The Biggest Páramo in the World is in Colombia: Know the Sumapaz Park

The Páramo de Sumapaz National Natural Park is an important reservoir of biological, ecological and genetic diversity in Colombia, and the world, with high presence of endemic plants and animals. It is also one of the largest water reserves in the country.

Under the post-conflict scenario, the Páramo of Sumapaz ceased to be a military corridor, as it happened for almost 54 years during the war conflict. Unfortunately, this conflict left a sad mark in some areas of the park: antipersonnel mines.

Currently, the government and some international NGOs are making progress in a process for humanitarian demining in the context of the PEACE process.

These areas are closed to visitors, but it is recommended to have authorized touristic service providers to visit the place.

Despite all of this, nowadays the park it becomes one of Colombia’s natural treasures, important to be better explored and conserved. It is a great compromise to protect this place from extensive agriculture and livestock, from mining, construction and real estate projects, and from irresponsible tourism.

Undoubtedly, Colombia has the largest and most beautiful Páramo in Colombia, and perhaps the planet. To be there is to contemplate the mastery of nature and feel gratitude for such a fabulous gift.

Paramo de Sumapaz
Paramo de Sumapaz

7 Facts about the Páramo de Sumapaz

  1. The Sumapaz Páramo is one of the largest and the biggest protected paramo in the world.
  2. It is part of the 36 páramos complexes present in Colombia.
  3. It has a unique ecosystem, fauna and flora to the planet.
  4. There have been reported about 260 species of mammals.
  5. It is the origin of crystalline rivers that cover the Andean geography and the center of the country.
  6. It is located in five municipalities of the department of Cundinamarca (Pasca, Arbeláez, San Bernardo, Cabrera and Gutiérrez); six municipalities of the department of Meta (Acacias, Guamal, Cubarral, El Castillo, Lejanías and Uribe), one municipality in the department of Huila (Colombia) and two districts in Bogotá (Usme and Sumapaz).
  7. It is monitored by several environmental authorities, such as Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, the National Unit of Natural Parks, the Regional Autonomous Corporation of Cundinamarca (CAR), the Autonomous Corporation of Huila (CAM) and the Autonomous Corporation of Macarena (CORMACARENA).

Birding at Páramo de Sumapaz

This beautiful, huge national Park of Colombia encompasses large protected Paramo and is a large watershed for the city of Bogotá. Reached by a smooth, roughly 1 1/2-hour ride from the city center (get there early to avoid the traffic jam in the city) it makes it, together with Chingaza National Park, a prime destination for high altitude species.

Birding is easy and done mainly from a very dusty road, as access to the National Park is restricted. The road is currently being paved, which will make birding much more comfortable in near future!

Once you leave the suburban sprawl of Bogota in Usme, the shear uncontrolled growth of this Megapolis is visible below you and on the close mountain slopes.

Finally, higher up, concrete gets replaced by potato fields, cars by horses and noise by birdsongs! Once you reach the tree-line (Elfin forest) good birding starts.

Apolinar’s Wren – Cistothorus apolinari – ENDEMIC

Listen for the endemic Silvery-throated Spinetail and Pale-bellied Tapaculo, both skulking species. Tawny Antpitta is one of the easiest Antpittas to see, as it often sings from exposes perches. Here, it is represented by subspecies alticola.

Mixed flocks can contain Andean Tit-Spinetail, White-throated Tyrannulet, Rufous Wren, the gaudy Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, several Flowerpiercers, Rufous-browed Conebill, Pale-naped Brush Finch & others.

A little further along the road, before your reach the pass, two of the main attractions occur side by side, and both are Hummingbirds.

Bronze-tailed Thornbill – Chalcostigma heteropogon

The range-restricted Bronze-tailed Thornbill & endemic Green-bearded Helmetcrest! The Thornbill is a territorial species. Look for it in vegetation close to the road.

The Helmetcrest is fond of Espeletia (local name “Frailejones”, a plant from the Asteraceae Family) which is in full bloom from late June – August. This might be the best time to see the Helmetcrest. And that’s when this spectacular, unique landscape looks even better.

Green-bearded Helmetcrest – Oxypogon guerinii, female – ENDEMIC

Both species can be seen fairly reliably at most other times, too. If lucky, both species can be observed feeding, clinging to flowers, as many highland Hummingbird species do!

Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager – Dubusia taeinatia

A particular good spot for the Helmetcrest is immediately adjacent to the large lagoon at the park entrance (There’s a sign of the Helmetcrest and a parking area to the right if coming from Bogotá). The lagoon to your left has typical cushion plants bordering it. That makes it perfect habitat for the critically endangered and endemic Bogota Rail and the more common Noble Snipe.

