Travel Guide to Los Flamencos Fauna & Flora Sanctuary in Colombia

Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary is an important reserve with marshes, lagoons, and an important fragment of tropical dry forest created to protect a large population of American flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber). This reserve is also the habitat of 185 other bird species, 80% of which are migratory.

This Sanctuary is located in the town of Camarones, very close to the city of Riohacha in La Guajira. It is part of the Northern Caribbean Birding Trail of Colombia.

Los Flamencos has shallow lagoons that fill up when the rains come and evaporate during the dry season. When the water evaporates, the marine salt concentrates, facilitating the growth of brine shrimp (Artemia sp.), which attracts American flamingos!

The local community consists mainly of Wayuu Indians. They are known for their colorful bags (mochilas), and handicrafts.

Discovering Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary

Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary is formed by four coastal swamps, with an area of 768. 2 square kilometers. It was declared Colombia’s National and Cultural Patrimony in 1992, being one of the smallest protected areas in the country, but one of the richest in a variety of resident and migratory birds. Moreover, it is home to algae, mollusks, crustaceans, and fish.

Temperature varies from 26 to 33 degrees celsius at its highest point.

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

Los Flamencos Sanctuary offers diverse cultural and gastronomic options, especially, from local Wayuu. Worth noticing is the ancestral dances and “make-up” worn by Wayuu people from the nearby rancherias tribes.

In the case of Los Flamencos Flamingo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, they offer a year of work to a representative of each of the tribes present in the sector. There are 7 tribes and two of them are selected annually to provide information and orientation to the sanctuary’s visitors with the support of a representative from the national natural parks in the city of Bogota.

Food delicacies available include different types of fish, seafood, and goat meat, prepared with the region’s ancestral recipes.

The American Flamingo

These beautiful birds with pink feathers, long legs, and slender long- curved necks, are by far the most interesting attraction in this place. In fact, the park is named after these birds.

Flamingos are monogamous birds that lay only one egg per year. Their nests are mud mounds with a height of approximately 30 to 55 cm. Its hatchlings are born with white or grey feathers and they must wait 3 years for their feathers to turn pink.

Note that flamencos are easier to watch during the rainy season.

American Flamingo – Phoenicopterus ruber at Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, Colombia

Why are Flamingos Pink?

Remember the shrimps we mentioned above? Flamingos get their pink color from the consumption of those brine shrimps, which are rich in beta carotene, a red-orange pigment.

Archaeological ruins

Other than flamingos, this place hosts archaeological ruins that confirm the presence of the “Guanebucans”, pre-colonial fishing and farming communities in the area that belong to the Arawak family.

These pre-colonial communities were forced to immigrate to the high areas in the Sierra Nevada, approximately 100 km west, after Spanish incursions.

How to get to Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary

From Bogotá

Take a 1.5 hours flight from Bogotá to Almirante Padilla International Airport (RCH) at Riohacha city. From Riohacha take an approximately 40 minutes ride to Camarones hamlet (20 km).

Once at Camarones hamlet you should walk along a trail for 3.5 km to the administrative center of the Park: Cabaña Guanebucane.

From Santa Marta

Take an approximately 2,5 hours ride to Camarones (165 km). From Camarones walk along 3.5 km trail to the administrative center of the Ministry of the Environment, Cabaña Guanebucane.

What to do in Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary

Hiking

Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary have a 2-hour trail through the Navio Quebrado lagoon. Then, hop on a water canoe and adventure yourself. During the tour enjoy the wonderful Caribbean Sea and the snow peaks of Colón and Bolivar, both part of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Wildlife Observation

At Los Flamencos Sanctuary it is possible to find mixt of fresh and saltwater, which makes the whole ecosystem very diverse. Unique habitats such as tropical dry forest and tropical very dry forest that host wonderful species are present.

The sanctuary is characterized as an important migratory stop for turtles such as the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), the hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), and the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas)

At the time of rising tides, the shrimps begin their reproductive migration process.

In the rainy season, it is possible to appreciate the foliage of the beautiful yellow flower of the Puy (Handroanthus billbergii). Additionally, the place is host to the most diverse ecosystem of plants, such as the black mangrove (Avicennia germinans), the Dulce (Conocarpus erectus), the white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa), and, to a lesser extent, the red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle).

Birdwatching

It is possible to appreciate the pink flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber ruber) resident in the sanctuary. However, there are plenty of birds you can see around. Ibis, gulls, terns, and many migratory shorebirds are to be found at Los Flamencos.

Vermilion Cardinal – Cardinalis phoeniceus

In the forest, you will find specialties restricted to NE Colombia and NW Venezuela, including Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Bare-eyed Pigeon, Buffy Hummingbird, Russet-throated Puffbird, Chestnut Piculet, White-whiskered Spinetail, Slender-billed Inezia, Orinocan Saltator, Pileated Finch, Tocuyo Sparrow, Crested Bobwhite, Blue-crowned Parakeet, Brown-throated Parakeet, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Black-crested Antshrike, White-fringed Antwren and Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, and the Vermillion Cardinal.

The Vermilion Cardinal is called “Rey Guajiro” (“King of the Guajira”) by the Wayuu people, and it is very important for their culture and traditions.

Where to stay in Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary

Camarones town offers different types of accommodation. Our suggested choices are:

  • Playa Samara Hostel, 14 kilometers away from the Sanctuary entrance.
  • Mar Azul-Playa Hotel, 12 kilometers away from the Sanctuary entrance.

You can also stay in Riohacha. Our suggested choice is Hotel Taroa.

Best time to visit Los Flamencos Sanctuary

The dry season is around December to late April and from July to late August and is the most convenient. But the dates when you will see the largest amount of pink flamingos is from October to late November.

Entrance fees

The entrance fee to The Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary is free. However, since it is located inside an indigenous territory, they ask you for a little representative payment.

What to consider before visiting Los Flamencos Sanctuary

  • Return ALL garbage you generate during the tour with you and dispose of it at the waste disposal sites.
  • Entrance for children under 5 years old, pregnant women, people with heart or respiratory conditions are not recommended.
  • Any guided tours must be done with authorized and certified tourist guides.
  • Always travel along the paths and trails marked by local authorities.
  • Be respectful of the Wayuu culture, its territories, and nature.
  • Consider wearing personal protective items (sun blocker, sunglasses, towel, insect repellent, and hat).
  • Carry reusable water bottles.
  • Bring along enough water for the journey (at least 1.5 liters).
  • Do not use flash when taking photographs.
  • Use of binoculars to admire animal behavior and beauty in their natural habitat.
  • Carry valid identity documents and health insurance.
  • It is recommended to be vaccinated against yellow fever and tetanus.
  • If you take specific medications, take them with you. It’s never enough to carry a personal medicine kit.

Some prohibitions

Feeding, bothering or hunting animals, alcoholic drinks and drugs, littering, burning garbage, felling, and capturing wildlife.

References
About the authors

Luisa Martin

Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.

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.

Vaupes, a Must to Visit Birding Destination in the Colombian Amazon

Vaupés, with its capital Mitú, is the gateway to the Amazonian trapezoid in Colombia. Its rich biodiversity is evident everywhere, and it is a must to visit birdwatching destinations in Colombia.

This wealth is not only biological, in Vaupés we have a wide diversity of indigenous cultures represented in 26 ethnic groups that share traditional knowledge about the management of the forest, and about their culture.

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

Vaupés has more than 570 bird species. Most of the species are widely distributed in the Amazon, but there are several subspecies associated with the Guyanese shield. The avifauna of this region is very special, which fully justifies its protection and study.

Birdwatching tourism has grown in the region as a good strategy for bird conservation and sustainability. Thanks to the organized work of indigenous communities in conjunction with SENA, the national learning institute, many locals found profit on this business.

In 2018, the local community, SENA, and the ACO organized the most important ornithological meeting in Colombia, the National Meeting of Ornithology (ENO), making its successful opening as a well-organized birdwatching destination.

ENO 2018, Mitú – Vaupés – Colombia

Today, Vaupes has a very good supply of local guides prepared to receive all visitors. They know the stories about the origin of the birds, their songs, their habitat, their signs, and the important role that their plumages play in the culture.

The great diversity of indigenous cultures, and their oral and sung tradition about birds make Mitú the ideal place to marvel at the great cultural and natural richness of our country. It is a unique destination in Colombia for Ethno-Ornithology. In addition, Vaupes is a territory of peace, recovering as a post-conflict destination.

Where is Vaupes?

The department of Vaupés is located in the southeast of Colombia, in the region of the Amazon known as the Guiana Shield. This region covers an extensive area of northern South America.

Find out more about the Guiana Shield in our entry Why Chiribiquete is called the Sistine Chapel of Colombia?

In Vaupes you will find one of the least populated, best conserved, and most heterogeneous regions in the world. There the Guiana and Amazonia ecosystems converge, and you will find in one place the famous tepuis of the Guiana shield, and the dry land forests, whitewater, and blackwater flooded forests, largest patches of white sand forests and savannas of the Amazon.

How to get to Vaupes

It can be reached by air, the commercial passenger company SATENA has direct flights of approximately 50 minutes.

