The Luxury of Colombia: Natural and Cultural Diversity

Sleeping in ecohotels in front of the beach, enjoying spa services among the mountains, or just camping with glamour surrounded by natural forests or deserts. In Colombia, the experiences that nature offers have been adjusted to the comfort and exigencies of luxury tourism.

This is why many media and world wild touristic guides present Colombia as a must to visit, highlighting its touristic quality, and the wealth of its culture and nature.

In Colombia, Everything is about Nature

In Colombia, we have 98 different ecosystems spread across five regions: the Caribbean Sea, the Pacific Ocean, the Andean mountains, the Amazon, and the Orinoco River basin. All of this makes Colombia one of the 17 countries considered to be megadiverse.

Besides that, Colombia is an emergent destination with a huge potential for luxury tourism in nature and culture products focused on gastronomic experiences, music, bird watching, trekking, safaris, adventure among many other activities.

Western Striolated-Puffbird, Nystalus obamai. Fin del Mundo, Putumayo, Colombia.

Luxury Travel in Nature

Colombia’s Private Trips and Safaris

In the country it is possible to take private helicopter expeditions to remote destinations such as Ciudad Perdida on the Caribbean coast; fly over the Serranía de Chiribiquete National Natural Park in the Guaviare; take an aero Safari over the Eastern Plains; or visit the San Agustín Archaeological Park, on the Colombian Massif.

Aerosafari in Colombia

It is also possible to make private trips in 4×4 vehicles for bird watching all over the country; take a private boat with all the comforts to practice sport fishing in the Amazon, in the Pacific, and in the Caribbean; take a private boat for whale watching in Bahia Solano, or Amazon Pink Dolphin watching in San Jose del Guaviare. The possibilities are endless, even safaris you can make by plane, by boat or on a horse.

Fishing in Puerto Carreño © FishIn Colombia
Undulated Savanna – Mururito Nature Reserve
Mururito Nature Reserve

Colombia’s Gastronomic Assets

As for the food, you won’t have to worry. Colombia’s gastronomic assets are very relevant. The climatic conditions of the five regions of Colombia make it possible to find a great variety of fruits and vegetables you can enjoy.

Mix of Fruits: papaya, passion fruit and pineapple, Hacienda La Sierra, Fredonia, Antioquia.
Oro Molido dessert, Hacienda La Sierra, Fredonia, Antioquia.

There are also products such as coffee, cocoa, rum, and many desserts, juices and typical dishes in each region. Some examples include lulada and champus in Valle del Cauca; agua de panela with cheese in Bogota and the Cundiboyacense highlands; bocadillo, a sweet made from guava, among many others.

Coffee Taste Experience at Hacienda La Sierra, Fredonia, Antioquia.
Rum Taste at Hacienda La Sierra, Fredonia, Antioquia.

During your travels, you can schedule tasting experiences or gastronomic tours. However, if the exotic is not your thing, you can also order your own food, and furthermore, if you are vegetarian or vegan there is nothing to worry about.

Local Products

Among the gastronomic experiences that show the richness of the country are visits to market places such as Paloquemao in Bogota, Bazurto in Cartagena and Silvia in Cauca, or visits to coffee plantations in the Coffee Cultural Landscape or cocoa farms in Santander. These activities can also be done in the company of local chefs and cooks.


Luxury Restaurants and Chefs in Latin America

It is important to highlight that there are also high-level restaurants and internationally recognized chefs who have worked to exalt Colombian cuisine such as Leonor Espinosa, Juan Manuel Barrientos, Harry Sasson, Álvaro Clavijo, Alejandro Gutiérrez, brothers Jorge and Mark Rausch, among many others, which made it to the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in the World and at the Latin American level.

In addition, the 50 Best organization chose Colombia as the venue for 2018 and 2019 for its Latin American awards ceremony.

Leo Restaurant – The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019 ©Leo Restaurant

High-Quality Accommodation

There is plenty of accommodation offers such as five stars hotels, glamping, villas, farms, and private homes that have all the services a luxury traveler deserves and demands.


In glamping experiences, we have a very good offer. For example, Niddo in Suesca, or La Villa Suiza in Neusa and Guatavita; Bosko in Guatape; Corocora Camp in the Eastern Plains; Bethel in the Tatacoa Desert, and many others in destinations such as the Coffee Triangle, Tayrona, Barichara, or Villa de Leyva.

Niddo – Suesca
Corocora Camp, Casanare, Colombia

These experiences are very well known, because the contact with nature is unique, in addition to the fact you can see starry skies from the inside of your rooms since these are built with glass ceilings.


Among hotel offer, there are hotels oriented to quality services such as Four Seasons Casa Medina and W (Marriott), both in Bogota; Casa San Agustin and Sofitel Legend Santa Clara (Accor), located in Cartagena or, Las Islas, located in Baru, 45 minutes from Cartagena. These hotels are part of the Virtuoso portfolio, another of the world’s important luxury tourism networks.

Hotel Las Islas
Aurum Spa, Casa San Agustin Hotel, Cartagena, Colombia

Ecolodges and Private Houses

Among the eco-hotel offers, there are famous places with high-quality service such as El Dorado and Casa Oropendola, both in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta; Casa del Presidente in Barichara; El Almejal and El Cantil, located in Bahia Solano or, La Manigua Lodge, located in La Macarena, very near to the rainbow river. These hotels are growing as important luxury tourism destinations in Colombia.

La Manigua Lodge© website
Casa Oropendola, Minca

Coffee Farms

Yes! You can stay at a real coffee farm, and still enjoy high-quality luxury accommodation. The best destinations are Hacienda Venecia in Caldas, at the heart of the Coffee Triangle, and Hacienda La Sierra in Fredonia, Antioquia.

Hacienda La Sierra, Coffee Farm, Fredonia, Antioquia, Colombia

The Quality of the Colombian People

Friendly and welcoming, this is how many travelers describe Colombians in their testimonies. The people of Colombia really make a difference during a trip.

One of our greatest qualities is our Hospitality. The Colombian is always ready to receive people, and not only offers his home but also attends you with pleasure and the best care, even better than if you were in a hotel. Generally, their generosity goes beyond that.

We like to show the beauty of our country, and thus change the collective imagination and stigmas about Colombia, around the world.
Also, Colombians are hard-working, creative, and supportive.

Miguel Portura, one of the best birding guides in Vaupes.


Tourism has played a positive role in building peace in Colombia. It offers people the possibility to work and generate income, and it is also an opportunity for reconciliation.

The Government of Colombia and the tourism industry have played an active role in supporting communities throughout the country with the development of community-based tourism projects, such as an adventure destination for rafting in the Eastern plains, guided by former guerrilla members.

Picture from Audubon: “Wayuu indigenous students and teacher Alvaro Jaramillo are bird watching in La Guajira. The program teaches locals to become tour guides for travelers interested in spotting birds. Photo: Carlos Villalon”

Visit our entry Birdwatching Tourism in Colombia During the Post-conflict Scenarium to know more about tourism, sustainability, and the post-conflict scenario.

Know more about our sustainable destinations in our entry Recommended Sustainable Tourism Destinations in Colombia and Top 5 Tools for Sustainable Nature Tourism in Colombia.

Costs of a Luxury Travel in Colombia

Don’t think that Colombia is an economic country. It can be inexpensive for food, services in the cities, or for shopping in a mall. However, if you want to make private excursions to remote places, with helicopters, charter flights, private boats, and private cars you should know that this is what will make your trip more expensive.

Even more, if you are a photographer and carry a lot of equipment, you need to include the excess baggage in your expenses, since many airlines and charter flights have limited baggage capacity on their flights.

In some cases, you will have to send your extra luggage via cargo, or buy extra seats. This may happen if you are going to Bahia Solano, San Jose del Guaviare, Mitu, La Macarena, among other remote destinations.

Safari in Casanare

Additionally, road transfers may require high-powered cars, as many secondary and tertiary roads are not paved in Colombia. Also, in the rainy season, you will not be able to enter by land to some places, such as Hato La Aurora or Altagracia in the eastern plains; or Cano Cristales, the rainbow river, in La Macarena.

Because of this, some costs may vary depending on the weather season, or the demand. But don’t feel discouraged, this is part of the adventure!

Another thing that can make your trip a bit more expensive is a specialized guide and/or a guide who speaks your language. In general, in Colombia, most guides only speak Spanish, and if you need someone who speaks your language, this will have an extra cost.

Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

Recommendations for your visit

  • Plan your trip in advance.
  • Travel with a travel agency you trust.
  • Ask questions, get informed, don’t be fooled, but also don’t abuse the services that an agent or a guide can give you.
  • Understand that as a country we do our best, but we are still developing and growing.
  • The risk is that you want to stay!

