Southern Peru: Birding with a Camera (BwC)

This is a Birding with a Camera Tour (BwC). We try to balance seeing as many birds as possible while also trying to take great photos of them. We still target endemics and other specialties. We will also try to see and photograph other animals if any are around. Click here to see a comparison between our different types of tours. If you are looking for a traditional Birding Tour, you should check out our Peru: Manu and Machu Picchu tour.

Southern Peru is famous not only for its amazing wildlife, but also for its rich cultural heritage. On this brand new Birding with a Camera Tour, we will visit some of the best lodges in this part of the Andes, traversing the unforgettable Manu road in the process. High Andean lakes, treeline elfin forest, emerald green cloudforest, and lush foothill rainforest will combine to give a fantastic array of birds including colorful toucans, trogons, and tanagers, spritely hummingbirds, and skulking but surprisingly beautiful antbirds. Some are tough to photograph, but we’ll try our luck with the cooperative ones, and the ones that don’t, we’ll still enjoy seeing. We will also have a day in Machu Picchu, where we visit the ruins with a local expert and also spend the night in a terrific lodge with feeders. An optional extension to an Amazon lodge is available for a chance to see and photograph a whole new suite of birds.



Day 1: Arrival. Your flights arrive this evening in Lima, and we’ll provide an airport transfer to a nice hotel in the tourist district, where we spend the first two nights.

Day 2: Coastal and wetland birding south of Lima. The cool Humboldt current makes the coast of Peru surprisingly rich for coastal birds compared to many other tropical areas. A boat ride will get us close to many of them and great shots are often possible. The gorgeous Inca Tern occurs in astounding numbers along with others like Peruvian Booby, Belcher’s Gull, Red-legged and Guanay Cormorants, Blackish Oystercatcher, Peruvian Pelican, among others. We’ll probably see some Humboldt Penguins, but they are hard to photograph in the swell. Later in the day, we’ll spend time looking for Peruvian Thickknee, then bird some wetlands for grebes, ducks, coots, herons, and our first chance at the stunning Many-colored Rush-Tyrant.

Inca Terns are common in the coastal waters around Lima
Inca Terns are common in the coastal waters around Lima (Nick Athanas)

Day 3: Lima to Ollantaytambo. We’ll head back to the airport for an early flight to the city of Cusco, which has been continuously inhabited for at least 3000 years. We won’t visit the city quite yet, and instead head out to the nearby Huacarpay Lakes for some easy birding and hopefully a few shots. Puna Teal is a fabulous duck we should find along with other waterbirds like Andean Gull, Andean Lapwing, White-tufted Grebe, and Plumbeous Rail. The surround slopes have scrubby habitat with different birds such as Rusty-fronted Canastero, Peruvian Sierra-Finch, Golden-billed Saltator, Black-throated Flowerpiercer, and with some luck Bearded Mountaineer (an impressive hummer). In the afternoon, we will drive through the Sacred Valley to the touristy town of Ollantaytambo for a two night stay.

The handsome Golden-billed Saltator is found near Huacarpay Lake
The handsome Golden-billed Saltator is found near Huacarpay Lake (Nick Athanas)

Day 4: Abra Malaga. Today we will ascend one of the most spectacular roads on the planet, as we take countless switchbacks high up into the Andes where snow-capped peaks dominate the landscape. We’ll start our birding on the far side of the pass in stunted forest and bamboo, where we may see birds like Inca Wren, Marcapata Spinetail, Puna Thistletail, Unstreaked Tit-Tyrant, White-browed Conebill, Plushcap, just to mention a few. If a mixed flock comes through on the lower side of the road, some nice shots are even possible of these birds along with other more common species. Stops lower down could produce the endemic Cusco Brush-Finch, but if the weather is accommodating, we will want to also spend some time at the highest elevations above the pass. Here, a small reserve protects some Polylepis woodlands, where the rare and local Tawny Tit-Spinetail, Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant, and White-browed Tit-Spinetail are all possible, along with more widespread species like Blue-mantled Thornbill and Puna Tapaculo. We’ll leave time in the afternoon to look for lower elevation targets like White-tufted Sunbeam.