Many-striped Canastero – Asthenes flammulata

Many-striped Canastero and White-chinned Thistletail are to be looked for too, but it’s certainly the endemic Apolinar’s Wren which most people expect to see here. It occurs in fact in good numbers here, especially where there is Dwarf Bamboo – a plant required – for nesting.

The Wren is represented by the subspecies hernandezi, different from apolinari, the race occurring in the Sabana de Bogotá. Locate Apolinar’s Wren by its regularly performed song duets. The similar Sedge Wren occurs side by side with Apolinar’s Wren. Look and listen carefully…Exploring further along the Road can be good for Paramo Seedeater and more of the mentioned above.

Plain-colored Seedeater – Catamenia inornata

If you visit first time, remember that Sumapaz is a high-altitude site. Protect yourself from sun, hydrate properly and take things slow. The air is thin up there. Also protect your equipment from heavy dust (know how to do it 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.

Where to go for Birdwatching in Bogotá? Complete Bogotá Bird Guide

In case you did not know, or if you have only few days in the city of Bogotá, and want to go out for a nature experience, birdwatching in Bogotá can be a great experience. 

Bogotá has a quite ample habitat variation for birds: Native vegetation arranged in forests, stubble, thickets, paramo vegetation and riparian vegetation.

There are also habitats associated to forests and thickets composed by exotic species, semi-arid areas, paddocks and crops, wetlands and lakes and ponds. 

Why does Bogotá has so much habitats for birds?

The answer is because of its bio – geographical position. Bogotá is located in the “Savannah of Bogotá”, which is in the Eastern Andean mountain range of Colombia, in the southern part of the Cundiboyacense plateau.

The Cundiboyacense plateau is the largest plateau in the Colombian Andes, with heights ranging from 2,600 to more than 3,500 meters above sea level. Thus, Bogota was built on the plain that borders the eastern hills of the city.

The Savannah of Bogotá

Historical records tell us that mostly more than 50% of the current territory of the city was covered with wetlands and lagoons. For being a plain of great extension it received the name of Savannah of Bogotá.

But don’t get confused, the “Bogotá Savannah” is not really a savannah as an ecosystem, since the savannahs have as their main characteristic very high temperatures and low rainfall, as in the Serengeti. Here, there are frequent rains and the temperature raises until 23ºC at best.

Suitable Habitat for Birds 

All the Bogotá’s Savannah is a real gem for bird watching lovers. The savannah of Bogotá is an area of ​​biogeographic importance due to the presence of a high level of bird endemism.

The Savannah of Bogotá had a system of natural lagoons and wetlands that functioned as humidity regulators. Currently, some of the remnants of this system still meet this function.

Around the savannah, you can find natural landscapes such as dry forests, cloud forests, desert areas and paramos. Some of these areas have been transformed into crop areas, pastures and urban zones, increasing pollution levels and the presence of invasive species.

Association of Ornithology of Bogotá (ABO)

The birds of Bogotá have been monitored since 1989 by the Association of Ornithology of Bogotá (ABO) with the participation of experts and amateurs interested in the proper management of biodiversity and bird conservation.

This monitoring shows the status of resident and migratory bird populations that live in the city and its near surroundings.

Nature of the Urban Area of Bogotá

In the urban area of Bogotá, there are more than 76,000 hectares included in the District System of Protected Areas which includes wetlands, hills, ecological mountain parks and 4,500 urban parks.

Among the 15 recognized wetlands, 11 have RAMSAR category. Also, in the district of Sumapaz, there is the Páramo of Sumapaz, the largest in the world.

Recent mayors have focused on the importance of nature and biodiversity conservation, thus, nature tourism in Bogotá and its surroundings has been developed as an effective tool for such means, providing activities such as bird watching and hiking.

Bogota Natural Areas. Wetlands Represented in Blue. Image by Bogotá City Hall.

Birds of Bogotá

There are around 235 bird species registered for Bogotá and surroundings, of which 6 are under some degree of threat, 46 are boreal migrants and 7 are endemic (3 species, 4 subspecies).

Bogota Bird Guide

Recently, the mayor’s office of Bogotá and the Tourism Institute of Bogotá published a practical birding guide called “Guía de aves de Bogotá” available in both English and Spanish.

The guide facilitates bird watching in Bogotá, and it  is aimed at people who want to get closer to the world of birds for the first time, for expert observers or photographers who are looking for new places for birding in Bogotá and for national and foreign tourists who want to meet and enjoy activities of bird watching in Bogotá.