If you want to plan your trip to Colombia do not hesitate to contact us, visit our Plan your trip page!

  • ProColombia
  • Avianca
  • Virtuoso
About the author

Sara Colmenares
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.

Heliconias of Colombia: The Best Collections You Should Visit

Heliconias are plants of great ornamental beauty due to their colors, strange geometric shapes and their banana tree shape. The heliconias are known throughout the world as exotic tropical plants, for their variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and long durability.

What is a Heliconia?

Heliconias are plants whose height varies from 1.2 to 1.9 meters, sometimes more. Their roots are strong and reach up to four meters, therefore, the heliconia is resistant to erosion.

As well as heliconias, birds of paradise, achiras, gingers, bilbos, and other plants known as platanillos are botanically grouped in the order Zingiberales.

Georeferenced records of Heliconias ©OpenStreetMap contributors, ©OpenMapTiles, GBIF

The order Zingiberales is composed of eight families: Musaceae, Heliconeaceae, Strelitziaceae, Lowiaceae, Zingiberaceae, Cannaceae, Marantaceae and Costaceae.

Among these, the best known are the gingers and the birds of paradise (Betancur and Crees, 1993).

The family Heliconiaceae is represented only by the genus Heliconia and has about 250 species, of which 98% are distributed in Central and South America, and the Caribbean (Kress, 1994, cited by Maza and Builes, 2000).

Heliconias of Colombia

Of the more than 250 species of the genus Heliconia, 110 are distributed in the wild in Colombia, and 48 of them have been reported as endemic. Among these species, many have some degree of threat.

Most of the species are distributed in the Andean and Pacific regions, between sea level and 2400 m of altitude.

The regions of Colombia with the highest proportion of endemic Heliconias are the Andean with 75% and the Pacific with 20%.

Moreover, the regions with the highest concentration of species are the more humid regions, such as the western Andean slope (35%), the Atrato river valley (25%), the Magdalena river slopes (25%) and the eastern Andean region (25%) (Betancur and Kress, 1995, 1999).

Thus, Colombia is the largest center of Heliconias diversity in the world (Abalo and Morales, 1982).

Heliconia Flowers are Exported from Colombia

Casa Oropendola, Minca. Heliconias in the center of the table.

Heliconias are used worldwide on various occasions and special dates throughout the year.

The colorful heliconias we know are inflorescences. The real flower is white, small, and is inside. However, what is marketed is the inflorescence, even, the inner flower must be removed in post-production, otherwise it generates a bad smell in the plant.

Heliconia vellerigera ©Tinamu Birding

Colombia is an exporter of heliconias with destinations such as the United States, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Aruba, Holland, and some Asian countries like Japan.

The market for Heliconias is very demanding. This is due to the special care that this type of flowers requires both in its production process and in the handling after it, and to the different attributes to which great importance is attributed by the trader and the final consumer (color, size, shape, quality, etc.)

Heliconias as a Tourist Attraction

Recently, ornamental flora and fauna such as Heliconias, orchids, butterflies, etc. is becoming a potential tourist attraction, especially in Colombia, a country of high biological diversity.

Nature tourism is a good option when you want to get to know these exotic plants in their natural habitat.

In Colombia, there are several places where you can find heliconias. Here I recomend you three places you can visit to see the exuberance of the heliconias.

Quindio Botanical Garden

Butterfly Garden (Mariposario) of the Botanical Garden of Quindío

This place is known for its great butterfly farm, but it is also an excellent destination to see the largest collections of palms and heliconias in Colombia. It also has an insect zoo and three sites for bird watching, among many other things.

The National Collection of Heliconias

The National Collection of Heliconias is located in the Quindio Botanical Garden. This collection has been made thanks to the support of Professor Gustavo Morales in terms of the supply of specimens and their curatorship.

The collection currently holds 45% of the 115 species estimated for Colombia, and its objective is to achieve 100% representation of this family.

The collection includes species of the family Heliconiaceae and the genus Heliconia. 13 of the species contained have some category of threat. In particular,H. abaloi, H. berryziana, H. foreroi, and H. oleosa are critically endangered (CR).

The National Collection of Heliconias is located in the Quindio Botanical Garden

How the collection works

Field trips to different locations made by the scientific staff of the Quindio Botanical Garden are made to collect native heliconias. The scientists take the plants to the Quindio Botanical Garden, and other botanical gardens, for ex-situ conservation purposes.

The specimens are taken to their final place in the National Collection of Heliconias after treatment with a process of acclimatization and propagation. Once in the collection, they acquire an accession number and are monitored and managed agronomically.

Visiting the Collection

Visitors can enter the ecotourism service through the modality of reservation or scheduling.

Only a maximum of 15 people are allowed per group and they will have an exclusive guide who will give them a special tour, full of knowledge and new experiences.


Kids (3-12) ~9 USD – Adults ~15 USD

How to get there

The botanical garden is located at Av Centenario no 15-190 Km. 3 Via Valle Calárca, Colombia. It is 15.5 km from the city of Armenia, which translates to 25 minutes by car.

If you are on the coffee axis, the Quindio Botanical Garden is a destination you can add to your route.

COVID-19 Crisis

The Botanical Garden of Quindio is an NGO. Today it needs your support to sustain itself, so visiting it is a good option.

However, you can also contribute from where you are with their tree sponsorship program or through donations directed to the collection of palms, heliconias, among others.

Tinamu Birding Nature Reserve

Golden-collared manakin (Manacus vitellinus)

The Tinamu is a Natural Reserve and Birdlodge, where up to 260 species of birds have been registered, distributed in 47 families, the most numerous families being flycatchers with 35 (Tyrannidae), tanagers with 21 (Thraupidae), queens with 16 (Parulidae) and hummingbirds with 16 (Trochilidae).

It is also home to +260 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, butterflies and a great variety of plants and trees. Tinamu is a place that since 2014 offers a high level of service in bird watching toursim.

Heliconias of the Tinamu Reserve

In the Tinamú Birding Natural Reserve, there are 7 species of Heliconias and 3 other Zingiber species: Heliconia wagneriana, Heliconia latispatha, Heliconia rostrata, Heliconia stricta, Heliconia vellerigera, Calathea crotalifera, Zingiber spectabile, and Musa velutina.

Heliconia latispatha ©Tinamu Birding

There, besides the birds, you can walk in the forest and meet these beautiful specimens, as well as the birds that come to feed and pollinate these species. Two of them are the Stripe-throated Hermit (Phaethornis striigularis) and the Green Hermit (Phaethornis guy).

In this forest of heliconias, you can also find an incredible lek of Golden-collared manakin (Manacus vitellinus).

Heliconia rostrata ©Tinamu Birding

How to get here

Tinamú Birding is located in Caldas, 18 km from Manizales (30′), in the San Peregrino sector. It is immersed in the Coffee Cultural Landscape and a sub-Andean forest of 11 hectares, between 1,200 and 1,300 meters above sea level, with a warm climate of 25°C.

Heliconia wagneriana ©Tinamu Birding

Visiting the Collection

You can make your reservation by following this link.

To learn more about the Tinamu I recommend you read our entry The Nicest Bird-lodge of Colombia: Tinamu Birding Nature Reserve.

Paraíso Andino Reserve

Paraíso Andino Glamping

The Ecoglamping Reserva Paraíso Andino is a family project that highlights the restoration and conservation of a fragment of sub-Andean forest.

For more than 12 years, they have actively and passively restored the forest and, today they have an excellent infrastructure for ecotourism, such as bird watching, butterfly watching and ethnobotany. And it is very close to Bogotá!

Heliconias of the Paraíso Andino Reserve

The reserve has a collection of heliconias of approximately 60 species. There you can enjoy a guided walk through a trail that takes you through the entire collection.

It is the best option if you want to know these plants in their natural habitat, very close to Bogota. You will also be able to learn about native forest plants and medicinal plants, their uses and history.

How to get here

Paraíso Andino is located in La Vega Cundinamarca (Colombia) Km 12.5 via La Vega-Sasaima.

Visiting the Collection

The entrance to the reserve is by reservation.

  • Téllez Jaramillo P A (2018). Colección Nacional de Heliconias. Version 4.2. Jardín Botánico del Quindío. Occurrence dataset accessed via on 2021-01-04.
  • GBIF
About the author

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.


La Planada Nature Reserve: All you Need to Know Before Visiting

La Planada Nature Reserve was created by the Foundation for Higher Education (FES) in 1982, with support from the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). The objective of its creation was to avoid genetic loss and to preserve the life of hundreds of plants and animals, which are unique inhabitants of the last remnants of the tropical cloud forest in the western andean mountain range, in the so-called biogeographic Chocó in the Colombian Pacific, which has been so badly affected by intense forest clearing.

