Colombia: Amazon, Foothills & Llanos - Birding Tour
Colombia sits squarely within the tropics and is rightly world famous for its epic diversity of birds and other wildlife. If there is one tour in Colombia where this is starkly obvious to attendees, this is it. This tour sees interesting species, but also impressive volumes of birds too. Bird-packed wetlands typify the experience in the Colombian Llanos, one of the largest wetlands in the world, combined with the extraordinary diversity of the Amazon rainforest, it will be patently obvious you are birding within an area of extreme species richness. Along with the birds, this tour also offers a great natural history experience, with Giant Anteater, Capybaras, Pink Dolphins, and even wild cats all possible by covering these two classic natural areas. While the experience of birding vast ranchlands and gallery forests in the Llanos will bring sights of masses of Orinoco Geese, spoonbills, ibises (including the shockingly bright Scarlet), sunbitterns, storks (including the mighty Jabiru), and herons vying for a place to feed on the massive wet areas, there are also specialty birds like White-bearded Flycatcher and Pale-headed Jacamar that are easily found in the Llanos too.
For the Amazon section, there are two markedly different areas covered, which have both become legendary in Colombian birding, having been well kept secrets for some time! On the main tour we cover the rich Inírida area, while an extension is offered to Mitu for those who have more time and cannot leave without coming face-to-face with Guianan Cock-of-the-rock. Inírida is the only reliable place in Colombia to see Capuchinbird, making this a rich tour for cotingas among others! These Amazon areas offer an eclectic mix of Amazonian birds and also Guaianan Shield species too, so that there is plenty on offer for Amazon first timers, and also experienced hands looking for different species from their previous Amazonian trips elsewhere. Overall, this is a truly epic natural history experience with plenty for the naturalist and hard-core birder alike. Some of the numbers offered on this tour are mind boggling – 7 species of ibis, more than 10 species of Jacamar, 5 species of macaw, all 5 American kingfishers, 6 species of trogon, 7 species of toucan, and much, much more besides are on a long and impressive “shopping list”!
Main Tour: 3 - 17 February (TBA; 2023 price: $7990; single supplement $480)
Extension: 17 - 23 February (TBA; 2023 price: $3690; single supplement $150)
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 15 Days (21 Days w/ Ext.)
Starting City: Bogotá
Ending City: Bogotá
Physical Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Group size: 8 + 1 leader
Note: The order in which these sites are visited is often changed for logistical reasons.
Day 1: Arrival in Bogota
The tour starts with a dinner meeting in Colombia’s 2-mile-high capital city. A single night will be spent in an airport hotel. There is no birding planned for this day.
Day 2. Bogota to Inírida - Caño Culebra Trail (Amazon)
Following a short, 90-minute flight north to Inírida, we will find ourselves in the Amazon, close to the border of Venezuela. We will have an extended stay in Inírida, staying at the same comfortable hotel for five nights, where we can enjoy the Amazon with no need to compromise on home comforts. After arriving, we will have time to explore our first local birding hotspot, the Caño Culebra Trail, which will offer delectable birds like Spotted Puffbird, Brown, Bronzy and Paradise Jacamars, Golden-spangled Piculet, Scarlet Macaw, Cherrie’s Antwren, Black Manakin, and Pompadour Cotinga right off the bat!
Day 3: Inírida - Caño Carbon & Sabanitas Trail (Amazon)
Staying in a central location here is superb for dipping into numerous surrounding birding sites, with a varied offering of habitats to bird within. While the Amazon may seem like nothing more than a uniformity of lowland rainforest, it is far from that, and we will see this first hand through our stay in this area. Our visit to the Sabanitas Community is likely to be one of the highlights of the overall tour, as we go after the extraordinary Capuchinbird at one of its only reliable site in the country. This amazing cotinga is not alone in this area, which holds 7 different species from the family, including Pompadour and Spangled Cotingas and Amazonian Umbrellabird. This place is also rich in parrots, with at least 15 species occurring in this area alone, including Black-headed Parrot and Brown-throated Parakeet. We will be on the lookout for specialties like Imeri Warbling-Antbird, Pale-bellied Mourner, and Yellow-crowned Manakin. The day will also give us a chance to see the scarce Red-shouldered Tanager, and more widespread Amazonian birds like Epaulet Oriole, Cream-colored Woodpecker, and Turquoise Tanager.