On clear days, impressive snow-capped mountains dominate the view at Abra Malaga
On clear days, impressive snow-capped mountains dominate the view at Abra Malaga (Nick Athanas)

Inca Wrens sing loudly from bamboo thickets, and can be coaxed into view with a little effort.
Inca Wrens sing loudly from bamboo thickets, and can be coaxed into view with a little effort. (Nick Athanas)

Day 5: Machu Picchu. The train station is almost next to the hotel, making for a convenient start to our trip to Machu Picchu. Upon arrival, an agent from the hotel will take our bags and our local cultural guide will take us to the bus to the ruins. We’ll have a few hour tour of the best historical parts of the complex (you are free to explore on your own if you prefer) with the guide, then after lunch, there will be options to either spend more time at the ruins on your own (buses run constantly), or go with the guide to our hotel in Aguas Calientes, which is the besting birding hotel around, and spend some time birding and photographing at the feeders. We have one night here.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu (Nick Athanas)

Mountain Caracaras often watch curiously as we tour Machu Picchu
Mountain Caracaras often watch curiously as we tour Machu Picchu (Jose Illanes)

Day 6: Aguas Calientes to Cusco. Depending on train schedules, we should have at least several hours to bird this morning. Time near the feeders should get us nice views, and hopefully some decent photos of the endemic Green-and-white Hummingbird, the beautiful “Gould’s” Collared Inca, Golden-naped, Silvery, and Flame-faced Tanagers, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Dusky-green Oropendola, and others. Some trail birding should get us a different selection of species that could include Rusty-and-yellow Tanager, Sclater’s Tyrannulet, and perhaps our first Andean Cock-of-the-rock. In the afternoon, we travel by train and road to Cusco, where we spend the night. Depending on train schedules, there could be some time to explore this unique city on your own this afternoon.

"Gould's" Collared Inca is a distincive local race that is sometimes split. (Nick Athanas)

Day 7: Cusco to the Manu Road. Leaving early, we’ll drive to the start of the incomparable Manu Road, which traverses nearly pristine forest from treeline all the way down to lowland rainforest. Our route traverses villages, scrub, and agricultural areas for a while before reaching the forest, and these areas are worth a few stops for cool endemics like Bearded Mountaineer, Creamy-crested Spinetail, and Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch as well as more widespread birds such as Rufous-webbed Bush-Tyrant and Andean Flickr. We’ll spend the rest of the day birding our way down the Manu road towards Cock-of-the-rock Lodge, stopping for any mixed species flocks that we encounter (we’ll spend two nights along the upper part of the road later in the trip, since we have to return by the same road). We have two nights at Cock-of-the-rock Lodge, where the feeders attract a nice selection of species including Booted Racket-tail, Violet-fronted Brilliant, Wire-crested Thorntail, Paradise Tanager, and Russet-backed Oropendola.

We'll stop for birds like Crested Quetzal along the Manu Road
We'll stop for birds like Crested Quetzal along the Manu Road (Jose Illanes)

Day 8: Middle Manu Road. We’ll start the day at blind to see and try to photograph (light is very poor) male Andean Cock-of-the-rocks giving their bizarre and fascinating nuptial displays, and then have the rest of the day to bird this amazingly rich part of the Manu road. Flocks can be mindblowing, filled with a dazzling array of tanagers including Paradise, Blue-necked, Orange-eared, Golden, Slaty, Yellow-throated, and Spotted Tanagers, along with other amazing birds like Versicolored Barbet and Golden-collared Honeycreeper. Yungas Manakans can usually be tracked down near the lodge along with a host of other species like Blue-banded Toucanet, Crested Quetzal, woodcreepers, antbirds, and flycatchers.

A visit to an Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek is sure to be a highlight
A visit to an Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek is sure to be a highlight (Jose Illanes)

Versicolored Barbet is fairly common near Cock-of-the-rock Lodge
Versicolored Barbet is fairly common near Cock-of-the-rock Lodge (Nick Athanas)

Day 9: Lower Manu road to Villa Carmen. Today we’ll traverse the lower stretches of the Manu road, where the forest grows taller and new birds join the mix. Patches of bamboo hold Stripe-chested Antwren, Two-banded Warbler, Cabanis’s Spinetail, Yellow-breasted Warbling-Antbird, and Ornate Antwren, and birds more typical of the lowlands will start to make an appearance, like Bluish-fronted Jacamar and with luck, Amazonian Umbrellabird. We’ll target specialties like Peruvian Piedtail and Cinnamon-faced Tyrannulet before reaching our next lodge, Villa Carmen, in the afternoon. This lodge has brand new cabins with very “birdy” gardens located near the lowest reaches of the Manu road, and it will be our base for the next two nights.

