Daily bird shows are offered on The Butterfly Garden entrance porch. Let Troy, Miss Priss, Coral, Elvis & Ginger entertain you with their antics and skills. They are great showoffs!

This tour includes:

      • Round trip transportation from the cruise ship pier
      • Coral World
      • Lorikeet Aviary
      • Undersea Observatory
      • Closeup views of aquatic life
      • Bird feeding
      • Shop/snack/restroom opportunities
             • Butterfly Farm and Bird Show

Ticket Price: USD $87.00 per guest (excludes lunch.)
Contact Carol to book your spot »

Excursion schedule subject to change.

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Remember that although this cruise is on sale to the general public, in order to participate in the parrot lover’s programs, you must book through

CAROL CIPRIANO

Carol’s Travel Time
570.470.0034

carolstraveltime@gmail.com

And it’s all for a good cause as the funds raised go to the World Parrot Trust!

Puerto Rico Travel Guide Books

Here’s some suggestions for guidebooks to help you get the most from your trip to Puerto Rico.  If you click through to the Amazon page, you will see reader reviews and also other suggestions for similar books.  They come in both Kindle and Paper versions.  Please note that these are my affiliate links and you do not pay any more using my links than if you went direct to Amazon.  Thank you for your support!

Coqui – The Famous Puerto Rican Frog

The common coquí or coquí (Eleutherodactylus coqui) is a frog native to Puerto Rico belonging to the Eleutherodactylus genus of the Eleutherodactylidae family. The species is named for the loud call the males make at night. This sound serves two purposes. ‘CO’ serves to repel males and establish territory while the ‘QUI’ serves to attract females.[3] Since the auditory systems of males and females respond preferentially to different notes of the male call, this is an example of a sex difference in a sensory system. The common coquí is a very important aspect of Puerto Rican culture and it has become an unofficial territorial symbol of Puerto Rico.

PR Coqui

Since they are more famous for their sound rather than their appearance, you really do need to spend at least one night in a rainforest lodge like the ones in El Yunque just to have the experience of listening them sing.

And one more!

El Yunque Rainforest, Puerto Rico

El Yunque National Forest aka the Caribbean National Forest  is the only tropical rain forest in the United States National Forest System.  It is home to the highly endangered Puerto Rican Parrot, but actually finding them in the vast forest will be quite a challenge.  First, you will need to get to El Yunque.  I recommend hiring a car so you can get there as early as possible.  If you are staying in San Juan at one of the hotels on points, it will be about an hour’s drive, 58 km.

San Juan to El Yunque

A better idea would be to stay in an eco-lodge in the rainforest.   Since I haven’t been there (yet) personally, I looked at Trip Advisor to see which lodges were getting good reviews, 3 of them were all rated very highly.

Villa Sevilla

Rainforest Inn

La Paloma (no website found)

I highly recommend using a specialist bird guide.  I like the looks of Adventours who also have the Birding Puerto Rico site and seem to have years of experience, locally owned and operated and dedicated to conservation.   Parrots are most vocal in the early morning and late afternoon and tracking them by sound is your best bet.  Since the population of parrots is so small, you will need a local guide who is familiar with the habits of the parrots but as always with birding, there is no guarantees.  Birding Puerto Rico recommends the Arecibo area for your best odds to see the Puerto Rican Amazon.   Also worth noting is that they have special permission to enter the national park early and leave later than you normally can.

El Yunque National Forest – Only 45 minute drive from
San Juan, El Yunque is a must see nature wonder.  We
have special permits to go birding to the Forest before
and after the gates are open/close to the general public.
On previous full-day birding trips we have spotted 16 of
our 17 endemic species.

Be sure to support the local conservation projects while you are there.

This group in the video below only got to see the nest boxes put up by research scientists, although to be fair it looks more like a generic rainforest tour than a group of birders.