Day 4. Inírida - Matraca Trail & Caño Cunubén (Amazon)
Today we will continue to explore the Inírida area, which holds both widespread Amazonian species along with specialties of the Guianan Shield. Of particular interest in this area is the Green-tailed Jacamar, Orinoco Piculet, and Orinoco Softail, all specialties. This is also one of few places in Colombia for Ringed Woodpecker. Other highlights could include Black-crested Antshrike, Black-chinned Antbird, Curve-billed Scythebill, Varzea Schiffornis, and Black Bushbird. Trogons are conspicuous in this area too, with five species on offer. Wild Muscovy Ducks, Green Ibis, and Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns might be sighted on and around the Rio Inírida, or Black-collared Hawks surveying from the river edge, and all five neotropical kingfishers are in play too, including the tiny American Pygmy-Kingfisher and Green-and-rufous Kingfisher. This area is also a famed location for seeing Pink River Dolphins, and we have a good chance to see them there.
Day 5. Inírida - Paujil Trail and Caño La Rompida (Amazon)
In the morning we will cross the river and bird another trail. The Paujil trail most of the same species at the Matraca Trail, giving us another chance to see them along with other birds like Rose-breasted Chat, Blackish-gray Antshrike, Collared and Chestnut-capped Puffbirds, Cream-colored Woodpecker, Amazonian Streaked-Antwren, Velvet-fronted Grackle, and many more. In the afternoon, we will take the boat north to the Guaviare River and bird riverine forest that can be superb even in the afternoon. "Inirida" Antshrike is our prime target - this bird is either an undescribed subspecies of Chestnut-backed Antshrike or a totally new species. Other birds here include White-eared Jacamar, Plain-crowned Spinetail, Black-capped Donacobius, and Amazonian Umbrellabird.
Day 6. Inírida - Kenke Reserve and Cerros de Mavecure (Amazon)
We'll spend a few hours in a small community reserve south of town to target the rare Yapacana Antbird along with various other species like Bronzy Jacamar, Spotted Puffbird, Spot-winged Antbird, Coraya Wren, and others. There are recent records of Gray-bellied Antbird here too. Afterwards, we'll take a long boat trip to visit one of the region's most famous landmarks, the Mavecure Hills, which are comprised of three sandstone mountains that rise up 300 meters above Inírida river. It is one of the area’s most popular destinations thanks to the impressive landscape. Orange-breasted Falcons sometimes nest on the cliffs, and we will also see a variety of river species including Black-collared Swallow.
Day 7. Rio Orinoco (Amazon)
Today we will head to the Orinoco River and skirt the Venezuelan border to a river island that holds specialty birds like Riverside Tyrant, River Tyrannulet, Orange-headed Tanager, and Rusty-backed Spinetail. Forest along banks of the river can be teeming with birds with Orinoco Piculet, Long-billed Woodcreeper, Yellow-bellied Dacnis, Blue-chinned Sapphire, and Butterfly Coquette all possible. We'll have lunch in a small reserve and take a break in the middle of the day. In the afternoon we may bird along a trail in the reserve or else head back to Inírida.
Day 8. Inírida - Caño Vitina (Amazon) to Villavicencio (Andean Foothills)
Our final site in the Inírida area will be Caño Vitina, a combination of scrub, savanna and white sand forest on the eastern side of the river, with a varied mix of birds too. Green-tailed Goldenthroat, Orinoco and Golden-spangled Piculets, Brown-banded Puffbird, Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet, Orange-cheeked Parrot, Golden-headed Manakin, Plain-crested Elaenia, Purple-breasted Cotinga, Opal-rumped, Black-faced and Red-shouldered Tanagers, Plumbeous Euphonia, and White-naped Seedeater are just some of the birds possible during our final time around Inírida. Later on, we will leave the Amazon behind and fly into the Andean foothills of the East slope of the Andes. We will spend two nights in the a pleasant hacienda in the Andean foothills.
Day 9. Bavaria Forest & Hacienda Camana (Andean Foothills)
The day will be spent birding forest in the foothills on the east slope of the Andes. This will be steep diversion from our birding in the Amazon and Llanos, and provide us with ample opportunity to boost our trip list with some very different foothill birds. Part of the day will involve a visit to Bavaria Reserve, owned by a beer brewing company, where we will find an exciting mix of Amazonian and foothill species that could include species like Gray-chinned Hermit, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Blue-fronted Lancebill, White-chinned Jacamar, White-chested Puffbird, Yellow-billed Nunbird, Scaled Piculet, Red-stained Woodpecker, Striolated and White-bearded Manakins, Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, Purple-throated Euphonia and Magpie, Speckled, Yellow-bellied, Masked, and Paradise Tanagers. A second night will be spent in Hacienda Camana.
Day 10. Universidad de Los Llanos to Yopal
We will spend much of the day birding the transition zone between the Andean foothills and the Llanos, at the Universidad de Los Llanos, an interesting mix of six habitat types, including artificial ponds, cropland, riparian forest and secondary growth, that boasts a bird list in excess of 200 species. White-faced Whistling-Duck, Greater Ani, Hoatzin, Wattled Jacana, Gray-cowled Wood-Rail, Cocoi and Capped Herons, Scarlet Ibis and Roseate Spoonbill can be found arounds the wetlands. Other species of interest could be Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Spectacled Parrotlet, Brown-throated Parakeet, Bicolored Wren, Spectacled Thrush, Red-breasted Meadowlark, Venezuela Troupial, Oriole Blackbird, and Gray Seedeater. The night will be spent on the plains, in Yopal, the capital of the department of Casanare.
