Ecotourism in Colombia: Birding, Whale Watching, Hiking and Safaris

Being a megadiverse country and having a system of protected natural areas has allowed Colombia to start ranking as a worldwide ecotourism destination. In fact, regarding destinations for ecotourism, Colombia has it all!

Savannas, deserts, mountains, moorlands, snowy peaks, mangroves, rivers, two oceans, the Amazon… Every place you can think of is full of biodiversity and, fortunately, communities that work each day to preserve the natural wealth of the country.  

What is Ecotourism?

To understand better what ecotourism is and what it’s not, you should know that it is a niche belonging to a larger market segment —nature tourism. Nature tourism comprises 3 niches, namely, ecotourism, adventure tourism, and rural tourism. 

Ecotourism is the type of travel that involves natural areas, the participation of local communities and the promotion of environmental awareness.

It is beneficial for the conservation of the natural destination, the well-being of the community and the tourists themselves since they get greater appreciation for nature and culture.

This is why the ecotourism sector is growing more and more around the world, especially in tropical countries like Colombia. 

The niche of ecotourism, in turn, covers the following activities: bird watching, whale watching, observation of fauna and flora in general, and interpretive trails.

As a complementary product to ecotourism, interacting with local cultures during your trip —aka, cultural tourism, is totally recommended. 

Best Ecotourism Destinations in Colombia 

Now that you understand better what ecotourism is and what its activities are, here are the best destinations for doing ecotourism in Colombia, one for each specialized segment. 

Birdwatching in Colombia 

Birdwatching is the activity of observing, listening, photographing and identifying birds in their habitat. Some have birdwatching as a hobby, while others devote their lives to it. 

Anyway, for amateurs and professional birders alike, birdwatching in Colombia feels like heaven. Over 1,900 bird species are found all around this country in really different environments, blended with native vegetation and exotic animals. This is why birding in Colombia is quite an experience. 

La Guajira

There is an ideal destination for ecotourism —particularly for birdwatching, in the northernmost department of Colombia: La Guajira. La Guajira is also the northernmost tip of South America, being surrounded by the Caribbean sea.

Arid plains, dry forests and only 2 isolated mountains make up the overall landscape of this region, mostly inhabited by ethnic groups such as the Wayuu, Arhuaco, Koguis and Wiwa, Afro-Colombians and Arabs.

Sunset at Cabo de la Vela

The governmental abandonment in the region is evident in the lack of utilities, health care, and education, however, the population is leading sustainable initiatives to help conserve their natural and cultural heritage and bring livelihood to the communities.  

Avitourism is one of these initiatives that you can witness yourself. The dry forest of the La Guajira peninsula is a haven for around 500 bird species, 25 of which are nearendemic or restricted to such dry ecosystem.

Picture from Audubon: “Wayuu indigenous students and teacher Alvaro Jaramillo are bird watching in La Guajira, Colombia this past June. The program teaches locals to become tour guides for travelers interested in spotting birds. Photo: Carlos Villalon”

There is a community organization, Birding Guajira, led by José Luis Puchaina Epiayumember of the Wayuu ethnicity and birdwatching guide specialized in La Guajira’s birds.

With the support and training of the Audubon Society and Calidris  —as part of The Northern Colombia Birding Trail project, members of the community organization lead birdwatching tours in Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary.

Vermilion Cardinal – Cardinalis phoeniceus

The Vermilion Cardinal (Cardinalis phoeniceus), the White-whiskered Tail and the Chestnut Piculet are the most representative birds you can find in the tropical dry forests. An aquatic tour through the Navío Quebrado coastal lagoon will be your opportunity to observe the American Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber), along with other +150 migratory bird species. 

Fauna and Flora Sanctuary Los Flamencos

But the experience is not over there. Full cultural immersion is also available to tourists. “Tardes de Ranchería” is the program that lets you know the Wayuu culture and share valuable time with its members.

Birds in colombia
Birds in colombia

Talks about their myths, legends, and traditions are given. Also, you can taste typical Wayuu dishes, discover their crafts and witness their traditional dance —La Yonna. For this dance, they usually wear red or bright dresses in homage to the Vermilion Cardinal. 

Finally, you have the chance to spend the night in a chinchorro hammock, in a traditional ranchería. 

 Watch our experience birding in La Guajira:


 

Learn more about birds in Colombia and where to find them in our Colombia Birdwatching Guide 

Whale watching in Colombia 

Whale watching is an event that not everyone is privileged to witness. Fortunately for all the Colombia travelers, you can see whales on the Pacific coasts of Colombia! Visit our entry Whale watching in Colombia

This is possible due to large groups of Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) migrating from Antarctica and Southern Chile during the winter to the warm waters of the northern Pacific Ocean to mate, give birth and raise its calves. 