Bear in mind that flights are limited, and they only depart on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays from Bogota; and, Thursdays and Saturdays from Villavicencio.

There are also other companies that may eventually, make passenger charter flights.

Best time to visit

The best time to go for a birdwatching trip to Vaupes is after the rainy season, specially the months between November to April.

Birds of Vaupes

Given the great diversity of ecosystems in Vaupes, it is possible to find a great variety of birds. The checklist of the department of Vaupés includes 579 species distributed in 360 genera, 63 families, and 24 orders.

You can download a very complete checklist of the birds of Vaupes at the SINCHI institute website.

Highlighted birds

Discover near-endemic birds such as Chestnut-crested Antbird (Rhegmatorhina cristata) and Orinoco Piculet (Picumnus pumilus), and endangered birds such as Crestless curassow (Mitu tomentosum), and Grey-winged trumpeter (Psophia crepitans).

Among the birds found only in the department are Brown-banded Puffbird (Notharchus ordii), Tawny-tufted toucanet (Selenidera nattereri), Yellow-throated Antwren (Myrmotherula ambigua), among others.

Other interesting birds you can find are:

  • Saffron-crested Tyrant-Manakin
  • Screaming Piha
  • Citron-bellied Attila
  • Tawny-tufted Toucanet
  • Brown-banded Puffbird
  • Azure-naped Jay
  • Pompadour Cotinga
  • Fiery Topaz
  • White-plumed Antbird
  • Black Bushbird
  • White-fronted Nunbird
  • Spotted Puffbird
  • White-plumed Antbird

Birding Routes in Vaupes

All birding routes are immersed in the indigenous communities surrounding the capital of Vaupés. You need permission to visit them, and also you must be accompanied by a local guide. But don’t worry, if you plan your trip ahead before your arrival everything will be ready.

Mituseño – Urania

This indigenous settlement belongs mostly to the Kubeo (Pamiwa) ethnic group and is located on the banks of the Vaupés river to the northeast of Vaupés. There are rock formations and Varzeas that are flood plains of the Vaupés River.

Golden-headed Mankin (Ceratopipra erythrocephala), Mitu, Vaupes, Colombia

Highlights

  • Swallow-winged Puffbird
  • Bronzy Jacamar
  • Blue-crowned Manakin
  • White-crowned Manakin
  • Amazonian Umbrellabird
  • Azure-naped Jay

Mitu Cachivera

This community is located just five minutes from the town of Mitú, on the banks of the Vaupés River. This place offers about four trails that include white-sand forests, rivers with red water, and rocky outcrops.

Birdwatching at the Colombian Amazon, Mitú, Vaupés

Highlights

  • Fiery Topaz
  • Pavonine Quetzal
  • Black-tailed Trogon
  • Amazonian Trogon
  • Blue-crowned Trogon
  • Black-throated Trogon
  • Brown-banded Puffbird
  • Rusty-breasted Nunlet

Cerrito Verde

This birding spot is located 45 minutes from the urban center of Mitu, it has well-preserved mature terra-firme forests. It has a mosaic of landscapes ranging from primary forests to savannas and rocky outcrops within the Amazon jungle.

Red-fan Parrot (Deroptyus accipitrinus), Mitú, Vaupés

Highlights

  • Guianan Cock-of-the-rock
  • Black-eared Fairy
  • Pavonine Quetzal
  • Amazonian Trogon
  • Tawny-tufted Toucanet
  • Maroon-tailed Parakeet
  • Chestnut-crested Antbird
Guianan Cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola rupicola), Mitú, Vaupés

La Libertad

This indigenous settlement is located across the Vaupés River from the town of Mitú. You will find trails of white sands, flooded forests, and dry land. In one of the trails, you will have to take a canoe at some point to continue.

Birdwatching at the Amazon Forest, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

Highlights

  • Fork-tailed Palm-Swift
  • White-bearded Hermit
  • Black-throated Hermit
  • Swallow-winged Puffbird
  • Orange-cheeked Parrot
  • Yellow-crowned Parrot
  • White-crowned Manakin
  • Green-tailed Goldenthroat
  • Amazonian Umbrellabird
Amazonian Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus ornatus), La libertad, Mitú, Vaupés

Santa Marta – Puerto Golondrina

It is located 12 kilometers downriver from the governor’s port on the Vaupés River and entering through the Cuduyarí River. This is the land of the community of Kubeos. Its main trail connects with the community of Puerto Golondrina. It has terra-firme forest and white sands.

Highlights

  • Straight-billed Hermit
  • Green-tailed Goldenthroat
  • Ivory-billed Aracari
  • Pompadour Cotinga
  • Amazonian Tyrannulet
  • Amazonian Grosbeak
  • Coraya Wren
White-bearded Manakin – Manacus manacus – Cerro Guacamaya, Mitú, Vaupés

Pueblo Nuevo

Located on kilometer 20, this community has well-preserved mature terra firme forests and a mosaic of landscapes that range from mosaic of landscapes ranging from primary forests to savannas and rocky outcrops.

Swallow-winged Puffbird (Chelidoptera tenebrosa), Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia

Highlights

  • Gilded Barbet
  • Tawny-tufted Toucanet
  • Ringed Antpipit
  • Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet
  • Chestnut-crested Antbird
  • Amazonian Scrub-Flycatcher

Santa Cruz

Located 32 kilometers from the urban center, the community is located past the Vaupés River and the trail is near the Vaupés Micro Hydroelectric Plant MCH. This site is of great cultural interest because it is the site of the great cachivera of Iparare, where most of the cultures of Vaupés were born.

It has well-preserved terra firme forests and rocky elevations where the flora and fauna of the place converge such as quetzals, trogons, and antbirds.

Highlights

  • Opal-crowned Tanager
  • White-fronted Nunbird
  • Black Bushbird
  • Musician Wren
  • Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin
Vaupés Micro Hydroelectric Plant MCH ©laotraopinion.net

Recommendations for your visit

  • Take yellow fever and tetanus vaccines before arrival.
  • Do not forget the mosquito repellent, it is highly recommended.
  • Rubber boots, raincoat, long-sleeved shirts, sunscreen.
  • Leave no trace.

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

References
  • Colombia Travel
  • Stiles, F. G. : La avifauna de la parte media del río Apaporis, departamentos de Vaupés y Amazonas, Colombia. Rev. Acad. Colomb. Cienc. 34 (132): 381-390, 2010. ISSN 0370-3908.
  • SINCHI – Institute of Scientific Reseach of the Amazon.
  • Etno-birding Vaupes.
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.

What Kind of Birder You Think You Are – Birding Colombia

Yes, we have been watching you. We want you to come and make a birding trip in Colombia, and that’s why we are interested in knowing what kind of bird watcher you are.

Since we can’t give you a direct diagnosis, here I will tell you what the most common types of birders are, according to recent studies. This will help you identify with one of them.

If you know what kind of bird watcher you are, it will be easier for you, and for us, to plan the birding trip of your dreams in Colombia. 

We will give you some of our suggestions on what you could do and where you could go if you come to Colombia to watch birds. To start, I recommend you visit our entry The Complete Colombia Birdwatching Guide: Tourism & Conservation.

Without further ado, here are the most common bird watchers’ types: Hard Core Birders, Enthusiastic Birders, and Casual Birders (Ecotourists). Each segment differs in objectives and means to achieve satisfaction.

Hard Birding

Hard birding corresponds to extremely specialized tours to find difficult bird species targets.

The Hard Core Birders 

You are the difficult to influence birdwatcher. If your interest is to identify the greatest number of birds from a given location, and increase your life list, you can consider yourself as a hardcore birder.

In general, hardcore birdwatching is associated with competitions among birders, whether it be on a lifetime/region basis, or during a specified period. Examples of this are the Global Big Day, the Big Year, or to get into the top ten world listers.

If you are a lister, Colombia is a must to visit since we have more than 70 endemic bird species in our country. There is no way to avoid your visit.

Comedy icons Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson star in THE BIG YEAR. ©HBO

What kind of birding trip you can do in Colombia?

For a hardcore like you, Colombia can be expensive because of transportation. Many of the endemic species are found in places far form big cities, where the road infrastructure, and even hotel infrastructure, is not very good. Additionally, add the costs of the flights you must take to arrive there.

Once in the place, you will need specialized transportation, as for example 4×4 trucks that can enter these sites, or horses. It is also necessary your willingness to endure long journeys to get to some places.

Examples of places where you need specialized transportation are Bahía Solano, in Chocó, Montezuma, in Risaralda, the Ukuku Lodge, in Tolima, or Mitú, in Vaupés.

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

Getting up very early in the morning is almost unavoidable. This is because some birds appear at specific times early in the morning, so if you arrive late, you will miss it.

Examples of such morning birds are the Fuertes’s Parrot in Risaralda, the Santa Marta Parakeet in the Sierra Nevada, or some antpittas in Caldas.

Finally, the guide will be expensive. Local birding guides in Colombia with a high level of expertise in birds, and who also speaks your language are few. 

There are some specialized birding companies who can offer you these services, many of them from outside Colombia. In Sula, we want local companies to grow, and that is why we support and promote local operators and guides.