Day 11. Yopal to Hato La Aurora Nature Reserve (Llanos)
On this day we will transfer into the true plains of the Llanos, and base ourselves out of the cattle ranch of Hato La Aurora, where we will spend the best part of three days exploring the wetlands, savanna and gallery forests of this amazing region of South America that spans into Venezuela too. Three nights will be spent on this wonderful ranch and nature reserve.
Days 12-13. Hato La Aurora Reserve (Llanos)
Two full days will be spent covering this extensive area, which is stacked with plentiful birds and comes with the classic cowboy culture of the llanos ranches. This will provide the easiest birding on this tour and also plentiful photo opportunities. Two major targets will be Pale-headed Jacamar and White-bearded Flycatcher, two key Llanos specialties for which this area is good for, and they are usually easy to see right around the lodge. On the long list of other possibilities at this spectacular site are Orinoco Goose, Brazilian Teal, Crested Bobwhite, Crestless Curassow, Horned Screamer, Sharp-tailed Ibis, Whistling Heron, Nacunda Nighthawk, White-tailed Nightjar, Double-striped Thick-knee, Wire-tailed Manakin, Jabiru, King Vulture, Laughing Falcon, Savanna Hawk, Masked Cardinal, Yellow Oriole, Carib Crackle, and Oriole Blackbird. We may also find mammals, like Capybara, Giant Anteater, monkeys, and possibly even a Jaguar (they are seen here every month or so).
Day 14. La Aurora to Yopal (Llanos); fly to Bogota
After our final Llanos experience, we will return to the city of Yopal, where will take a flight back to Bogota for the final night before departures out the next day. The night will be spent in a nice hotel not far from the airport.
Day 15. Departures from Bogota
The tour ends this morning with transfers to the airport.
Day 1 (same as day 15 of the main tour): Arrival in Bogota
If anyone chooses to take the extension, but not the main tour, you should plan to arrive today at the latest.
Day 2. Bogota to Mitú; Bocatoma White Sand Forest (Amazon)
We will take an early morning flight east to Mitu, in the heart of the Amazon and close to a pipeline road that passes through superb White Sand Forest. Even on this first day we will be seeking some of the best birds of both the main tour and extension, including Red-fan Parrot, Azure-naped Jay, and Chestnut-crested and White-plumed Antbird (if we encounter an antswarm). Other possible highlights are Spotted Puffbird, Rusty-breasted Nunlet, Collared Gnatwren, Saffron-crested Tyrant-Manakin, Cinnamon Manakin-Tyrant, Short-billed Honeycreeper, and Yellow-green Grosbeak. The first of five nights will be spent in a comfortable, modern hotel in Mitú, nearby all of the birding sites on the extension.
Day 3. Santa Cruz and MCH Trail, Guianan Cock-of-the-rock lek
The highlight of today, or of the entire tour, will be a dawn time visit to the site where Guianan Cock-of-the-rocks come to display daily. There will be plenty of other species to take in after that, with this area at the heart of crazy levels of diversity. Some of the other possible highlights in this area could include Gray-legged Tinamou, Fiery Topaz, Gould’s Jewelfront, Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, Red-throated Caracara, Pavonine Quetzal, Amazonian Trogon, Amazonian Motmot, Tawny-tufted Toucanet, Blackish-gray and Pearly Antshrikes, Black-headed and Gray-bellied Antbirds, Slender-billed Xenops, Chestnut-belted Gnateater, Striated Antthrush, Black-collared Swallow, Musician Wren, Plum-throated and Pompadour Cotingas, White-browed Purpletuft, Ringed Antpipit, and a dizzy variety of tanagers, including Opal-crowned and Yellow-backed Tanagers, and White-bellied and Yellow-bellied Dacnis. After a full day out in the field, we will return to Mitú for the night.
Days 4-5. Pueblo Nuevo & Bocatoma Terra Firme Forests
At first sight, the Amazon appears like a uniform carpet of lowland rainforest. However, this is not the case, as various forest types are hidden within this, and the Amazon forest in Mitú is especially diverse in this regard. Over the first few days we will have experienced the White Sand Forest, which brings its own specialties. On these days though, we will move into Terra Firme forest and explore the birding communities there instead. On a very long list of possible species are Variegated Tinamou, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Black-billed Cuckoo, Straight-billed Hermit, Yellow-billed, Bronzy, Paradise and Great Jacamars, Red-necked and Yellow-throated Woodpeckers, Black-headed Parrot, Curve-billed Scythebill, Banded and Yellow-browed Antbirds, Yellow-throated Antwren, Brown-winged Schiffornis and Royal Flycatcher.