The Guía de aves de Bogotá offers information about must-see birds in Bogotá, resident aquatic birds and resident terrestrial birds. It also shows information about status, endemism, distribution, diet and habitat of around 176 birds that can effectively be found in Bogotá.

There is also information about where to birdwatch in Bogotá, the level of difficulty, suggested itineraries, recommendations, good birding practice advice, recommendations for tour operators, contact information and bird checklists.

Despite the useful information you can find in this guide, there are some recommended places that still need to be improved for high quality tourism and bird watching activity, due to the poor infrastructure, high contamination and the high assault risk.

We hope that in the future those issues get resolved. Here there are our suggestions and opinions about the different places you can visit for birding in Bogotá. We also include places that are commonly included in birding itineraries around Bogotá.

Key Bird Species to Watch in Bogotá

Bogota rail – Rallus semiplumbeus

Endangered endemic species. This species is endemic to areas of wetlands and lagoons. It is threatened by the deterioration and decline of its habitat, in addition to being easy prey for feral dogs and cats or pets found in wetlands. It is often heard but difficult to see.

Apolinar’s Wren – Cistothorus apolinari (subspecies C. a. Apolinari).

Endangered endemic species. Found in reedbeds around lakes and ponds. After decades of habitat decline, its recent dramatic decline may be associated with breeding parasitism, in which the Shiny Cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis) lays its eggs in the wren’s nest, thus decreasing its survival rate. In addition, their territorial habits and sedentary behavior increase their vulnerability.

Apolinar’s Wren – Cistothorus apolinari – ENDEMIC

Spot-flanked Gallinule – Gallinula melanops (subspecies G. m. bogotensis) / Porphyriops melanops (subspecies P. m. bogotensis)

Endangered endemic species. This subspecies is endemic to the Colombian Andes and is threatened locally as the destruction of wetland ecosystems by urbanization directly affects their populations. The vast majority survive in artificial lagoons near the Bogotá river.


Silvery-throated Spinetail – Synallaxis subpudica

Endemic. This species is considered quite common in its natural habitats: the edges of the mountain forests, the canopy gaps with shrub growth, thickets and hedges, between 2000 and 3200 m of altitude. Quite common in subtropical and temperate undergrowth and thickets, wetlands and adjacent willow copses in Bogotá.

Pale-bellied Tapaculo – Scytalopus griseicollis (subspecies S. g. griseicollis)

Near-Endemic. Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Locally fairly common in vicinity of Bogotá; tolerates considerable habitat disturbance and fragmentation; the W slope of the E Andes. This subspecies is characterized by a pale grey mantle. Fairly common in Chingaza National Park and also occurs in Sumapaz National Park.

Subtropical Doradito – Pseudocolopteryx acutipennis

Critically Endangered. This bird is very locally in Andes from Colombia, is a yellowish flycatcher of marshy habitats. Rather difficult to see in dense reedbeds of Andean lakes.

Green-bearded Helmetcrest – Oxypogon guerinii 

Endemic. This hummingbird lives at humid open paramo with Espeletia vegetation, sometimes at edge of Polylepis forests; It is considered the bird symbol of the stopped by its bright colors, the sharp white crest and the beard of the males. Occurs at 3000 m to 5200 m.

Green-bearded Helmetcrest – Oxypogon guerinii, female – ENDEMIC

Wetlands in Bogotá

La Florida Regional Park – Lake Sector (La Florida Wetland).

This park has large natural spaces with high environmental value. It is owned by the Capital District and is located in western Bogotá, partially outside its urban perimeter, in the town of La Florida, municipality of Funza and western limit of the town of Engativá, capital district.

La Florida is one of the most prominent parks in the city, which has 267 hectares mostly made up of native forests and foreign species, and has a natural lake, a natural extension of the Jaboque wetland, which houses various endemic and migratory species.

The park is equipped with sports facilities, pedagogical nursery and tree planting which includes papule pines, cypresses, acacias, Quindío wax palms and oaks. 

In the lake, which is part of the wetland ecosystem of Bogotá, tours are made to see endemic birds and migratory birds that inhabit this water reserve. The lake sector was enabled as an area for bird watching, since November 10th 2011, it is currently a place visited by nationals and foreigners. 

The Lake sector has a water mirror partially surrounded by an interpretive path and native aquatic flora, a hide-type bird observatory with a maximum capacity for 10 people and a surveillance service.

