Just 50 minutes outside Pereira lies the well-known, famed for its many rare and sought-after species, Otún Quimbaya Flora and Fauna Sanctuary. Clearly, this Sanctuary should be put on the birding map by any birder intending to visit one of the major birding areas in the country!
I did so for the first time two years ago and been fortunate to revisit on several other occasions. It’s this very first visit over a time span of several days, that lingers so well in my birding memories, as it was one of the best birding experiences I had so far in Colombia!
Community-based Ecotourism Destination
Tou can easily access the sanctuary via good tarmac – after the town of La Florida – dirt road. The Otún Quimbaya Flora and Fauna Sanctuary have charming accommodations, and it is managed by the Yarumo Blanco Foundation, a local community-based tourism association.
They manage all reservations for your stay and also provide the service of local bird guides (at extra cost) which are mandatory if walking the reserve’s short trails. Since 2017, under an agreement between the company Aguas y Aguas de Pereira and the Community Association Yarumo Blanco, ecotourism is a conservation strategy in the region.
Thus, the visit to the protected area requires a mandatory accompaniment by an environmental interpreter and coverage by a medical assistance policy.
Birding at Otún Quimbaya
The Lodge Clearing
The lodge clearing itself is the best area for the endemic Cauca Guan, which is very easily seen in Cecropias and other trees around the clearing. Some Guans even walk on the lawn in search of fallen fruits. Do not be fooled by its common appearance. The Guan has a very small restricted range and is placed as critically endangered by Birdlife!
Otun River Point
Good birding starts about 8 km before the reserve’s entrance. The first bridge just before a barrier over the Otun River is a good lookout point for Torrent Duck, Torrent Tyrannulet, and Black Phoebe. Watch for Green-fronted Lancebill, which sometimes hovers above the water surface to catch insects.
2 – 4 km before the lodge points
Anyway, from this point the birding gets only better. You’ll pass mainly pasture land, bordered by second-growth forest. Around the pastures watch for several Seedeater and Grassquit species, omnipresent Bare-faced Ibis, Southern Lapwings & others. But it’s these forest patches, which can pay dividends if lucky and birded thoroughly.
The best patches are about 2 – 4 km before the lodge. Several endemic species like Greyish Piculet, together with the iconic Multicolored Tanager (which goes with mixed flocks, and for sure is on the wish list of about every birder visiting Colombia) and Parker’s Antbird occur. I birded this area mainly in the afternoon when I found it very productive when many of the forest trails were quiet.
La Suiza point
Around the small hamlet of La Suiza (about 2 km before the reserve), a taller forest appears and Red-ruffed Fruitcrow is easily seen. This is definitely the best place to see this enigmatic Cotinga species. For some reason, this bird is common here.
Several other good species can be observed in the clearing. Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Bar-crested Antshrike, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Golden-faced Tyrannulet, several Tanagers (incl. sometimes Multicolored, and Crested Ant-tanager). At night listen for Colombian Screech-Owl singing just outside the gates.
El Cedral Road
The road to El Cedral (and especially the area around El Cedral) draws the attention of many birders. The road ends after about 6 km at the lodge clearing and is reached by walking (for the hardy), Chiva (for the “let’s do it the local way-ones”), or 4×4 (for most of you) which can be arranged by personal of Yarumo Blanco.
On this road up to El Cedral, there is no mandatory accompaniment by a local guide, you can bird on your own.
The Hooded Antpitta Territory
Just at the very end of this road about 500 meters before El Cedral, one of Colombia’s most sought-after species –Hooded Antpitta – holds territory. The discovery of this bird in the wild is recent. Its occurrence was long shrouded in clouds and mystery. Although the Antpitta occurs just about in neighboring Venezuela too (areas out of reach for birders), El Cedral is probably the most easily accessed site for this enigmatic, cryptic species.
You have to arrive very early – or late. The bird vocalizes first thing in the morning and to a lesser degree in the evening. Knowing its inconspicuous vocalization is key in order to locate it. Once done so, watch for every movement in some more open forest understory along the road.
