Top Wetland Destination in Valle del Cauca for Birding: Laguna de Sonso

Laguna de Sonso is a lake, and it is one of the most important ecosystems in the department of Valle del Cauca. Since 1987 it is a nature reserve that covers 2,045 hectares. Of this area, 745 hectares are in the lagoon zone and 1,300 hectares correspond to the buffer zone.

In 2018 we were with Juancho getting to know the Laguna de Sonso. Juancho told us about many places that you can visit in Valle del Cauca to see incredible, unique and beautiful birds of the Colombian western Andes and the Pacific. On this trip we were with his father Luis Eduardo Camacho, a guide specialized in bird watching in Valle del Cauca, and with our friends from the Hotel La Huerta, which is just 30 minutes by car far from Laguna de Sonso.

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Ecological Importance of Sonso Lake

Laguna de Sonso is associated to a complex of 24 wetlands of the Upper Cauca River, and is inserted into the Tropical Dry Forest ecosystem.

This place is a biological corridor that favors the migration of species between the Central and Western Andean mountain ranges of Colombia, and also receives boreal migratory birds. At the same time, it is a refuge for local resident species, not only birds, but also plants and animals.

According to Ramsar Sites Information Service, 39 species of plants are registered in this place, from which 25 present some category of threat. There are also 186 species of birds and 5 species of endemic fish: the boquiancha (Genycharax tarpon); the roño (Callichthys fabricioi); the micudo (Pimelodella macrocephala); and two sardines (Hyphessobrycon poecilioides and Gephyrocharax caucanus). It also has 24 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 50 species of mammals.

Sonso is also an important source of food for nearby human communities, which have in this ecosystem their only source of income.

Laguna de Sonso, Valle del Cauca, Colombia

Until very recently, less than 5 years ago, this ecosystem was under a serious environmental crisis, exposed to continuous drainage to plant sugar cane. Also to the excessive input of organic matter from domestic and industrial waste, which contaminate the water.

Studies carried out by the National University of Colombia, showed that the Laguna de Sonso presents a high degree of contamination, product of human activities, which has led this area not suitable for primary contact such as swimming, nor is it secondary as in the case of nautical activities.

As a result of community action and government efforts, this wetland was declared a Wetland of International Importance in 2017, meeting the requirements of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar).

With the international category, the activity of bird watching appears as a sustainable option for the conservation of the lake and its wetlands, and as a source of economic resources for the local community. Laguna de Sonso also offers environmental education and research facilities.

Birdwatching at Laguna de Sonso

“Buitre de Ciénaga” Environmental Education Center,

In Laguna Sonso is the “Buitre de Ciénaga” Environmental Education Center, whose name celebrates the Horned Screamer. The environmental education center offers the visitor an auditorium, and toilet services.

There is a land tour around the lagoon to observe birds of the swamp and beach area. It is also possible to do kayak or boat trips on the lake. The reserve has an observation tower on the Mata Zarza peninsula, a forest on the eastern side of the lagoon and a panoramic viewpoint over the Cauca River on the western side.

For bird watching, the entrance to the center starts at 6:00 a.m. Birding guide services are offered by local communities and have a cost associated with the size of the group and the time dedicated to the experience.

Depending on the environmental conditions, up to 60 species of birds can be observed in one morning. There are different trails, and species associated with aquatic and marsh systems, such as forest species, can be observed.

The possibilities of photography are moderate, considering that there may be a lot of cloudiness, increasing the contrast in white background.

Checklist of Laguna de Sonso. Here there are some of the birds we saw when we visited Laguna de Sonso:

Anhinga Anhinga anhinga
Bar-crested Antshrike Thamnophilus multistriatus
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna autumnalis
Cocoi Heron Ardea cocoi
Greater Ani Crotophaga major
Masked Cardinal Paroaria nigrogenis
Snail Kite Rostrhamus sociabilis juvenile

How to get to Laguna de Sonso

Laguna de Sonso Wetland Complex

The Laguna de Sonso or Laguna del Chircal is a body of water located in the department of Valle del Cauca, Colombia, about 65 kilometers north of the city of Santiago de Cali. It covers 14.1 square kilometers among the municipalities of Buga, Yotoco and Guacarí, on the right bank of the Cauca River.

To get there you must drive on the Buga-Mediacanoa road, and 250 meters before crossing the Cauca River, you must turn left on an open road at the site called Puerto Bertín, 1.5 km away is the Buitre de Ciénaga Environmental Center.


  • Wear a hat,
  • use comfortable clothes,
  • use waterpfof shoes,
  • take sunscreen,
  • take insect repellent.


  • El Tiempo. 2017. La Laguna de Sonso ahora tiene sello internacional ‘Ramsar’.
  • Revista Semana. 2019. Laguna de Sonso, en el Valle, presenta altos niveles de contaminación.
  • Ramsar Sites Information Service.

About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.