After more than 30 years, there is a historic moment for the Awa Indigenous people, with the help of the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). Since 9/27/2020 La Planada is connected to the interconnected network (internet).

Having an internet connection benefits the local community, the research and conservation processes in the reserve, and all visitors in La Planada.

9 Facts about La Planada Nature Reserve

La Planada Natural Reserve is one of the most biologically rich places in Colombia:

  1. It has 3,200 hectares of cloud forests.
  2. It has the largest concentration of native birds in South America, with more than 240 species, including rare and endangered species such as the Black-and-chestnut eagle, the Toucan Barbet, the Club-winged Manakin and the Long-tailed Sylph.
  3. It has been described by the famous botanist Alwyn Gentry as the supreme empire of the Epiphytes plants: a paradise of lichens, bromeliads, mosses and orchids.
  4. More than 1,800 species of trees and plants are found here.
  5. It is one of the places with the greatest diversity of orchids in the world with more than 300 varieties.
  6. It has registered, until now, more than 80 species of mammals, among them the Colombian white-faced capuchin (Cebus capucinus), the Mantled howler (Alouatta palliata), ocelots, deers, coatis, weasels and the emblematic Spectacled Bear.
  7. Its cloud forests are also one of the last refuges of the Spectacled bear in Colombia.
  8. Approximately 50 species of reptiles.
  9. And more than 30 species of amphibians has been registered at La Planada.

Sustainable Tourism Destination

In 2010 the FES Foundation donated the La Planada Nature Reserve to the Awá Indigenous People. Since then the community has led the recovery of the Reserve as well as projects for the conservation of biological diversity, with the development of three work programs: community organization, sustainable production and conservation.

Also, it has been able to establish good inter-institutional alliances, having technical support from important organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the MacArthur Foundation, the European Union, the Humboldt Institute, RESNATUR among others.

Know more about Sustainable Destination in Colombia in our post Recommended Sustainable Tourism Destinations in Colombia.


The premontane rainforests of the La Planada Nature Reserve are distributed in two plains, five hills and two pronounced canals. It is located between 1,300 and 2,100 meters above sea level (3937 – 6889.7 ft). It has an average annual rainfall of 4.700 mm, with a dry period between June and August. The average temperature is 20ºC.


La Planada Natural Reserve is placed 27 km from the municipality of Ricaurte, department of Nariño, in the southwest of the country.

Important Bird Area and Protected Forest Reserve

It has been declared an Important Bird Area (IBA) in 2008, under criteria A1 and A2. This means that the La planada holds significant numbers of one or more globally threatened species, and to hold a significant population of at least two range-restricted species.

Within the IBA there are about 1667 hectares declared as a Protected Forest Reserve, within the system of protected areas of Colombia. In Colombia, a reserve of this type corresponds to geographical areas where forest ecosystems maintain their function, even though their primary structure has been changed. They can be public or private and are intended for the establishment, maintenance and sustainable use of forests or vegetation cover.

In La Planada you can find almost 360 species of birds. Within this large group, 29 species are of special interest because of their restricted distribution. Some of them are under threat category in the IUCN red list.

SpeciesIUCN Red List CategorySeasonDistribution
Dark-backed Wood-quail (Odontophorus melanonotus)VUresidentRestricted
Gorgeted Sunangel (Heliangelus strophianus)LCresidentRestricted
Violet-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus coelestis)LCresidentRestricted
Hoary Puffleg (Haplophaedia lugens)NTresidentRestricted
Brown Inca (Coeligena wilsoni)LCresidentRestricted
Velvet-purple Coronet (Boissonneaua jardini)LCresidentRestricted
Empress Brilliant (Heliodoxa imperatrix)LCresidentRestricted
Cloudforest Pygmy-owl (Glaucidium nubicola)VUresidentna
Colombian Screech-owl (Megascops colombianus)NTresidentRestricted
Semi-collared Hawk (Accipiter collaris)NTresidentna
Plate-billed Mountain-toucan (Andigena laminirostris)NTresidentRestricted
Toucan Barbet (Semnornis ramphastinus)NTresidentRestricted
Yellow-breasted Antpitta (Grallaria flavotincta)LCresidentRestricted
Narino Tapaculo (Scytalopus vicinior)LCresidentRestricted
Uniform Treehunter (Thripadectes ignobilis)LCresidentRestricted
Fulvous-dotted Treerunner (Margarornis stellatus)NTresidentRestricted
Club-winged Manakin (Machaeropterus deliciosus)LCresidentRestricted
Orange-breasted Fruiteater (Pipreola jucunda)LCresidentRestricted
Beautiful Jay (Cyanolyca pulchra)NTresidentRestricted
Black Solitaire (Entomodestes coracinus)LCresidentRestricted
Yellow-collared Chlorophonia (Chlorophonia flavirostris)LCresidentRestricted
Tanager Finch (Oreothraupis arremonops)LCresidentRestricted
Dusky Bush-tanager (Chlorospingus semifuscus)LCresidentRestricted
Scarlet-and-white Tanager (Chrysothlypis salmoni)LCresidentRestricted
Indigo Flowerpiercer (Diglossa indigotica)LCresidentRestricted
Purplish-mantled Tanager (Iridosornis porphyrocephalus)NTresidentRestricted
Black-chinned Mountain-tanager (Anisognathus notabilis)LCresidentRestricted
Glistening-green Tanager (Chlorochrysa phoenicotis)LCresidentRestricted
Moss-backed Tanager (Bangsia edwardsi)LCresidentRestricted

Scientific Research at La Planada Nature Reserve

During its more than 20 years of history, the Reserve has developed several investigations on the natural history of tanagers and birds of prey and some threatened species such as the Toucan Barbet and the Plate-billed Mountain-toucan. Studies on the Spectacled Bear and studies of vegetation and floristics have also been carried out with the support of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute. Today, long-term scientific research is being carried out in the reserve to study the dynamics of the Andean forest.

Spectacled Bear rescued at La Planada Nature Reserve. Its name is Arcoiris (Rainbow)

What to do at La Planada Nature Reserve

The birds, as well as the natural and scenic wealth are the main attractions of La Planada. Tourism, as well as the reserve, is in charge of the Awá community. Enjoy one of the most beautiful natural reserves in Nariño by hiking, walking to an impressive waterfall, and resting in the middle of the forest in simple but cozy cabins. The reserve offers accommodation, food and guidance. There are also suitable areas for camping within the reserve.

Fishing and Indigenous Culture

You can make day and night tours through the reserve, and through the ancestral territory of the Awa people. You can also do recreational activities and river fishing, share with the communities the different aspects of the marimba culture and learn about their typical foods.

Orchids and Plants tour

There is a 2 km trail called El Tejón where you can find ecological stations with different attractions such as tuber crops, bromeliads, plants from which the Spectacled Bear feeds. One of the most attractive is the orchidarium with about 3,000 species of orchids.

Birding at La Planada Nature Reserve

Brown Inca – Coeligena wilsoni

Birding in La Planada can be difficult if you do it inside the forest, there are steep slopes and very tall trees. On the other hand, if it is cloudy it is even more difficult to watch the birds. So be prepared for an acoustic rather than a visual birding tour.

However, there are some trails within the reserve, and one of them, the one that takes you to the accommodations, is the territory of the Club-winged Manakin. So this bird is sure to be heard and even seen and photographed. There is also a viewpoint, the only place where you will have a mobile signal, in fact… and where you can observe the Plate-billed Mountain-toucan, and hear some wrens, along with a spectacular view of the reserve.

The other option is to watch birds along the road that leads from the village to the reserve. It is a winding road that ascends to the reserve with very good observation balconies and a drop in the terrain that allows you to see the birds of the canopy on one side and the birds of the understory on the other side.

Although the community has its own guides, we recommend you to be accompanied by a specialized birdwatching guide . If you want to know more, do not hesitate to contact us.


To have the best experience in Nariño, we recommend you to prepare your trip to La Planada Natural Reserve. Take with you:

  • Medical Insurance
  • Repellent – anti-mosquitoes
  • Camera and accessories
  • First aid kit
  • Binoculars
  • Mountain boots
  • Sunblock
  • Raincoat
  • To do camping it is recommended that you bring adequate equipment to have a pleasant time in the natural conditions of climate and vegetation of the reserve.


  • BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: La Planada Natural Reserve. 2020.
  • Tourist information system of the department of Nariño, SITUR Nariño Website.
  • Agustín Codazzi Geographic Institute (IGAC) Website.
  • World Wildlife Foundation Website.
  • La Planada Nature Reserve Blog.
  • Alexander von Humboldt Research Institute Repository

About the author

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.