Jaboque Wetland

The Jaboque wetland has an advanced restoration and conservation process and several endemic species of the Savannah of Bogotá and the Eastern Cordillera can be observed such as the endemic Bogotá Rail, Silvery-throated Spinetail and Apolinar´s Wren.

Also birds like Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot, Andean Teal, Andean Duck, Noble Snipe, Silvery-throated Spinetail, Subtropical Doradito, Black Flowerpiercer, Band-tailed Seadeater, Andean Siskin … ~ 331 species. Checklist

Santa María del Lago Wetland District Ecological Park. Recommended

This is one of the wetlands with the best water quality and most visited in the city, it has a bird observatory, auditorium, bathrooms and good signalization. 

Among the flora of the ecosystem include willows and alders, lemnas, common water hyacinths, rushes and floating pennyworts. In addition to a mixture of acacias, eucalyptus, arrayanes, cherry trees and pink and orange abutilon.

Observation Tower at Santa María del Lago, Bogotá, Colombia Quinta de Simón Bolívar, Bogotá, Colombia ©Fundación Humedales de Bogotá

The fauna of this wetland, includes mammals such as Guinea Pig (Cavia anolaimae), arboreal rice rat (Oeomys speciosus), and fulvous pygmy rice rat (Oligoryzomys fulvescens), the frog Hyla labialis (Hylidae) and the fish Eremophilus mutissii (Trichomycteridae) and Rundulus bogulus (Characidae) considered missing from the wetland.

Key Species of Santa María del Lago

Among bird species it is possible to find Andean Duck (Oxyura ferruginea),  Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria), Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors), Black Flowerpiercer (Diglossa humeralis), Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea), Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)  Crimson-backed Tanager (Ramphocelus dimidiatus), Striated Heron (Butorides striata), among other 125 taxa. Checklist


There are some other wetlands in Bogotá which are not recommended to visit because of their localization and safety.

Those are Córdoba Wetland District Ecological Park, La Conejera Wetland District Ecological Park, Juan Amarillo or Tibabuyes Wetland District Ecological Park and Jaboque Wetland District Ecological Park.

Urban Parks of Bogotá

The following are the parks you can find in Bogotá:

  • Botanical Garden of Bogotá José Celestino Mutis,
  • Simon Bolivar Metropolitan Park,
  • Entrenubes Mountain District Ecological Park,
  • El Gran Chico – El Virrey Corridor Park,
  • Enrique Olaya Herrera National Park,
  • Independence Park, and
  • Quinta de Bolívar House Museum.

We recommend visiting the Botanical Garden of Bogotá José Celestino Mutis, Simón Bolívar Metropolitan Park and Quinta de Bolívar House Museum for bird watching.

The other parks are more suitable for recreational or sporting activities.

Botanical Garden of Bogotá José Celestino Mutis

The Botanical Garden of Bogotá is the first and most important research and conservation center of Colombian vegetation, with an emphasis on Andean flora.

It is the main refuge of biodiversity in Bogotá, the living collection of the Botanical Garden houses about 54,884 individuals, 304 families, 469 genera, 903 species and individuals of representative plants of the Andean ecosystems and the moorland.

This Collection is a source of research, conservation of diversity and education in the region and the country.

Great Thrush – Turdus fuscater, Botanical Garden of Bogotá

The ecosystems currently represented are high Andean forest and moorland, with which it is sought to represent native species of the altitudinal range between 2,800 and 3,250 meters above sea level.

It is important to highlight that they work in the construction of the largest Tropicario in Colombia and, possibly, the most imposing in Latin America, where they also have a projection to house 900 individuals of 200 species, distributed in different environments such as useful Plants; CEPAC (Specialized Collections for Conservation); Tropical Dry Forest (bsT); Humid Forest (Amazonia and biogeographic Chocó) and Superparamo. Checklist

Simon Bolívar Metropolitan Park

The Simon Bolivar Metropolitan Park is the largest and most important urban park in the city of Bogotá, located in the geographic center of Bogotá.

Although the metropolitan park is made up of several parks, people from Bogotá tend to refer to each of these parks separately and do not associate them with a single “megapark.”

Currently, it is considered the “lung of the city”, for its strategic location in the heart of the city, for its wide vegetation and large size of its green areas.

Key Species at Simón Bolívar Park

There are several species of native plants that house urban bird species such as rufous-collared sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis) or the Great thrush (Turdus fuscater). Due to the presence of large lakes, it is also possible to observe water birds such as herons.

Quinta de Bolívar House Museum

The history of Quinta de Bolívar dates back to 1670. It was a villa that was later given to Simon Bolivar as a sign of gratitude for the services provided to the cause of independence.

