Colombia: Andean Endemic Paradise - Birding Tour
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. This trip is in two parts that link together seamlessly, or can be taken separately, as superb, shorter trips.
*This tour is run in two parts, please see "Tour Details" below for more information.
Part 1: TBA (2024: $3450; single supplement $320)
Part 2: TBA March (2024: $5750; single supplement $320)
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 19 Days (Part 1: 8 Days, Part 2: 13 Days)
Starting City (Part 1): Bogotá
Ending City (Part 1): Medellín
Starting City (Part 2): Medellín
Ending City (Part 2): Bogotá
Physical Difficulty: Moderate
Group size: 8 + 1 leader
Part 1: The Eastern Andes and Magdalena Valley
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
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.
Day 3: Bosque Guajira 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 Brushfinch, 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-tailed and Green-tailed Trainbearers, Glowing Puffleg, Sword-billed Hummingbird, and Coppery-bellied Puffleg.
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, Southern 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 will 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.
Day 5: Combeima Canyon to Rio Claro
The scenic Combeima Canyon is a great spot for several more endemics: Yellow-headed Brushfinch, 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 and 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 also 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.
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. Time permitting, we will have a first visit to the nearby La Romera Reserve (see Day 1 of part 2).
Day 8: Departure
For those not joining Part 2, the tour ends this morning with transfers to Medellín’s international airport. If your flight is not super early, you can join us for the morning birding at La Romera.
Part 2: The Central and Western Andes
Day 1: Arrival day for those not joining Part 1
A transfer will be provided from Medellín's international airport to our hotel on the slopes above the city, where you will meet up with the rest of the group in the evening.
Day 2: 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 will spend two nights. Time permitting, we will visit a superb Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek, where several males can usually be seen at close range despite being only a few hundred meters from the center of town.
Day 3: Jardín Area
We'll depart early in 4×4 vehicles to 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.
Day 4: Cauca Valley to Manizales
Leaving Jardín, we’ll stop for an hour or two near the Cauca River to look for the endemic Grayish Piculet, Antioquia Wren, and for another shot at Apical Flycatcher, before driving several hours south to the city of Manizales, where we will spend two nights.
Day 5: Rio Blanco Reserve
This municipal reserve protects the water supply for the nearby city of Manizales. Rangers maintain several antpitta feeding stations near the lodge, and we will stop at all of them during this morning. The antpittas are wild birds and therefore 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, Black-capped Hemispingus, Capped Conebill, Sharpe’s Wren, Golden-headed Quetzal, Flammulated Treehunter, and numerous tanagers. Hummer feeders are also quite good, with Bronzy Inca, Long-tailed Sylph, and Tourmaline Sunangel among the species that visit them.
Day 6: Hacienda El Bosque to Termales Ruiz*
We'll drive up into the mountains to an excellent new reserve on a dairy farm with another set of terrific feeding stations. With luck, we will see both Equatorial Antpitta and the spectacular Crescent-faced Antpitta coming into worms. Other superb Andean species can be found in the forest, including Barred Fruiteater and Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan. We’ll then drive higher up into the Andes and 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! The hummingbird feeders are superb, offering some of the best high Andean hummers around. Golden-breasted and Black-thighed Pufflegs, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Shining Sunbeam, Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, Great Sapphirewing, Mountain Velvetbreast, and Viridian Metaltail are all regular there. 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. (*Note: due to recent volcanic activity, this area may be closed. If this happens during the tour, we will visit a different site today and stay in a diffent hotel or lodge)
Day 7: Nevados del Ruiz to Santa Rosa
Early morning around the lodge can be productive for neat birds like Lacrimose and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers, Pale-naped and Gray-browed Brushfinches, Glossy Flowerpiercer, Paramo Tapaculo, and more. We’ll then head up to the entrance to Los Nevados National Park at 13,800ft (4200m). Buffy Helmetcrest, an impressive endemic hummingbird, can often be seen here feeding on Espeletia flowers. Other possible species here are Tawny Antpitta, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Grass 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 will spend one night, making a few birding stops en route.
Day 8: 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 will drive to Otún Quimbaya, a reserve 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. Note: As of Oct 2021, the lodge is still closed due to Covid - if it remains closed, we will spend the night in a hotel in the nearby town of La Florida instead.
Day 9: 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 will spend three nights. This simple lodge is located in the incredibly rich Chocó region, where numerous stunning endemics occur. The lodge has been upgraded in recent years, and now all rooms have private bathrooms.
Days 10-11: 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 elevations 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 Treerunner, Sooty-headed Wren, Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager, Indigo Flowerpiercer, Glistening-green Tanager, Parker’s Antbird, 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.
Day 12: 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 will spend the final night.
Day 13: Departure
The tour concludes this morning with transfers to the international airport.
PACE: Moderate to intense. We try to see as many birds as possible, with special focus on Colombian 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 winding, mountain roads.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate. Most of the birding is done from flat or only slightly inclined roads and wide tracks. You can expect to walk about 3 to 4 miles (4.8 to 6.4 km) per day on average. One day of Part 1 and two days of Part 2 will be spent at elevations above 11,500ft (3500m), and one night on Part 2 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) at the highest elevations (2 days of both parts), and hot (up to about 93°F/34°C) on a couple of days in the Magdalena Valley on Part 1. Some rain can be expected.
ACCOMMODATION: Generally good to excellent, with typical amenities. Wi-fi is available everywhere, but can be slow, and away from the cities the signal may only be available in a common area and not reach each individual guest room.
PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, but it is not bad for casual photography in some places, especially where there are feeders.
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 and lodge staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 7 (Part 1); accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 11 (Part 2); meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 8 (Part 1); meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 12 (Part 2); 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; safe drinking water between meals; one way flight from Pereira to Bogota (Part 2 only); Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 7 (Part 1); Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio playback gear from the morning of day 1 to the evening of day 11 (Part 2); 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 in appropriate vehicle(s) for the group to all sites in 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 tour leader; tips for luggage porters in city hotels if you require their services; flights (except for the included flight from Pereira to Bogotá in Part 2); 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.
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