The Biggest Páramo in the World is in Colombia: Know the Sumapaz Park

The Páramo de Sumapaz National Natural Park is an important reservoir of biological, ecological and genetic diversity in Colombia, and the world, with high presence of endemic plants and animals. It is also one of the largest water reserves in the country.

Under the post-conflict scenario, the Páramo of Sumapaz ceased to be a military corridor, as it happened for almost 54 years during the war conflict. Unfortunately, this conflict left a sad mark in some areas of the park: antipersonnel mines.

Currently, the government and some international NGOs are making progress in a process for humanitarian demining in the context of the PEACE process.

These areas are closed to visitors, but it is recommended to have authorized touristic service providers to visit the place.

Despite all of this, nowadays the park it becomes one of Colombia’s natural treasures, important to be better explored and conserved. It is a great compromise to protect this place from extensive agriculture and livestock, from mining, construction and real estate projects, and from irresponsible tourism.

Undoubtedly, Colombia has the largest and most beautiful Páramo in Colombia, and perhaps the planet. To be there is to contemplate the mastery of nature and feel gratitude for such a fabulous gift.

Paramo de Sumapaz
Paramo de Sumapaz

7 Facts about the Páramo de Sumapaz

  1. The Sumapaz Páramo is one of the largest and the biggest protected paramo in the world.
  2. It is part of the 36 páramos complexes present in Colombia.
  3. It has a unique ecosystem, fauna and flora to the planet.
  4. There have been reported about 260 species of mammals.
  5. It is the origin of crystalline rivers that cover the Andean geography and the center of the country.
  6. It is located in five municipalities of the department of Cundinamarca (Pasca, Arbeláez, San Bernardo, Cabrera and Gutiérrez); six municipalities of the department of Meta (Acacias, Guamal, Cubarral, El Castillo, Lejanías and Uribe), one municipality in the department of Huila (Colombia) and two districts in Bogotá (Usme and Sumapaz).
  7. It is monitored by several environmental authorities, such as Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, the National Unit of Natural Parks, the Regional Autonomous Corporation of Cundinamarca (CAR), the Autonomous Corporation of Huila (CAM) and the Autonomous Corporation of Macarena (CORMACARENA).

Birding at Páramo de Sumapaz

This beautiful, huge national Park of Colombia encompasses large protected Paramo and is a large watershed for the city of Bogotá. Reached by a smooth, roughly 1 1/2-hour ride from the city center (get there early to avoid the traffic jam in the city) it makes it, together with Chingaza National Park, a prime destination for high altitude species.

Birding is easy and done mainly from a very dusty road, as access to the National Park is restricted. The road is currently being paved, which will make birding much more comfortable in near future!

Once you leave the suburban sprawl of Bogota in Usme, the shear uncontrolled growth of this Megapolis is visible below you and on the close mountain slopes.

Finally, higher up, concrete gets replaced by potato fields, cars by horses and noise by birdsongs! Once you reach the tree-line (Elfin forest) good birding starts.

Apolinar’s Wren – Cistothorus apolinari – ENDEMIC

Listen for the endemic Silvery-throated Spinetail and Pale-bellied Tapaculo, both skulking species. Tawny Antpitta is one of the easiest Antpittas to see, as it often sings from exposes perches. Here, it is represented by subspecies alticola.

Mixed flocks can contain Andean Tit-Spinetail, White-throated Tyrannulet, Rufous Wren, the gaudy Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, several Flowerpiercers, Rufous-browed Conebill, Pale-naped Brush Finch & others.

A little further along the road, before your reach the pass, two of the main attractions occur side by side, and both are Hummingbirds.

Bronze-tailed Thornbill – Chalcostigma heteropogon

The range-restricted Bronze-tailed Thornbill & endemic Green-bearded Helmetcrest! The Thornbill is a territorial species. Look for it in vegetation close to the road.

The Helmetcrest is fond of Espeletia (local name “Frailejones”, a plant from the Asteraceae Family) which is in full bloom from late June – August. This might be the best time to see the Helmetcrest. And that’s when this spectacular, unique landscape looks even better.

Green-bearded Helmetcrest – Oxypogon guerinii, female – ENDEMIC

Both species can be seen fairly reliably at most other times, too. If lucky, both species can be observed feeding, clinging to flowers, as many highland Hummingbird species do!

Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager – Dubusia taeinatia

A particular good spot for the Helmetcrest is immediately adjacent to the large lagoon at the park entrance (There’s a sign of the Helmetcrest and a parking area to the right if coming from Bogotá). The lagoon to your left has typical cushion plants bordering it. That makes it perfect habitat for the critically endangered and endemic Bogota Rail and the more common Noble Snipe.

Many-striped Canastero – Asthenes flammulata

Many-striped Canastero and White-chinned Thistletail are to be looked for too, but it’s certainly the endemic Apolinar’s Wren which most people expect to see here. It occurs in fact in good numbers here, especially where there is Dwarf Bamboo – a plant required – for nesting.

The Wren is represented by the subspecies hernandezi, different from apolinari, the race occurring in the Sabana de Bogotá. Locate Apolinar’s Wren by its regularly performed song duets. The similar Sedge Wren occurs side by side with Apolinar’s Wren. Look and listen carefully…Exploring further along the Road can be good for Paramo Seedeater and more of the mentioned above.

Plain-colored Seedeater – Catamenia inornata

If you visit first time, remember that Sumapaz is a high-altitude site. Protect yourself from sun, hydrate properly and take things slow. The air is thin up there. Also protect your equipment from heavy dust (know how to do it here).

About the authors

Jérôme Fischer

Professional bird guide, swiss native, with more than 32 years of experience guiding hardcore birders and birdwatching tours. He has been focused in bird identification. He also travelled many countries, starting in Switzerland and then exploring south America, the most biodiverse continent in the world, becoming specialized in Neotropical birds.

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.