Characteristics of a Hardcore Birder

  • Extremely dedicated birders
  • Impatient with less-skilled birders and crowds
  • Pursue to increase “life list”
  • Competitive
  • Bring their own equipment
  • Not interested in other activities
  • Satisfaction comes from nature observations
  • Predominantly men
  • Will travel long distances to see new or rare birds
  • You guys are the smaller segment, less than 20%

Soft Birding

If you like birds, but also socializing, living other experiences. Or if you are not interested in filling lists, or competing, or do not want to be “suffering” so much in your birding trip, this is your group of birders!

The Enthusiastic Birders

I consider myself into this kind of birder, I am a broad-based nature lover. Yes, I am under suspicion for being a biologist, but I know competing of life lists are not in my preferences.

However, I have the desire to watch a large and diverse number of birds. And this does not imply going through discomfort.

Enthusiastic birders still need specialized attention related to birds, with good and fast transport services, easy to walk trails, and satisfaction. Satisfaction comes from being able to watch, as much as possible, all the available birds.

Local Birders at Vado Real, Suaita, Santander, Colombia

What kind of birding trip you can do in Colombia?

Places that will make you happy are the civil society nature reserves. Among them, we recommend you Tinamu Birding Nature Reserve in Caldas, El Dorado Bird Reserve in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Mururito and Lagos de Menegua in Meta, El Encanto in Palestina – Huila, El Descanso in the Old Way to Buenaventura, and La Minga Ecolodge in Valle del Cauca.

If you want to know more about nature reserves in Colombia visit our entry Responsible Travelers and Nature Reserves in Colombia.

Tolima Blossomcrown – Anthocephala berlepschi at Ukuku Lodge, Tolima

The above-mentioned places still retain some of the privacy and direct contact with nature that we always try to find. There, everything is ready for you to watch the birds, and take with you the best experience.

Characteristics of an Enthusiastic Birder

  • Broad-based and knowledgeable nature lovers
  • Slower, more relaxed travelers
  • Tolerate birders of all skill levels
  • Satisfied as long as birds are seen
  • Confortable in larger groups
  • Interested in other nature and cultural activities
  • Satisfaction comes partly from socializing with others
  • Slightly more women than men
  • You represent about 50% of birding tourists.

The Casual Birders

The family guys! If you like to watch birds with less effort and more comfort, and/or travel with your spouse and kids, this is your group!

For these groups, birds are not the main goal of the trip. Birdwatching may be an add-on to other activities such as cultural experiences, safari, trekking, bicycling, glamping, etc.

@Colombiafrank at Mururito

What kind of birding trip you can do in Colombia?

There are plenty of option in Colombia for you to find. The coffee destinations and the coffee triangle are the most recommended for this kind of experiences. You can mix your love for coffee with your interest in nature and watch some birds, I recommend you read our entry Coffee and Birding Top 5 Destinations in Colombia

So, if you like birds, but also to do trekking or bicycling I recommend you visit Minca, in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Or if you prefer to experience the local culture and observe other animals, I recommend you El Encanto de Guanapalo, Hato La Aurora or Altagracia in Casanare for a safari and eastern plains cowboy activities.

For more information about safari in Colombia read our entry Booking a Safari in Colombia? Find here the Best Options!

But, what if you like is coffee and rum, and walk around, a swimming pool?, visit Hacienda Venecia in Caldas, or La Palma y El Tucán near to Bogotá.

Safari in Casanare

In general, these tours do not need an expert birding guide. You can venture out just to look for the birds, as there will always be easy routes designed for this within the places you lodge or in the surroundings.

You would be paying for the comfort, convenience, and variety of activities.

Characteristics of a Casual Birder

  • Non specialist birder
  • Combine birding with other nature-based activities
  • Interested in seeking something different from home
  • Prefer nature destinations accessible by road
  • Satisfaction comes from superficial interaction with nature
  • Your group represents about 30% of birding tourists

I hope you found your answer about what kind of bird watcher you are. Now you are ready to plan your trip!

If you want to know more about the most incredible natural destinations in Colombia, plan your trip with us


References

 


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.

The Most Awesome Nature Destinations to Visit in Cartagena

Cartagena de Indias has more than 5 island complexes around it which provide more than 20 beaches to visit and enjoy. But let me tell you that Cartagena is not only about beaches and the Walled City.

Besides this, the most extensive, diverse, and developed coral reef in the entire Colombian Caribbean continental coastline is placed near to Cartagena, in the Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo National Natural Park.

Coral Reef at Islas del Rosario

Only 30 minutes from Cartagena you will discover the islands full of natural charms, where the calm and warm turquoise waters and white sand beaches make this island area a paradise on earth, and a refugee for marine life.

On the other hand, towards the north side of the city, you will find the Ciénaga de la Virgen, a special place for birdwatching and where you can walk through the mangroves of the fishing village of La Boquilla.

Totumo Volcano. Ph. ©fabulousfabs – Flickr

A few kilometers further on is the Totumo Volcano, which instead of lava is composed of mud, and is considered a natural spa. The mud is attributed with healing, exfoliating and moisturizing properties for the skin. It is also a fun place for young and old, where taking a mud bath will undoubtedly become an unforgettable memory.

Additionally, approximately one hour from the city is the Botanical Garden of Cartagena “Guillermo Piñeres”, a place where visitors can learn about the Colombian Caribbean flora and fauna.

Let’s continue with this nature trip around Cartagena!

Ecotourism destinations in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

Rosario, Barú and San Bernardo Islands

The Rosario Islands (or Corales del Rosario or Islas del Rosario) is a small archipelago of about 28 islands, which is part of the insular area of Cartagena de Indias, with a land area of 20 hectares (0.20 km²). The main and best beaches in the Cartagena area are located in there.

The islands consist of a small platform composed of successive coral formations at different depths. There are also beautiful white-sand beaches, mangrove coastal forests, and extensive seagrass prairies around the islands.

Coral Reef formation at Rosario Islands Archipelago

Islas del Rosario is the perfect place to snorkel and dive. Its marine biodiversity will leave you amazed. Diving or snorkeling is the way to know at its depth one of the most visited national natural parks of Colombia. Here you will see multicolored fish and all the flora and fauna of the Caribbean Sea.

Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo Natural National Park

The Natural National Park Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo was created in the Rosario Islands archipelago to protect the coral reefs, which are the most important on the Colombian Caribbean coast. The park has an extension of 120,000 hectares.

Coral Reef Fishes at natural national park Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo. Ph. ©Parques Nacionales

The identity and importance of this protected area at the local, regional, national, and global levels are based on its ecosystem functions and essential ecological processes.

The coral reef buffers natural disturbances and functions as a barrier that mitigates the impact of coastal erosion. It is also the habitat of commercially valuable fish and invertebrates, and has beautiful and attractive landscapes.

Unhealthy reefs cannot protect the shore from erosion or extreme weather. Ph. ©The Nature Conservancy
Ecotourism as a Sustainable Activity

Ecotourism allows for the socio-cultural development of the communities settled in the area of influence of the park. It also enables environmental education and awareness, and provides the opportunity for research in marine sciences.

In the park, you can do bird watching, since it has more than 60 species of birds, 31 of which are sea birds including cormorants, gulls, frigates and pelicans. There are also colonies of herons and ibis.

It also is a perfect place to observe marine fauna and flora. There, 53 species of reef-building corals have been identified, which constitute 83% of the coral barriers in the Colombian Caribbean.

There is also a great wealth of invertebrates and 167 species of fish, of which 18 are threatened.

Marine invertebrates. Ph. ©Parques Nacionales

Finally, the marine vegetation is of great importance too, and many species find in this ecosystem breeding and protection.

If you are not very fond of going underwater, other activities you can do are: take a canoe ride through the mangroves, or walk or bike in the tropical dry forest. You can also visit the Oceanarium of San Martin de Pajarales Island, a sanctuary for marine life.

Isla Grande

Isla Grande is part of the Rosario Islands, and it is the largest in the Colombian archipelago of Corales del Rosario. You can get to Isla Grande by public boat, or you can rent a boat just for you and your family or friends.

Isla Grande, Rosario Islands, Cartagena. Ph. ©Emmanuel Rivera – Google Maps

The main activity at Isla Grande is to relax, but you can also go snorkeling and meet with the beautiful reef fishes.

Another attraction at Isla Grande is to visit the Enchanted Lagoon. This place is recommended to visit at night, and preferably with no moon. Why? Because there is a spectacular activity of bioluminescence produced by the plankton and phytoplankton in its waters. You will feel like swimming inside a melted starry sky. It is an absolutely mesmerizing experience!

Spectacular activity of bioluminescence. Ph. ©Islas del Rosario

Cholón, a beach of Barú, is another place where you can also see the natural spectacle of marine bioluminescence.

Diving tours

It is possible to practice diving and snorkeling in Isla Grande and in Isla Tintipán.

Diving tours in the Rosario Islands, Cartagena ©https://divingplanet.org/

For divers who already have their certificate, there is the possibility of doing recreational dives in the natural reserve of corals. On the contrary, if you are not a diver, you can do mini-courses as well, and then take a one-day or multi-day dive tour.