Chocó: Bahía Solano

Our whale watching tour in the Chocó town of Bahía Solano is a meaningful ecotourism experience, where you not only have fun sailing the Pacific Ocean to see the whales jumping out of the sea but you learn from a scientific perspective about these large mammals, the diversity of the region and also get to know the local culture.

Whether you enjoy taking pictures or videos of the whales greeting the tourists, or just saving the memory in your mind, you will have an unforgettable time.

Also, you can hear the whales’ songs through a speaker that reproduces the sounds recorded by a hydrophone. Fun fact: since these songs can last 10-20 minutes, they are thought to be the longest continuous vocalizations of any mammal! 

Bahía Solano is an ecotourism destination par excellence. Its lush jungles next to the sea, its pristine beaches, its beautiful waterfalls, the wildlife it hosts, and the people that live there are a full package for nature travelers.

During our tour, we make a stop at the Mecana beach to have lunch at a local restaurant, take a dip in the river and tour the mangroves of the region while learning the importance of this ecosystem.

We work with local operators so that this activity represents the local communities an opportunity for development. 

Experience this adventure yourself! Tour 

Interpretive trails in Colombia 

The interpretive trails are paths designed in natural reserves such as national or ecological parks “to enable visitors to understand more clearly the messages of history, the environment, or a nearly forgotten culture” (American Trails Organization).

This is a work achieved with local interpreters and support signs placed along the trails. Local interpreters have a deep knowledge of the history and biodiversity of the area since they’ve grown there and have been taught about the importance of preserving the natural heritage. 

Chingaza National Natural Park

Chingaza National Natural Park is one of the 23 protected areas in Colombia open for ecotourism. It is a paramo located on the eastern Andes, covering municipalities of Cundinamarca and Meta and accessible from Bogotá.

Lakes of Chingaza National Natural Park

A variety of fauna and flora thrives in the high Andean and sub-Andean forest and moorland ecosystems of the park. This is not the only reason to visit Chingaza, though.

The area is known to have been an indigenous territory, the land of the Muisca and Guayupe indigenous tribes. The stories of these ancient settlers remain alive and give meaning to the 6 hiking trails that currently exist:

  • Lagunas de Siecha trail;
  • Cuchillas de Siecha trail;
  • Lagunas de Buitrago trail;
  • Laguna Seca y Verde trail; 
  • Suasie trail;
  • La Arboleda trail; and
  • Las Plantas del Camino trail.

The guided tours along these trails let tourists admire the stunning cloudy landscapes with crystalline lagoons and a bunch of Frailejones while learning about the ecosystem, its importance and the past inhabitants of the region that left a footprint.

Corpochingaza is the community organization that offers guidance and environmental interpretation services in Chingaza. 

Flora and Fauna Observation in Colombia 

Casanare is one excellent ecotourism destination for flora and fauna observation in eastern Colombia. Casanare is one of the departments of Los Llanos, a region covering the Orinoco river basin and characterized by vast savannas inhabited by many wild animals, marshlands, llaneros (Colombian cowboys), joropo music and breathtaking sunsets. 

 

Safari Llanero in Casanare

Here you can have the truly Safari Llanero experience, the adaptation of the African concept that seeks the observation and appreciation of the Neotropical fauna.

Traveling the wide plains of Casanare —whether in Jeeps, on horseback, on foot or even in light aircrafts, lets you see capybaras, white-tailed deer, spectacled caimans, giant anteaters, giant otters, ducks, howler monkeys, owls, armadillos, red-footed tortoise, foxes, wild pigs, iguanas, and even anacondas, jaguars and cougars —if you are lucky.

Safari in Casanare

Also birds such as the Orinoco goose, herons, the Double-striped Thick-knee, the Jabiru, owls, varieties of Ibis including the Scarlet Ibis, . As for the native flora, moriche palms (Mauritia flexuosastand out. There are several natural reserves in Los Llanos where you can live this adventure, uncover them here. 

The Safari takes place in the early morning since the animals are more active then. Thanks to this, you have the afternoon free to immerse yourself in a Llanero experience.

You can participate in traditional horse rides through the rich savanna, observe the tradition of herding cattle for living and musical shows where locals sing folklore songs to the rhythm of guitars, harps and maracas about love, women, horses and the biodiverse Llanos. This is the perfect ending for an ecotourism trip. 

Wild horses at Casanare

Hopefully this blog has cleared up your doubts about ecotourism, its products and some ecotourism destinations in Colombia. We are happy to help you plan your nature trip to Colombia. 

References 
About the authors

Ana María Parra

Current content writer for Sula. Modern Languages professional with emphasis on business translation. Interested in cultural adaptation of written and audiovisual content.  Passionate about knowing new cultures and languages, tourism and sustainable living.