Colombia: Photo Tour
Colombia’s has the largest bird list of any country, nearing a staggering 2000 species. In recent years, eco-tourism has started to flourish – it is primed to become the newest bird photography craze. More and more sites are offering feeding stations conducive to photography, not just for the spectacular hummingbirds, but also for tanagers, antpittas, and more. Our photo tour to this amazingly diverse country offers a good mix of feeders, multi-flash set-ups, and opportunistic shooting, and covers a number of “new” areas not widely covered by other photo tours.
5 - 19 December ($7890; single supplement: $900)
8 - 20 December ($7700; single supplement: $900)
The 2024 trip will have a different itinerary. It will be 2 days shorter and exclude Bogotá and Jardin.
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 15 Days (13 in 2024)
Starting City: Bogotá (2023); Pereira (2024)
Ending City: Cali
Pace: Relaxed to moderate
Physical Difficulty: Moderate
Focus: Bird Photography
Group size: 6 + 1 leader
Day 1: Arrival in Bogotá
After arrival in Bogotá, you will be transferred to our Bogota hotel, where we will spend two nights. The first group tour activity will be dinner on this night, when the guide will outline the plans for the coming days in more detail.
Day 2: Hummingbird Observatory (Observatorio de Colibríes)
We’ll spend the day at a private home about an hour from the city. Some truly spectacular hummers regularly visit the feeders here, among them Longuemare's Sunangel, Blue-throated Starfrontlet, Glowing and Coppery-bellied Puffles, White-bellied Woodstar, Black-tailed and Green-tailed Trainbearers, Tyrian Metaltail, Great Sapphirewing, and Sword-billed Hummingbird. At the end of the day, we will return to the same nearby Bogota hotel used on the night of day one also.
Day 3: Bogotá to Jardín
Today we will take a short flight to the city of Medellín, then drive to the birder-friendly, picturesque town of Jardin, where we will spend the next two nights. Jardín plays host to one of the absolute best Andean Cock-of-the-rock display sites in the world. Every afternoon, numerous males scream and dance as they perform their mating rituals at extremely close range. Unlike many other lek sites, they display is broad daylight meaning that getting great actual shots is a real possibility on this afternoon.
Day 4: Jardín area
Local feeders vary in their levels of activity, but when they are active, they can be tons of fun as they bring in birds like Colombian Chachalaca, Andean Motmot, Yellow-backed Oriole, Red-headed Barbet, and tons of tanagers like Flame-rumped, Scrub, Blue-necked, Black-capped and Bay-headed. Rufous-tailed and Steely-vented Hummingbirds and Green Hermit are all often possible too. We'll also head back to the cock-of-the-rock lek for another shoot there in the afternoon.
Day 5: Jardín to Manizales
After some final time around Jardín, we will drive south to Manizales, for a three-night stay. Manizales is well located, near many good birding and photography sites.
Day 6: Bosque de Niebla, El Color de Mis Reves
Today we will visit a wonderful cloud forest reserve, El Color de Mis Reves, within an hour’s drive, southeast of Manizales. Our main reason for visiting is their feeders, which have a regular star attract in the form of Black-billed Mountain-Toucan. This is the best place on Earth to photograph this spectacular Andean species. It also boasts another toucan species, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, and these will be our primary targets at the site. After a day with these scarce Andean toucans, we will return to Manizales for the night.
Day 7: Rio Blanco Natural Reserve
Rio Blanco is famous among birders for its antpitta feeders, which have been going for many years now. We have good chances at the handsome Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, the duller (but endemic) Brown-banded Antpitta, and the very shy Bicolored Antpitta. Other birds also come into the antpitta feeding sites including Green-and-black Fruiteater and Gray-browed Brushfinch. Hummer feeders by the lodge are good for multi-flash as well as getting clean shots of perched birds, and possibilities include Long-tailed Sylph, Bronzy and Collared Incas, Tourmaline Sunangel, Lesser (Green) Violetear, Sparkling Violetear, Speckled Hummingbird, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Buff-tailed Coronet, White-bellied Woodstar, and White-booted Racket-tail. A third and final night will be spent in Manizales.
Day 8: Hacienda El Bosque to Termales del Ruiz
Hacienda El Bosque has become a world hotspot for it's incredible Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucans, which come in daily to feed on grapes. Nowhere else is it so easy to photograph this stunning bird, and sometimes there are up to seven birds present at any one time! Usually one or two antpittas also visit forest feeders including Equatorial and Crescent-chested Antpittas, and there are other nice targets for our lenses too at these feeders such as Andean Guan, White-throated Quail-Dove, and Gray-browed Brushfinch. The hummingbird feeders should not be missed either, which attract Shining Sunbeam, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Lesser Violetear, Black-thighed Puffleg, and Sword-billed Hummingbird, as well as the deep-blue Masked Flowerpiercer.
In the afternoon, we'll drive to the wonderful Termales del Ruiz, famous for it's natural thermal hot springs that feed right into this scenic resort. They also have hummingbird and fruit feeders on site, and we will get our first taste of these on this afternoon. We will spend two nights in this very comfortable resort, with dramatic, high Andean, scenery as a backdrop.
Day 9: Termales del Ruiz and Los Nevados
Hummingbird photography is the main draw here, and our lodge has a superb garden with numerous feeders, a covered area, and plenty of space for multi-flash setups. At least 12 species are possible to photograph here: Golden-breasted and Black-thighed Pufflegs, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Shining Sunbeam, Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, Great Sapphirewing, Tourmaline Sunangel, Mountain Velvetbreast, Viridian Metaltail, Tyrian Metaltail, and Sparkling Violetear. The fruit feeders offer chances to photograph great birds like Lacrimose and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers, and Pale-naped Brush-Finch.