Books, Handbooks and Guides for Neotropical Birding you Have to Know

Birding in the Neotropics can be difficult, due to the great diversity of birds and ecosystems. South America has more than 3400 bird species, which is more than 30% of the birds of the World. It is also the continent with the most number of birds in the World. As mentioned before in a previous entry, this is the second part of a blog series about field guides for neotropical birding and books.

In this post I will focus on other literature about South American birds and the neotropical birders’ library, to help you . This literature, however, is very useful in a Colombian context as well. Some of you might consider taking one of the books discussed below into the field with you, but most will find them to be too large, instead serving as references in preparation of your trip.

Neotropical birders’ library

Birds of Northern South America, 2006.

by Robin Restall, Clemencia Rodner & Miguel Lentino & Robert S. R. Williams. 2006.

Birds of Northern South America Set: 2 Volume

This tremendous and complementary 2-volume set covers the entirety of Northern South America (Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Aruba, Curazao, Bonaire, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana). All species recorded in the continent up until 2006 are covered.

Volume 1. 

Birds of Northern South America: Identification guide, Vol. 1: Species account by Robin Restall, Clemencia Rodner & Miguel Lentino & Robert S. R. Williams (2006, ISBN: 978-0713672428).

Volume 1 harbors a brief introduction, followed by the written accounts for 2300+ species occurring in the region! The text is not as thorough as in other publications about the region but none the less treats the subspecies of respective areas very well. Remarks aiding bird identification are also providing, such as status, habitat and taxonomical issues. The voice is transcribed and further enhanced by the appendix, listing published recordings for each species.

Volume 2. 

Birds of Northern South America: Plates and Maps, Vol.2: An identification Guide by Robin Restall, Clemencia Rodner, Miguel Lentino & Robert S. R. Williams, illustrated by Robin Restall (2006, ISBN: 978-0713672435).

Volume 2 is the identification guide for neotropical birding, is smaller but still quite bulky for field use. Double-page spreads show illustrations of 4 – 14 species per plate so that similar species are readily comparable. All illustrations are made by Robin Restall. Distribution maps of all species are usually clustered together on the left page. As typical for many Bird Guides of the region, there is much blank, unused space.

Although one is able to identify many of the vast region’s bird species, you will struggle using this field guide volume on its own, as illustrations range from good to poor. Within Tyrannidae (and several other families…), you will encounter several mistakes and inaccuracies. In some cases, species are depicted with the totally wrong eye-color, wing pattern etc., and these errors make correctly identifying birds impossible without additional knowledge. Furthermore, the jizz of several other species are not that well captured and are sometimes at odd.

A lot of different plumages of one species and their sub-species are depicted. A huge bonus!

The Birds of South America by Robert S. Ridgely, illustrated by Guy Tudor, 1989.

The 2-volume set was for a long-time ahead of its time, but now is quite outdated. They are part of a 4-set volume plan that endeavoured to cover all the birds of South America. Thus far, only two volumes have been published: The Oscine Passerines, Vol. I. and the Suboscine Passerines, Vol. II. The other 2 volumes were to cover the non passerines (Land birds), Vol. III, and the non passerines (Water birds), Vol. IV, but they will never appear, as plans were buried for these volumes soon after the work’s initial publication.

Volume 1. The Birds of South America: The Oscine Passerines by Robert S. Ridgely, illustrated by Guy Tudor (1988, ISBN: 978-0292707566)

The Birds of South America- Volume 1- The Oscine Passerines

Volume 2. The Birds of South America: The Suboscine Passerines by Robert S. Ridgely, illustrated by Guy Tudor (1993, ISBN: 978-0292770638)

The Birds of South America, Vol. II, The Suboscine Passerines

The illustrations plates in both volumes are bundled together in the middle section of the books. Not every bird species of South America is illustrated, as many are summarized as similar species to the ones depicted.

Guy Tudor’s color plates still rank as probably the best, most accurate, and artistic paintings of Neotropical avifauna. They are truly timeless…

Ridgley’s text provides a lot of information about South American Avifauna and Latin American Ornithology at the beginning of the volumes. In each volume, the identification, status, and voice are described, and there are halftone range maps for every species.

It as inspirational as it is indispensable for any bibliophilic ornithologist.

Field Guide to the Birds of South America: Passerines, 2009.

by Robert S. Ridgely, illustrated by Guy Tudor (2009, ISBN: 978-1408113424)

Field Guide to the Birds of South America: Passerines by Robert S. Ridgely, illustrated by Guy Tudor

This is another birding guide for neotropical birding. It is a single-volume concise edition from the above described volumes. For this edition, the text has been condensed, and many of the missing species that were not illustrated before have now been painted. New maps have been compiled for every species covering all South America!

Birds of Peru, 2007.

by Thomas S. Schulenberg, Douglas F. Stotz, Daniel F. Lane, John P. O’Neill and Theodore A. Parker III, illustrated by 13 artists. (2007, ISBN: 978-0-7136-8673-9)

Birds of Peru by Thomas S. Schulenberg, Douglas F. Stotz, Daniel F. Lane, John P. O’Neill and Theodore A. Parker III, illustrated by 13 artists

Peru shares the vast Andean mountain range and large tracts of the Amazonian biome with Colombia. If you intend to visit the southern region of Colombia for birding (around Leticia), neighboring Peru shares most or all of its species with Colombia. There, this guide can prove useful. A large portion of widespread Andean birds can be found in both countries and are covered in this book.

It still ranks high as one of the best modern field guides in South America. Its’ origin dates back to John P. O’Neill’s and Ted Parker’s intense field work in the 80s and 90s. Ted Parker was among the individuals who revolutionized contemporary neotropical field ornithology. His contributions cannot be overemphasized, but both men mentioned above laid the foundation for this guide. Parker’s premature death halted the book’s plan. Luckily, they were picked up again by an illustrious team of authors and illustrators that finished this impressive book.

Its size -14,8 x 3,7 x 20,9 cm- makes it easy to take in the field. The introductory section is typical for a modern guide, and the taxonomy largely follows that of the South American Classification Committee (SACC). It devotes 2 plates to bird topography, normally omitted by many other regional field guides. It contains detailed explanations on how to use the guide and includes clear maps showing topography, major rivers, the location of protected areas, and political units.

The plate section shows each species portrayed opposite the text and maps. The text includes information on abundance, elevational, and distributional information; notes on different subspecies; a transcription of voice; and sometimes notes on distinctive habits that are helpful for field identification. Thirteen artists have illustrated the plates, so there are inevitably big differences in style and quality. But most of them are very good and accurate. At the end you will find vocal credits and references, artist credits, and an index.

The Handbook of the World Series (HBW), 1992–2013.

The Handbook of the World Series (HBW)

What is probably the most impressive, thorough, & beautiful work about birds currently available for the neotropical birders’ library, is the The Handbook of the World Series (HBW).  This work was compiled over 18 years and contains 16 volumes with the gargantuan task of treating all the living bird species of the world with text and illustrations!

I will give only a short, general summary about the series, as all the volumes share a common denominator throughout: Pure excellence! Further, I will list volumes of big interest from a Neotropical birder’s point of view.

Every single volume of this encyclopedic work is quite large, weighing 4.5 kg coming in at 24x31x5 in dimension. It will certainly test the stability of your bookshelf. Eleven of the volumes have an introductory foreword discussing various topics concerning ornithology, ranging from introducing the work itself, art & nature, and avian bioacoustics to ornithological nomenclature, climate change, and more!

Each family is covered and introduced separately by the foremost authorities on the subject who cover covering everything from general info to systematics, morphological aspects, and almost ALL biological aspects of the family. The chapters are accompanied by outstanding color photographs, many of which have never been published. All species known to exist up until publication of each respective volume are included and illustrated by various artists who are considered to be among the best in their fields.

Artistically, they are all of highest level, with minor errors. For each  species there is a thorough description; however, this description is not aimed to assist in identifying these birds. The accounts are aided by range maps. At the end you find a huge bibliographic index. For species discovered after a volume’s publication, this group has created a new Special Volume: New Species and Global Index.

Listed below there are volumes of particular interest to Neotropical ornithologists and birders:

Handbook of the Birds of the World – Volume 5: Barn-owls to Hummingbirds

Handbook of the Birds of the World – Volume 5: Barn-owls to Hummingbirds plate

Handbook of the Birds of the World – Volume 8: Broadbills to Tapaculos

Handbook of the Birds of the World, Volume 8, Broadbills to Tapaculos plate

Handbook of the Birds of the World – Volume 9: Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails

Handbook of the Birds of the World – Volume 9, Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails plate

Handbook of the Birds of the World – Volume 16: Tanagers to New World Blackbirds

Handbook of the Birds of the World – Volume 16 Tanagers to New World Blackbirds plate

Visit to learn more about the HWB-series, authors and artist credits. Every single volume is presented there.

