Hypotheses of the historical biogeography of tamarins (genus Saguinus) based on variation in coat colors and body size are tested using phylogenetic relationships inferred from mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence data. Samples from all 12 species of Saguinus and several subspecies are included in the analysis. Approximately 1,200 bases of mtDNA sequence from the cytochrome b and D-loop regions are reported for the tamarins and several outgroup taxa. Parsimony analysis of the mtDNA sequence data reveals Saguinus to be a monophyletic taxon composed of two major clades: one, the Small-bodied clade, contains S. nigricollis, S. tripartitus, and S. fuscicollis, and the other, the Large-bodied clade, contains the other nine species. The phylogenetic relationships among tamarins inferred from the mtDNA sequence data reject previous hypotheses for the historical biogeography of tamarins and suggest different dispersal routes for this group of New World monkeys. The molecular data suggest that tamarins dispersed across South America in two major waves from an origin somewhere south of the Amazon. One wave moved in a westerly direction, whereas the other moved in a northeastern direction toward the Amazon delta and then west along the northern portion of the continent into northern Colombia and Panama. Am J Phys Anthropol 108:65–89, 1999. © 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.