Peru Photo Tour

For those who are interested in hummingbird photography, traditionally Costa Rica or Ecuador have been the natural choices, with their abundant lodges and great feeder set ups. Peru though, in spite of its incredible bird diversity that puts those other countries to shame, has been strangely overlooked. This “Land of the Incas” now has some superb lodges with excellent chances to photograph hummingbirds, many of which are not possible in those other countries. Thus, whether or not you have done one of those other, more well publicized hummingbird photography destinations, this should not exclude you from this tour, which offers many different species from those countries. Indeed, Peru can lay claim to the most highly-prize hummingbird of them all, the Marvelous Spatuletail, which is every bit as good as it sounds, and well deserves its frequently touted moniker of “Best Hummingbird in the World”; take a look at the photos on this page and you will see why. This tour travels in one of the world biodiversity hotspots, Northern Peru, where big day records have frequently been set, and the diversity of hummingbirds goes through the roof. We will exploit this with our cameras, while basing ourselves and three of the best birding lodges in the region – Owlet Lodge, Waqanki Lodge and, of course, Huembo Lodge, the only place in the World where you can expect to photograph the Marvelous Spatuletail.



Peru is known as the Land of the Incas, and many would not want to leave without seeing some of its most famous sites, and so for this reason we offer an extension, which focuses on the history of the country. This not only visits the magnificent Machu Picchu Inca ruins, but also Ollantaytambo and Cusco, so you leave not only with cards full of bird photos, but also a deep understanding of the rich culture of this amazing Andean nation.

Thanks to tour participant William J. Pohley for use if his images here; more of Bill’s photos can be seen here: Bill Pohley Photography.

Day 1: Arrival in Lima. The tour begins this evening in Lima. Our hotel is located next to the airport, so you can be checking in a few minutes after clearing customs.

Sword-billed Hummingbird has the longest bill relative to body size, of any bird on Earth
Sword-billed Hummingbird has the longest bill relative to body size, of any bird on Earth (William J. Pohley)

Day 2: Lima to Owlet Lodge (Abra Patricia). In the morning, we shall take a short flight to Tarapoto in northern Peru, from where we will make the final journey to Owlet Lodge by road, arriving in the afternoon. After the journey we will be only too happy to be greeted with the sight of hummingbirds right on the doorstep of this wonderful lodge, where species like Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Emerald-bellied Puffleg, Bronzy Inca, and White-bellied Woodstar can all count themselves as regular. The first of five nights will be spent at the comfortable Owlet Lodge, surrounded by beautiful cloudforest.

Emerald-bellied Puffleg sitting beside Owlet Lodge
Emerald-bellied Puffleg sitting beside Owlet Lodge (William J. Pohley)

Days 3-4: Hummingbirds of Owlet Lodge. On these days, the main focus will be on the many hummingbirds that visit the lodge feeders. We will use multiflash techniques to ensure we all get perfectly crisp photos of species mentioned before, in addition to Lesser and Sparkling Violetears, Speckled Hummingbird, Long-tailed Sylph, and the outrageous Sword-billed Hummingbird. In between bouts of hummingbird photography, we may also get photos of other birds that come through the area as part of mixed feeding flocks, which could include colorful species like tanagers, with Saffron-headed, Blue-and-black, White-capped, and Yellow=scarfed just some of the many species occurring in this, one of the world’s most biodiverse spots.

Breathtaking; Long-tailed Sylph
Breathtaking; Long-tailed Sylph (William J. Pohley)

Days 5-6: Hummingbirds of Alto Nieva. This private reserve is close to, but downslope from, Owlet Lodge, and possesses another set of exciting hummingbird feeders, which attract some of the same species as Owlet Lodge, but some different ones too due to the altitudinal change. Most notably it includes the chance for the deep blue Royal Sunagel, a rare and local hummer near impossible to photograph elsewhere. Along with this species we will try to photograph the beautiful Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Greenish Puffleg, Booted Racket-tail, Rufous-vented Whitetip and Violet-fronted Brilliant. There are plentiful other birds in the area, and some on-the-fly photography could produce woodcrepeers, warblers, flycatchers, tanagers, and more.

