Central Colombia: Andean Endemics Paradise

The great Andean mountain range splits into three chains as it traverses Colombia, resulting in a very high degree of endemism (70+ endemic bird species). Colombia is blessed with an extensive system of reserves that protect many of these species, and we will visit many of them on this tour. Among the many targets on this tour are numerous spectacular birds including Buffy and Green-bearded Helmetcrests, Yellow-eared Parrot, White-mantled Barbet, Black-and-gold, Gold-ringed, and Multicolored Tanagers, Turquoise Dacnis, and many more.

 

The following itinerary offers an excellent cross-section of Central Colombia, and for custom tours we can modify it to suit your needs. Shorter itineraries are possible and still very productive.

If you only have less time available, it is possible to leave this tour on day 13, 14, or 15 by transferring to Pereira for a flight to Bogota, where you would spend one night before flying home.

Day 1: Bogotá. The tour starts this evening in Bogotá. You will be transferred to a hotel in Colombia’s vibrant capital, where we will spend the first three nights.

Day 2: Sumapaz and Chicaque. Leaving early, we drive into the mountains south of the city to Sumapaz National Park, where beautiful páramo dominates the landscape. We’re after two very localized hummers here, the spectacular Green-bearded Helmetcrest and the odd Bronze-tailed Thornbill, along with Apolinar’s Wren, Bogota Rail, and Pale-bellied Tapaculo. We’ll also see a nice selection of more common high Andean species such as Andean Tit-Spinetail, White-chinned Thistletail, Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Andean Teal, and Andean Duck. Activity in the páramo tends to die down quickly, we’ll then head to another park closer to Bogotá called Chicaque. The hummer feeders are variable in activity, but we hope to see the very local Golden-bellied Starfrontlet among more common species, and the temperate forest often has good mixed species flocks with typical Andean birds such as tanagers, flowerpiercers, warblers, flycatchers, and others.

Golden-bellied Starfrontlets visit feeders at Chicaque Park
Golden-bellied Starfrontlets visit feeders at Chicaque Park (Nick Athanas)

Day 3: BioAndina Reserve and Hummingbird Observatory. This morning will see us birding cool cloudforest northeast of Bogota, especially targeting the threatened Brown-breasted Parakeet, a very local endemic. Other birds we will seek include Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, Golden-fronted Whitestart, Black-collared Jay, Mountain Cacique, Slaty Brush-Finch, Blue-backed Conebill, and numerous other species. In the afternoon we will stop at one of the best set of hummer feeders in all of Colombia, where we will likely get great views of some truly amazing birds including Blue-throated Starfrontlet, both Black- and Green-tailed Trainbearers, Glowing Puffleg, Sword-billed Hummingbird, and Coppery-bellied Pufffleg.

Black-tailed Trainbearer comes into the feeders at the Hummingbird Observatory
Black-tailed Trainbearer comes into the feeders at the Hummingbird Observatory (Nick Athanas)

Day 4: Laguna Pedro Palo and the Magdalena Valley. We’ll pack up this morning and head west into the Magdalena Valley, stopping along the way at Laguna Pedro Palo. Forested side roads here have some easy and excellent birding with great chances to see Black Inca, Turquoise Dacnis, Moustached Brushfinch, Emerald Toucanet, Scrub and Black-capped Tanagers, Spectacled Parrotlet, and many more. Continuing our journey, we’ll cross the mighty Magdalena River, the longest river in Colombia. In the afternoon we bird dry forest, searching especially for two more endemics: Apical Flycatcher and Velvet-fronted Euphonia. We’ll have one night in the city of Ibagué.

The stunning Turquoise Dacnis is a major target at Laguna Pedro Palo
The stunning Turquoise Dacnis is a major target at Laguna Pedro Palo (Nick Athanas)

Day 5: Combeima Canyon to Rio Claro. The scenic Combeima Canyon is a great spot for several more endemics: Yellow-headed Brush-Finch, Indigo-capped Hummingbird, Tolima Blossomcrown, and the shy Tolima Dove. We’ll then have a fairly long drive north along the Magdalena Valley, but we can break the trip up with birding stops for species like Russet-throated Puffbird, Savanna Hawk, Wattled Jacana, Large-billed Tern, Green Kingfisher, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Yellow-headed Caracara, Pied Water-Tyrant, Black-capped Donacobius, and Yellow-chinned Spinetail. We spend two nights in a lodge near Rio Claro.