Barú Peninsula (known as Barú Island)

Barú is a peninsula bounded by the Bay of Cartagena, the Canal del Dique and the Caribbean Sea.

This wonderful place is located south of Cartagena, 2 hours by land or 2 and a half hours if you decide to go by boat.

You can rent boats of different capacity, depending on the size of your group of travelers. So, with total freedom, you will be able to choose the places to visit.

A day without laughter is a loss!

Nearby, there are mangrove swamps, water mirrors, and underwater gardens that you can visit. You can also go and meet the Canal del Dique, a work made by the Spanish in the 16th century to facilitate navigation between the Magdalena River and the city of Cartagena de Indias.

At the Canal del Dique you will find an estuarine environment worthy of admiration since the encounter of the river with the sea creates a strange and difficult-to-imagine landscape.

Mangrove ecosystems in Barú

Barú also has several beaches, but the most outstanding are Playa Blanca, Cholón, Agua Azul, and Agua Tranquila.

Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca is a beautiful white-sand beach that contrasts with its crystalline waters, a beautiful place to rest, relax and connect with nature.

Typical meals in the popular Playa Blanca in Barú

Playa Blanca is located on the island of Barú, 45 minutes from Cartagena de Indias. According to El Universal, Cartagena’s main newspaper, this place offers dreamy postcards, with its crystalline blue and green waters.

This place is internationally compared with paradisiacal places like Koh Samui in Thailand, Negril in Jamaica, or Boulders in South Africa.

National Aviary of Colombia

Colombia’s national aviary is on the way to Playa Blanca, one hour from Cartagena, in Barú.

The aviary is a foundation that seeks to conserve and promote knowledge about the richness of birds in Colombia and the Caribbean.

Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) Symbol of the Colombian Air Force. Ph ©Colin Hepburn – Flickr

The aviary is a very special place because it has birds in open and spacious habitats, and the visitor can observe them very closely and safely for both. There you can easily see emblematic species of the Caribbean coast like the endemic and critically endangered Blue-billed Curassow (Crax alberti).

If you are a soft birder or a birder traveling with family, this is a very good place to visit.

Ciénaga de la Virgen and La Boquilla

The Ciénaga de La Virgen is a wetland at risk of extinction. It is a coastal lagoon, approximately 7 km long, which connects to the Caribbean Sea. This marsh is estuarine in nature, as it owes its balance to the mixture of salt and fresh water.

Ciénaga de La Virgen and southern sector of Cartagena seen from Salto del Cabrón. Creative Commons Licence.

Despite the strong environmental pressure, its resilience has allowed fishes, crabs, chipichipis (Donax denticulatus) and shrimps to still sustain some families in the surrounding communities. Also its mangroves are a refuge for several species of resident and migratory birds.

Ecotourism appears as a strategy for the conservation of the Ciénaga de La Virgen, and for the sustenance of the local communities. Its potential as an ecotourism destination is being increasingly exploited by community businesses in the region that are betting on initiatives like this one that contribute to the preservation of mangrove ecosystems.

La Boquilla

In 2019 a viaduct was inaugurated over the Ciénaga de la Virgen. The elevated highway above the body of water shortens the route between Cartagena and Barranquilla. This has affected tourism in La Boquilla, a fishing village famous for its beautiful beaches and traditions.

Fishermen Museum at La Boquilla. Ph. ©El Tiempo

However, you can still visit the town to meet the Afro community that lives there, learn the secrets of traditional fishing: how to catch fish and crabs and how to use the nets in the sea.

The experience is even more interesting when you go into the kitchen to learn how to cook fish and crab with coconut rice.

Fishermen Museum at La Boquilla. Ph. ©El Tiempo

You can also visit the Casa Museo de Pescadores Ancestrales del Corregimiento de la Boquilla. This is an initiative to recover the traditions and customs that identify the population, especially those associated with the work of fishing.

Botanical Garden of Cartagena “Guillermo Piñeres”

The Botanical Garden has 9 hectares, and is divided into 5 hectares of plant collections and 4 hectares of natural forest. You can walk along paths, which are rather steep, so be sure to wear good, comfortable shoes on your visit. It is a wonderful place to get into close contact with the Caribbean Dry Forest.

Macondo (Cavanillesia platanifolia) Ph. ©Botanical Garden of Cartagena

The Botanical Garden has several collections, among the most developed are:

  • Arboretum: with more than 100 native and exotic tree species.
  • Orchard: with unusual fruiting trees of the Caribbean and beyond.
  • Palmetum: with a collection of Caribbean and exotic palm trees.
  • Drug and Fragrance Garden: a collection of perfumed, medicinal and psychoactive plants.
  • Xerophytic Garden: with a collection of cacti and succulents from the Americas, Africa, Asia and Madagascar.

Totumo Volcano

The Totumo Volcano is a volcanic cone full of mud, which is located in the rural area of the municipality of Santa Catalina (Bolívar). The formation presents a scarce elevation of twenty meters. To enter and exit the crater it is necessary to ascend by a rustic wooden staircase, and then descend by another one.

Once at the bottom of the crater, you can take a mud bath! The mud is composed of water, silica, aluminum, magnesium, sodium chloride, calcium, sulfur, iron, and phosphate. It is supposed to have healing properties due to its composition.

Mud Bath at the Totumo Volcano. Ph. ©Adrian Rodney-Edwards – Flickr

This destination is not supported by the public administration, so its physical infrastructure is not the most adequate, and it is managed by the local community.

It is an interesting place to visit, if you do not mind sharing a small pool with strangers. You can also get a massage while you are there.

The Pink Sea of Galerazamba

The pink beach of Galerazamba is a must-see in Colombia. The sea takes on a beautiful pink coloration thanks to the concentration of salt in its waters and the action of an algae found in them.

The Pink Sea of Galerazamba. Ph. ©Carlos Bustamante R. – Flickr

The best time to visit Galerazamba is from December to April. After that, the pink color begins to decrease until it becomes crystalline.

In addition to this impressive landscape, you can learn about the process of salt production, as well as its history, crystallization process, use, and commercialization.

Where to Stay

There are several accommodation options. For a nature experience we recommend you to stay at Hotel Las Islas, in Barú. For more information read our Complete Guide to the Best Eco lodges in Colombia.

Las Islas Hotel – Barú, Cartagena

But if you prefer to enjoy a little bit of the city we recommend you to stay at sustainable Hotel Boutiques as the Condé Nast Traveller Readers’ Choice Awards 2020 winner Sofitel Legend Santa Clara; the widely acclaimed and recognized Casa San Agustín Hotel; and, the charming hotel of the world by the Paris Magazine Hotel & Lodge and Prize FIABCI of Architecture to the best restoration Casa Pestagua Hotel Boutique.

Recommendations

  • Please use coral-friendly sunscreen. If you need help on this subject I recommend you read the article Reef-Safe Sunscreen: What You Need to Know by Chasing Coral.
  • Be vaccinated against yellow fever 10 days before the planned date of your trip and carry your immunization records.
  • Today, it is no longer necessary to stop in Bogotá to get to Cartagena. If you come from abroad, you can take a cruise or a plane.
  • Airlines such as American Airlines, JetBlue, Interjet, KLM, Delta, and Copa fly directly to the Rafael Nuñez International Airport in Cartagena.
  • The best time or season to travel to Cartagena varies little throughout the year.
  • Being a coastal city, its climate is tropical humid and dry with a relative humidity of 84%.
  • The temperature in Cartagena is warm almost all year round and generally ranges between 23 and 30º C.
  • However, the best time to visit the beautiful beaches and landscapes of Cartagena is between the end of November and the end of April, when the climate is drier.
  • The distances between the tourist areas are not very long. However, private transportation is somewhat expensive compared to public transportation and cabs. We recommend that you check the prices in advance.

With these simple recommendations, you will be able to dedicate yourself to enjoying your ecotrip in Cartagena “La Heróica” to the fullest. It’s an experience not to be missed! In case of any doubt, do not hesitate to contact us!


References


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.

9.5% of the Birds of the World: Main Spots for Birdwatching in Caldas

Find here why birdwatching in Caldas is a must! The greatest biodiversity of Colombia is concentrated on the slopes of the north of the Andes, between 1000 and 2000 meters above sea level. In fact, it is so huge, that it can even surpass the biogeographic Chocó and the Amazon biodiversity. 

Then, the Andean region is one of the areas with the greatest biological diversity in Colombia, and it is here where the department of Caldas is placed. 

Caldas has 9.5% of the birds of the world 

Caldas has a high richness in birdlife and because of its area, it can be considered as a region with a high concentration of bird species per area, with around 870 bird species reported. 

In addition, 22 of the bird species found in Caldas are endemic and 34 are almost endemic, being one of the departments with higher endemism in the country. The importance of some species lies in both their endemic condition as well as in their threat level.  

The reason why the department of Caldas has such high biodiversity is its geographical location. To be specific, Caldas borders are found between the Cauca and Magdalena rivers, the two largest rivers of Colombia.

Besides this, it is placed on both sides of the Central Andean mountain range and also over the eastern flank of the western Andean mountain range.

As a result, the territory of Caldas has the particularity of featuring very varied ecosystems: from the perpetual snows and páramos to the dry forests of the lower areas of the basins.  