We’ll also spend a few hours around the entrance to Los Nevados National Park at 13,800 ft. (4200 m.). Buffy Helmetcrest, an impressive endemic hummingbird, often can be photographed on perches or while 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. The scenery is also impressive with vast grasslands, otherworldly plants, and ghostly mist that can come and go at any moment. A second night will be spent at Termales del Ruiz.
Day 10: Termales del Ruiz to Buga via Parque Nacional de la Uva
After some final time in Termales del Ruiz, we will drive southwest towards Buga, where we will overnight. However, we will have one very special stop along the way at Parque Nacional de la Uva (Grape National Park). Famous for its wine, we will be in the park for a very special bird instead, the Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, which we will photograph at the flowering blooms in the gardens there. Other possibilities there include Black-throated Mango and Steely-vented Hummingbird, as well as Saffron Finch and Southern Lapwing.
Day 11: Laguna de Sonso to Araucana Lodge
Just outside Buga is one of Colombia's premier wetland reserves, Laguna de Sonso. There are no feeders here, but there are still plenty of good photo opportunities for waterbirds like Horned Screamers, whistling-ducks, Cocoi Herons, Cinnamon Teals, Purple Gallinules, Wattled Jacanas, Bare-faced Ibises, and Amazon and Ringed Kingfishers. Other wetland and open country species like the incredibly cute Spectacled Parrotlet, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Snail Kite, Greater Ani, Vermilion Flycatcher, Yellow-hooded Blackbird and Red-breasted Meadowlark occur too and can often be photogenic. Daytime Common Potoos are also somewhat regular. This will be our prim art stop of the day, after which we will drive south to Araucana Lodge just north of the city of Cali. We will spend the next four nights at the excellent Araucana Lodge.
Days 12-14: Western Andes based out of Araucana Lodge
Araucana is a new and luxurious lodge that makes the perfect base from which to number of superb private reserves. We'll have three full days here, and our exact plan will be based on the latest information about where the best activity is happening. One of the key sites is "Kilometer 18", where the highlight is often the incredible Multicolored Tanager - arguably the most beautiful of a suite of tanagers possible here that also includes Saffron-crowned, Golden, Blue-winged Mountain, Golden-naped, Black-headed, and Flame-rumped. The endemic Chestnut Wood-Quail comes is another great possibility as it often comes into eat corn at a couple of the private reserves at km 18. Another must-visit spot is Doña Dora's rest stop in the Anchicaya Valley. The gaudy Toucan Barbet is the start bird here and it comes in regularly to the banana feeders along with others like Red-headed Barbet, Silver-throated Tanager, and Tricolored and Black-headed Brushfinches. There are several gorgeous hummingbirds here we may not see elsewhere like Empress Brilliant, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, and Velvet-purple Coronet. Araucana Lodge itself boasts excellent feeders for both hummingbirds as well as tanagers, orioles, toucanets, woodpeckers, honeycreepers and more.
Day 15: Araucana Lodge to Cali for departures
After breakfast, we will transfer as a group the 90 minutes to Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Cali Airport in time for afternoon departures. This airport is directly connected with Miami in the USA. PLEASE NOTE: Before booking your departing flight, please contact the TROPICAL BIRDING office to ensure you book a flight out at the optimum time.
PACE: Relaxed to moderate. Breakfast times are typically 6:00-6:30am, though on rare occasions it might be earlier depending on the day’s plan. 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.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate. Much of the main tour will be spent near feeders which are accessed by short walks on slightly inclined tracks or trails with steps. The worm feeders at Rio Blanco are spread out over about half a mile (0.6 km) of inclined dirt roads, but we may be able to use a vehicle to avoid the steepest part. Our hotel on days 8 and 9 is located at 11,500 ft. (3500 m.), however only short, easy walks are done at these altitudes. Anyone of reasonable fitness level will be able to join this tour, but if you have any mobility issues, please contact us before signing up.
CLIMATE: Usually very pleasant (mostly 55°-75°F, 13°-24°C), but colder at the high elevations (possibly down into the 40°sF/single digits°C) and hotter still at Laguna de Sonso around Buga. Although this tour is timed for the dry season, some rain is always to be expected at cloud forest sites in the Andes, where most of this tour is spent. Therefore, rain gear, including protective covers for photo gear is essential.
ACCOMMODATION: Very good to excellent for most of the tour. All accommodations have full time electricity, hot water, and wi-fi (though it can be quite slow and is sometimes only available in the common areas). All accommodations have private, en-suite, bathrooms.
GEAR: A good 300mm lens (or high-quality zoom that covers 300mm) and a full-frame camera are ideal for hummingbirds. For other birds, especially smaller birds at fruit feeders, a 500mm with a 1.4x or 600mm is the best option, 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.
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?: Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 14; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 15 (if you have a very early departing flight, you may miss the included breakfast on the last day); safe drinking water and/or juice and tea/coffee during meals; safe drinking water only between meals (though some lodges also offer tea and coffee at any time); one of our photo guides with camera and audio playback gear from the morning of day 2 to the evening of day 14; one arrival and one departure airport transfer per person (the type of transfer will depend on the specific hotel and in some cases might be a hotel shuttle bus); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from day 2 to day 14 in a suitable vehicle with a local driver; one-way flight from Bogotá to Medellín on day 3; entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to help keep track of what you have photographed (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 city hotels (if you require their services); international flights; 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; excess luggage charges; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.
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