This area is fantastic for tanagers, such as this Silver-beaked Tanager
This area is fantastic for tanagers, such as this Silver-beaked Tanager (Nick Athanas)

Day 10: Villa Carmen. One of the standout features of Villa Carmen is its easy access to bamboo-laden rainforest, which plays hosts to numerous special birds. We’ll target as many as we can, and with some clever use of playback should get some shots of a few of them as well. The stunning White-cheeked Tody-Flycatcher will be high on our want list, along with, Rufous-headed Woodpecker, Rufous-breasted Piculet, Striated Antbird, Bamboo Antshrike, Manu Antbird, Peruvian Recurvebill, and Dusky-tailed Flatbill. We will also spend time on non-bamboo birds such as Round-tailed and Fiery-capped Manakins, Plain-crowned Spinetail, White-lined Antbird, Black-backed Tody-Flycatcher, and Fine-barred Piculet. We will also be on the lookout for the rare Scarlet-hooded Barbet.

Chestnut-capped Puffbird is one of several puffbirds possible in the lower elevations
Chestnut-capped Puffbird is one of several puffbirds possible in the lower elevations (Nick Athanas)

Day 11: Villa Carmen to Wayquecha. This day is somewhat flexible, as we start at Villa Carmen and then travel back up to the upper reaches of the Manu Road, where we spend two nights in the Wayquecha Cloudforest Birding Lodge. We’ll plan our day based on what we still need to see, and could spend more time at Villa Carmen or have extra time along the lower and middle parts of the Manu road. Wayquecha has newly renovated cabins and is the only lodge along this magnificent stretch of road.

Day 12: Wayquecha and the Upper Manu Road. Today we will focus on the temperate forest specialties. Roadside mixed species flocks can be marvelous for flashy birds like Chestnut-bellied and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers, Grass-green and Golden-collared Tanagers, among warbler, flycatchers, and others. Black-and-chested Eagle, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Red-crested Cotinga, Band-tailed Fruiteater, Amethyst-throated Sunangel, and Shining Sunbeam, are among the other mouth-watering possibilities.

Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucans inhabit the temperate forest along the upper Manu Road
Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucans inhabit the temperate forest along the upper Manu Road (Jose Illanes)

Day 13: Departure or begin extension. We have another few hours this morning to bird near Wayquecha, perhaps spending some time on harder species like Red-and-white or Rufous Antpitta, before packing up and driving several hours back to Cusco. If you are not joining the extension, you will catch an afternoon flight in Lima that arrives in time to make international flight connections. If you are taking the Los Amigos extension, you will spend the night in Cusco and have the afternoon to explore the city.

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LOS AMIGOS EXTENSION

Situated where the Los Amigos and Madre de Dios Rivers converge, and adjacent to the Los Amigos Conservation Concession, with world-famous Manu National Park to the west, Los Amigos is part of a watershed that includes millions of acres of protected wilderness in southeastern Peru. The landscape is a mosaic of terrestrial and aquatic habitats, including palm swamps, bamboo thickets, oxbow lakes, and various types of flooded and non-flooded forests. Wildlife is abundant, including 12 globally threatened species and abundant Amazonian fauna including giant otters, harpy eagles, spider monkeys and jaguars, with over 550 birds on the bird list. The area also contains 11 species of primates. We’ll spend four nights in this remote location in a new lodge with simple but comfortable cabins, with mosquito nets, private bathroom, luggage and clothes rack, a deck with hammock or lounge chairs, and 24-hour solar powered electricity. Limited internet is available.

Los Amigos Birding Lodge
Los Amigos Birding Lodge (Daniel Huaman)

Day 1: Cusco. After dropping off anyone who is not joining the extension at the airport, we’ll check in to a Cusco hotel and have the afternoon free to relax or walk around the city.

Day 2: Cusco to Los Amigos. After a short flight to the city of Puerto Maldonado in the Amazonian lowlands, we’ll travel about five hours by road and boat to the remote Los Amigos Birding Lodge, where we spend the next four nights.

Days 3-5: Los Amigos. Using the lodge as our base, we’ll bird the various habitats in the area. The lodge clearing itself sometimes has the very local White-throated Jacamar along with many more common species such as Yellow-billed Nunbird and Blue-throated Piping-Guan, but we’ll also hit the trails to look for Pale-winged Trumpeter, Pavonine Quetzal, Rufous-fronted Antthrush, Black-faced Cotinga, Chestnut-capped Puffbird, Starred Wood-Quail, Casqued Caciques, a chance for tinamous, and a huge variety of antbirds, woodcreepers, flycatchers, and more. An oxbow lake will let us observe and photograph entertaining Hoatzins and Black-capped Donacobius along with other wetlands species. Nightbirds are well represented, and we don’t have to go far to look for Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl, Crested Owl, Black-banded Owl, Ocellated Poorwill, Sand-colored Nighthawk, Great Potoo, and others. This is a great area for monkeys with even Emperor Tamarin and Monk Saki Monkey real possibilities.

