The Magical Realism of the Macondo Route in the Colombian Caribbean

Macondo does not appear on maps, and could be any town in the northern Caribbean of Colombia. Everything seems to indicate that Macondo is inspired by Arataca, a municipality in the department of Magdalena where Gabriel García Márquez was born. So, the Macondo Route is recently developed as a touristic project, since 2017.

What does it mean Macondo?

Macondo comes from makonde, which is the plural of likonde, a word used to refer to the prenominate fruit in the millenary Central African language, which literally means ‘devil’s food’.

The Macondo Route

The Government of the Department of Magdalena has designed the Macondo Route, which will take you to each of the places present in the book One Hundred Years of Solitude, by the Colombian novel winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This project integrates 8 municipalities that you will have the opportunity to discover.

You can also enjoy an eco-village in Macondo and the Mauricio Babilonia’s butterfly farm. This tour promotes the growth and development of these towns, in addition to promoting the protection of the environment.

Cienaga

The town is located in front of the Caribbean Sea, near the Cienaga Grande. Ciénaga has historical, colonial, archaeological and natural sites to visit; the beaches on the shores of the Caribbean Sea offer a moment of peace and tranquility. It is part of Colombia’s network of heritage towns.

Ciénaga can be reached from Santa Marta or Barranquilla by car or bus. From Santa Marta it is 17 kilometers, while from Barranquilla it is 62 kilometers. To get to Ciénaga from Bogotá you must take a 1-hour flight from the city of Bogotá at El Dorado International Airport (BOG) to Simón Bolívar International Airport (SMR) in Santa Marta. From the airport you have to take a cab to Ciénaga, 33 km away (40 minutes).

It can be said that Ciénaga has the privilege of possessing an invaluable historical and cultural heritage. The Templete, the Chapel of the Santa Teresa School, the Old Railroad Station, the Church of San Juan Bautista, the Masonic Lodge, “La Casa del Diablo” transport us to past times and accompany us in the present with its colonial air.

Its colonial style houses show the former prosperity of the sector and is testimony of the economic boom that Cienaga had since 1900, through the export of bananas. It went from being an indigenous town in a state of colonial occupation to become the third most important city in the Colombian Caribbean.

García Márquez’s grandparents arrived in Ciénaga in the first decade of the 1900s. Although García Márquez only lived a short time in Ciénaga, the municipality is full of tributes to him.

One of the most visited places by the local people is the Balneario de Costa Verde, a place with beautiful landscapes and natural pools, where the Cordoba River flows into the Cienaga Grande and its countless pipes.

You can not forget to take a tour of the historic center of the town along with its streets, which will transport you to another era full of history.

The Cemetery of the Rich

The tomb of Remedios, la bella, is located in the San Miguel de Ciénaga cemetery, better known as the cemetery of the rich. According to local guides, the name of the person who gave life to the character in the book is Rosario Barranco, who was the first Miss Magdalena, in 1934.

Many stories related to her unparalleled beauty were told about her, hence the nickname ‘Rosario, la bella’ (Rosario, the beautiful). Some say that García Márquez took the reference and adapted it to ‘Remedios, la bella’, because for him she was so beautiful that she was a remedy for ugliness.

Their deaths even resemble each other, unmarried, flying between white sheets. Rosario collapsed in front of the church of San Juan Bautista, of a fulminating heart attack, from her shawl Garcia Marquez created a sheet for Remedios, in which she flew to heaven.

Banana-growing Zone

It has a natural and historical wealth that marked the territory with the inclusion of the railroad train and the cultivation of bananas. It also has the privilege of having three basins that are maintained with water throughout the year.

Most of the banana towns were built on the sides of the railroad, so there is an element that connects the Colombian Nobel’s magical realism literature and the passage of the train loaded with bananas that transformed Macondo.

Nowadays, in terms of agriculture there is corn, rice, beans, fruit trees, horticulture and cassava, in addition, there is an important area planted with bananas and oil palm.

The Riofrío Commissariat

The Riofrío Commissariat is located in the Riofrío district, in the banana-growing zone. There, the day laborers of the United Fruit Company, the U.S. multinational that marketed fruits grown in Latin America, went on strike in order to improve their working conditions.

The company’s managers did not comply with their demands and twenty-four days later, on December 6, 1928, one of the most chilling events in Colombian history took place: The Banana Factory Massacre.

The nonconformity of the workers were narrated in One Hundred Years of Solitude explaining the state of mind of the workers, who needed a change. And although they only demanded that their rights be respected, no one supported them.

The most frequent activities take place in Rio Frio, Sevilla and Tucurinca, where you can enjoy a swim in crystal clear waters, you can also make kayak tours that end where the Sevilla and Rio Frio river basin joins.