Day 6: Rio Claro area. A morning in the lush rainforest in an around the Rio Claro will hopefully produce several endemics such as Magdalena Antbird, Sooty Ant-Tanager, White-mantled Barbet, Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant, and Beautiful Woodpecker among other more widespread species like Barred Puffbird, Bay Wren, and Olivaceous Flatbill. The bizarre and unique Oilbird, in its own monotypic family is a huge draw for casual and world birders alike. We’ll make an afternoon visit to one of their nesting caves. We may have to wade through a stream, but it will be well worth it to see these neat birds. The trail is also a chance to see other scarce birds like Brownish Twistwing and White-whiskered Puffbird, and birding forest edge may get us various tanagers, oropendolas, woodpeckers, and other species.

We'll look for noisy flocks of Sooty Ant-Tanagers at Rio Claro
We'll look for noisy flocks of Sooty Ant-Tanagers at Rio Claro (Nick Athanas)

Looking out of the Oilbird cave near Rio Claro
Looking out of the Oilbird cave near Rio Claro (Nick Athanas)

Day 7: Rio Claro to Medellín. Another morning visit to Rio Claro will give us a shot as the endemic Magdalena Antbird, scarce Gray-cheeked Nunlet, and another chance at anything else we still need in the area. We’ll then drive to the city of Medellín, where we spend a single night on the slopes above the city.

Day 8: La Romera to Jardín. La Romera is a small reserve on the outskirts of Medellín. The stunning Red-bellied Grackle is usually the star bird here, but we’ll also look for Stiles’s Tapaculo and the rare Yellow-headed Manakin. Later, we will drive for several hours to the pleasant mountain town of Jardín, where we spend two nights. Time permitting, we will visit a superb Cock-of-the-rock lek, where several makes can usually be seen at close range despite being only a few hundred meters from the center of town.

Day 9: Jardín. Well depart early in 4×4 vehicles into the mountains above Jardín. Yellow-eared Parrots are making a comeback here thanks to good local conservation efforts protecting the wax palms they rely on. We’ll head up a rough road early in the morning to their reserve, and should enjoy nice views of them flying to their feeding grounds. We’ll spend the rest of the day birding the forest, searching for some scarce montane birds including White-capped Tanager, Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Powerful Woodpecker, Chestnut-naped Antpitta, Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant, Andean Pygmy-Owl, and Barred Fruiteater among a slew of more common species.

Red-bellied Grackle is truly one of Colombia's most striking birds
Red-bellied Grackle is truly one of Colombia's most striking birds (Pablo Cervantes D.)

We'll visit a superb cock-of-the-rock lek at Jardín
We'll visit a superb cock-of-the-rock lek at Jardín (Nick Athanas)

Day 10: Cauca Valley to Rio Blanco. Leaving Jardín, we’ll stop for an hour or two near the Cauca River to look for the endemic Grayish Piculet, Antioquia Wren, and another shot at Apical Flycatcher before driving several hours south to the Rio Blanco reserve. This reserve protects the water supply for the nearby city of Manizales, and also has recently built a small birding lodge, where we will spend two nights. Due to the small size of the lodge, single rooms are usually not available here.

Day 11: Rio Blanco. The reserve rangers maintain several antpitta feeding stations near the lodge, and we will stop at all of them this morning. The antpittas are wild and unpredictable, but there are decent chances to see Chestnut-crowned, Brown-banded, and Bicolored Antpittas, and occasionally others. Apart from the antpittas, there are plenty of other birds to look for including Ocellated Tapaculo, Dusky Piha, Grass-green Tanager, Golden-plumed Parakeet, Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, Black-collared Jay, Black-capped Hemispingus, Capped Conebill, Sharpe’s Wren, Golden-headed Quetzal, Flammulated Treehunter, and numerous tanagers. Owling in the evening white get us White-throated Screech-Owl or Rufous-banded Owl. Hummer feeders are also quite good with Bronzy Inca, Long-tailed Sylph, and Tourmaline Sunangel among several species that visit.

