Tatamá Park is situated on the borders of the department of Chocó, Risaralda, and Valle del Cauca, along the western Colombian Andean mountain range. It is situated in the confluence between the biographical Pacific and the Coffee Triangle.
The park has an extension of 51900 ha, and it is located between 2000 and 4200 meters above sea level. Temperature ranges between 4 and 22ºC and precipitation is high all year round, especially towards de Chocó side, in the west.
Discovering Tatamá National Natural Park
The park was created in 1987. Its uniqueness lies in its geographical location which makes that many of Colombia’s endemic and near-endemic species are found here. This protected area is of high scientific interest because of the excellent state of conservation of its Andean ecosystems.
Its territory is also home to tributaries that drain the slopes of the San Juan and Cauca Rivers. At the highest area of the park, there is the Tatamá Paramo which along with those of Frontino and El Duende are the only three paramos in Colombia that have not been altered by humans.
According to historians, this place was inhabited in pre-Columbian times by the Sima or Tatamá indigenous groups, belonging to the Anserma indigenous people. It was them who gave the name to the hill Tatamá. According to this theory, tatamá meant “the land or the highest stone” in their dialect.
Other historians have a different theory, and say that the name comes from the Chocó indigenous people, of Caribbean influence, who attribute the meaning of “the grandfather of the rivers” to the word tatamá.
Flora and Fauna at Tatamá
According to the documentation on the park found on the official website of the System of Protected Areas of Colombia, in the park you can find a great richness of plants, among them the endemic Black Anthurium (Anthurium caramantae) and more than 560 species and morpho-species of orchids. Tree species with fine woods are also protected, some of which are in danger of extinction.
There are also more than 600 species of birds, some of which are locally and globally vulnerable, 11 are endemic to the Western Cordillera, 9 are endemic to Colombia and 14 are near-endemic. An example of these is the Gold-ringed Tanager (Bangsia aureocincta).
110 species of mammals have been registered, representing the endemic fauna of the Andes. Among them stands out the Colombian Weasel (Mustela felipei), which has been catalogued as the rarest mammal in South America. Within the reptiles there are records for 108 species.
What to do at Tatamá
Currently, the park is closed to public, however, in some areas around the park, and at the lower areas, it is possible to do hikes, trekking, climbing and bird watching activities.
Hiking and trekking at Tatamá National Natural Park
Given its high level of conservation, the Tatamá Park has a scenic beauty unknown to the public. Los Planes de San Rafael Visitors’ Center is located in Los Planes de San Rafael, municipality of Santuario, in the department of Risaralda.
In general, this visitors’ center, in agreement with Risaralda Regional Autonomous Corporation (CARDER), and the Community Action Board of the village, offers personalized attention for tourists, with tours where environmental interpretation is fundamental.
There are several trails related to these tours:
- Path to the Tatamá Waterfalls: The path to the waterfalls is located in the lower area of the park, at 2500 meters above sea level. It has a great natural tourist attraction, where you can climb and enjoy the exuberant vegetation. It starts at the visitors’ center, and follow a four kilometer route that leads to the area of the waterfalls. Once there you can enjoy the landscape formed by the waterfalls, some of which reach 70 meters high. The route takes between eight and ten hours, so it is better to start it early in the morning.
- Valley of the Frailejones: It is a sector located at 3,700 meters above sea level, in the territory of the department of Chocó. It is a destination that requires experience in hiking and mountaineering. To reach the valley it is necessary to climb and descend in ropes. Here you can see frailejones that reach five meters in height.
- Valley of the Lagoons: It is located near the Valley of the Frailejones. It is a territory of glacial origin surrounded by steep hills, which protect the mountain lakes between them.
- There is also the trail to the Centro Experimental Altoandino Tatamá. It takes over 30 minutes.
Birdwatching at Tatamá: Montezuma Road
This place is included in the Central Andes Birding Route, developed by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MINCIT), the Productive Transformation Program (PTP) and Procolombia.
This bird watching route enters the Tatamá National Natural Park through its northern zone, via Pueblo Rico. Pueblo Rico is a municipality of about 10,000 inhabitants and is the last town in Risaralda before entering the Colombian Pacific.