To get to Zona Bananera you must take a 1 hour flight from the city of Bogota at El Dorado International Airport (BOG) to Simon Bolivar International Airport (SMR) in Santa Marta. From the airport take a cab to Zona Bananera, 59 km (1 hour).

Varela, municipality of the yellow butterflies

Near the commissary stop, and still next to the train tracks, is Varela.

“After the massacre of the banana plantations the quantities of bananas that remained on the plants uncut began to decompose. This caused the proliferation of many butterflies of different colors, being the yellow ones the predominant ones“, says a local guide.

It is in Valera, where a mechanic of the United Fruit Company lived and who in One Hundred Years of Solitude appears as Mauricio Babilonia, who is in love with Renata Remedios Buendia. The yellow butterflies preceded Mauricio Babilonia’s appearances, indicating to Remedios when she could meet her forbidden love.

City of the “gringos” and Casa Museo de Sevilla

After crossing the Aguja and Frío rivers, you arrive at the city of the “gringos”.

As “Gabo” once recounted, Prado Sevilla was a privileged place in the banana region. The high officials of the United Fruit Company, who were generally American, French and German citizens, enjoyed a swimming pool, bilingual school, golf course, the only movie theater in the region, heliport, electric light (which none of the other towns had), a military battalion that guarded its inhabitants all day long, a clinic and buildings completely different from the other workers’ camps.

There you will find the Casa Museo de Sevilla, which still preserves the original furniture that the United Fruit Company provided to its employees.

Macondo

There in Zona Bananera is a small village called Macondo. Its inhabitants tell that Garcia Marquez knew it, and that he simply didn’t give them the credit out of interest or embarrassment.

At the entrance of the village, which is located in the heart of the banana zone, there is a giant, colorful sign that reads: “I love the real Macondo. Land of inspiration that gave birth to the magical Macondian world. Fertile land blessed by God on the banks of the Sevilla River”.

In an interview with Gabriel García Márquez asking him where Macondo was, he answered that it existed in everyone’s mind. For this reason, the inhabitants of this village consider that he was not loyal to them. And, although Macondo generates a lot of money for the film, manufacturing and literary industries, the inhabitants of the real Macondo are impoverished.

Aracataca

Aracataca is the birthplace of the writer Gabriel García Márquez. It is located in the north of the department of Magdalena, in the sub-region of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the temperatures range between 33°C and 36°C.

Many of the places in Aracataca pay homage to Gabriel García Márquez. The most recent is the Macondo Linear Park, which was founded in 2019. There you can see a colorful artistic path of 350 meters with more than 30 murals that capture some fragments of the author’s most representative works.

There is also the Gabriel García Márquez Public Library, the Remedios la Bella Municipal Library, the statue of Remedios la Bella, the Railway Station and the Telegraph House, where Eligio García, Gabo’s father, worked.

The first place we recommend you to visit is the Gabriel García Márquez House Museum, where the famous writer lived. Admission is free but they ask for a voluntary donation for its maintenance.

You can also go to the old Casa del Telegrafista (Telegraph House), where the Colombian writer’s father worked, the entrance is also free. Finally, you can take a tour through the streets of the town in the company of a guide, who will tell you the stories of Gabo when he lived in the town.

To get to Aracataca you have to take a 1-hour flight from Bogota city at El Dorado International Airport (BOG) to Simon Bolivar International Airport (SMR) in Santa Marta. From the airport you have to take a cab to A, 84 km (1.5 – hours).

Other places you can visit around the Mancondo Route

Sitionuevo and Puebloviejo

Sitionuevo is a municipality of the department located in the department of Magdalena, is on the right bank of the Magdalena River is one of the ideal places to enjoy nature in the Caribbean.

Puebloviejo It is located in the north of the department of Magdalena, linked by an isthmus to the city of San Juan (Ciénaga). It has an incalculable hydrographic wealth, as it is surrounded by the waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta.

The villagers summarize the essence of the true fishermen of the country, so when visiting this town you can learn about traditional fishing techniques and hear many anecdotes of veteran fishermen.

To get to Sitionuevo you must take a 1-hour flight from the city of Bogota at El Dorado International Airport (BOG) to the Ernesto Cortissoz International Airport (BAQ) in Barranquilla. From the airport take a cab to Sitionuevo, 37 km away (1-hour).

To get to Pueblo Viejo you have to take a 1 hour flight from the city of Bogota at El Dorado International Airport (BOG) to Simon Bolivar International Airport (SMR) in Santa Marta. From the airport take a cab to Puebloviejo, 37 km away (1 hour).

Via-Parque Isla de Salamanca

Near this town is the Via-Parque Isla de Salamanca. This park is located on the right side of the Troncal del Caribe highway, 110 km from Santa Marta and 10 km from Barranquilla after crossing the Pumarejo bridge. It is full of exuberant trails with unique fauna and flora of the Tropical Dry Forest.