Tip: The whole series is available online at The online version is updated frequently, and in addition, you can keep your lists there, using the sites excellent features. Birdlife/HBW has its own taxonomic system (more about that in this Blog) and is further linked to the Internet Bird Collection (IBC). Rumor has it that there will be a fusion between HBW and Cornell University in the nearer future!

Helm Identification Guide Series, 1980s – 2020 current

For the sake of completeness, I will list some excellent monographs of the famous Helm Identification Guide Series (available through the NHBS book-store, mentioned below) dealing exclusively with Neotropical/New World bird families. I did not include available monographs of families occurring in the neotropics, but I do cover the whole world (See HBW above). These monographs provide the most detailed information about any of these families, especially concerning species-level. They are not revised in detail. You’ll find very brief notes, instead.

  • Antpittas and Gnateaters, by Harold Greeny, illustrated by David Beadle (2018, ISBN: 978-1472919649)

Beautiful new book about some of the most highly-prized, elusive and least-known of all species in the Neotropics! Includes photos & excellent artwork

  • Cotingas and Manakins, by Guy M. Kirwan & Graeme Green, illustrated by Eustace Barnes (2012, ISBN: 978-0691153520)

Excellent and thorough from A-Z. Includes photos & excellent artwork

  • New World Blackbirds: The Icterids by Alvaro Jaramillo & Peter Burke, illustrated by Peter Burke (1998, ISBN: 978-0713643336)

Somewhat less appealing than the other above-mentioned ones, still very detailed. No photographs but nice artwork.

  • The Tanagers: Natural History, Distribution & Identification: Natural History, Distribution, and Identification by Morten S. Isler & Phyllis R. Isler, (1999, ISBN: 978-0874745535)

Not matching standards of the precedent books.  Its artwork is not as elaborated and accurate, either. No photos.


If you like to read magazines there are:


Cotinga is published once a year and you can subscribe at is the most important magazine for publications about birds in Latin American countries! It is peer-reviewed and published in Spanish, English and Portuguese.

Neotropical Birding

Neotropical birding is published twice a year and you can subscribe at birding is devoted to all topics concerning birdwatching in the Neotropics. Articles range from identification, bird watching areas/reserves presented, taxonomic issues, book-reviews & much more! It is richly accompanied by color photographs throughout. Of Cotinga, pdf versions are available online.


technological abilities have evolved dramatically over the last century. Nowadays you can find digital archives accessible to everybody containing the world’s largest collection of plants, animals, sounds and videos. We invite you to explore some of them which has been created for ornithology and birdwatching.

All Birds Colombia – A Sunbird Field Guide

There is also a (payable) bird app, “All birds Colombia”,  for Android and IOS from Sunbird based on this volume’s work! The app is not revised here, wait for future reviews on this and other birding apps.


Merlin is a platform and application launched in 2014 by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University in the United States. Merlin is based on more than 800 million sightings submitted to eBird citizen-science project platform from birders around the world. It was designed to beginning and intermediate bird watchers. It is free and can be used in both Android and iOs operating systems.

Merlin asks you to describe the color, size, and behavior of the bird you saw. Then, Merlin shows you a shortlist of possible bird species based on descriptions from Cornell Lab experts and collaborators. More than 3 million descriptions help Merlin to match your input with the most likely birds. When you identify a species and click “This is My Bird,” Merlin also saves your record to help improve its future performance.

The downside of this application is that rare or unreported birds on the eBird platform do not appear in the records. Making it necessary to use books in the field. It also depends on an internet connection to be able to access the platform in real time, which is difficult in many places in the Neotropics.

One way to avoid having to connect to the internet is to download the bird packs by region to your device. However, these regionally-based bird packages take up a lot of memory and you may not have space to store them, or your device may be slowed down.

All About Birds

This is an online guide to birds and bird watching. It is a free resource available for everyone and funded by donors.

At the current time of writing this blog, all books discussed here are available. Check for instance,,,,, and of course your local book-store!

We hope peaked your interest with this selection of truly stunning literature. It is quite a challenge selecting which guide to take in the field, but in preparing for your trip and reading these guides, I hope you enjoy immersing yourself in the wonderful world of birds. And there are many more books available…

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.

Birders Library: The Colombian Birding Field Guides Books

This is the first of a two-part blog-series about Colombian & other useful Neotropical field guides and literature. Yes, this addresses to the bibliophilic birder, to build the best Neotropical birders’ library, as nowadays there are many other means of information sources and identification aides.

If you, like me, still like to read and carry along good old paper format field guides, you’ll find them presented and reviewed here. It might facilitate to choose the one(s) that appeals most to you, to take along in the field. The first series, emphasizes on field- and site guides dedicated to Colombia’s avifauna.

The second series will suggest & review literature covering a broader Neotropical area, but encompassing Colombia as well, so highly useful and complementary to the books discussed here.

A preliminary note:

Colombia and all other countries in South America lying within equatorial regions are hosting a disproportionate amount of earth’s bird (bio)-diversity, and diversity is for sure higher than what current field guides of the region reflect!

It is therefore almost impossible to produce any complete field guide without making any compromises in order to shape and trim a book into field guide format. As well, some mistakes will inevitably creep into all works of this magnitude.

Any author and illustrator have to be acknowledged greatly for their efforts and contributions to Neotropical avifauna!

Colombian Field Guides

Field Guide to the Birds of Colombia by Miles McMullan (2nd edition, 2018, ISBN: 978-958896962)

Field Guide to the Birds of Colombia by Miles Mc Mullan (2nd edition, 2018, ISBN: 978-958896962)

The second edition of this widely acclaimed Field Guide to the Birds of Colombia is probably the most used Field Guide about birds in Colombia. It states that there are 1909 species recorded in Colombia according to the classification of the Birds of Colombia published in the journal Ornitología Colombiana.

It covers them all and implements taxonomic modifications proposed by the South American Classification Committee (SACC). Since the first publication 2014, 24 species have been added to the Colombian List. A wealth of new information about Colombian birds has been gathered and been included in a compact field Guide written and illustrated by a single author – Miles McMullanWOW!

The book’s setup is introduced with conservation status, both at national and international level (this following the IUCN Red list of Threatened Species) and notes on how to interpret/use voice transcription, maps, illustrations, and abundance.

Topography & climate, account for such rich avian diversity. To show that, vivid maps like political areas, vegetation zones, rainfall pattern, endemic bird areas & protected areas in Colombia are depicted.

The heart of the book is the plate/identification section. There is brief written introduction (variable information) of every family & genus (genus, if represented by 2+ species, but often repetitious with family section) and how many species they comprise. Families are divided in color sections on the page fronts of the book. Hardly anybody will use them and they fade quick.

The plates are arranged to show the names of the species, illustrations, maps (incl. elevation & sub-species information), texts, field notes and notes on status & voice, in a single informative cell. This helps tremendously to navigate through a guide with such large avifauna. 3-6 species are covered per page. The text is short but precise.

Rufous – throated Tanager – Ixothraupis rufigula. Illustration by Milles McMullan

To judge quality of illustrations is always highly subjective. The drawings have been made in aquarell (more than 5000 illustrations) by a single artist and are of various quality varying from good – less so. Some species are anyway only identified with additional knowledge. If there is significant sexual dimorphism in species, both sexes are depicted.

In families, where there are species with many different plumage-types (e.g. Gulls and New World Warbler) several plumages are shown. The song and calls are transcribed following widely-used conventions for voice transcription.

There is little blank space, indicating that the layout of the guide has been well executed. This pays off in the format of the book – it has just over 400 pages and weighs 600 grams – and its general appeal.At the end comes a section of 3 plates with escaped birds. It could probably be expanded randomly, therefore not very representative.

Followed by charts of endemics & near endemics, respectively threatened bird in Colombia. Finally, there is the index with all English and generic Latin names.

Guía Ilustrada de la Avifauna Colombiana by Fernando Ayerbe Quiñones (2018, ISBN: 978-958-5461-10-9)

Guía ilustrada de la avifauna colombiana, 1st edition, English version, ed. WCS Colombia, Fernando Ayerbe Quiñones.

Shortly after the publication of the above introduced book, a new field guide about Colombia’s avifauna appeared. It is about the same weight as the previous one, and just a bit smaller. After the prologue the Orders, each represented with color bars and depicted with a representative example are introduced, an index and how many species they encompass. A chart on how the plates are structured and abbreviations are explained.