Brown-banded Antpitta is an endemic that we hope to see at a feeder at Rio Blanco
Brown-banded Antpitta is an endemic that we hope to see at a feeder at Rio Blanco (Nick Athanas)

Chestnut-crowned Antpitta is a truly beautiful bird
Chestnut-crowned Antpitta is a truly beautiful bird (Nick Athanas)

Day 12: Rio Blanco to Termales Ruiz. After another morning in Rio Blanco, we’ll drive a about 1.5 hours into the mountains high above Manizales, where see spend one night in a remote and beautiful lodge with thermal baths – it’s nice to soak in the pools after a day in the field! We’ll spend one night here. The hummingbird feeders are superb, offering some of the best high Andean hummers around such as Golden-breasted and Black-thighed Pufflegs, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Shining Sunbeam, Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, Great Sapphirewing, Mountain Velvetbreast, and Viridian Metaltail. In the afternoon, we’ll drive up to a spot above the lodge where the rare Rufous-fronted Parakeet can sometimes be seen flying over towards their roosting area.

Shining Sunbeam is one of many hummers that visit the feeders at Termales del Ruiz
Shining Sunbeam is one of many hummers that visit the feeders at Termales del Ruiz (Nick Athanas)

Rainbow-bearded Thornbill sometimes visits the feeders at Termales del Ruiz
Rainbow-bearded Thornbill sometimes visits the feeders at Termales del Ruiz (Nick Athanas)

Day 13: Nevados del Ruiz to Otún Quimbaya . Early morning around the lodge can be productive for neat birds like Lacrimose and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers, Pale-naped and Gray-browed Brush-Finches, Glossy Flowerpiercer, Paramo Tapculo, and more. We’ll then head up to the entrance to Los Nevados National Park at 13,800 ft. (4200 m.). Buffy Helmetcrest, an impressive endemic hummingbird, often can usually be seen here feeding on Espeletia flowers. Other possible targets here are Tawny Antpitta, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Sedge Wren, Andean Tit-Spinetail, White-chinned Thistletail, and Andean Siskin. In the afternoon, we’ll head to lower elevations and drive about three hours to the town of Santa Rosa, where we spend one night.

Buffy Helmetcrests can usually be seen around the park entrance at Nevados del Ruiz
Buffy Helmetcrests can usually be seen around the park entrance at Nevados del Ruiz (Nick Athanas)

Day 14: Finca Cortaderal to Otún Quimbaya. We’ll take 4×4 vehicles up to some forest patches high above Santa Rosa, where small numbers of the critically endangered Indigo-winged Parrot are still seen regularly. We’ll stake out one of their favored patches for several hours, hoping to get some views of this super-rare bird. We should see a few other species while we wait, possibly including Buff-breasted and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, Purple-backed Thornbill, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, and Golden-plumed Parakeet. In the afternoon, we drive to Otún Quimbaya, a reserce that protects one of the last remaining populations of the endangered Cauca Guan, which has become quite easy to see around the lodge along with the spectacular Red-ruffed Fruitcrow.

Day 15: Otún Quimbaya to Montezuma. We’ll have the full morning to bird around Otún Quimbaya, where we will try to see Hooded Antpitta at a known stakeout along with Chestnut Wood-Quail, Chestnut-breasted Wren, Crested Ant-Tanager, and numerous tanagers including a chance at the ornate Multicolored Tanager. In the afternoon, we will drive west a few hours and then switch into 4×4 vehicles for the final journey to Montezuma Lodge, where we spend three nights. This simple lodge is located in the incredibly rich Chocó region, where numerous stunning endemics occur. The lodge has been improved in recent years, and now all rooms have private bathrooms.