Along the way you will find a considerable variety of freshwater vegetation, as well as mangroves and the aquatic community of floating species, water lettuce, freshwater grasses and swamp forest.

In terms of fauna, mammals are represented by the presence of 14 families and 33 species. The park has a record of 241 bird species, and since 1964 it has been declared a refuge for birds and amphibians.

El Retén

El Reten is located in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta subregion. This town has two large rivers, the Aracataca River to the north and the Fundación River to the south, both of which originate in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and flow into the Ciénaga Grande.

During your visit to these lands you can dance and enjoy the cumbia and other rhythms enlivened by flutes, bagpipes, drums and others; you can wear the typical costumes and enjoy a rumbero atmosphere.

You will have the opportunity to visit the natural reserve El Chuval which, in turn, borders the Ciénaga Grande. In this wonderful place you can find a diversity of fauna and flora, you can go fishing, or just to see the view.

To get to El Retén you must take a 1 hour flight from the city of Bogotá at the El Dorado International Airport (BOG) to the Simón Bolívar International Airport (SMR) in Santa Marta. From the airport take a cab to El Retén, 97 km (2 hours).

Santa Marta

Santa Marta, officially the Tourist, Cultural and Historic District of Santa Marta, is the capital of the department of Magdalena, Colombia. It was founded on July 29, 1525 by the Spaniard Rodrigo de Bastidas, which according to the texts, makes it the oldest standing city in Colombia. It is located on the shores of the bay of the same name.

Santa Marta is known by the slogan The magic of having it all. In addition to several beaches and sites of historical value, it has the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which has archaeological sites such as Ciudad Perdida.

Its most famous beaches are El Rodadero and Taganga, the latter being the entrance to the Tayrona National Park.

In the Plaza de Bolivar, next to the boardwalk, is the Casa de la Aduana, where the body of Simon Bolivar rested in a burning chamber. It currently houses the Tayrona Gold Museum of the Bank of the Republic.

The city also has several sites of cultural interest. Among them are the San Juan Nepomuceno Cloister, the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, from 1830, and the Cathedral Basilica of Santa Marta, built in the 1760s. This temple houses a small urn containing the heart and entrails of Simón Bolívar.

Where to stay?

You can visit the Casa D’ Remedios La Bella hotel boutique in Ciénaga, where each room is named after the female characters of the work One Hundred Years of Solitude, or visit the Amaranta Restaurant, which includes other elements in honor of “Gabo”, such as a clock that gathers 12 of his books.

Want to plant your trip to Colombia? do no hesitate to contact us!

References
 About the authors

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.

Stop Romanticizing Poverty, the case of Santa Cruz del Islote, Colombia

In the heart of the Gulf of Morrosquillo, in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, is Santa Cruz del Islote, an artificial island under the jurisdiction of the Corales del Rosario and San Bernardo National Natural Park, where 779 people live on one hectare. It is the most overcrowded island in the world.

Santa Cruz del Islote, with its shingled houses, stands out from the crystalline waters of the Caribbean Sea, in the heart of the Gulf of Morrosquillo. It is covered by a collage of more than 100 houses, everyone there is family related, and the offspring continue to grow.

The formation of new families has caused construction to grow vertically, increasing household overcrowding. The island has no public utilities and 40 percent of households still dump feces into the sea; the rest of the community uses septic pits.

The island’s vocation has always been fishing, but in recent years it has been seduced by tourism….

Slum Tourism in Colombia

The hyper-crowded Island

Santa Cruz del Islote has gained much popularity due to its overpopulation. Newspapers, such as The Guardian, have associated it with García Márquez’s magical realism, relating how people live at their own pace and highlighting the absence of violence and the mutual support among the inhabitants who are like one big family.

Documentaries have also been made, such as Aislados (Isolated), an award-winning 2016 documentary. The documentary shows the most densely populated artificial island in the Colombian Caribbean where there are no police, no priests, no armed conflict, and where the arrival of modernity and the possibility of an eviction, makes its inhabitants begin to awaken from the magic spell.

Today many children on the island dream of moving to the mainland, studying, working, and thus “sending money to fix the island”.

Santa Cruz del Islote currently occupies 10.000 km2, i.e. 1 hectare. With an average of 1.25 inhabitants per 10 m², 65% of the population is under age, and there are only 6 surnames and 97 houses. Scarce resources, and people’s curiosity, created a niche for a kind of slum tourism, promoted by the same inhabitants. Besides, the Official Tourism Site of the Republic of Colombia, promotes it as a destination to see, for being the most densely populated island in the world.