With luck, we can find a flock of Pale-winged Trumpeters at Los Amigos on the extension
With luck, we can find a flock of Pale-winged Trumpeters at Los Amigos on the extension (Nick Athanas)

Brown Capuchin is one of 11 primate species possible at Los Amigos on the extension
Brown Capuchin is one of 11 primate species possible at Los Amigos on the extension (Jose Illanes)

Day 6: Departure. We’ll depart early today, traveling back to Puerto Maldonado, and then flying to Lima in time to connect with evening international flights.

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate. It’s important to be out early since birding is usually best in the morning. Most breakfasts will be at about 5:30am, with at least three earlier breakfasts when visiting more distant birding spots. On days that we don’t travel between lodges, there will be some downtime after lunch to relax. On a few days, we will likely stay out after dark to spotlight for birds and mammals; some participants choose to skip the occasional afternoon outing and just relax around the lodge. The driving is not too bad on this trip, with the longest being about five hours on day 7, broken up with birding stops. On the extension, getting to and from Los Amigos involves a five hour trip each way, part in vehicle, and the rest in a reasonably comfortable, covered motorized canoe.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY:Generally moderate. Most of the birding is done from flat roads and trails, and you can expect to walk 2-3 miles (3.2-4.8 km) per day on average. There is one moderately steep hike on day 4 that can be difficult for some people due to the high altitude; some participants choose to skip this and remain with the vehicle. On at least two other days of the trip, there may be some trail birding on some forest trails with some short, steep sections (a walking stick can help). More time will be spent on trails on the extension, but the trails are mostly flat there. Several days of the tour will reach elevations of 11,000 ft. (3350 m.) or more.

CLIMATE: This tour is timed for the dry season, and a wide range of temperatures can be expected. Temperatures in the high elevations can get down to freezing early in the morning, but then warm up to be quite pleasant (about 68°F/20°C) and usually very sunny. At Villa Carmen, and at Los Amigos on the extension, temperatures usually vary from about 68°-90°F (20°-32°C), but on rare occasions cold fronts can cause the temperatures to plunge into the 40°sF (single digits °C), which can be shocking to experience in Amazonian rainforest! There might be a bit of rain, but it is unusual to get more than a brief shower this time of year.

ACCOMMODATION: In the Manu area we stay in jungle lodges in the forest; elsewhere we stay in excellent hotels in towns or cities with the typical amenities. The jungle lodges are good and clean, though not luxurious. All lodges have private bathrooms, and all have hot water except for Los Amigos on the extension. Cock-of-the-rock Lodge does not have electricity in the rooms (candles or lamps are provided), but you can charge your gear in the lounge when the generator is running; other hotels and lodges have 24h electricity. Wi-fi is generally not available in the Manu lodges, though it is available in the hotels in cities and towns.

EXPECTATIONS: Expect to see a large number of birds and some nice mammals too. Forest photography is not always easy, but with time and the field and effort we will get nice shots of many species. A few lodges have hummer feeders and fruit feeders for tanagers and other species, and we hope that by the time this tour runs, some of the other lodges will also have feeders that will increase the number of great shots we can get.

GEAR: Binoculars are essential. The leader will have a scope, you can bring your own if you want, especially if you enjoy digiscoping. A DSLR with a 300 or 400 mm lens and teleconverts, or a good 100-400 mm zoom lens work well for this trip. A full frame DSLR helps in low-light situations, but is by no means required. Longer lenses are fine if you have one, though they can be tiring to carry on some of the outings. Even a compact all-in-one zoom can get decent shots in many instances as long as there is reasonable light.

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, nearly all European countries, 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, boatmen, and lodge/restaurant staff; roundtrip airfare between Lima and Cusco; roundtrip airfare between Puerto Maldonado and Cusco (EXTENSION ONLY); accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 12, and through to the night of day 5 of the extension if taking the extension; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to lunch on day 13, and until lunch on day 6 of the extension if you are taking the 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 tour leader with scope and audio gear from the evening of day 1 to the afternoon of day 13, and also through until the afternoon of day 6 of the extension if also taking the extension; local cultural guide at Machu Picchu the morning of day 5; one arrival airport transfer per person (transfers may be shared with other tour participants if they are on the same flight); ground transport for the group in a suitable vehicle with driver from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 13; roundtrip transport between Puerto Maldonado and Los Amigos Lodge (EXTENSION ONLY); roundtrip train ticket between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes; one roundtrip bus ticket between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu; entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary (only one full day ticket to Machu Picchu is included, for day 7, if you wish to return again on day 8, you will have to pay for the bus fare and the entrance fee to the ruins); 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; excess luggage charges; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary (such as an additional visit to Machu Picchu); extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; arrival airport transfer (since the hotel on day 1 is in the airport); medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.