Days 16-17: Cerro Montezuma and Tatamá National Park. With two full days here, we will bird several different elevational zones, each of which have their own specialties. The middle elevation above the lodge are home to some of Colombia’s most coveted birds including Black-and-gold and Gold-ringed Tanagers, Crested Ant-Tanager, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, and Club-winged Manakin. We will find numerous other species while looking for them, some of which may include Fulvous-dotted Treehunter, Sooty-headed Wren, Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager, Indigo Flowerpiercer, Glistening-green Tanager, Parker’s Antbird, and Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owl, and the newly-described Tatama Tapaculo. One morning we’ll take the 4×4’s all the way to the end of the road for a different set of species, among them Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer, Munchique Wood-Wren, Purplish-mantled Tanager, Beautiful Jay, and Black Solitaire.

Black-and-gold Tanager, another colorful Colombian endemic that we should see near Montezuma
Black-and-gold Tanager, another colorful Colombian endemic that we should see near Montezuma (Nick Athanas)

The unique Gold-ringed Tanager is a highly sought-after endemic that we stand a great chance of seeing near Montezuma
The unique Gold-ringed Tanager is a highly sought-after endemic that we stand a great chance of seeing near Montezuma (Nick Athanas)

Day 18: Return to Bogotá. We should have time for a few more hours of birding this morning before driving to Pereira and catching an afternoon flight to Bogotá, where we spend the final night.

Indigo-capped Hummingbirds visit the feeders at the Enchanted Garden
Indigo-capped Hummingbirds visit the feeders at the Enchanted Garden (Nick Athanas)

Day 19: Departure. The tour concludes this morning with transfers to the international airport.

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate to intense. We try to see as many birds as possible, with special focus on country endemics and regional endemics. Start times will range from 4:00am to 6:00am; several breakfasts and lunches will be taken in the field. Most days will be quite full with relatively little downtime. There is quite a bit of driving required on windy, mountainous roads.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate. Most of the birding is done from flat or only slightly inclined roads and wide tracks, however one morning will involve a two mile roundtrip walk up a track that has some very steep sections You can expect to walk about 3 to 4 miles (4.8-6.4 km) per day on average. Parts of 3 days will be spent at elevations above 11,500 ft (3500 m), and one night will be spent at that elevation, no difficult walking is required at these elevations.

CLIMATE: Most areas are quite pleasant, but it can be cold (down to about 40°F/5°C) in the highest elevations on 2 days of the trip, and hot (up to about 93°F/34°C) on a couple of days in the Magdalena Valley. Some rain can be expected.

ACCOMMODATION: Generally good to excellent, with typical amenities. However, we spend two nights (days 10 & 11) at a lodge with a limited number of good rooms; depending on tour participation, singles may not be available, and singles may need to stay in the older, more basic rooms (2 of which share a bathroom). Tropical Birding reserves the right to make room assignments, and preference is given first to couples, then to people booking twin rooms, and then to singles.

PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, but it is not bad for casual photography in some places, especially where there are feeders.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Tourist visas are currently not required for citizens of the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and EU countries. Canadian citizens are required to pay a reciprocity fee on arrival. Visas are currently only required of a few nationalities, mostly in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Travel requirements are subject to change; if you are unsure, please check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff for help.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Note: these are given under the assumption that you are booking the entire tour; if you leave the tour early then they will be different Tips to drivers and lodge staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 18; meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 19 (if you have an early flight on day 19, you may miss the included hotel breakfast); some drinks (most lodges include water and/or juice and tea/coffee; for meals which include no drinks, Tropical Birding will include reasonable non-alcoholic drinks during meals and safe drinking water only between meals); one way flight from Pereira to Bogota; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 19; one arrival and one departure airport transfer per person (these transfers may be shared with other tour participants if they are on the same flight); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from the morning of day 2 to the evening of day 18; entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips for luggage porters in city hotels if you require their services; international flights; visa/passport fees; excess luggage charges; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.