So far, this slum tourism has made little change or contribution to improving conditions on the island or for its inhabitants; and it does contribute to romanticize poverty, by focusing on the magical realism of the colors of their houses, the marvelous blue of the Caribbean Sea and the children playing on a small soccer field. About their precarious and difficult reality? no idea.

Artisanal aquariums to swim with Sharks

Apart from the social-cultural attraction, another of the island main attractions are some artisanal aquariums, where locals kept sharks and fish, semi-confined, to swim with tourists. The propaganda followed the idea that going to Santa Cruz del Islote means having the opportunity to swim with sharks, rays and fish in the small improvised pool and make short tours through the streets of the island. Sounds Great! right? But reality is different.

In high season, the influx of tourists can reach 1,200 people, eager to participate in the great attraction offered by this community. Thus, for 5 thousand pesos, people have the right to swim with sharks.

There, in precarious conditions of confinement, without scientific surveillance or any kind of professional marine scientists, they keep the fish, which endure the harassment of dozens of tourists who jump into the water to touch them and take pictures.

This is a type of invasive and illegal tourism, even if the intention is not to mistreat the animals, but to have an alternative economic activity, it is not the right way.

On the other hand, as there are no sewage services on Colombia’s most populated island, the unwary travelers do not know that they are swimming in a sea of feces, in the aquarium-pools. There are also all kinds of pollutants, such as motor oil for the boats and large amounts of garbage.

Towards a sustainable tourism

In January 2020 a tourist denounced in her twitter account: This happens in Santa Cruz del islote, they have these animals in captivity so that people enter and touch them and disturb them. The animals were trying to avoid people. They are little animals that have no teeth, they can’t defend themselves #NoAlMaltratoAnimal @PoliciaColombia @Citytv pic.twitter.com/DvvcmZmqxz
– Daniela Correa (@dacf2891) January 27, 2020.

Although the sharks are going to be released, the inhabitants are asking for other work alternatives. Today the local government is working with these communities to implement sustainable tourism to protect the beaches and to eradicate illegal practices such as the captivity and mistreatment of these sharks.

The goal is to provide these communities with new work opportunities, such as implementing pools for lobster farming, training them in sustainable tourism practices, legalizing their boats, among others.

Discovering Santa Cruz del Islote

Santa Cruz del Islote. ©El Universal

Santa Cruz del Islote contrasts in a fascinating way with the Archipelago of San Bernardo, of which it is part, where wild mangroves, white beaches and few inhabitants is the common landscape.

However, it has an artificial origin, Santa Cruz del Islote was built by man.  The islet was built by fishermen who arrived and built it in the middle of the coral, with stone, rubble and garbage. The little town has four main streets but no presence of cars or motorcycles. You can see that there are boats everywhere, floating on the shores of the sea or on the cement patios of the houses.

On your visit to Santa Cruz del Islote you will see some stores, a health post, a three-story school, a restaurant and 97 houses that are no larger than 40 square meters. About ten people live in each house. The islet has an average temperature of 28°C (83º F).

How to get to Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz del Islote is located between the islands of Tintan and Múcura. The closest ports are Rincón del Mar, Berrugas and Tolú in Sucre, and boat transportation costs 30,000 pesos per person. To Cartagena, in Bolivar, the boat fare is 60,000 pesos.

  • Take a 1-hour flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Rafael Nuñez International Airport (CTG) at Cartagena city.
  • Take a 1-hour flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Las Brujas Airport (CZU) at Sincelejo city. Once at the airport, take an approximately 1-hour ride to Tolú.

Once there you must pay a fee of 5,000 COP for the entrance to the islet in exchange you will be offered a guided tour of the islet.

Where to stay in Santa Cruz del Islote

Santa Cruz del Islote belongs to the islands of San Bernardo, in the Colombian Caribbean. You can stay overnight on the island, but if you want a more comfortable accommodation you can stay in one of the adjacent islands: Múcura or Tintipán; or even in the houseboats in the surroundings, as is the case of “Casa en el Agua” (House on the Water), with very basic services and very low comfort.

Activities and attractions in Santa Cruz del Islote 

As mentioned before, at Santa Cruz del Islote you will know one of the most populated places in the world. You can stroll through its alleys and admire its colorful houses, you will talk to the people who always seems to be happy; you can also enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of the island (no violence, theft, altercations or fights). If you are a soccer lover you will be able to play a game with the locals.

You can also visit near places in Tolú and Múcura Island.

Tolú

  • La Ciénaga de la Leche. It is a natural reserve located 20 minutes from the center of Tolú. It consists of beautiful mangrove trails and a surprising biodiversity. During the tour you will find several species of birds and abundant vegetation that will allow you to connect with nature.
  • Roca Madre Adventure Field Park. Considered one of the best attractions in the department of Sucre, this park is ideal for adventure lovers. You will be able to walk through the tropical dry forests and discover the most amazing natural attractions.