Dueling Violetears
Dueling Violetears (William J. Pohley)

Day 7: Owlet Lodge to Huembo. After some final shooting around the lodge at Abra Patricia, we shall head west to Huembo, the home of the revered Marvelous Saptuletail, for a two-night stay.

One very big reason to come; this is the only place in the world where Marvelous Saptuletail occurs
One very big reason to come; this is the only place in the world where Marvelous Saptuletail occurs (William J. Pohley)

Day 8: Marvelous Spatuletail (Huembo). For many this day will be central to the whole reason for signing up on the tour, as we will be based at the only place in the world to photograph the Marvelous Saptuletail, an absurdly gorgeous hummingbird that is frequently spoken of as the most beautiful hummingbird on Earth. Ordinarily it is hard to find, let alone photograph, but at this relatively new lodge, this spectacular hummingbird is a daily visitor to the feeders, and will be the center of our attentions all day long. We will use multiflash techniques to get the very best photographs possible of this flagship species. Other species that are likely to feature too are Bronzy Inca, White-bellied Hummingbird, White-bellied and Little Woodstars, Andean Emerald, Silvery Tanager, Streaked Saltator, and White-sided Flowerpiercer.

Rufous-crested Coquette, as photographed by a client on this tour!
Rufous-crested Coquette, as photographed by a client on this tour! (William J. Pohley)

Day 9: Huembo to Waqanki Lodge. While, by this point, “post-Spatuletail”, you might think that the tour is basically over, you’d be very wrong, as we will now make our way to one of the best lodges for hummingbirds in all of Peru; (and that is saying something). Waqanki is a relatively new lodge, but quickly rose to prominence after its opening for the superb birding in the foothills of the Andes, and its amazing hummingbird feeders, which attract not only hundreds of individuals, but double figures in terms of species, many of which will be different from those found at our higher elevation sites visited earlier on the trip. We will settle into this excellent lodge for a three-night stay, still needing ample memory card space to deal with yet another hummingbird onslaught!

The oddly-shaped Booted Racket-tail will be photographed from every possible angle!
The oddly-shaped Booted Racket-tail will be photographed from every possible angle! (William J. Pohley)

Day 10: Hummingbirds of Waqanki Lodge. This is an excellent location for hummingbirds; feeders are placed at various heights in multiple directions, and many of them are free from the forest shade that dominates so many potentially good feeders at other sites in the World. Of course, we will also try multiflash methods too to get those “frozen” shots, but the wonderful natural light and open nature of the feeders at Waqanki makes it well worth photographing without the aid of flash too. We will have plentiful time to try both at length. The species on offer are dazzling, and include widespread species like White-necked Jacobin, Brown Violetear, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Black-throated Mango, and Fork-tailed Woodnymph, but also less common species that are unlikely to be photographed away from Waqanki, like Great-billed and Black-throated Hermits, the incredible Rufous-crested Coquette, Gray-breasted Sabrewing, Golden-tailed Sapphire, and Sapphire-spangled Emerald. Other non-hummigbirds that may pose for our lenses include White-vented and Purple-throated Euphonias, Black-faced Dacnis, Blue Dacnis, and Black-bellied Tanager, among many other possibilities.

Long-billed Starthroat is a regular visitor to the Arena Blanca private reserve
Long-billed Starthroat is a regular visitor to the Arena Blanca private reserve (William J. Pohley)

Day 11: Hummingbirds of Arena Blanca. A full day will be spent at lower elevations than Waqanki Lodge, at the private reserve of Arena Blanca, where a suite of new hummingbirds comes with the change in elevation; some of the most wanted species to photograph here will be Blue-fronted and Green-fronted Lancebills, the punky Wire-crested Thorntail, Long-billed Starthroat, Black-throated Hermit, Amethyst Woodstar, and Many-spotted Hummingbird. For those who desire yet further Rufous-crested Coquette shots, this site will also provide added opportunities to shoot this standout species. A nearby blind also offers chances to shoot shy forest birds, possibly even some tinamous.

