Top 5 Tools for Sustainable Nature Tourism in Colombia

Sustainable nature tourism initiatives in Colombia are key to be implemented to avoid the negative impact that tourism may bring. Even more so when Colombia has never had massive visitors to its most preserved natural areas.

Tools for Conservation and Challenges

Sustainable tourism in Colombia: A report from Colombia BirdFair 2018, Cali, Colombia.

1. Promotion

Colombia has been promoted as a nature tourism destination, with special emphasis on the birdwatching segment, at important international tourism fairs in the world such as the International Tourism Fair of Madrid, FITUR, and at the World’s Leading Travel Trade Show, ITB.  This is because Colombia has more than 1950 bird species to see. The National Government of Colombia, through the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MINCIT), seeks to positionate Colombia as a world-class birding destination par excellence. The objective is to join forces, at regional and country level, to create birding trails which offer high quality standards and sustainability criteria.

2. Bird Fairs

Among the activities that enhance bird tourism are the local, regional, national and international bird fairs and festivals. Among the main bird fairs in the world are the British Bird Fair, the American Birding Expo, the Asian Bird Fair and the South American BirdFair. These fairs are an opportunity to promote products related to avitourism, such as birding equipment, destinations, companies and agencies. At the same time, bird fairs serve as an space for scientific divulgation, financially support actions for the conservation of species around the world, and invite people of all conditions to be closer to nature, and enjoy spending time outdoors through this activity.

The Colombia BirdFair

The most important international bird fair in Colombia is the Colombia BirdFair. This fair was created in tribute to the more than 1950 bird species that inhabit the country. All the Colombia BirdFair versions have offered a program that includes birding trips, lectures and several workshops offered to professionals and the general public from children, youth and adults. Lectures and workshops are offered by scientists and professionals working on ornithology, tourism, arts, environmental policy and many other interesting topics. Colombia BirdFair is held in the city of Santiago de Cali, in the department of Valle del Cauca, known as the city of birds due to its high number of species (around 561).

In the words of the director of the fair, Carlos Mario Wagner, the objective of the fair is to “unite wills, unite friends and unite the passion for birds”. The main purpose is to make “a tribute to birds as symbols of union and conservation and as a bridge of brotherhood and fraternity among peoples”.

Carlos Mario Wagner, Colombia Birdfair Director

The fair has generated a social and cultural impact at a local level. This has been expanding to the point of positioning Colombia as one of the most important destinations for birdwatching.

During the Colombia Birdfair 2018 the main topic was Sustainability, and the main lecturers were: Megan Epler Wood (International Sustainable Tourism Initiative), David Lindo (The Urban Birder), Carolina Murcia (Conservation Expert), Miles McMullan (Illustrator and Author of the Field Guide of the Birds of Colombia), Sussy de la Zerda (Founder of the Colombian Ornithological Association ) and Horacio Matarasso (Expert in Avitourism).

Here I brought a resume of the lectures who impressed me more during the 2018’s version of the Colombia Birdfair.

3. Citizen Impact on Restoration 

Extended 3R Rule

Carolina Murcia brought the message of Restoring the House of Birds. The call is to the citizens to contribute by expanding the rule from the three R’s to five. This rule, also known as the three R’s of ecology or simply 3R, proposes to develop three habits of responsible consumption: Reduce, reuse, recycle. The expanded rule includes reject and recover.

The 5 Rs

Reduce, reuse, recycle, reject and recover. For example, reject the excessive use of plastic packaging such as polystyrene for food packaging on the market, promoting the recovery of reusable materials, such as cloth bags or biodegradable material to replace existing bags and containers.

The following actions, made by each citizen, are important keys to contribute to sustainable tourism:

  • Try to consume local products to promote social equity, keeping the countryside alive by supporting small local producers,
  • Measure your own carbon footprint,
  • Buy food from clean production systems,
  • Get involved with political decisions and commit to the country’s destiny.

All this has an effect on the house of the birds avoiding the gradual disappearance of the ecosystems.