You will also have the possibility of doing several extreme activities for the more adventurous such as climbing, rappel and canopy, as well as getting to know the flora and fauna of the area.

  • The Toluviejo Caves.These caves are formed by millenary formations of stalactites, stalagmites and dolomites in its depths, dating from the Miocene and Pliocene periods. Ideal for spelunking activities, the caves are:Las Claras, Del Caimán, De la Iglesia or Catedral, De las Mercedes, Del Cáñamo, De la Mansión; each of these names has been given by the community in relation to their similarities, and others are honorific.

Múcura Island

  • Snorkeling: It is done every day from 9:30 am to 12 noon. In this tour people are taken to a beautiful reef.
  • Kayaking: You can do it with the tranquility of this turquoise sea, spend a moment of tranquility while contemplating the beauty that the island offers.
  • Ecological Hike: You can tour the island with a guide or you can do it alone, you can walk along the island and marvel at the nature that this little piece of land offers you.

Tintipan Island

You can also spend an afternoon on Tintipan Island, where you can snorkel and do some sport fishing.

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If you want to come to Colombia contact us and plan your trip with us.

 References

About the authors

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.

Colombia’s Kibbe-flavored Caribbean town: Santa Cruz de Lorica

Lorica or Santa Cruz de Lorica, is a heritage town of Colombia located on the banks of the Sinú River, bathed by the Ciénaga Grande del bajo Sinú, in the department of Córdoba. It has an enormous cultural value, both for the influence of the Sinu River and the different groups that have inhabited the region.

This town of Lorica receives several names such as the Ciudad Antigua y Señorial (i.e., Ancient and Lordly City), the Capital of Bajo Sinú, the Capital of Bocachico and even as Saudi Lorica, as a result of the arrival of Lebanese immigrants in the late nineteenth century.

Santa Cruz de Lorica is known by both its architectural majesty and by its gastronomy. Regarding gastronomy, the Bocachico fish is an elemental ingredient of typical dishes such as Bocachico Sinuano and Sancocho de Bocachico.

Besides, since the end of the XIX century and the beginning of the XX century, Lorica stood out as one of the great fluvial ports of the country. If you visit this town, we recommend you to visit the banks of the Sinu River, for a magical walk.

Below you will receive the necessary information you need to make the most of your wonderful visit to Santa Cruz de Lorica.

Heritage town of Colombia since 2010

The Land of Mixed Waters

Lorica was founded in 1740, and its historic center presents a mixture of Republican and Arabian styles, offering a beautiful spectacle to those who visit it. For its architectural beauty it was declared a National Monument in 1996.

In Lorica you can find beautiful places that transport the tourist to the Middle East, such as the Municipal Palace, the Cathedral and the Afife Matuk Building.

An emblematic place of Lorica, on the banks of the Sinu River, is its market square, also called the Ranchon, which not only offers the best of local cuisine, very varied indeed.

Lorica’s Jewels of architecture

Its architecture combines a style that merges the Republican with the vernacular and Mudejar, a mixture of Andalusian and Arabic constructions.  This place is a faithful exponent of a cultural legacy that shows the dynamics of the mid-twentieth century, product of the heyday of activities such as navigation and trade.

Its great architectural constructions are the legacy of some foreign settlers who imposed a unique stamp that has been maintained over the years. In fact, Syrian-Lebanese immigrants who, with the desire to build their own properties, gave shape to their culture and marked the identity of this region.

Sustainable Destination

In 2020, with support from FONTUR, the Historic Center of the municipality of Santa Cruz de Lorica was certified as a Sustainable Tourism Destination, after meeting the requirements of the Sustainable Tourism Sector Technical Standard NTS TS-001-1.

This represents a tool for the promotion and strengthening of the tourism sector in the destination, which allows to offer all visitors a quality tourism, generating confidence and satisfaction when walking the streets of this magical municipality.

Exploring Santa Cruz de Lórica

Santa Cruz de Lorica is on the list of “Network of Colombian Heritage Villages” a place full of history and culture. Lorica has a unique architecture between Republican and Lebanese, so it is charming to walk through its streets.

This town is located in the department of Córdoba, 60 km from Montería. It is recognized as the treasure of the Caribbean, for its important fluvial artery which is the Sinu River.

Bear in mind, the average temperature in Santa Cruz de Lórica is between 23 ºC (73ºF) to 35 ºC (95 ºF) and the best time of the year to visit Lórica is from mid-December to the end of March.

How to get to Santa Cruz de Lórica

Lorica that is located in the department of Córdoba, 63 kilometers from Montería and 55 from Sincelejo. There are two airports near to city you can arrive traveling from Bogota.