The color plates facing species names (English & scientific) and distribution maps with color subspecies and elevational info. There are blank lines between the bird names & distribution maps. They have been inserted for that Spanish speaking ornithologists can pencil in local names.

The guide lacks any identification text (apart from very short family and generic descriptions) and voice transcriptions! This compromises it a bit to use as a classic field guide. It is more a (very well & thoroughly) illustrated checklist. Up to 10 species with 26 illustrations are found on a plate. Sometimes, these are a little crowded, but that’s the exception.

Up to 4 plumage types are depicted in some New World Wood Warblers and some Gulls. Male and female are illustrated where needed and for waders there’s winter plumage and juvenile depictions. There are 52(!) hypothetical species lacking documented records in Colombia included on the main plates, probably to raise observer awareness.

Guía ilustrada de la avifauna colombiana, 1st edition in Spanish by Fernando Ayerbe Quiñones

The illustrations are highly accurate (in my opinion the best of any Colombian field guide) and you find many relevant details to identify difficult species.

The guide closes with an appendix of scientific order-, family- and generic names, a list for the endemic & hypothetical and threatened species in Colombia, and non-pelagic species on the Isla de Gorgona (a far-flung destination), a topographical map and one with the national parks in Colombia.

All in all, a very appealing book and a must to take in the field for every visiting birder.

Guía Ilustrada de la Avifauna Colombiana by Fernando Ayerbe Quiñones (2nd edition, 2019)

Guía ilustrada de la avifauna colombiana, second edition in Spanish by Fernando Ayerbe Quiñones

In November of this year, the author has just published a second edition with the following changes:

  • Change of cover.
  • Change in Paper type.
  • Adjustments in the color of the illustrations (lighting).
  • The shadow of each illustration was removed.
  • The illustrations now have a greenish background that helps highlight the colors of the birds.
  • Page of maps and texts in white background and more contrasting letters to facilitate reading.
  • Nomenclature and phylogenetic order (at the family level) updated according to SACC.
    1941 species.
  • Species and genera grouped by similarity within each family (more comparative).
  • The item “Almost Endemic” is included.
  • Includes check box for the species already seen.
  • Includes measurements in inches.
  • Includes names in French and German.

Let’s see how it works at field and we will tell you!

A Guide to the Birds of Colombia by Steven L. Hilty and William L. Brown

Illustrated by Guy Tudor, John Gwynne, H. Wayne Trimm, Michel Kleinbaum & others (1986, ISBN: 978-0691083728)

A Guide to the Birds of Colombia, by Steven L. Hilty and William L. Brown

This book has long been the standard reference not only for Colombia, but areas adjacent to it (especially Amazonia). Since its publication there has been tremendous changes in bird systematics, knowledge about birds in Colombia increased, resulting in many new species been discovered within its political boundary (and some to science).

It’s size and weight are compromising its use as field guide. It has 836 pages and weighs over 2 kg. This is said keeping in mind, that now there are more compact options (see below). Imagine what people would have sacrificed to take such a book in the field, at the times, no such publications were available! Nevertheless, the book deserves a place in the hall of fame of neotropical bird books, or the shelve of any bibliophile ornithologist!

Introductory chapters and photographs highlight Colombia’s geography, climate, and vegetation, and discuss migration and conservation questions, and the history of Colombian ornithology. As usual at that time, the illustrations plates are bundled together at the middle section of the book.

Colombia’s magnificent avifauna is illustrated on 56 color plates, drawn mainly by Guy Tudor, John Gwynne, H. Wayne Trimm, Michael Kleinbaum and others. Especially Guy Tudor’s paintings are of high artistic quality, timeless and true in detail. They’re still considered to be among the best neotropical bird drawings! The other illustrations are a mixed bag of quality, some drawings are not true to life and detail at all, and are obviously done from museum skins.

Further, there are 13 half-tone plates and 99 line drawings (both not very useful) inserted in the text section. Not every bird species known to occur in Columbia at that time is depicted. Many are summarized and mentioned as similar species to the ones depicted, together with other brief information on facing plates. There are 1475 range maps.

The text section is written by one of the foremost authorities about Colombian Birds, Steve Hilty (and William Brown as co-author). It is highly captive and focuses on bird identification. It covers song/call transcriptions, behavior, habitat, status as well as some breeding data and notes about taxonomy and hypothetical species.

Appendices contain bibliography and section on birding locations.

Birdwatching in Colombia by Jurgen Beckers & Pablo Florez (2013, ISBN: 978-9090277851)

Birdwatching in Colombia by Jurgen Beckers & Pablo Flores

If you plan a trip to Colombia, whether on an individual or guided basis, this site guide will be indispensable. Not only for thorough preparation but travelling as well. It is written by two very active and experienced birders in the Colombia.

Jurgen Beckers has extensively travelled Colombia and now runs one of the best and nicest reserves (at the time of the book published not yet established therefore not covered) in Putumayo: La Isla Escondida! Pablo Flores has visited nearly every corner in Colombia for over 20 years and runs a well-established bird tour company in Colombia, Multicolored Birding.

The guide is divided in 12 chapters, each one representing a distinctive eco-zone, the guide describes 127 birding destination in Colombia (and oh, there are so many more).

The book’s introduction focuses on how to use it and deals with taxonomic issues made up until the book’s publication. It explains the icons inserted in the introductory section of each site, what to bring, safety issues, climate, and there are maps showing travel distance & time between major areas/cities in Colombia.

Each chapter begins with a short summary of the associated endemic birds & specialties and shows a map of the area. Sometimes there are notes on local cultural heritage. The sites are being described on 1-3 pages, accompanied by 1 -4 color photographs of birds and habitat.

It has detailed information of what species to expect, how to get there, where to stay & eat and many other logistical information, provided by the graphical icons mentioned above. All this information is to be used in conjunction with well-designed maps for most birding locations!

If you read this book, it will make you immediately want to go birding and explore Colombia!

As the book has been published in 2013 some of the information is outdated. Colombia’s tourism industry has changed fundamentally in past years. Many new sites have become available to birders, infrastructure and access has improved considerably. Some of the described sites are not operating the same way anymore as in 2013, phone numbers and contacts have changed.

Find out more about Colombian field guides in our recommended literature section.


For people with particularly deep interest in Colombian ornithology, there is a magazine published, briefly mentioned above:

The Revista Ornitología Colombiana, some issues also available online in pdf. It deals about new species, discovered in Colombia, aspects on biology about Colombian birds and conservation issues. Have a look at

At the current time of writing this blog, all books discussed here are available. Check for instance,,,,, and of course your local book-store!

Find the second part of this blog 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.

How to Prepare for a Birding Tour in the Neotropics?

We assume that you are here to know about birding in the Neotropicsthe richest area in terms of species diversity in the World!

What is the Neotropical Region?

The Neotropical Region is one of the 8 ecozones that exist in the Planet. It extends from Mexico to the southernmost tip of South America (map below). It is the ecozone with the highest area covered by tropical rainforests, including the Pacific Chocó Forest, the vast Amazon rainforest, and the endangered Atlantic Forest. These rainforests are the most important reserves of biodiversity on Earth.

Biomes of the Neotropics (according to the World Wide Fund for Nature)

Birding in the Neotropics

Guianan Cock-of-the-rock – Rupicola rupicola, Mitú, Vaupés

“The Neotropical region has more species of birds than any other region on Earth,” said Brian Smith in his paper about how did this extraordinary bird diversity originate.

Yes, the numbers are staggering, overwhelming, and quite unbelievable, but flipping through the literature can be quite confusing.

Birding in the neotropics makes you find species so incredibly colorful, rare, and even mythical, you wouldn’t dare to dream of spotting them. Others so confusingly similar to each other that you might think distinguishing them to be impossible.

All of this only to remember that you still have to consider the genus and family levels as well!

Of course there are a lot of different strategies to achieve such tasks and just about as many different ways to practice your birding in the neotropics.

If you are looking for a place to begin, we are keen to share some of our personal experiences with you so that you can better orient yourself in this complex but rich world of Avifaunas.

How do I Prepare for Birdwatching in the Neotropics?

Birdwatching at the Amazon Forest, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

Planning and Preparation

Any successful trip starts with thorough planning and preparation. Unless you are short on time, a well-seasoned Neotropic birder, a pure lister, or someone who is searching for missing target-species, there is absolutely no need for hurry!

Planning tightly scheduled trips through many different biomes and regions will likely leave you with missed species and unsatisfactory views of the species you do catch.  When birding in the neotropics all-day bird scouting through the largest of mixed flocks is the exception, not the rule! This is luck and dependent on the season.