The well named Long-tailed Hermit
The well named Long-tailed Hermit (William J. Pohley)

Day 12: Waqanki to Tarapoto; fly to Lima. DEPARTURE. On this, the final day of the tour, we shall drive back to Tarapoto airport in order to take flights back to Lima, arriving in the afternoon in time for international departures in the late evening. Depending on flight schedules, there may be some final time at Waqanki to grab a few last shots before departure. Those taking the extension will spend this night in the airport hotel in Lima.

Andean Motmot can sometimes be seen at feeders
Andean Motmot can sometimes be seen at feeders (Pablo Cervantes Daza)

____________________

OPTIONAL EXTENSION

Machu Picchu and Cusco Extension (6 days)

For those who would feel cheated to have gone to Peru without seeing the iconic Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, this extension is offered too. As well as visiting that must see site, it will also delve further into Incan history with a visit to another ruins site at Ollantaytambo, where a fortress is perched on a hillside within the Sacred Valley. Lastly, is the city of Cusco, where captivating Spanish Colonial architecture dominates, and has rightly seen this attractive Andean city declared as a World Heritage Site. While the main tour focuses on bird and hummingbird photography, the extension is open to non-birding partners, comprising more of a history lesson, and insight into colonial and ancient cultures that have shaped what Peru has become today.

For those who cannot leave without seeing this, we offer an extension to Machu Picchu
For those who cannot leave without seeing this, we offer an extension to Machu Picchu (Nick Athanas)

Day 1: Lima to Cusco and Aguas Calientes. In the morning of this day (having overnighted in Lima the previous night), we shall take a flight into the Andean town of Cusco, a former capital of the Incan empire. We will drive from Cusco to the historic town of Ollantaytambo, from where we will take a scenic train journey to the town of Aguas Calientes, situated close to the iconic ruins of Machu Picchu, our destination for the following day. We have two nights in a superb hotel with forest and feeders on the grounds. There will be some time in the afternoon of this day to look for birds and photograph birds at the hotel, which has some feeders on site. Some of the birds we may photograph there include Andean Emerald, Booted Racket-tail, Collared Inca (hear the spectacular form called “Gould’s Inca”), Andean Motmot, Dusky-green Oropendola, and Silvery and Blue-necked Tanagers.

Day 2: Machu Picchu. For many, no trip to Peru would be complete without visiting the awe-inspiring ruins of the Incas at Machu Picchu, one of the World’s undoubted must-see sites. Most of the day will be spent at this incredible venue nestled within the dramatic peaks of the Andes Mountains. We’ll have an expert local cultural guide in the morning (or you are free to explore on your own). In the afternoon, we can spend more time in the ruins, or head back to the hotel for some afternoon bird photography.

The train journey to the base of Machu Picchu is great for seeing Torrent Ducks
The train journey to the base of Machu Picchu is great for seeing Torrent Ducks (Pablo Cervantes Daza)

Day 3: Ollantaytambo to Cusco. In the morning, we shall take a train back to Ollantaytambo situated within the Sacred Valley, where we shall explore their own set of ruins, which are often overshadowed by Machu Picchu, but which deserve attention in their own right. At this point of the tour the birds have been replaced by the architecture and history of the Incan Empire, which is the main focus of the extension. After visiting the Incan fortress at Ollantaytambo, we shall leave the Sacred Valley, and drive back to Cusco for two nights.