Bogotá – Monteria – Santa Cruz de Lórica

Take a 1,5-hours flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Los Garzones International Airport (MTR) at Monteria city. Once at in Monteria you take an approximately 1,5-hours ride (61 Km) to Santa Cruz de Lórica.

Bogotá – Tolú – Santa Cruz de Lórica

Take a 1.5 hour flight from El Dorado (BOG) in Bogotá to Golfo de Morrosquillo Airport (TLU) in the city of Tolú, with ADA Airlines. Once in Tolú, it takes approximately 35-minutes (30 km) to Santa Cruz de Lórica.

Where to stay in Santa Cruz de Lórica

In Santa Cruz de Lórica you can find hostels and hotels that preserve the local architecture, we recommend Hotel Boutique Beteska and Onoma Hotel.

Santa Cruz de Lórica Attractions and Activities

Historical Center

The most striking attraction with eclectic buildings of Arabic influence and similar to those found in the city of Cartagena. Their fine elements and details make them imposing.

Public Market

Built in 1929, this building of republican architecture with certain Arabian touches, covers an entire block of the historic center, located on the banks of the Sinu River. Due to its importance and uniqueness, the Government, in 1996, named it a national monument.

Parish of Santa Cruz de Lorica

Built before 1800, and had to be remodeled in 1896. An important fact for when you visit this parish is that its bells were brought from Portugal, the bronze images of the facade are of French origin, and the clock, brought from Italy, was donated by the Syrian-Lebanese colony around 1929.

Gonzalez Building

It was owned by one of the wealthiest families in the region. It has an area of 540 square meters and it displays a republican style which highlights the facade and its internal spaces. You can take beautiful pictures in this imposing building.

Lorica Club

It is located in a corner of the Plaza de la Cruz, formerly where the Syrian-Lebanese immigrants organized their social gatherings. Nowadays it is open to the population where nightly events are held.

Afife Matuk Building

Placed on the banks of the Sinu River and adjacent to the public market. This building was finished in 1929, and it remains intact to date. Inside, you will notice how the light blue and white colors stand out in small walls that separate each space, with arabesque figures. It also has a room with a large window where you can see the waters of the Sinu River.

The Malecon of Lorica

It is the complement of the patrimonial buildings of the Historical Center and the Public Market, it has an extension of 5 km around the banks of the Sinu River. It was declared of Cultural Interest in 1998; during your walk you will be able to appreciate the beauty of the river and the beautiful buildings.

Gastronomic delights in Lorica

Immigrants played an important role in Lorica’s gastronomy, so it is possible to enjoy very typical dishes of the region such as bocachico stew, the popular sarapa, mote de queso (whose main ingredient is Creole yam and coastal cheese) and food such as kibbes (prepared with ground beef, wheat, onion, mint, salt and pepper) that characterizes the immigrant culture.

Craft traditions in Lorica

In Lorica, primitivist painting is its maximum artistic expression. It reflects the popular imagination, dishes, objects and colors of the peasant culture. Its main exponent was Marcial Alegría Garcés, a man who dedicate himself to painting. Marcial’s paintings are present in more than 18 countries, becoming one of the emblems of Lorica’s art and tradition. You will appreciate his history and works in the village of San Sebastian. Marcial also applies his art to ornate pottery pieces that are made and sold there, as well as canvas paintings and wooden frames.

Nature Destinations Near Lorica

Lorica is surrounded by a complex landscape of swamps and marshes mixed with pastures with extensive cattle ranching and patches of flooded forests. The area is very susceptible to water level variations in the marshes and the Sinú River as a result of seasonal changes in rainfall. The main habitats in the region are swamps and marshes.

Visit the Nearby Marshes and Natural Reserves

34 km from the town you can visit the swamp of La Caimanera, with 2000 hectares of mangroves, herons and reptiles. it is possible to kayak and canoe along the river.

There is also La Leche swamp, ideal to see monkeys, snakes, tigers and deer.  Finally, the Sanguaré Natural Reserve, with 110 hectares of tropical dry forest surrounded by mangroves, coastal freshwater lagoons, sea grasses and reefs.

Ciénaga Grande de Lorica is another big swamp, which is home to numerous species of birds, mammals, fish and reptiles. It is shared by five municipalities and fed by lagoons and streams and the Sinu River. It has an extension of more than thirty thousand kilometers, and it is home to the Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors) when they arrive from Alaska.

Swamp complex of the western margin of the Sinú River

This region was declared Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA). Despite conservation efforts, the land is mainly used for extensive cattle ranching and fishing, subsistence agriculture and timber extraction. From 1997 to 2002 a project on sustainable use of wildlife was developed in the Bañó swamp, where a community-based tourism program was key. However, the place has no the expected recognition as an ecotourism destination.