Birding at the heart of the Coffee Triangle  

Caldas region coincides with the optimal area for growing coffee, and many coffee farms can be found there! It is part of the famous Eje Cafetero (Coffee Triangle), with a coffee culture deeply rooted in its people.

Then, although birds are the main motivation for tourists, it also can be the coffee, the hospitality and the typical gastronomy of Caldas. 

Caldas – The Heart of the Coffee Triangle

Society of Ornithology of Caldas (SCO) and Birding Tourism Congress 

Given the great bird richness in the department, birdwatching has been consolidating for over 30 years with the presence of the Society of Ornithology of Caldas (SCO).

The SCO is one of the oldest and largest birding societies in the country. Find out more about SCO and other birding clubs in Colombia in our post Birders’ Clubs and Ornithological Associations in Colombia

Recently, birding tourism has been consolidated in the region with the Avitourism Congress, which in 2018 hosted the VIII South American Bird Fair, and it was attended by 850 participants from 25 countries around the world. 

SCO’s logo honoring the
Torrent Duck (Merganetta armata)

Best Places to go for Birdwatching in Caldas 

Tinamú Birding Nature Reserve 

Among the most suitable places for birdwatching, you can find at first place the Tinamú Birding Nature Reserve. This is one of the best bird lodges in Colombia, located in San Peregrino village just 30 minutes from the city of Manizales.

Tinamú Reserve protects a dry forest of 15 ha. at 1.225. m.a.s.l., which is home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles, butterflies and a variety of plants and trees.

Tinamu Birding offers great facilities for bird photography, read our entry The Nicest Bird-lodge of Colombia: Tinamu Birding Nature Reserve to know more about this place.  

Common Potoo (Nyctibius griseus)

Río Blanco Forest Reserve 

Another very special place for birdwatching is just three kilometers far from Manizales. Among the cloud forest of the Andes, you will find the Río Blanco Forest Reserve.

At Rio Blanco Reserve you will find around 372 different bird species, of which 13 are endemic, 30 migratory and 13 are threatened. 

The highlight of this place is the facilities for photographing birds, especially drinkers to attract hummingbirds and tanagers, and feeders to attract antpittas.

Brown-banded Antpitta – Grallaria milleri
Blue-capped Tanager – Thraupis cyanocephala
Buff-tailed Coronet – Boissonneaua flavescens
Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager – Anisognathus somptuosus

Hacienda Venecia Coffee Farm Hotel

Among the farms you can find Hacienda Venecia, a 100 years coffee farm where you can enjoy coffee and chocolate experiences bonded with birding activities.  Know more about Hacienda venecia in our entry Coffee and Birding Top 5 Destinations in Colombia.

Birding at Hacienda Venecia

Finca Romelia Colors of Life  

Finca Romelia is a family tourism project where visitors can take pleasure in observing more than 840 species of orchids for an average of 8,000 orchid plants, an interesting variety of bonsai and around 216 species of birds, as well as citrus and avocado production crops.

Orchids at Finca Romelia

Cameguadua and La Esmeralda Reservoirs 

La Esmeralda is owned by the Caldas Hydroelectric Power Plant (CHEC) and has about 40 hectares of forest. It is considered the last remaining forest on the banks of the Cauca River, reported in Caldas, which corresponds to a semi-dry tropical forest with high biodiversity and influence of the river and the reservoir. With about 200 species of birds, it is a site of high ornithological interest. 

Birds of aquatic ecosystems can be found in Cameguadua and La Esmeralda Reservoirs. Cameguadua is located in the municipality of Chinchiná, 30 minutes from the city of Manizales, with two lakes, to the north is the tourist boardwalk and to the south the lake is for recovery. It has patches of forests and isolated trees that make it an attraction mainly for water birds, and there is a pier suitable for bird photography. 

Birding at Cameguadua

National Natural Park Los Nevados 

The best places for high mountain birds are in the National Natural Park Los Nevados, at Brisas-Tucurrumby-La Esperanza sector, where there is a platform, as a facility for the bird observation and photography. 

Besides Brisas, the thematic Park Laguna Negra is another attraction with an imposing lagoon of glacial origin, resting place for migratory species and wild ducks. 

Pale-naped Brushfinch – Atlapetes pallidinucha
Buffy Helmetcrest – Oxypogon stubelii

Termales del Ruiz Hotel  

Termales del Ruiz Hotel is a private hidden hotel with amazing spaces for rest and enjoy the incredible Nevado del Ruiz, with ample space for rest and relaxation, meditation, reading and of course, birdwatching! 

Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager – Anisognathus igniventris
Shining Sunbeam – Aglaeactis cupripennis

Hacienda El Bosque 

Hacienda El Bosque is a traditional family dairy farm located 30 minutes from Manizales on the road to Bogotá. Its elevation gradient from 2,800 to 3,900 meters allows for varied ecosystems such as pastures for livestock and dairy production and large areas of high Andean forest and paramo.

The natural forest fragments have been protected for over 40 years, allowing the conservation of more than 25 water sources. It has an inventory of 127 species of birds. There you can find special facilities for bird photography.  

Grey-breasted Mountain-toucan – Andigena hypoglauca

Nido del Condor 

El Nido del Cóndor eco-hotel is located on the Condor Route to Los Nevados National Park via Santa Isabel. This place has an alternative, inclusive, and sustainable architecture.

The most special thing about this place is the presence of the nest of a beautiful couple of Andean Condors that fly over the 2 canyons that make up the plateau where this hotel is located. 

Andean Condor – Vultur gryphus

Paraíso Verde 

Paraiso Verde is a lodge near Manizales, inspired in the typical style of a coffee house, with large corridors and railings around it, with an extension of 7 hectares and located at an altitude of 1,950 meters. It presents fragments of very humid premontane forest and has a record of 192 species of birds.

With 200 species of birds and feeders which are ideal for bird photography, the ecohotel has specialized in offering facilities for bird watching and bird photography. It has about 4 km of ecological trails with several points for bird photography. 

Emerald Toucanet – Aulacorhynchus prasinus

Hacienda El Jardin 

Hacienda El Jardín is located 40 minutes from the city of Manizales.  This farm has 70 years of tradition and coffee activity at an altitude of 1,450 m and 100 ha of extension.

Also, the Hacienda has several habitats where birds can be observed including lakes, pastures, fragments of native forests, crops, and reforested areas with native trees, shrubs and flowers.   

Yellow-backed oriole – Icterus chrysater

La Juanita Ecohotel 

La Juanita Ecohotel is specialized in bird watching and has a total area of 4 ha at an altitude of approximately 2,000 m. It is immersed in a very humid premontane forest life zone, and it has trails in the middle of a secondary forest and areas suitable for bird watching.  ~127 species reported. 

Flame-rumped Tanager – Ramphocelus flammigerus

Urban Birding in Manizales 

You can also do urban bird watching in the city of Manizales. Just go to the Ecoparque Alcázares – Arenillo located in the neighborhood of Los Alcazares 5 minutes from downtown. This park has an extension of 33.43 hectares and is located at 2000 m.a.s.l.   

It is a little piece of very humid premontane jungle in the middle of the concrete jungle of Manizales. Its vegetation is characterized by trees of great importance for the fauna of the place like the black Yarumo, Balso panelero, Colombian Pine, Camargo, Arboloco, Espadero, Roble, Cariseco, Arrayán, Encenillo, Silvo Silvo and Manzanillo, mountain coffee bushes, Siete cueros, guayabos and palms of the gender Chamaedorea. There have been reported up to 167 species of birds.

Other places that you can visit in the city of Manizales for birding are the botanical garden of the University of Caldas, the viewpoint of Chipre, the Los Yarumos Ecopark, Kairi Reserve and the hotel Recinto del Pensamiento, among the most prominent. 

Recinto del Pensamiento

If you want to know more about Colombian nature tours, or want to visit Caldas for bird watching, follow us, write us comments, or just contact us


References 


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. 

Know the Winged Jewels Held by San Antonio Cloud Forest – Km 18

The San Antonio cloud forest and the wooded areas of the sector known as “kilometro 18” (Km. 18), are located between kilometers 14 to 23 of the Cali – Buenaventura road. The area belongs to the municipalities of Cali, in the townships of El Saladito, Felidia, and La Elvira and Dagua in the townships of San Bernardo, and Km. 26.

Multicolored Tanager – Chlorochryssa nitidissima ©Colombia Birdfair

More than 180 species of birds have been registered in San Antonio Forest – Kilometer 18. The presence of threatened species such as the Multicolored Tanager (Chlorochryssa nitidissima) and the Cloud-forest pygmy owl (Glaucidium nubicola) stands out, and raises the place as one of the best hotspots for birding near to the city of Santiago de Cali, in the department of Valle del Cauca.

Sustainable Destination

Red-headed Barbet – Eubucco bourcierii, La Minga Ecolodge, Valle del Cauca

The local community was interested in conserving the forests and following this aim they decided to creat the Asociación Rio Cali, together with the support of numerous allies. The Asociación Río Cali is a private non-profit organization that promotes and supports the maintenance of biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources by involving the local human communities of the Cali and Aguacatal river basin, where the San Antonio forest and km 18 are located.