Companies also play an important role in committing to responsible production and consumption, some of the expected actions to develop are:

  • Restoration projects in forests,
  • Rehabilitation projects in productive areas,
  • Planting native trees,
  • Controlling the use of polluting agents, among others.

4. Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet: The Role of Education

Why do we travel? Is tourism really improving the world? Is tourism benefiting the environment or not?

In her conference “Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet“, Megan Epler Wood shared her research experiences looking for tools to mitigate the growing global negative impacts of tourism, being community development projects and sustainable ecotourism the best ones worldwide.

Why do we travel? Is tourism really improving the world? Is tourism benefiting the environment or not? Those are the questions that she put on the table. The ability of people to do tourism is growing very rapidly in the world and the effect of this can be very positive for the environment and local communities, but it can also be very destructive.

Given this panorama, Colombia faces the challenge of how to use its great natural heritage in a sustainable way in the face of a tourist demand that is growing by leaps and bounds. The solution for this is education, because by knowing and valuing the natural and cultural heritage of each region of the country, it will be possible to make a good management. In Colombia it is necessary to encourages actions for conservation that can bring benefits for local economic development, which has proven to be a great success in other parts of the world similar to Colombia.

The post-conflict in Colombia

The other scenario for Colombia is the post-conflict. The post-conflict opens up the possibility of carrying out activities that promotes the maintenance of peace in the country, such as the ecotourism. However, it depends on the decision of the post-conflict actors.

The effective progress of sustainable tourism in Colombia needs: (1) planning, (2) to establish the value of resources and, (3) to establish investment values ​​for their protection. By following these three steps, it will be possible to determine the cost of local investment needed to develop use and protection strategies that safeguard Colombia’s natural and cultural capital.

5. Urban Birding

In his talk, David Lindo told us about his mission: to involve the people of the cities with the urban nature that surrounds them, because this can help develop urban conservation initiatives through citizen participation.

His interest in birds came from an early age, he was 7 years old when he found “The guide of Great Britain Birds“, a book he treasured as the Holy Grail. David has revolutionized interest in birds in cities through activities led by himself. His call is to people, through birding in cities, to open their senses and love what is around, and even more, to come to understand that the garden of your window or the neighborhood park may be connected with the Amazon, Antarctica and with the rest of the world, since they are biological corridors for the species. Thus, people become aware that nature is at the door of the house.

David Lindo, The Urban Birder.

For years, David, as an urban birder, learned to see in each source, crack, light pole or abandoned building, the potential and realized niche of many species. He also chose his own birding patch in the city, which he regularly visits to follow the birds that live there.

You can start doing the same: choose your favorite birding spot in your city. Do not forget that the most important thing as an urban birder is to develop passion. And do not forget to look at the sky, always!


As a tourism experience for conservation, David told us about a small town in Serbia called Kikinda. There is park in Kikinda, the size of a block, that houses a huge population of Long-eared owls, which makes it look like a Harry Potter set.

In 10 years of guided visits to this place the local people have learned to value both: the owls and their small habitat. The impact was so big that the government of Serbia declared this small urban park as a nature reserve, one of its kind in the world, establishing penalties for up to 10,000 euros on anyone who disturbs the birds or their habitat.

This also shows that it is not necessary to be in the middle of the jungle to admire the wonders of nature.

The long-eared owl (Asio otus), also known as the northern long-eared owl, is a species of owl which breeds in Europe, Asia, and North America.

A good Example for Sustainable Ecotourism in Colombia

After listening to the wonderful conferences for three days, the Colombia BirdFair 2018 ended with the screening of the film “A Cloudy Destination: The Tropical Andean Forests” made 30 years ago in La Planada Reserve, in Nariño, with the participation of Megan E. Wood.

The documentary tells the story of the reserve and how the local Awá indigenous community remained steadfast in preserving the territory despite the war and social conflict. Few years ago, the reserve was transferred completely to the Awá community for its management, with great success.

This is an example in favor of sustainable development with community development. The documentary shows the natural richness of the region and reinforces the message that biodiversity should be protected. It proposes sustainable development as the best way to guarantee conservation in Colombia, ensuring that people from local communities can benefit financially and also be in harmony within each ecosystem.