Birdwatching

Bañó marsh alone registers a total of 142 species of birds. However, the number of species may be higher, as many marshes remain uninventoried.

There are large flocks of Fulvous whistling duck (Dendrocygna bicolor), Black-bellied whistling duck (D. autumnalis), White-faced whistling duck (D. viduata) and a large number of waterfowl in general. The area is potentially important for reproduction and long-term maintenance of the Northern screamer (Chauna chavaria) population, as well as five other species of ducks. More than 20,000 waterbirds congregate there.

Other fauna

Besides birds, it is possible to find some threatened fauna species such as Neotropical otter (Lontra longicaudis) (DD), Gray-bellied night monkey (Aotus lemurinus griseimembra) (VU), Dahl’s toad-headed turtle (Phrynops dahli) (CR), Magdalena River turtle (Podocnemis lewyana) (EN), Hicotea (Trachemys scripta callirostris) (LR/nt). Two characteristic species of flora are: Pithecellobium lanceolatum and Thalia angustifolia.

Diving

There are more than 17 dive sites where you can admire the largest variety of virgin corals in the Caribbean, nurse and whitetip sharks, turtles, fire and brain corals. It stands out Bajo Bushnell, a reef where barracudas, giant gorgonians and horn coral colonies abound. Other interesting diving places are: Burbujas, Los Pargos, Grieta del Socorro, Fondo Loco, Bajo Mariajo, Los Venados, Los Bayones. Moreover, for advanced divers, Bartolo reef and El Orion.

Beatiful Beaches of Coveñas and Tolu

Thanks to its proximity you can visit Coveñas and Tolú. To get to Coveñas you must take a 45-minute (30 km) road trip. There you will be able to develop the following activities:

Relaxing at the beaches of Coveñas

The beaches you can visit in Coveñas are La Coquerita and Punta de Piedra. You can practice activities and sports such as jet skiing, scuba diving, donut riding, jet skiing, among others.

Marine Infantry Museum Park

It is a museum that has a very attractive architecture, where the work of the armed forces is exhibited as well as part of the history of the country. You can enjoy 22 exhibition rooms and other spaces where the history of the Colombian infantry is shown from independence to the present.

San Bernardo Archipelago

You can also visit this paradise, a group of islands in the Gulf of Morrosquillo where you can enjoy everything from gastronomy to water sports. For more information visit our blog Travel Guide to El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park.

Las Cuevas Toluviejo

There are 7 caverns where you can go spelunking and explore the mysteries hidden inside, also formed by millenary formations of stalactites, stalagmites and dolomites in its depths, dating from the Miocene and Pliocene periods.

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

References
About the Authors

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.

Luisa Martin

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

The Colombian Red Howler Monkey Sanctuary Los Colorados, just 90 km from Cartagena

Los Colorados Flora and Fauna Sanctuary is the largest and most conserved area of dry tropical forest in the department of Bolivar, in the region of Montes de María, or Serranía de San Jacinto.

The sanctuary’s name alludes to the presence of the Colombian Red Howler Monkey (Alouatta seniculus), which live along with tamarin monkeys, deer, ocelots, sloths, and other mammals.

This is not a very well known destination among tourists, but it has all the necessary natural attractions to be a very good natural destination, and only 90 km from Cartagena!

Discovering Los Colorados Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

Los Colorados FFS is located in the Colombian Caribbean, in the department of Bolivar, in the municipality of San Juan Nepomuceno. The sanctuary has an area of 10 km².

It contains a representative area of the largest tropical dry forest of the Montes de María or Serranía de San Jacinto, a geological formation isolated between the coastal plain of Bolívar and the savannas of Corozal and Sincelejo.

You will find a small mountain system, with several peaks such as La Cañada, El Escondido, San José, El Yayal, La Gervedera and Tamarindo de Mico.

The sanctuary is also an important provider of water to the region, and there are several mini reservoir built in the surroundings. Los Cacaos and Salvador are two small rivers which flow around the park, there are are also countless creeks that flow into these streams.

A Sanctuary for the Conservation of Tropical Dry Forest and Monkeys

It contains one of the best preserved relicts of dry forest in the region and is an important refuge for the organisms of this habitat, such as some primate and mammal populations.

Los Colorados FFS as an Important Bird Area

The Galeras FFS is an Important Bird Area (IBA/AICA) recognized by BirdLife International, since Globally threatened species and Restricted-range species are present in the area. It is also a feeding station for migratory birds and it has more than 280 reported bird species, 46 of which are migratory.

Archeological Importance

Within the sanctuary’s facilities you can visit places of great cultural importance such as ceremonial sites of local indigenous communities.

