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, swell 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 and Bogota Rail. We’ll also see a nice selection of more common high Andean species such as Andean Tit-Spinetail, Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, and Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle. Activity in the páramo tends to die down quickly, we’ll then head to another park closer to Bogotá called Chicaque. The hummer feeders here attract superb species including Golden-bellied Starfrontlet, Glowing Puffleg, and Collared Inca, 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, Pale-bellied Tapaculo, Golden-fronted Whitestart, Rufous-browed Conebill, Slaty Brush-Finch, 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, 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 two more endemic, Yellow-headed Brush-Finch and Tolima Blossomcrown, and there is also a chance for 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 of the Rio Claro reserve will hopefully produce several endemics such as Magdalena Antbird, Sooty Ant-Tanager, White-mantled Barbet, 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 great spot for the endemic Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant and other scarce birds like Bare-crowned Antbird and Brownish Twistwing, and birding forest edge may get us Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Pacific Antwren, and with luck even an electric Blue Cotinga.

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. We’ll have another morning to look for anything we still need in the area, either at Rio Claro, or at another site higher up in the mountains. We’ll then drive to the city of Medellín, where we spend a single night.

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. In the afternoon 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. Yellow-eared Parrots are making a comeback around Jardín 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, seeking out great montane birds including Tanager Finch, White-capped Tanager, Red-crested Cotinga, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant, Rufous-crested Tanager, and Black-capped Hemispingus among a slew of more common montane 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 and Antioquia Wren 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 build a small birding lodge, where we will spend two nights. Due to the small size of the lodge, single rooms cannot be guaranteed 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, Bicolored, and Slate-crowned 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, Lyre-tailed Nightjar, and White-throated Screech-Owl. Hummer feeders are also quite good with Bronzy Inca, Long-tailed Sylph, and Tourmaline Sunangel among the many 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 one of the main draws here, 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.

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 Otún Quimbaya, where we spend two nights.

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: Otún Quimbaya NP. This park protects one of the last remaining populations of the endangered Cauca Guan, which is usually quite easy to see. This forest also offers us our best chance at Chestnut Wood-Quail, which is not as shy here as other sites on the itinerary. The spectacular Red-ruffed Fruitcrow is ridiculously common here and there is no better place to see it. Mixed species flocks may have the glowing Multicolored Tanager among the more common Golden and Metallic-green Tanagers, and we can try for Colombian Screech-Owl at night.

Day 15: Otún Quimbaya to Montezuma. After a few hours of morning birding, 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 incredible rich Chocó region, where numerous stunning endemics occur. The lodge is rather basic, but very friendly, clean, and has excellent food. Rooms are being improved, however we cannot guarantee that singles will be available here, and some rooms have shared bathrooms. The incredible birding in this area should help compensate for the less than luxurious accommodations.

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 areas near 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, and Glistening-green Tanager. We will also take the 4×4’s to higher elevations to look for a different set of species, among them Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer, Munchique Wood-Wren, Purplish-mantled Tanager, Beautiful Jay, Black Solitaire, and the newly-described Tatama Tapaculo. We may also have the chance to bird at lower elevations, where other birds are possible including Scarlet-and-white Tanager and Zeledon’s Antbird.

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 some more birding this morning before driving to Pereira and catching an afternoon flight to Bogotá, where we spend the final two nights.

Day 19: Bogotá cleanup, Enchanted Garden, and Tabacal. If we missed any key birds around Bogotá at the start of the trip, we will have another go at them this morning; these could include Silvery-throated Spinetail, Rufous-browed Conebill, or Apolinar’s Wren. We will then drive west out of the city and stop at the well-named Enchanted Garden, where swarms of hummingbirds visit a forest of feeders. While many of them will be “old hat” by now, the endemic Indigo-capped Hummingbird should be added to our expansive list along with Gorgeted Woodstar, which we may not have seen yet. We’ll then bird Laguna Tabacal for a final few birds like Gray-throated Warbler and Bar-crested Antshrike before returning to Bogotá for the last night.

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

Day 20: Departure. The tour concludes this morning with transfers to the international airport.

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate. Start times will range from 4:00am to 6:00am; several breakfasts and possibly a few lunches will be taken in the field. When possible, we will have downtime in the middle of the day to relax, or arrive back to the lodge or hotel a bit early if we intend to have a super early start the next day. There is quite a bit of driving required on windy, mountainous roads.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate. Nearly all of the birding is done from flat or only slightly inclined roads and wide tracks. You can expect to walk about 2 to 3 miles (3.2-4.8 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.

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, but their are a couple of exceptions. We spend three nights in a basic lodge in Montezuma (days 15,16,17) where some rooms have shared bathrooms and there is no hot water; singles may be limited here. Rooms are slowly being improved here, and the lodge owners provide tremendous service and food; if you prefer to skip this section, it is possible to leave the tour early, flying back to Bogota, overnighting, and flying home. We also 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 there, or else singles may need to stay in the older, more basic rooms. In both of these situations, 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 many places due to feeders and fairly easy trails.

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. 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 19; meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 20 (if you have an early flight on day 20, 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 19; 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.