More realistically, you’ll spend a considerable amount of time walking through some of the most biodiverse habitats only to see or hear a few species. This is especially true for forest birding and less so for open or aquatic habitats. Moreover, you’re likely to lose time travelling large distances between sites on bad or blocked (or both!) roads.

Schedule and choose a trip that is well balanced and with low stress. You will certainly see and enjoy more than if you were to rush from one site to another.

Consider the Season!

Green-and-black Fruiteater – Pipreola riefferii at Montezuma Hill. Risaralda, Colombia

As mentioned above, when birding in the neotropics, consider the season. The two seasons in the Neotropics are defined by rainfall patterns –a Rainy season and a Dry season. Both seasons have their pros and cons that impact local bird communities.

You might not want to visit the wettest parts of the amazon in the peak rainy season while you may want to schedule your trip to the Pantanal during dry season. In addition, there are different migration patterns to consider. Between August-April, you will find boreal birds while you will find austral migrants between May-August.

On the topic of weather and climate, birders must be aware of issues surrounding climate change and conservation that are occurring on a global scale. Unfortunately, these changes are disturbing and changing many of the normal patterns amongst species.

Learn about the Region you will visit

Drone photo Anchicayá, Valle del Cauca

Finally, before traveling you should always be informed on the current political situation in respective countries/regions and consult the tropical healthcare institute a couple of months ahead of your trip! Spanish for most parts, aside from Portuguese in Brazil and various indigenous languages, is the official language used. Having basic knowledge of these languages and other considerations will improve your trip to Latin America.

How to Identify Birds in the Neotropics?

Chamí Antpitta Grallaria alvarezi – Novataxa 2020 – Cuervo et al. Pictured from @amcuervo

Learning to identify birds in the neotropics requires careful and concentrated observations and examinations in the field, but in order to do these thing successfully, you must understand distribution patterns, ecology and behavior, be aware of the various songs and calls, and have experience studying guides and other literature (we’ll fill you in on a separate blog).

Study the Bird Families Before Arriving

Try to get a grip on the many new families and genus before moving on to the species-level, especially when dealing with large and confusing families (i.e. Tyrannidae).

Correctly identifying the species within certain families requires knowledge beyond what an average field guide provides and thus can be acquired through experience gained in the field.

Excellent resources – other than books – i.e. on the internet are (payable),,,,,, to name a few.

Train your Hearing

Try to train your hearing as much as possible, as many birds are detected and identified by their voice. In general, birds are more often heard than seen, especially in forest habitats! Excellent resources for bird vocalization are and

Study Birds Behaviour and Ecology

As mentioned above, for birding in the Neotropics you will not only need knowledge of field marks, but behavior and ecology. Many of the new species and families you’re likely to encounter not only look different but behave differently than what you’re used to observing at home.

Many species in the neotropics are sedentary, not migratory. They defend and occupy territory year-round and are often found exploiting certain niches. Hence, they are extremely well adapted to their natural environments. This leads to interspecies behavior differences.

Many birds travel in flocks to gather food (insectivorous & and frugivorous, alike), as they are chasing fast and in frantic movements through the strata of the forest and other biomes! Others form army, ant-like swarms (some are totally dependent on them) while others fly solo and thus are rarely spotted unless you know exactly how and where to look/listen for them!

Recommended literature

We do warmly recommend that you read Steve Hilty’s Birds of Tropical America: A Watcher’s Introduction to Behavior, Breeding and DiversityAlthough published some time ago, this book is still very relevant by getting at the heart of what you need to do. In addition, it is written in a very passionate and enjoyable manner and remains as the most acknowledged authority on the subject!

This book also points out the extremely complex (especially in the Neotropics) interaction between birds (and that goes for all other organisms) and their natural surroundings. Having an idea about these interactions will help you improve and understand the pivotal points about birding in the Neotropics.

For this purpose, we highly recommend you read The New Neotropical Companion by John KricherThis new edition about tropical ecology is enhanced by its abundant and superb photographs. Many chapters (i.e. evolutionary processes) are explained with examples of birds! So, as a birder, reading this book (or parts of it) makes a lot of sense. Additionally, there’s a chapter on the potential dangers of birding in tropical areas.

How to behave in the field?

Once in the field, you’ll find out quickly that early starts are mandatory, as there is a lot more activity in the morning. If you can be patient and quiet, which means birding alone or with a small group, you will improve your chances of observing birds and other wildlife considerably.

In walking through hot, muddy, and steamy rainforest or trekking through cold, windswept paramos, you will realize that many of the birds illustrated in the field guilds look completely different! This might be due to unideal observation conditions (bad light, distance), or it could be that the illustration you are using is incorrect.

Take pictures and videos along with sound recordings of the birds so that you can go back and compare and discuss with like-minded birders on the above-mentioned platforms/databases. No, you don’t need professional equipment. There are many good and handy (and cheaper) options out there nowadays. More blogs about this and other topics are in currently in production, so stay tuned…

Trying do unriddle and solve those mysteries, however, is one biggest and arguably most enjoyable parts about birding in the Neotropics. It’s when all your preparation starts to pay off.

Knowledge about birds in the Neotropics is still very much incomplete and thus each birder is able to contribute to unraveling this mystery by simple observation.

Birding with Sula

If your time is limited or you simply don’t want to put the effort in for your pre-trip preparation, a good option for you might be a tour led by professional guides who can explain the wildlife to you.

There are many excellent companies, like Sula, and on these types of tours, you don’t have to worry about being left on your own nor not knowing a foreign language. Everything will be taken care of for you: when to have your meals, how long you’ll be on an excursion, what to bring, and above all, what to expect.

At the end of your exciting day, you’ll summarize your observations in a bird log and be briefed about the next day’s activities. This is a great way to learn a lot of information in a short amount of time!

We hope these tips gave you some insight on how to prepare for your Neotropical birding quest and that you’ll enjoy birdwatching in this region as much as we do! See you soon.

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.

Covid-19: Let’s take care now so we can meet soon in Colombia!

Colombia is an exceptional nature tourism destination where it is possible to enjoy a variety of activities from scientific research to simple contemplation and living the natural experience. This is why Colombia is a good post-covid 19 destination for everyone who wants to connect deep with nature. Worldwide, it ranks second as the most biodiverse country on the planet, supported by its offer of protected ecosystems, unique landscapes, fauna and flora and the geographical and climatic characteristics of its six natural regions: Andean, Caribbean, Pacific Coast, Insular, Amazon and Eastern Plains.

Colombia’s Natural Resources Facts

  • 3,000 species of fish at inland waters
  • Diverse marine and coastal ecosystems covering 95% of the continental shelf with coral reefs, mangrove forests, lagoons with coastlines and deltas, phanerogams meadows, beaches and cliffs.
  • 53 million hectares of natural forest.
  • 22 million hectares of savannahs, arid zones, wetlands, and snow peaks.
  • one million hectares of inland waters.
  • 14% of the national territory is a protected area in which there are national parks, nature reserves and sanctuaries.
  • First place worldwide with 20% of bird species in the world.
  • 17% of amphibians in the world.
  • 8% of freshwater fish in the world..
  • 8% of reptiles in the world.
  • 16% of butterflies in the world.
  • 10% of mammals in the world.
  • First place worldwide with 258 species of palms.
  • Third place worldwide with +2890 species in vertebrates and 222 species of reptiles.

Additionally, Colombia is rich in heritage and culture. In the natural and rural areas of Colombia are located the vast majority of indigenous communities, afro-colombian, raizales and palenqueras, in collective territories and reserves, which include rainforests, natural savannas in the Orinoco, the inter-Andean valleys, the Caribbean plain, the vastness of the Chocó Biogeographic and the Amazon.

Therefore, nature tourism in Colombia, besides preserving the natural heritage, promotes the integral development of local ethnic and peasant communities, because tourism is their possibility of generating economic incomes, through the provision of tourism services. In return, local communities are the basis for the development of nature tourism, and this constitutes an option for enhancing economic development, environmental sustainability, social and cultural integration, and the peace process.

Tourism as a factor of sustainable development in Colombia: post-covid 19 destination

International tourism is experiencing the “worst crisis” in its history because of the Covid-19. Experts in the field point that travelers’ preferences and demands will be oriented towards sustainable tourism experiences after the crisis. We know that nature destinations can help you offset the effects on your physical and mental health during the pandemic. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) plans to make Colombia a good post-covid 19 destination, as a major tourist destination in the region, when the coronavirus crisis is overcome, since Colombia has the potential to offer a vast nature tourism activities and wellness for travelers after the Covid-19 crisis.