La Planada Nature Reserve returns to the Awa indigenous community (SP). Read morhere.

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.

Best Ornithology Meetings and Bird Fairs you can Visit in Colombia

Bird fairs and avitourism meetings have helped the bird tourism industry, ornithologists and birding enthusiasts to keep their eyes on Colombia. 

We have said this a lot, but in case you didn’t know, Colombia is the country with the greatest diversity of birds on the planet! Over 1,900 bird species inhabit this wonderful country that also ranks first in orchids and second in plants, butterflies, amphibians and freshwater fish.

Out of the total number, 80 species of birds can only be seen in Colombia. So we are talking about an incredibly biodiverse country that is becoming an ecotourism destination little by little, with the help of the government, NGOs and local communities.

In Colombia, several bird fairs have been created to gather Colombians and foreigners around the bird-based tourism and conduct interesting activities for the promotion of products or initiatives and scientific divulgation. Here are the biggest ones in the country! 

Colombia Bird Fair

Colombia Bird Fair is the most well-known bird fair in the country. It is an international fair that is held in Cali every year during the second week of February. The first version was in 2014.

During the Colombia Bird Fair, all attendees will be able to enjoy free lectures, workshops, business meetings, stores and birding trips. The lectures are given by experts in different fields such as ornithology and tourism. 

Its goal is to promote the culture of the conservation of birds and their habitats in Colombia, as well as to make Cali a remarkable destination for bird watching. 

Why Valle del Cauca?

Cali is the capital of the Valle del Cauca department. This department boast a high number of bird species: over 1,000!

W Lyre-tailed Nightjar – Uropsalis lyra

Consider that Valle del Cauca has an area of 22,100 square kilometers, being 450 times smaller than the United States, which is around 9,800,000 square kilometers.  This comparison can give you an idea of the importance of this Colombian region for birdwatching tourism.

And, 50% of the birds of Valle del Cauca birds can be found in Cali, making it the city with most bird species in the world.  

Carlos Mario Wagner, Colombia Birdfair President

Approximately 22,000 people attended Colombia Birdfair in 2020, and some of its highlights were the 8 bird watching trips made around the city and the Colombia Birdfair Kids, section aimed at children and youngsters to motivate their love for conservation and birds.  

National Ornithology Meeting (ENO in Spanish)

ENO 2018, Mitú – Vaupés – Colombia

The Colombian National Birdwatchers Network –RNOA– has organized one of Colombia’s greatest ornithological events for over 30 years: Encuentro Nacional de Ornitología -ENO-.

This is a space hat gathers ornithologists, enthusiast or professional bird watchers and birders in general to share experiences, discover the national birdlife and, of course, go birding.

ENO is held in August and offers the attendees guided birdwatching trips, lectures by national and international speakers and cultural events. 

Learn more about RNOA here in our blog Birders’ Clubs and Ornithological Associations in Colombia.

Manizales Avitourism Congress

In 2009, the 1° International Meeting on Birdwatching Tourism was held in the city of Manizales, Caldas. Three years later, it became a yearly event held in November.

The Avitourism Congress is widely recognized by its history, organization, special guests, level of attendance and its birdwatching trips to different natural reserves and places in Caldas.

Tourism operators, ornithologists, biologists, tour guides, bird lovers and institutions gather around protecting bird habitats, and promoting the sustainable development of the tourism sector and the local communities.

Brown-banded Antpitta (Grallaria milleri) at Rio Blanco Reserve, Caldas, Colombia

The main activities are the academic agenda that includes lectures, workshops, educational symposiums, scientific posters, the art exhibitions, the business fair, and the birdwatching trips.

If you are interested in attending the Avitourism Congress 2020, you need to stay informed, since only 550 places will be available once the registrations are opened! 

Why Caldas?

According to the updated list of endemic and near endemic birds in Colombia published by  the Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research InstituteCaldas is home to 802 species of birds, 22 endemic, 73 near endemic and 77 migratory species. 

This means that 42% of birds in Colombia are in a territory that occupies less than 1% of the country, which makes the department of Caldas very attractive for bird watching tourists.