The bird moves seemingly invisible through the forest understory and likes to perch on mossy branches just above the forest floor. Avoid using playback. Playback makes the bird taped out, and it does not respond to it anymore. In fact, it makes it only harder to locate. The best strategy is to find a good spot and sit very quietly, wait & watch!
My first encounter with the Hooded Antpitta
I remember my first visit to Otún, enjoying sitting motionless in that incredible forest, waiting in vain for my quarry to appear, as sunlight just broke into forest understory. While doing so, several other species like Spotted Barbtail and Chestnut-capped Brushfinch coming close, right next to me.
It was just out of the corner of my eyes, I glimpsed a movement next to a mossy branch. A splint of second and an adrenaline rush later, one of the least known neotropical bird species hopped onto a horizontal branch. I was able to observe, take photos and videos of Hooded Antpitta.
During the course of about 2 hours, the bird appeared on two more occasions. After almost being soaked by dripping trees, I got back onto the road with one of my most memorable birding experiences in the bag.
The Mixed Flocks
But the morning began. I walked all the way back to the lodge and hit 2 large mixed flocks. One contained the several difficult to see Tyrannids like Ashy-headed-, Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulet, Variegated– & Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, Rusty-winged Barbtail & several other Furnariids.
The second flock contained Multicolored & various other Tanagers. In between, I was able to coax Stile’s Tapaculo out into the open and obtained rare views of Moustached Antpitta.
Further, there were sluggish Moustached Puffbirds, brilliant Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant & many more. Fever pitch birding. It was just one of those days when everything comes together, just right.
On several other occasions, the same area was very quiet and birding difficult, as many birds stay high in trees. It’s just about getting the right weather conditions and being at the right place at the right time…
Above El Cedral Trail
If all this shouldn’t be enough for you, you can always keep continuing birding the trail beyond and above El Cedral into Ucumari National park… After 3 hours walk, you reach Refuge “La Pastora”. Another birding heaven awaits, where many species of higher altitude (similar to Rio Blanco) occur. But to tell you about that is part of another story…
Hiking at Otún Quimbaya
With three internal trails enabled for tours, in Otún Quimbaya you can enjoy environmental education activities, in the company of local environmental interpreters, and learn about the biodiversity of the Andean forest and its important connection with the Upper Basin of the Otún River.
These trails are of low difficulty and the local interpreter will lead you through landscapes of trails, paths, and mountains, to discover the green legacy of the Pearl of Otún.
Towards La Pastora
To live an unforgettable experience when visiting the mountains among the thickness of the cloud forest bathed by rivers and crystalline waterfalls, you can stay one night in the Refuge “La Pastora” in the Regional Natural Park Ucumarí. This hike is of high intensity, as it is a 7 km high-difficulty route along a muleteer’s road that goes into the Otún River basin.
Visit Los Frailes waterfall
Finally, one of the main attractions of the territory is the Los Frailes waterfall, an impressive natural attraction with a free fall of more than 90 meters, it is a memorable tour to do in the company of family and friends.
This activity is ideal for people looking for recreation and connection with nature. It is a low-difficulty tour, which in the company of a Local Environmental Interpreter, will take you to discover the green legacy of the Pearl of Otún.
Click here to make a virtual tour of the waterfall!
In the sanctuary, there are multiple courts, enabled for the practice of football, basketball, and volleyball. You and your friends or family will always be able to make use of the sports areas and enjoy the relaxation typical of the rural area.
Look at our specialized tours and visit this Sanctuary in Risaralda!
About the authors
The 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.
Professional bird guide, swiss native, with more than 32 years of experience guiding hardcore birders and birdwatching tours. Jérôme has been focused on bird identification. He also traveled to many countries, starting in Switzerland. Then he traveled exploring South America, the most biodiverse continent in the world, becoming specialized in Neotropical birds.