Like the orchid is the Colombian national flower and the Quindio wax palm the national tree, Colombia has a flagship bird: the Andean Condor. In this post you will learn about the main features of this iconic bird, of its relative the King vulture, which is also sought by birders, and where to see condors in Colombia.
The Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus)
This large scavenger bird belongs to the family Cathartidae and the genus Vultur, with no subspecies. Its wingspan can top 3 meters (10 ft), which makes it the largest bird in Colombia and the largest flying bird in the world -taking into account its average weight of 11 kg! Its name originates from the Quechua word kuntur.
The original population of the Colombian Andes is extinct, now what you can see there are introduced individuals. However, the largest native population is found in Santa Marta and Perijá ranges, to the north of the country.
The Andean Condor takes to the air by mid-morning and soars over some high zones of the Andes range and Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, reaching heights of up to 4,800 meters above sea level. You can find it perched on cliff edges in search of dead farm animals and in small groups, feeding on carrion of large carcasses.
Its bald head -males with a comb- may not be the prettiest, but its white ruff and white patches on its wings give the Andean Condor a majestic look. Seeing a flying condor is a great spectacle but it takes a bit of luck.
The King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa)
Although not as mighty as the Andean condor, the King vulture is also sought by birders due to its distinctive colored head. Unlike the condor, this smaller scavenger inhabits tropical lowland forests below 2,500 meters above sea level and perches in the canopy.
It is more visible by mid-morning, when it undertakes its flying journey to search food. The King vulture is usually spotted in pairs and when it gets to a carcass, it displaces other lowland vultures -the ‘king’ moniker must have had a reason!
The King vulture has an eye-catching look. Its body and flight feathers are half white to gray, half black. The bald head is colored in yellow, orange, blue, purple or red tones and the beak boasts a noticeable orange fleshy caruncle.
It inhabits most of Colombian territory, except for the Andes range, a part of the Pacific coast and the northern Guajira. However the Sarcoramphus papa is difficult to spot.
Where to See Condors in Colombia
Now that you know more about this impressive bird, you may be wondering where to see condors in Colombia. There are few spots where Andean condors can be spotted, read on to find more about them.
Puracé National Natural Park
Southeast of Colombia, near the city of Popayan, Cauca, is this national park declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1979. Puracé NNP comprises Los Coconucos mountain range with 11 volcanoes, including Puracé (4,780meters above sea level) which is the only active one, and Pan de Azúcar (5,000 meters above sea level), the highest of all.
This place with steep canyons, river sources and lagoons is the best-known destination for watching condors in Colombia. There is a small population of Andean condors, together with hummingbirds, bluebirds, ducks and birds of prey.
Three indigenous reserves belonging to the Kokonuko community are found in the region: Paletará, Coconuco and Puracé. They act as park rangers of Puracé and offer tourism services aiming to raise incomes for the conservation of the park and the condors that live there.
There are only 3 condors in the reserve -a pair and their offspring, which made part of the reintroduction program of the Andean Condor in Colombia in 1989. The worrying fact is that the couple has not had any more offspring in the last 20 years.
For now, they can be seen approaching a big rock that serves as a feeding station every few days, after a member of the community leaves a modest offering such as chicken bones. This means you cannot always see condors here, although the natural beauty of the park is worth exploring.
To ensure their preservation, the community monitors the condors with tracking devices and provides environmental education during the tours.
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
Of course the world’s highest coastal mountain and a Colombian landmark would also be home to the majestic Andean Condor. This mountain is separate from the Andes range, is located just 42 km from the deep blue Caribbean sea and reaches a height of 5,775 m in its highest snow-capped peaks Bolívar and Colón.
Thanks to its huge biodiversity and cultural heritage, the Santa Marta range was declared Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1979.
Like Purace, this great mountain is an indigenous ancestral territory, this time heritage of the Kankuamo, Kogui, Wiwa and Arhuaco ethnicities, descendants of the great Tayrona indigenous civilization.
A trip to the National Park is an experience on another level that allows you to get in touch with the cultural heritage of the country, get lost in the lush forest and be awed by the biological richness of this natural reservoir.
Of the nearly 150 condors currently estimated in Colombia, some 120 individuals are present in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the rest have migrated to other zones in the country.
Serranía del Perijá
The 295 km long Perijá mountain range is in Colombia’s northern region, in the plains of the department of Cesar, and reaches Venezuelan territory.
You could consider it as the last extension -or the beginning- of the Andes. However, it has such distinctive features that it has been deemed as a unity in itself. Perijá is really close to the Santa Marta range, just 25 km away.
Nearly 541 species and subspecies of birds have been found in Serranía del Perijá, including Brown tinamous, Cocoi and Great blue herons, hummingbirds, macaws, parrots, and birds of prey and scavengers such as eagles, the snail kite and the King vulture.
Manizales – Los Nevados Natural National Park
El Nido del Cóndor is an eco-lodge founded in 2017 in the Andes range, 17 km from Villamaría, Caldas, on the route to Nevado Santa Isabel. A plateau surrounded by two rivers and the typical green landscape of the Coffee Axis is where a pair of Andean condors nest, on a cliff edge.
This lodge is committed to sustainable practices from its building materials, energy sources, to its resources and waste management.
Also, the wooden building has a 360° landscape view! Here, you will be able to see not only the pair of condors that soar over the canyons that make up the plateau, but 150 bird species approximately, including bird of prey, the Chestnut wood quail, the Yellow–eared parrot and the Black-and-chestnut eagle. Mammals such as the Crab-eating fox, armadillos and the mountain paca can be spotted too.
See condors overflying the region from the comfort of your room’s balcony at this one-of-its-kind eco-lodge south of Manizales!
Páramo del Almorzadero, Santander
There are about 15 Andean condors in Paramo del Almorzadero, in the municipality of El Cerrito, Santander. These are 5 to 70 years old and represent approximately 30% of the national population.
Paramo del Almorzadero is a stunning ecosystem with 7 lagoons that originate several gorges, which then act as tributaries of the Orinoco river basin. Also, it has important endemic flora species.
The buffer zones of the paramo have been affected by peasant agriculture, since this is the only activity that locals have for subsisting.
This place is not well-known in the tourism sector, nor has an adequate infrastructure for developing large tourism activities, there is only a not easily accessible high-mountain shelter called El Salto that takes care of the native condors.
However, for the Global Big Day 2018, 20 people were privileged to visit the paramo shelter at 3,400 meters above sea level to see the condors that nest there. Local farmers, governmental entities and pro-animal foundations made a deal for the protection and conservation of the national bird in this region.
Learn more about Colombian birds field guides here.
- Guía ilustrada de la Avifauna colombiana (2018) – Fernando Ayerbe Quiñones
- Field Guide to the Birds of Colombia (2018) – Miles McMullan
- Andean condor population
- Parques Nacionales de Colombia
- Serranía del Perijá
- Paramo del Almorzadero
About the author.
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.