Day 4: Cusco. This city has been a World Heritage Site since 1983, due to its rich history of both Inca and Spanish Colonial times, and offers plenty to see within the city. We will take several tours around the city before departing back for Lima on day 5, and ensure we see some of the most famous sites like the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, a church built by the Jesuits in 1576, a series of local museums, the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, and the Temples of the Sun and Virgins of the Sun, largely all that’s left of the Incan Empire following invasion by the Spanish in 1535.

Day 5: Cusco to Lima; DEPARTURE. After some final time in Cusco, we shall take a flight back to the Peruvian capital, Lima, and connect with evening/night flights home.

Several ruins sites will be visited on the extension
Several ruins sites will be visited on the extension (Pablo Cervantes Daza)

____________________

TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Relaxed to moderate. Breakfast times are typically early (around 5:30-6:30am. Most days will have several hours of downtime to relax or download photos – this is often in the late afternoon when the light may be poor and when it is more likely to rain, or in the middle of the day when it is hot and slow. Four days of the main tour will involve long drives; this also applies to two days of the extension.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate. Much of the main tour will be spent near feeders which are accessed by only a short walk. There will also be optional short walks on trails on several days too. There are some high elevations covered on this tour; Owlet Lodge is located at the highest point of the main tour, at 2500m/8200f. The extension is largely spent at higher altitudes; o Cusco is located at 3399m/11,150ft, and Machu Picchu reaches 2430m/7970ft.

CLIMATE: Highly variable. A wide range of temperatures can be expected. Temperatures in the high elevations can get down to near freezing early in the morning, but then usually warm up to be quite pleasant (about 70°F/21°C) and usually sunny. In the lower elevations, temperatures usually vary from about 68°-90°F (20°-32°C). This tour takes place in the dry season, but it is not unusual to get some rain at Waqanki and Abra Patricia.

ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent. All lodges have hot water and electricity, though at Huembo Lodge power is via a generator that is turned on for a few hours in the evening. At Owlet Lodge, every two rooms share a bathroom. Depending on lodge occupancy, you may be able to have a private bathroom, but it is not guaranteed. Other hotels and lodges all have private, en-suite bathrooms.

PHOTO PHILOSOPHY: On the main tour, much of the time will be spent on birds coming to feeders (with the option for multi-flash hummingbird photography at the three main lodges) or photographing birds that come in to eat insects that were attracted by the lights over the night. The rest of the time will be spent targeting things along roads or short tracks/trails. There is less bird photography on the extension, as the extension also has a strong cultural focus, visiting several of Peru’s most famous historical attractions.

GEAR: A good 300mm lens (or high end zoom that covers 300mm) and a full-frame camera are ideal for hummingbirds, but a longer lens is better for most other birds. A 500mm with a 1.4x or 600mm are the best options, but a 300mm with 1.4x and 2x teleconverters also usually does a great job. A smaller lens can be nice for scenery shots in the high Andes. A flash (where permitted) is also useful since light can be quite low early in the morning and inside forest.

OTHER INFO:

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, EU, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Tourist visas are currently required mainly for citizens of countries in Africa (except South Africa), Asia, and the Middle East. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge/restaurant staff; roundtrip flight between Lima and Tarapoto, and if taking the extension roundtrip flight between Lima and Cusco; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 11 (main tour – a night in Lima on day 12 is only included for those taking the extension); accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 4 (extension); meals from breakfast on day 2 to dinner on day 12 (main tour; depending on your departing flight, you may miss the included dinner on day 12); meals from breakfast on day 2 to lunch on day 5 (extension); safe drinking water and/or juice as well as tea and coffee during meals; safe drinking water only between meals (some lodges also provide complimentary tea/coffee between meals); Tropical Birding photo tour leader with multiflash gear from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 12 of the main tour and from day 1 to day 5 of the extension (note that multiflash gear will not be available on the extension due to luggage constraints on the train); all required ground transport as required by the itinerary; 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 TROPICAL BIRDING tour leader; tips for luggage porters in city hotels (if you require their services); international flights; 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.