The community supports biodiversity conservation initiatives from small rural farms through the planning and management of agroecosystems, generating income and employment through the production of primary goods and environmental services. It also seeks to protect birds and their habitat by generating economic income for rural communities through nature tourism focused on bird watching.

Scientific Research at San Antonio Forest

This forest was explored in the early 20th century by the famous naturalist, ornithologist and banker Frank M. Chapman of the American Museum of Natural History. He was the creator of the Christmas Bird Count (you should know this if you are a serious bird watcher … I am just kidding!) After him, more studies and explorations were carried by other ornithologists several times during the same century. Today, all this information has served to historically track birds that have become extinct in the area due to forest fragmentation. It also have been useful to support conservation initiatives implemented on the area.

San Antonio Cloud Forest – Km 18: Important Bird Area (IBA)

According to BirdLife International, the San Antonio cloud forest and the surrounding wooded areas at kilometer 18 were declared National Forest Reserve Areas in 1938 and 1943. Then, in 1948 and 1960 the area was ceded to the municipality of Cali for its management as a Forest Reserve Area. In 1998, the housing areas of the Forest Reserve Area were excluded.

It is in 2004, when members and researchers from the local community and the Asociación Río Cali, proposed to BirdLife International and the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Biological Research, the declaration of the “Bosque de Niebla de San Antonio – Km 18” as an Important Area for the Conservation of Birds (IBA/AICA). Thus, kilometer 18 and the San Antonio cloud forest were designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) for conservation, especially for hosting significant numbers of globally threatened species.

The Multicolored Tanager was choosen as the symbol of the IBA/AICA, because of being a unique species of the Colombian Andes, very easy to observe in the region, and being threatened to extinction due to habitat loss.

The Multicolored Tanager is the symbol of the IBA/AICA “Bosque de Niebla de San Antonio- Km 18” ©Asociación Rio Cali

Asociación Río Cali activities are also involved with monitoring the Birds of the AICA Bosque de Niebla de San Antonio and Km 18, studying native species and making inventories of plants, mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles with the support of the local environmental authority (CVC).

Among the 180 species of this place, the following ones are of main importance to the IBA: Chestnut Wood-quail (Odontophorus hyperythrus), Yellow-headed Manakin (Chloropipo flavicapilla), Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera), Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea), Purplish-mantled Tanager (Iridosornis porphyrocephalus) and the Multicolored Tanager (Chlorochrysa nitidissima).

Location

Cloud forest located in the western mountain range of Colombia.

The Cerro de San Antonio, also called Cerro de La Horqueta, is a montane summit (2100 m elevation) in the western andean mountain range in Colombia. It is localted 15 km west of the city of Santiago de Cali, on the road to Buenaventura, department of Valle del Cauca.

The cloud forests of San Antonio and its surrounding area, were heavily extracted during the first half of the past century (1900-1950). However, the remaining fragments stayed more or less pristine since the 1960s, and are distributed in a matrix of small farms and suburban houses.

What to do

Birding at San Antonio Cloud Forest – Km 18

In the San Antonio Cloud Forest – Km 18 you can observe more than 220 species of birds, both resident and migratory. Some of the species that can be seen are the Multicolored Tanager, the Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, the Blue-naped Chlorophonia, the Green-and-black Fruiteater, the Colombian Chachalaca and 30 species of hummingbirds.

Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager – Anisognathus somptuosus
Colombian Chachalaca – Ortalis columbiana, Endemic, Valle del Cauca

You can find many highly recommended places to observe and photograph birds. Also ecolodges and birdlodges specialized in offering high quality accommodation in the area. Among the most famous and recommended places to go birding in the San Antonio Cloud Forest Km 18 in Valle del Cauca are:

Finca La Conchita: At Finca La Conchita west of the city of Cali you can have superb studies of hummingbirds, plus a wide variety of other birds such as the endemic Colombian Chachalaca.

Bronzy Inca – Coeligena coeligena
Purple-throated Woodstar – Calliphlox mitchellii – male-

La Minga Ecolodge: This is the prime destination to observe and photograph the Multicolored Tanager. Be sure that the best pictures of this bird were took at La Minga Ecolodge.

View to the San Antonio Cloud Forest from La Minga Ecologe

Finca Alejandría “El Paraíso de los Colibríes”: This is one of the most known and traditional palces for photographing tanagers and hummingbirds at Km 18, perhaps because it was one of the first to open. There you can find adequate trails with numbered drinking troughs, where the birds arrive. There are also gardens with feeders inside the forest.

Crowned Woodnymph – Thalurania colombica

Araucana Lodge: Eco-lodge specializing in bird watching, botanical tours and wellness. Organic farm on site. Know more about this place in our entry Complete Guide to the Best Eco lodges in Colombia.

©Araucana Lodge Website

Bosque de Niebla Birding & Nature: If you love nature and birds, you must know this place. It is a family business that offers its visitors bird watching and hiking tours, as well as birding workshops. It is located at Km 18, 30 minutes from Cali, and 2 kilometers from the entrance of Km 18 via Dapa. Its purpose is to help the conservation of the cloud forest of the National Protected Forest Reserve of La Elvira, thus promoting the conservation of the habitat of its birds.

Post Covid-19 Destination ©Bosque de Niebla Birding & Nature

If you want to know more about Colombian nature tours, or want to visit any Valle del Cauca, just check our Valle del Cauca tour, follow us, write us comments, or just contact us.


References


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.[/vc_column_text]

 

Know One of the Most Pristine Nature Destinations in Colombia: Rio Ñambi

The Río Ñambí Nature Reserve is a natural paradise the tropical forest inserted in the colombian biogeographic Chocó of Nariño. It has a great variety of birds, animals and species that invite you to connect with nature and enjoy the fresh air of this tropical rainforests.

Sustainable Destination

Rio Ñambi is owned by the “Los Colibríes de Altaquer” Ecological Foundation (FELCA), a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of nature. FELCA arised in 1991 as a community initiative by a group of students and teachers of the school Santa Teresita de Altaquer, who, concerned about the growing deterioration of natural resources, undertake the task of conserving important areas of forest and teaching others the importance of assuming a responsible attitude towards nature.

FELCA protects the Río Ñambí Nature Reserve since 1992, being one of the first community conservation experiences in South America. Since then, FELCA has been working together with local, national and international institutions, through strategic alliances, to fulfill the objectives of the FELCA Foundation.

Today, the Rio Ñambi Nature Reserve is recognized as a good place for scientific research and ecotourism. It is one of the best destinations for academic practices for institutions of higher, primary and vocational education of the country and around the world.

Characteristics of Río Ñambi Nature Reserve

Rio Ñambi is located in Altaquer, department of Nariño, in the Pacific Region of colombia, Vereda el Barro municipality. It has an extension of
1,400 hectares, distributed along 1100 to 1900 meters above sea level. Temperature ranges between 18ºC and 24ºC.

It is located on the Pacific slope of the Nudo de los Pastos in the Andes mountain range, in the central area of the Biogeographic Chocó. It rains a lot in this region, with an average annual rainfall is between 7000 and 8000 mm, being September to June the wet season, and July to August the dry season. However, do not think is not going to rain, this is an annual cycle when it rains almost every day after 12 noon.

Pristine premontane rainforest at Rio Ñambi Nature Reserve

The reserve protects pristine premontane rain forest, and in succession, concentrating a large number of endemic and endangered species of Fauna and Flora. The Flora of Rio Ñambí presents a high diversity in comparison with others at a similar height on the eastern slope of the Andes. The canopy is between 25 to 30 m high with some emergent species up to 40 m such as Sapium glandulosum (Cebo); The undergrowth is very dense, consisting mainly of high density of orchids, bromeliads, and anthuriums and a great variety of palms. It is an area where several new plant records have been described for Colombia.

Regarding fauna, 25 species of reptiles have been found, and two have been recently described: the Carchi Andes toad (Rhaebo colomai) endangered, and the Campbell’s toadheaded viper (Bothrocophias campbelli) vulnerable. You can also find up to 160 species of Butterflies, and a new one of the genus Hesperocharis.

Thus, Rio Ñambi is home to an extraordinary biological diversity in plant and animal species, many of them considered endemic (species unique to a particular area), or at risk of extinction. Among them we can mention: Chocó vireo (Vireo masteri), a new species of bird for science, Clusia nambiensis a plant with showy and colorful flowers frequently visited by birds, the Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus), the jaguar (Pantera onca) and the Andean cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruviana), among others.

Rio Ñambi as an Area of High Ornithological Interest

According to BirdLife International, Río Ñambí and in general the whole surrounding area is very important for the research and conservation of birds worldwide. The Rio Ñambi nature reserve is an Important Bird Area (IBA) because it houses globally threatened species, at least two restricted-range species, and hold species largelly or wholly confined to one biome-realm, i.e., biome-restricted species. Of the 351 registered species 46 are within the Endemism Area (EBA 041), 23 have some degree of threat being one of the areas that harbors the largest number of globally threatened species in Colombia. From this set of species, 31 are hummingbirds being the most complex and diverse community of hymmingbirds in the world (Flórez 2004, Gutiérrez et al 2004).

