The Southwestern Andes Birding Trail of Colombia
The Southwestern Andes Birding Trail of Colombia is probably the most diverse with nearly 1,400 bird species between the departments of Valle del Cauca, Cauca and Nariño.
In this region, you have contact with the Western Andes mountain range, the Choco Region, and the Pacific ocean.
The most relevant birding hotspots of this route are the Choco Forest and the Andean Cloud forests of the western cordillera.
The diversity of this route is explained because it covers many different habitats such as paramos, wetlands, Andean cloud forests, tropical rainforest, coastal areas, dry forest and very nice bird-lodges and farms dedicated to bird photography.
The Southwestern Andes Birding Trail
The National Audubon Society of the United States was involved in the design of this route along with the government of Colombia and Calidris NGO to help the country reach its goal of becoming the world’s top birding destination.
The training of stakeholders linked to the birding offer in the region was the main activity, including local guides, owners of lodges, farms and nature reserves, and community-based tourism associations.
Among the places to be visited are included national parks, civil society nature reserves, and private reserves.
Birding Spots of The Southwestern Andes Birding Trail
You should know that in the past, this region was not a safe place. Nowadays, birding tourism and related stakeholders are becoming:
“active drivers in conservation, economic development, and peace-building”
For that reason, there are still some destinations with difficult access, and poor hotel infrastructure, especially towards the Pacific region in Valle del Cauca and Nariño.
The following itinerary is just an example of the route you can take. However, if you want to see more options, visit the itinerary designed by us.
Remember that you can customize your trip with us. Don’t miss the opportunity to add other activities such as whale watching; a city tour in Cali, the city of salsa music; an urban birding day also in Cali; a stop in the beautiful city of Popayan in the department of Cauca; or visit the paramos and volcanic lakes of Nariño, among many other activities, either alone or with your family.
Given the wide offer of destinations on this route, here are the main stops in each department. If you want to know more about each destination, I recommend you to visit the entries we prepared for you about them.
You can also visit our Youtube channel ColombiaFrank, where you will find first hand information about many of these destinations.
Valle del Cauca
Western Andes Cloud Forests
- Km 18 – San Antonio Cloud Forest
- Dagua – Chicoral – La Cumbre
- Rio Bravo Reserve
- Yotoco Forest Reserve
Wetlands – Sonso Lagoon
- Laguna Sonso
- Gota de Leche
Choco region – Anchicaya
- El Descanso km 55
- Upper Anchicaya
- Lower Anchicaya
Following the path of the Anchicaya River as it descends through the western Andes to meet the Pacific Ocean, the old road from Buenaventura, mostly abandoned, offers incredible birding.
One of the most famous places in this point is the restaurant El descanso km 55, read our entry about this place Best Set to Photography Tropical Rainforest Birds at Upper Anchicayá.
Among the more than 500 species that have been recorded along the road are about 50 species endemic to the region.
The Pacific lowlands of the San Cipriano Reserve
- San Cipriano Reserve
- La Delfina
The Pacific rainforest of San Cipriano is incredibly humid, very lush and home to Chocó endemics, including the Five-colored Barbet, Chocó Toucan, Chocó Woodpecker, Rose-faced Parrot, Stub-tailed Antbird, Bicolored Antbird, and Black-tipped Cotinga.
*From here you can continue to Buenaventura for seabird watching on the Pacific coast. This point was not included in the official route, but if you have time, you can visit it in a day trip.
Paramos in Puracé National Park and the Central Andes
From Valle, the route goes into the south of the department of Cauca to observe the Central Andes and the páramo where you can see the Andean condor.
At the end of the day you can enjoy a bath in the volcanic springs of Coconuco, where the thermal waters have been diverted to a series of pools, each at a different temperature.
Dry Forest in the Patía Valley
Descending from the páramo, the itinerary concludes in the dry forest of the Patía Valley, located only 600 meters above sea level. The dry forest is a very different habitat where you can find Blue Ground-Dove, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Apical Flycatcher (endemic), and the Scarlet-backed Woodpecker.
Nariño Extension (Optional)
Birders with extra time and a thirst for adventure should continue south to the department of Nariño, a former conflict zone that is newly accessible to visitors.
Nariño is rather more rustic than Valle or Cauca, but features fantastic birding, especially in the rainforests of the Pacific slope.
Among the highlights is La Planada Reserve, which offers some of the best birding in Colombia. You can also continue on to the Rio ñambi Reserve and the Bangsias Reserve.
Another place that has emerged as an interesting birding destination in Nariño is Tumaco. However, the law and order situation still keeps it on the back foot for tourism development. We do not recommend traveling to this place alone.
As time goes by, the list of Colombian birding trails has grown and you can be sure that you will find fantastic birds in any region of the country.
- Take waterproof clothing, waterproof boots, and waterproof backpacks to protect your equipment in case of rain.
- Remember that this whole region has a high relative humidity, so be prepared to keep your equipment safe from excess humidity. In our entry How to Prepare for a Birding Tour in the Neotropics? you will find useful information on this subject.
- Be always accompanied by a local guide.
If you want to know more about Colombian nature tours contact us and plan your trip with us.
- Birdwatching in Colombia – Procolombia
- Audubon Society Website
- The Southwestern Andes Birding Trail
About the author
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.