Buffy Helmetcrest – Oxypogon stubelii

Also, it is a place with several ecosystems, such as dry forests, tropical rainforests and páramos, ranging from 170 to 5,400 meters above sea level, which have amazing landscapes and areas with great birdlife, along with specialized birdwatching facilities. 

First South American Bird Fair

In 2018, Colombia hosted the 8th South American Bird Fair during the Avitourism Congress, becoming a meeting place for birders and experts from all over the world. 

According to Horacio Matarasso (President of the International Committee of the South American Bird Fair) this fair aims to gather people around the conservation and birdwatching tourism in South America the ‘continent of birds’, with more than 3,500 bird species.

Risaralda Bird Festival

The Risaralda Bird Festival was created in 2017 with the aim of encouraging the development of a culture towards the knowledge and protection of birds. A major goal of Risaralda and the fair organizers is to be a world model in biodiversity conservation. 

In addition, like bird fairs in other cities, it seeks to promote its host city, Pereira, as a birding destination. During the fair attendees will enjoy lectures with national and international guests, and field trips to the birdwatching routes.

Olive-Finch – Arremon castaneiceps

Journalists, biologists, ecologists, ornithologists, artists, professors, tour guides, photographers, doctors and park rangers… All brought together by one passion: birds. 

This bird festival stands out for one reason. It seeks to provoke a greater sense of ownership by the local community, as well as governmental empowerment, with regard to bird conservation.

The fair undertakes initiatives such as the election of an emblematic bird in each municipality of the department, to be adopted as a flagship by the local councils.

Besides this, a birdwatching route is planned in each town, and it is named after the elected flagship bird. 

Why Risaralda?

Risaralda hosts over 850 bird species, 25 of which are endemic, and is improving its infrastructure for birdwatching tourism.

Gold-ringed Tanager – Bangsia aureocincta ENDEMIC

Medellín Bird Festival

The Medellin Bird Festival was created by the Antioquia Ornothological Society. This is a space where new scientific findings on birdlife are shared, the birdwatching tourism sector is explored and valuable community tourism initiatives based on sustainable development are promoted.  

The festival has been held for 6 editions in October in Medellín ‘the world bird capital’. Yes, there is a competition between Medellin and Cali over which city has the most number of birds.

The activities offered during the festival include lectures, panel discussions, open mics, workshops, birdwatching trips, bicycle trips, exhibitions, a bird photography contest, and a film festival.

The festival is supported by the Medellin Municipal Council and all the activities are aimed at citizens, since they can become the best bird conservation allies once they develop a sense of belonging towards birdlife and natural resources in their region. 

Why Antioquia?

This fair was created to honor the 900 bird species that live in the department of Antioquia. This department as a its privileged geographic location in the Western Andes, that allows biodiverse ecosystems to thrive.

Trogon personatus (Masked Trogon) at Parque Arví – Antioquia

Bird Fairs in Bogota 

The capital of Colombia is starting to get involved in the birding culture and some smaller bird fairs have been held in recent times.

For example, the Bogota Bird Fest held in May 2018, which sought to raise awareness about the importance of birds and included the celebration of Global Big Day, art exhibitions and shows, workshops and field trips.

Also, the town of Choachí in Cundinamarca hosted the first edition of the Cundinamarca Bird Festival, a sample of inter-municipal teamwork in order to showcase the regional biodiversity and strengthen the avitourism sector. 

To showcase the potential of Colombia as an avitourism destination, the Birdland Summit Colombia was launched in January 2020 by Sociedad Tequendama, together with Procolombia, Bogotá Ornithology Association, Audubon and Colombia Productiva, which aim to boost tourism in Colombia and highlight the bird diversity in the country. It will be held after Covid-19 crisis.

Apolinar’s Wren – Cistothorus apolinari – ENDEMIC

These were the main bird fairs in Colombia, and we hope in the future many more will be created in other cities to continue spreading the love for birds throughout the country.   

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About the authors

Ana María Parra

Modern Languages professional with emphasis on business translation. Interested in cultural adaptation of written and audiovisual content.  Passionate about knowing new cultures and languages, tourism and sustainable living.

Updated by:

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.