Location

This beautiful reserve is located in the southwest of Colombia, in the village of El Barro, Altaquer district, Barbacoas municipality, department of Nariño. It is placed at km 155 on the San Juan de Pasto – Tumaco road.

What to do at Rio Ñambi Nature Reserve

This is a place intended primarily for bird watching. However, you can enjoy both of its rivers and waterfalls, walking along its paths and spend a night na alojamineto very basic, being attended by people from the community. It is an ideal place to simply enjoy and appreciate nature, be calm, or to take a refreshing swim in the crystal clear waters of the Ñambí River.

There is a cabin located 2.5 km far from the road which provides basic facilities for conducting scientific research, workshops and meetings in the middle of the primary forest. It also has a lodging capacity for 40 people, wich includes food and sanitary services. As many reserves in Colombia, services for tourism are not developed, so do not expect to find any luxury.

Rio Ñambi Nature Reserve Cabin

Hiking and Adventure

The reserve has interpretive trails of the numerous natural events and outstanding ecological processes of the tropical rain forests. You can follow the trails starting from the main cabin: the Regugio trail and the Sonoro trail, around the house and near to the river, and the main trail, which is the only access to the main house from the road.

Among them you can visit the forest, enjoy local flora and fauna and take a bath at several waterfalls and pools along the Ñambi river. The Río Ñambí Nature Reserve has waterfalls and natural pools named as “Las Calaveras”, “El Charco”, “La Paila” and “La Piedra del Río Peje ” where you can enjoy a refreshing bath or practice torrentism. You will be able to rappel down the waterfalls, with all the security measures, using ropes, harnesses, gloves and helmets, and with the help of a professional guide.

The forest also has many lianas, typical of these habitats, which are very resistant. You can hang from them like Tarzan or George de la Selva in the middle of this rain forest, or as the locals say make the Howler monkey jump. This activity is done with all the necessary security measures and is one of the main attractions for young and old.

Birding at Rio Ñambí Nature Reserve

After La Planada Nature Reserve, Rio Ñambí is one of the most appreciated places in Nariño to watch birds. It is also an important hotspot in the world to observe birds thanks to the fact that it concentrates a great diversity of bird species in only 1,400 ha, being home to 44 endemic species and 31 species of hummingbirds (Find a complete guide of the Rio Ñambi hummingbirds here).

The forests of Rio Ñambi are characterized by being largely constituted by a primary forest forming a canopy between 25 and 30 m high. Fortunately, the slope of the terrain allows you, in some moments, to be at the height of the canopy or at least half of the height of the forest. And so, you will be able to observe species that would otherwise be no less than gray spots under a white background.

The reserve also has several facilities for birders along the way, such as drinkers and feeders, photography sets, feedlots, and observation balconies.

Among the 350 bird species you can find in the Rio Ñambi reserve, BirdLife international recognizes 60 which gave the IBA criteria for the reserve, which makes them, in turn, of great ornithological interest for birders and scientists. Significantly, including the endangered Baudo Guan (Penelope ortoni), Banded Ground-cuckoo (Neomorphus radiolosus), Great-billed Seed-finch (Sporophila maximiliani) and the vulnerable Dark-backed Wood-quail (Odontophorus melanonotus), Little Woodstar (Chaetocercus bombus), Cloudforest Pygmy-owl (Glaucidium nubicola), Plumbeous Forest-falcon (Micrastur plumbeus), Bicolored Antvireo (Dysithamnus occidentalis), Long-wattled Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus penduliger), Scarlet-breasted Dacnis (Dacnis berlepschi), and the Yellow-green Tanager (Bangsia flavovirens).

Among the restricted distribution species you can find: Purple-bibbed Whitetip (Urosticte benjamini), Choco Trogon (Trogon comptus), Choco Tapaculo (Scytalopus chocoensis), Nariño Tapaculo (Scytalopus vicinior), Choco Tyrannulet (Zimmerius albigularis), Choco Vireo (Vireo masteri), Choco Poorwill (Nyctiphrynus rosenbergi), Choco Daggerbill (Schistes albogularis), Choco Toucan (Ramphastos brevis), and Choco Woodpecker (Dryobates chocoensis).

Nocturnal Treks

Night trips are made in order to find frogs, fluorescent fungi, nocturnal birds and some insects and spiders. The main attraction is the possibility of meeting a beautiful Crystal Frog (Espadarana prosoblepon).

Crystal Frog (Espadarana prosoblepon) © Creative Commons Licence

Orchids Tour

The reserve has an orquidiarium for scientific reserach. There are around 130 species of Orchids registered at Rio Ñambi nature reserve.

Travel recommendations

To give you the best in Reserva Natural Rio Ñambí experience must bring:

  • Light luggage. Access makes it difficult to carry very large or heavy luggage.
  • Health insurance.
  • Mosquito repellent.
  • Cellular 100% charged.
  • Batteries for charging equipment, electricity in the place is minimal.
  • Bring your own medicine cabinet since there isn’t one there.
  • Cash.
  • Camera and accessories.
  • Waterproof hiking boots.
  • Raincoat.
  • Sunscreen.
  • Binoculars.

References

  • Fundación Ecológica Los Colibríes de Altaquer FELCA Website
  • BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Reserva Natural Río Ñambí. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org 
  • Tourist information system of the department of Nariño, SITUR Nariño Website.
  • Kahuari Travel
  • Voces de Nariño Blog
  • Colparques Organization Website

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.

Top Wetland Destination in Valle del Cauca for Birding: Laguna de Sonso

Laguna de Sonso is a lake, and it is one of the most important ecosystems in the department of Valle del Cauca. Since 1987 it is a nature reserve that covers 2,045 hectares. Of this area, 745 hectares are in the lagoon zone and 1,300 hectares correspond to the buffer zone.

In 2018 we were with Juancho getting to know the Laguna de Sonso. Juancho told us about many places that you can visit in Valle del Cauca to see incredible, unique and beautiful birds of the Colombian western Andes and the Pacific. On this trip we were with his father Luis Eduardo Camacho, a guide specialized in bird watching in Valle del Cauca, and with our friends from the Hotel La Huerta, which is just 30 minutes by car far from Laguna de Sonso.

Visit our Youtube Channel for more videos!

Ecological Importance of Sonso Lake

Laguna de Sonso is associated to a complex of 24 wetlands of the Upper Cauca River, and is inserted into the Tropical Dry Forest ecosystem.

This place is a biological corridor that favors the migration of species between the Central and Western Andean mountain ranges of Colombia, and also receives boreal migratory birds. At the same time, it is a refuge for local resident species, not only birds, but also plants and animals.

According to Ramsar Sites Information Service, 39 species of plants are registered in this place, from which 25 present some category of threat. There are also 186 species of birds and 5 species of endemic fish: the boquiancha (Genycharax tarpon); the roño (Callichthys fabricioi); the micudo (Pimelodella macrocephala); and two sardines (Hyphessobrycon poecilioides and Gephyrocharax caucanus). It also has 24 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 50 species of mammals.

Sonso is also an important source of food for nearby human communities, which have in this ecosystem their only source of income.

Laguna de Sonso, Valle del Cauca, Colombia

Until very recently, less than 5 years ago, this ecosystem was under a serious environmental crisis, exposed to continuous drainage to plant sugar cane. Also to the excessive input of organic matter from domestic and industrial waste, which contaminate the water.

Studies carried out by the National University of Colombia, showed that the Laguna de Sonso presents a high degree of contamination, product of human activities, which has led this area not suitable for primary contact such as swimming, nor is it secondary as in the case of nautical activities.

As a result of community action and government efforts, this wetland was declared a Wetland of International Importance in 2017, meeting the requirements of the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar).

With the international category, the activity of bird watching appears as a sustainable option for the conservation of the lake and its wetlands, and as a source of economic resources for the local community. Laguna de Sonso also offers environmental education and research facilities.

Birdwatching at Laguna de Sonso

“Buitre de Ciénaga” Environmental Education Center,

In Laguna Sonso is the “Buitre de Ciénaga” Environmental Education Center, whose name celebrates the Horned Screamer. The environmental education center offers the visitor an auditorium, and toilet services.

There is a land tour around the lagoon to observe birds of the swamp and beach area. It is also possible to do kayak or boat trips on the lake. The reserve has an observation tower on the Mata Zarza peninsula, a forest on the eastern side of the lagoon and a panoramic viewpoint over the Cauca River on the western side.

For bird watching, the entrance to the center starts at 6:00 a.m. Birding guide services are offered by local communities and have a cost associated with the size of the group and the time dedicated to the experience.

Depending on the environmental conditions, up to 60 species of birds can be observed in one morning. There are different trails, and species associated with aquatic and marsh systems, such as forest species, can be observed.

The possibilities of photography are moderate, considering that there may be a lot of cloudiness, increasing the contrast in white background.