Bolivar was its owner for ten years although he lived there only for 423 days. Since 1820, when Bolivar received the villa as a gift, the house began to be prepared to serve as a room for the then President of the Republic.

Quinta de Simón Bolívar, Bogotá, Colombia ©CC

Today it works as a museum, although the historic house and its surroundings (restored between 1992 and 2000) were never designed to serve as a museum.

It is since then that this Cultural Property of National Character (former National Monument) is configured as one of the 5 museums of the Ministry of Culture in Bogotá.

Key Species at Quinta de Bolívar

Due to its proximity to Monserrate and the eastern hills, and thanks to the gardens planted with trees and shrubs native to the high Andean forests, it is possible to find an interesting birdlife visiting the place including hummingbirds, tanagers and warblers. Checklist

Eastern Hills of Bogotá

There are several trails for hiking around Bogotá, in the eastern Hills as follows:

  • Monserrate trail, San Francisco,
  • The Vicacha River Trail,
  • The Old Creek Trail,
  • The Aguadora Hill Trail,
  • The Delights Creek Trail.

However, the most suitable for bird watching is the Monserrate trail.

Monserrate, Bogotá, Colombia

When looking up from any point in the city, it is impossible not to run into that hill that, from its 3,152 meters above sea level, watches Bogotá.

The hill of Monserrate is the quintessential symbol of Bogotá, the capital of Colombians. Located at 3152 meters above sea level, it houses the sanctuary of  Señor Caído de Monserrate, a place of pilgrimage of nationals and foreigners, surrounded by lush vegetation and from where you can see the best landscape of the Bogota savannah.

The stone path by which you can reach the top, opens at 6 in the morning to receive pilgrims and athletes from all over. Along the route different species of birds can be found in an altitude gradient of more than 600 meters.

Key Species of the Eastern Hills of Bogotá

Here it is possible to find high-mountain species such as Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant (Ochthoeca fumicolor), Mountain Wren (Troglodytes solstitialis), Blue-backed Conebill (Conirostrum sitticolor), Glossy Flowerpiercer (Diglossa lafresnayii), Black Flowerpiercer (Diglossa humeralis), White-sided Flowerpiercer (Diglossa albilatera), Rusty Flowerpiercer (Diglossa sittoides), Bluish Flowerpiercer (Diglossa caerulescens), Masked Flowerpiercer (Diglossa cyanea), Black-capped Hemispingus (Kleinothraupis atropileus), Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager (Anisognathus igniventris), Andean Guan (Penelope montagnii) and more than 15 species of hummingbirds. Checklist

Páramo in Bogotá

Buffer zone on the road to the Sumapaz National Natural Park.

The Sumapaz National Natural Park is located at the Sumapaz district of Bogotá. It covers approximately 43% of the largest complex of paramos in the world.

It is considered one of the richest areas in high altitude Colombian genera and species, as it has a large number of organisms, many of them endemic. This fact makes the Park an important reservoir of biological, ecological and genetic diversity.

Paramo de Sumapaz

The park also contributes to the water supply system of Bogotá and to multiple aqueducts of Cundinamarca and Meta departments. It is a provider of water regulation services with rivers such as Tunjuelo, Sumapaz and Ariari and its numerous lagoons that allow, among other things, the development of important crops in the Orinoquia, also supporting biodiversity habitat.

Main ecosystems 

Two of the main tropical mountain ecosystems are represented in the Sumapaz National Natural Park: the páramo and the Andean forests.

In the páramo, there are three basic types of environments: sub-páramo, proper páramo and superpáramo (Cuatrecasas 1958 taken from Pedraza-Peñalosa et al., 2004). The Andean forest is divided into high Andean, Andean and sub-Andean forest vegetation following elevation.

Key Species of Sumapaz

Among the key species, it is possible to find endemic and near endemic species such as:

  • Bogota Rail (Rallus semiplumbeus),
  • Green-bearded Helmetcrest (Oxypogon guerinii),
  • Apolinar´s Wren (Cistothorus apolinari),
  • Bronze-tailed Thornbill (Chalcostigma heteropogon),
  • Pale-bellied Tapaculo (Scytalopus griseicollis), 
  • Rufous-browed Conebill (Conirostrum rufum),
  • Silvery-throated Spinetail (Synallaxis subpudica),
  • Noble Snipe (Gallinago nobilis), and both
  • Scarlet-bellied (Anisognathus igniventris) and Hooded (Buthraupis montana) Mountain-Tanagers.

However, the target here is the Green-bearded Helmetcrest (Oxypogon guerinii). 

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.