The Montezuma Rainforest Ecolodge is located in the lowest part of the Tatamá National Natural Park. Although it is not the official entrance to the Park, it is a place authorized by the National Natural Park System to be able to enter and observe the biodiversity and ecosystems that Tatamá offers, and especially to observe the great amount of birds of the tropical humid forest.
Montezuma Rainforest Ecolodge is a farm located on the western slope of the western mountain range, in the Department of Risaralda, on the border with Chocó, in Colombia. From Pueblo Rico you have to travel about 17 km to get to Montezuma, at Montebello village.
There you will find signs of entry to the National Natural Park Tatamá. The classic visit for birdwatching is through the road connecting the Montezuma Lodge and a military base at the top of the Montezuma Hill at 2600 meters of altitude.
The road has about 11 km long, is open, and has steep slopes without any place for resting. Several feeders and drinkers have been installed along the road, at strategic points, to facilitate the appearance of the birds that come out of the dense forest to feed. Thus, it is possible to find Collared Inca, Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer, Rufous-gaped Hillstar, and Olive Finch, easily.
The best birding area (Montebello) is where a bird endemic to Colombia, and restricted only to that region was found, the Tatamá Tapaculo (Scytalopus alvarezlopezi).
In front of the house there is a garden with bird feeders that permanently has bananas and papayas, and bird drinkers with sugary water, where many species of tanagers and hummingbirds arrive.
If you enjoy this checklist, please consider contributing your sightings to eBird. It is 100% free to take part, and your observations will help support birders, researchers, and conservationists worldwide.
How to get to Tatamá
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The administrative headquarters of the Tatamá National Natural Park is in the municipality of Santuario, in Risaralda, 1 hour and 20 minutes from the city of Pereira on a paved road.
It is only possible to arrive by 4×4 truck. From Pereira, take the road to Cartago at the point known as Cerritos. There you turn right until you reach the municipality of La Virginia.
From there, follow the Pan-American Highway to Choco and at the site known as La Marina, take a detour to the left to reach the municipality of Santuario.
To get to Tatamá National Natural Park, take an open road of about 10 km to the Los Planes de San Rafael trail, and from there take a trail to the lower limit of the Tatamá Park at 2500 masl.
The park can also be accessed from Pueblo Rico town, following the road connecting the Montezuma Ecolodge and a military base at the top of the Montezuma Mountain. However, road conditions make this transit exceedingly difficult, and if you are going for bird watching, it is necessary to depart at 3 a.m. from Pueblo Rico to be able to arrive before dawn to Montezuma.
The other option is to sleep at the Montezuma Ecolodge, but this one is always booked, so you have to book at least a year in advance.
Where to stay in Tatamá National Natural Park
CARDER visitor’s center
The park does not have specialized infrastructure for tourist services in general. However, the visitor’s center, located in the Los Planes de San Rafael village, has the capacity to accommodate 40 people in quadruple occupancy. It offers restaurant service, lodging and guidance on the different trails with environmental interpretation. The place is owned by CARDER and managed by the village’s Community Action Board.
Montezuma Rainforest Ecolodge
Montezuma Ecolodge is prepared to receive about 10 guests in independent rooms with private bathroom and hot water. The place is very simple, there is no luxury or excessive comfort, as it is a rural accommodation that has been gradually adapted for tourism.
There the disconnection is complete because there is no telephone or television signal. The food is also simple, but very good.
What you should consider when you visit Tatamá
It’s not allowed in the park:
- Hunting, collecting or introducing animals or plants.
- No fires allowed.
- It is forbidden to throw or burn garbage.
- It is forbidden to get drunk or make a fuss or noise.
- Logging is forbidden.
- Excavation is forbidden.
- Fireworks and explosives are prohibited.
- You must be vaccinated against yellow fever at least 30 days before access and you must present your valid card at the entrance of the protected area.
- You must wear clothing suitable for cold weather such as balaclavas, scarves, boots, waterproof coat, and gloves.
- You must abide by the observations and suggestions of park officials since the Colombian park system is not responsible for any accident you have during your stay in the area or for the loss of objects.
- You should only walk the authorized trails and always be accompanied by an official or a guide.
- We recommend that you never get separated from the group and that you keep an eye on your fellow travelers.
Check out our tour in this region of Colombia!
About the author
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.