Checklist of Laguna de Sonso. Here there are some of the birds we saw when we visited Laguna de Sonso:

Anhinga Anhinga anhinga
Bar-crested Antshrike Thamnophilus multistriatus
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna autumnalis
Cocoi Heron Ardea cocoi
Greater Ani Crotophaga major
Masked Cardinal Paroaria nigrogenis
Snail Kite Rostrhamus sociabilis juvenile

How to get to Laguna de Sonso

Laguna de Sonso Wetland Complex

The Laguna de Sonso or Laguna del Chircal is a body of water located in the department of Valle del Cauca, Colombia, about 65 kilometers north of the city of Santiago de Cali. It covers 14.1 square kilometers among the municipalities of Buga, Yotoco and Guacarí, on the right bank of the Cauca River.

To get there you must drive on the Buga-Mediacanoa road, and 250 meters before crossing the Cauca River, you must turn left on an open road at the site called Puerto Bertín, 1.5 km away is the Buitre de Ciénaga Environmental Center.

Recommendations

  • Wear a hat,
  • use comfortable clothes,
  • use waterpfof shoes,
  • take sunscreen,
  • take insect repellent.


References

  • El Tiempo. 2017. La Laguna de Sonso ahora tiene sello internacional ‘Ramsar’.
  • Revista Semana. 2019. Laguna de Sonso, en el Valle, presenta altos niveles de contaminación.
  • Ramsar Sites Information Service.
  • cvc.gov.co 

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.

Colombia’s Prime Birding Destination: Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta covers part of the departments of Magdalena, La Guajira and Cesar, and is the highest coastal mountain range in the world. It covers life zones from sea level to the snow belt. Because of the variety of ecosystems, thermal floors by the sea, its unique beauty and cultural richness, it is a unique territory to visit.

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range has been declared a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by UNESCO (1979), among other national categories. It is the most endemic rich, continental area in the World. 21 species (and several more subspecies) are confined to the area – many of them carry Santa Marta in their name. The isolated range’s avifauna bares similarities with both Venezuelan mountain ranges to the east, and Andean mountains to the south-west, all adding to the biogeographical complexity of these mountains. 

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park (aka Santa Marta Mountainsis for long and by far Colombia’s prime birding destination. It’s the highest coastal mountain range in South America, the highest peaks – Cristobal Colon & Simon Bolivar – are at the same time the highest ones in Colombia. They tower 5575 meters above sea level. 

Within this mountainous massif there is an area of great cultural significance, considered a sacred place for the four indigenous peoples of the Sierra: the Arhuacos (or Ikas), the Wiwas, the Kogis, and the Kankuamos. This is the Teyuna Archaeological Park “Lost City”, which is administered by the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History – ICANH.

Climate and seasonality

In the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta you can find lowland rainforest (0-1,050 m), premontane rainforest (1,050-1,900 m), paramo (3,400-4,200 m), superparamo (4,200-5,100 m) and snow belt (5,100-5,770 m). The average annual temperature at sea level is 27º C, while at the top of the mountains it drops to 0º C. The annual precipitation is 3,000-4,000 mm and decreases with altitude. The dry season runs from October to November and from June to July.

Cuchilla de San Lorenzo (San Lorenzo Ridge)

The Cuchilla of San Lorenzo is an area within the Sierra Nevada that has been declared an Important Bird Area (IBA). It extends from the town of Minca (600 m), through an extensive area of shade coffee plantations, to the edge of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Natural Park.

The Cuchilla de San Lorenzo is very important for the migratory birds that cross the Caribbean. It also contains one of the highest concentrations of endemic species in Santa Marta with the presence of Santa Marta bush-tyrant (Myiotheretes pernix), Santa Marta Parakeet (Pyrrhura viridicata) and Santa Marta Blossomcrown (Anthocephala floriceps) among others.

Most endemic bird species are concentrated in the upper parts of the Cuchilla de San Lorenzo and Cerro Kennedy, a mountain that reaches 2,800 m. Cerro Kennedy has wooded patches, dominated mainly by bamboo and shrubs. This is one of the best areas in Santa Marta to observe endemic and rare species, since it presents 15 species of endemic birds, making it one of the highest concentrations of endemisms in the continent.

In the region, projects that involve the local population have been implemented towards the conservation of the environment. Strategies such as: the production of “Bird Friendly Coffee“, the creation of a “Bird Friendly Club” for children and young people of the region, the installation of monitoring stations for the bird populations and environmental education actions.

Vista de Nieve Farm at Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

On our Sula Fam-Trip we first visited the beautiful coffeeplantation “Finca Vista de Nieve” which caters also for small groups of birders. It’s the ideal place to get away from it all, combine birding with relaxing holidays. Sipping delicious local coffee while watching a beautiful sunset over the Caribbean Sea shall sure do you good. 

The close surroundings of the farm consists of shade grown coffee plantations and some second growth forest – both excellent habitat for birding. With an elevation of about 1300 m. asl. Many of the Santa Marta foothill specialties are found here. During our comfortable 2-night stay the we observed exquisite species like Black-fronted Wood-QuailScaled PiculetSanta Marta AntbirdSlate-crowned AntpittaSanta Marta TapaculoSanta Marta Foliage-gleanerStreak-capped Spinetail, Sierra Nevada Brushfinch & White-lored Warbler. 

A walk down the access road to Vista Nieves through a mosaic of coffee plantations and second growth forest can turn up some nice mixed flocks and especially Spectacled Tyrannulet and Santa Marta Blossomcrown. The latter visits flowering plants in gardens of local farmers & roadside shops. 

In order to see most of the area’s endemics it’s necessary to visit different elevations.

El Dorado Lodge

The centerpiece of a visit to the Santa Marta Mountains is the El Dorado Lodge 2000 m. asl., owned and managed by the ProAves foundation. It has several trails into good forest, excellent hummingbird feeders and access to the Cuchilla San Lorenzo is way more convenient from here. The immediate area around the lodge is best for the recently described Santa Marta Screech-OwlWhite-tipped QuetzalBlack-throated Tody-TyrantGolden-breasted Fruiteater & Santa Marta Brushfinch. The lodge’s compost pile attracts regularly Band-tailed GuanBlack-fronted Wood-Quail and Sierra Nevada Brushfinch. The hummingbird feeders host large numbers of Brown VioletearCrowned Woodnymph and rarer species like Lazuline Sabrewing and even White-tailed Starfrontlet. 

From the lodge the road winds up the mountain and end at the exposed Cuchilla de San Lorenzo at 2600 m. asl. It’s only an 8 km long ride but on an extremely rough, bumpy road. This has the benefit that it prevents general tourism invading the area. Plans to build a concrete road up to the ridge have fortunately been stalled. The environmental impact would have been disastrous. The road ends at the ProAves reserve, which was established to protect the ParakeetsIt is the only accessible site to see this endangered species. If you stay at the lodge you have access to an observation tower, but you can see the Santa Marta Parakeet elsewhere along the ridge first thing in the morning. If you have a scope scan the Eucalyptus tree in front of the tower. At times they are frequented by Black-backed Thornbills. 

The view from here is one of the most impressive vistas in the country. You bird along a roughly 1 km long stretch on a trail in stunted elfin forest. Black-backed Thornbill (rare), Santa Marta Sabrewing (extremely rare)Brown-rumped Tapaculo, Santa Marta AntpittaRusty-headed Spinetail, Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant (rare) Hermit Wood-Wren, Black-cheeked Mountain-TanagerSanta Marta Brushfinch, Santa Marta WarblerYellow-crowned Redstart occur here and are all endemic! For Santa Marta Wren and Blue-bearded Helmetcrest you have to mount a multi-day expedition in order to access proper habitat. 

Unfortunately, the excessive use of playback by everybody have had impact on the birds. Several species don’t respond anymore to it at all, and got very difficult to see… 

Santa Marta Biological Station

If you’ve been efficient on the ridge or your time is limited you can visit the Santa Marta Biological Station on your way back. But you have to arrive there at 9am – that’s feeding time for Santa Marta AntpittaAt current state it is not possible to stay there overnightbecause of a turnover of the station’s manager. 

Minca

For those with a little more time, a visit to the lovely and touristy town of Minca might well be taken into consideration. It’s year-round spring-like climate, many hiking opportunities, good food & charming hotels offer something for everybody. There’s some good birding around Minca, too. Species like Military MacawScaled PiculetVenezuelan FlycatcherRosy Thrush-Tanager & Golden-winged Sparrow occur within close reach of town.  


References

  • BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Cuchilla de San Lorenzo. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/08/2020.
  • System of National Natural Parks Website
  • Macaulay Library archive Website

About the authors

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.

Jérôme Fischer

Professional bird guide, swiss native, with more than 32 years of experience guiding hardcore birders and birdwatching tours. Jérôme has been focused in bird identification. He also travelled many countries,  starting in Switzerland. Then he traveled exploring south America, the most biodiverse continent in the world, becoming specialized in Neotropical birds.

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 www.lynxeds.com/product-category/by-categories/encyclopedias/hbw 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 www.hbw.com. 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.

Journals

If you like to read magazines there are:

Cotinga

Cotinga is published once a year and you can subscribe at www.neotropicalbirdclub.org/nbc-publicationsCotinga 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 www.neotropicalbirdclub.org/nbc-publicationsNeotropical 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.

Applications

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

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 www.wildsounds.com/menu/main.shtml, www.nhbs.com/books, www.buteobooks.com, www.lynxeds.com, www.amazon.com, 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.