Regarding on this, Colombia and the tourism sector are preparing to expand the offer of sustainable tourism around activities in nature such as ecotourism, wellness, birdwatching, safari, whale watching, among others, as well as community tourism experiences. In turn, more than ever, nature tourism will help people in rural areas to recover economically from this crisis, especially local nature guides, small nature reserves, ecological parks, zoos and small towns near important nature destinations.

“Check in Certificate” Covid-19 biosafety

Colombia would be the first country in the world to agree with the organization on a biosecurity seal for post-Coronavirus tourism. The Ministry of commerce, industry, and tourism (MinCIT), with the support of ProColombia and Icontec, created the “Check in Certificate” quality seal and established the conditions for its use. This seal, which is voluntary, seeks to generate trust among travelers and consumers so that they use tourist services that comply with the protocols issued by the National Government, minimize the risks of virus infection and encourage tourism in the country. This certification seal is a logo that can be carried by an airline, service provider, area or tourist attraction, according to the certification issued by the conformity assessment body, for complying with technical standards and/or biosafety protocols and the conditions established by the Colombian law.

The purpose of the “Check in Certificate” quality seal will be to minimize the risks for workers, users, visitors and suppliers. Also, to generate confidence, to increase the competitiveness of the productive sectors and to promote the recovery and sustainability of the tourism industry in Colombia.

We want our visitors can check in with confidence, whether it be in a hotel, restaurant, bar or any tourist site. The idea is to make you feel that you are entering into a protected space. Similarly, it will be an informative and commercial tool to differentiate those establishments that offer biosecurity conditions, providing guidance and verifiable, non-deceptive and scientifically based information on compliance with biosecurity conditions. In this regard, the certificate may facilitate the surveillance functions regarding compliance with biosecurity protocols and health standards.

The stamp will also be used in several regions of Europe, Africa and America.

Let’s take care now to meet soon!

Let’s take care now so we can meet again soon!

We want you to know that tourism is an absolutely key sector for the development of Colombia. For nature tourism it is crucial for the conservation of our biodiversity and for the development of local communities. That is why we joined the campaign “#StayHome – Take care now to meet soon”.

Tourism in Colombia will continue to develop with the same strength that it has been developing in recent years, now, and once the process of reactivation takes place!

In Sula we have been taking care of ourselves, working from home. We are preparing to offer you the best natural and sustainable destinations in Colombia, with the complete safety required. We are tired of not having you around, can’t wait to see you soon again!

About the author

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.

Responsible Travelers and Nature Reserves in Colombia

One of the great attractions of Colombia is, without a doubt, the beauty of its nature reserves. These places offer a unique sensory experience in which visitors can contemplate the landscapes, let themselves be carried away by the sounds of nature, participate in ecotourism activities and disconnect from the routine and noise of the city. According to the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies, IDEAM (2014 and 2015), Colombia has a total of 98 marine and terrestrial ecosystems (74 natural and 24 transformed). The creation of protected areas has had a very beneficial impact in terms of protecting water resources and water supply. However, the country needs it to serve as much, if not more, for the effectiveness of these areas in conserving Colombia’s rich biodiversity.

Protected areas and their systems contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, and provide space for recreation and ecotourism development, benefiting local populations, regions and the business sector (Natural National Parks of Colombia, 2014). In addition to the protected areas, there are several figures aimed at the conservation of Colombia’s natural and cultural wealth, such as Ramsar sites, biosphere reserves, Peasant Reserve Areas, among others.

Nature Reserves in Colombia

There are three types of nature reserves in Colombia: UNESCO-declared biosphere reserves, public reserves and private civil society nature reserves. The Biosphere Reserves in Colombia are places that innovate and demonstrate the relationship that human beings can achieve with nature in the effort to combine conservation and sustainable development. Currently, Colombia has five biosphere reserves recognized by UNESCO: The Andean Belt (Cinturón Andino – 1979), El Tuparro (1979), Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (1979), Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta (2000) and Seaflower (2000). We will tell you about them in another entry.

In relation to the other types of reserves, the public reserves are known as Nature Reserves and the private reserves are known as Civil Society Nature Reserves. In Colombia there are only two public Nature Reserves which are the Nukak Nature Reserve in Guaviare, and the Puinawai Nature Reserve in Guainía, both of which are not open to tourism. For this reason, in this post I will focus on the private reserves, since they are mostly the ones that offer the main services and destinations for ecotourism in Colombia.

What is a Civil Society Nature Reserve?

Colombian legislation defines this type of nature reserve as “a part or as the whole of the area of a property that conserves a sample of a natural ecosystem and is managed under the principles of sustainability in the use of natural resources”. In Colombia, any person who owns a rural or natural property can register a natural reserve as long as they demonstrate that they have the interest and commitment to conserve a sample of one or several natural ecosystems and, at the same time, develop sustainable production activities with low environmental impact and friendly to biodiversity. It does not matter the size of the reserve as long as it represents a sample of natural ecosystem.

When a nature reserve is registered with the National Parks of Colombia, it is legally recognized and becomes part of the National System of Protected Areas (SINAP), and incorporated into the National Registry of Protected Areas (RUNAP). One of the main benefits of Colombia’s protected areas is the preservation of natural resources and the promotion of the care of flora and fauna species, especially those at risk of extinction. The owner who registers a natural reserve in Colombia gains: (1) participation rights in the planning processes of development programs, (2) prior consent for the execution of public investments that affect them, and (3) the right to receive government incentives, among others. At the same time, the owner must safeguard the integrity of the territory and report any activity or situation that is endangering the protected area.

Importance of Private Nature Reserves in Colombia

Much of Colombia’s natural ecosystems are being radically transformed. Factors such as deforestation, the expansion of the agricultural frontier and the accelerated growth of extensive cattle ranching have directly affected the country’s natural ecosystems. Many reserves have gone from being a farm divided into paddocks, with severe erosion, to become recovered and well-developed ecosystems that are home to countless species of birds and mammals, attracting international tourism. But its scope has gone beyond, and many reserves have developed sustainability programs related to waste management, organic plantations, permaculture, planting agroforestry crops. They have even specialized in receiving illegally trafficked wildlife and conducting environmental education programs.

Civil Society Nature Reserves are recognized by the Colombian Government as recipients of (1) compensation measures for biodiversity loss, (2) investments in environmental control, (3) payment for environmental services, and (4) tax exemptions through ecotourism. These benefits have encouraged natural and legal persons of all kinds to create or support nature reserves in Colombia, and this is how, to date, there are more than 900 civil society nature reserves in all the Colombian territory that protect around 202,550 ha of land and marine territories (Source RUNAP). All the civil society nature reserves in Colombia belong to IUCN category IV. Many IUCN category IV protected areas exist in densely populated regions, with relatively high human pressure in terms of potential illegal use and visitor pressure. Category IV reserves require management undertaken voluntarily by local communities or private actors. They also require constant and successful management to sustain them over time, because they normally protect only part of an ecosystem.

This is why ecotourism plays a fundamental role in their maintenance. Private nature reserves help to fill the gaps that public reserves cannot fill. They serve as connectors between patches of natural habitat that have become disconnected from each other. In addition, they foster the development of local communities around them by providing common objectives of conservation and sustainable production. Thus, activities such as bird watching, ecotourism, agrotourism, experiential tourism, wellness tourism, sustainable coffee and cocoa production, sport fishing, among others, have become an employment engine for hundreds of rural citizens who depend directly or indirectly on the guarantees provided by the nature reserves. Likewise, the reserves are important actors in the construction of rural scenarios of peace and dignified life for the farmers.

How is the ecotourism experience in most of Colombia’s  nature reserves?

As we mentioned in a past entry, what prevails in Colombia is the offer of basic accommodations in private reserves, sanctuaries and national parks. Despite the importance for environmental protection and local development of the regions, not many places have a full infrastructure for the development of ecotourism. In many of them the accommodation is basic, with rustic houses, built in wood and served by the local farmers themselves, who do not have much idea on how to provide a first class service. In any case, the natural charisma of the Colombian can far surpass these shortcomings. You will see and feel that you will be attended as if you were one of their own family.

There are other services that do not depend only on the community, but on the action of local and national governments. So, many times, the service of drinking water and electricity is limited, especially in the reserves that are located in remote places. The same goes for access roads, which are not maintained, or even exist, and you will have to get there on foot or by horse.

Your visit to a nature reserve in Colombia is very important, because it not only benefits the quality of life of local communities that provide services of any kind, or the protection of the environment, but also encourages and facilitates people’s investments to increase the quality of services. This way, every time you visit them again you will have something new to discover, experience and enjoy!

Check out our trips and also find in our blog the best reviews about the nature reserves you can visit in Colombia.


About the author

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.