Day 6. Ceima Cachivera & Cerro Guacamayas
The counter view to the idea of the Amazon as a uniform environment of lowland rainforest will continue today as we visit a scenic part of the Amazon with some low hills, where you can get great views of the surrounding landscapes. Our last full day in Mitú, will also display the ridiculous species richness of this area once more. These sites hold 12 species of woodpecker (including Golden-green, and Lafresnaye’s and Orinoco Piculets), 11 species of puffbird (including Brown-banded), 9 species of manakin (including Striolated), 7 species of toucan, 6 species of trogon, and 6 species of Jacamar, as well as Guianan Cock-of-the-rock, should we need a second stab at that marquee species too. Other species of interest include Scaled Pigeon, Pale-tailed Barbthroat, Screaming Piha, Spangled Cotinga, and a dazzling variety of tanagers, including Magpie, Paradise, Turquoise, Opal-rumped and Opal-crowned, Flame-crested and Fulvous-crested, Black-faced, Green-and-gold, and Swallow Tanagers! A fifth and final hight will be spent in Mitú.
Day 7. Urania Secondary Forest; fly to Bogota
We will have sampled Terra Firme and White Sands Forests, which are primary forests, but the Amazon can also be very diverse around areas of secondary growth, where we will focus for our final time on the Extension. Within this secondary patchy growth, we will search for Green-tailed Goldenthroat, Versicolored Emerald, Kawall’s Parrot, Red-bellied Macaw, Amazonian Streaked Antwren, Amazonian Scrub-Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Red-rumped Cacique, Masked Tanager and Epaulet Oriole. In the afternoon, we will fly back to Bogota to connect with all of the people joining the main tour over dinner, and prepare for more time in a very different part of the Amazon.
PACE: Moderate. Early starts are necessary since birding is almost always best early in the morning. There will be some meals taken in the field for lunch, to ensure we can spend the maximum amount of time at the more remote bird sites. There will also be optional night birding outings in both the Amazon and Llanos, with the chance to see nightbirds or other animals. There are no especially long drives on this tour, as the flights cover the biggest distances needed, with most drives and boat rides to get to places being two hours or less.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy to Moderate. There will be a mixture of trail birding and road birding. Most of the trails and roads are flat or only slightly inclined, with only a few days involving steeper areas. Quite a bit of walking is required, and you can expect to walk at least 3 miles (4.8 km) per day on most days. There are no high elevations on this tour, except the arrival and departure from Bogota, which lies at 8530ft/2600m. Much of the birding in the Llanos is done from "safari" trucks. These are trucks with padded bench seats bolted onto the back. These seats are not particularly comfortable, and combined with the rough 4x4 tracks that are used here, they could be problematic for anyone who suffers from back pain - please contact us if you are unsure about booking.
CLIMATE: Largely hot and humid in the Amazon (i.e. Mitu and Inírida), with temperatures of 73°F to 87°F in general, and it is rarely below 71°F or above 94°F. It will be a little cooler (but not cold) in the Andean foothills for a few days of the main tour. The Amazon has a wet climate year-round, and although timed for the dry season it can rain at any time. Our time in the Llanos should be dry, with the more predictable climate there, with the timing of our tour planned for the distinct dry season there. Some rain can be expected in the Andean foothills and Amazon, and so rain gear is essential. The tour starts and ends in Bogota, which is quite chilly in the morning and at night.
ACCOMMODATION: Except for Bogota, we stay in modest hotels and ecolodges - comfortable but not luxurious by any means. They all have private bathrooms and electricity, but lack hot water. The climate is hot enough that most people find this tolerable. Slow wi-fi is available in the common areas but not in the rooms themselves. In Bogota, we stay in a excellent, modern four-star hotel with all the expected amenities.
PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, but casual photographers will have great opportunities to photograph birds at some feeders on the tour in the Andean foothills, and also in the Llanos, which provides excellent photography on the fly.
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 for a few nationalities, mostly from 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?: Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge staff; domestic flights required for this tour; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 14 if only taking the main tour; (a further 7 nights prior to that if also taking the Mitu Extension); meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 15 if only taking the main tour (additional meals from dinner on day 1 of the extension to lunch on day 7 of the extension if taking that too); safe drinking water throughout; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the evening of day 1 to the night of day 14 of the main tour if only taking that part (additionally from dinner on day 1 through the dinner on day 7 of the Extension if taking that too); local guides in the Amazon and Llanos; one arrival and one departure airport transfer per person (transfers may be shared with other participants of the same tour if they are on the same flight); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary in a suitable vehicle with a local driver; boat transport where needed in the Amazon; entrance fees to birding 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 the any 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.
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