The Malibú Mokaná or Malibú Serraneros ethnic group inhabited this area in the past XVI century. You can see some archaeological vestiges found in the area of influence of the Sanctuary, such as ocarinas and petroglyphs, and also the well-known “centellas” stones.

The inhabitants of the region have established an important relationship with Los Colorados hill, impregnated with beliefs and cultural practices evident, for example, in the treatment given to medicinal plants.

How to get to Los Colorados Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

Bogotá – Cartagena – San Juan Nepomuceno

Take a 45- minutes flight from El Dorado Bogotá (BOG) to Rafael Nuñez International Airport (CTG) at Cartagena city.

From Cartagena take the road to Sincelejo passing through the towns of Turbaco, Arjona, Sincerin, El Viso, Malagana, San Cayetano and Carreto until you reach the municipality of San Juan Nepomuceno, 90 kilometers from Cartagena.

From there you can access the entrance road to the eastern side of the Sanctuary by motorcycle or vehicle (5 minutes) or walking (20 minutes) to the operational headquarters.

What to do in Los Colorados Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

The Sanctuary and surrounding area is an ideal destination for photography, bird watching, and enjoying the natural beauty and culture of the region.

Hiking 

As a visitor you can tour the mountain from east to west, through trails such as ‘El Yayal’ or ‘Planeta Bosque’, along the banks of Los Cacaos stream, paths to bring out the wild soul and become environmentally conscious.

You can visit the following tourist attractions within the sanctuary: Los Chivos waterfall, El Mirador, Los Cacaos stream, Escondido gully, Tigre’s cave, Piedra del Toro and Tinamú.

Planeta Bosque Trail

Planeta Bosque is an interpretative trail, which has a duration of 3 to 5 hours with a low degree of difficulty. It is ideal for bird watching.

Birdwatching 

The number of bird species recorded in the sanctuary is 152 species divided into 40 families. Among the species that you can see are:

  • Macaws (Ara macao, Ara chloropterus, Ara severus, Ara ararauna)
  • Guans (Penelope purpurascens)
  • Chachalacas (Ortalis ruficauda)
  • Red-throated caracara (Ibycter americanus)
  • Toucans (Ramphastos sulfuratus).
  • Black-crested antshrike (Sakesphorus canadensis)

Wildlife Tours

Los Colorados FFS is considered a great refuge for species characteristic of the local dry forests, there are records of more than 40 mammals. Among the species of mammals that can be seen are:

  • Alouatta seniculus
  • Saguinus oedipus
  • Bradypus variegatus
  • Choloepus hoffmanni
  • Pecari tajacu
  • Dasyprocta punctata
  • Leopardus pardalis
  • Leopardus wiedii
  • Potos flavus

The sanctuary is also the transitory habitat of the Jaguar (Pantera onca).

Los Colorados FFS has records of 29 amphibian species, 20 genera and 10 families, and 21 families of reptiles.

Where to stay in Los Colorados Flora and Fauna Sanctuary?

Los Colorados FFS does not currently offer lodging services for visitors. But it is very close to the towns of San Juan Nepomuceno and San Jacinto where you can stay. Our recommendations for you are:

  • San Juan Nepomuceno: Hotel Malibu
  • San Jacinto: Bello Horizonte and Hostal las Palmas

Best time to visit Los Colorados Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

It is recommended to visit the park during the 2 dry seasons, between the months of December and April, and between July and August.

Los Colorados Flora and Fauna Sanctuary Entrance fees

These are the entrance fees for 2021:

  • Los Colorados FFS has a single entrance fee of COP 6,500.
  • Children under 5 years old and Colombians over 65 years old have free admission upon presentation of their identity documents.

What to consider before visiting Los Colorados Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

  • You should wear long pants, t-shirt or long sleeve shirt and comfortable shoes. In the rainy season, we recommend marsh boots.
  • The entry of pets or domestic animals is prohibited.
  • The use of flash when taking photographs is prohibited.
  • Use of binoculars to watch animals’ behavior is recommended.
  • Bring along valid identification documents and health insurance.
  • It is recommended to be vaccinated against yellow fever and tetanus.
  • If you take specific medications, take them with you a personal first aid kit.

Some prohibitions

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

References
  • Colparques
  • Parques Nacionales
About the authors

Luisa Martin

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

Travel Guide to Macuira: The Cloud Forest Oasis in La Guajira Desert


Macuira is a National Natural Park of Colombia considered an oasis in the desert of Alta Guajira, in the Caribbean region of Colombia. It is a very special place because it has the contrast between sea, desert and jungle.

The park, with 25,000 ha, was declared in 1977 to protect and conserve the Serrania de la Macuira, which reaches 864 meters above sea level. It is not as high as the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, but it has a very special particularity which is the presence of cloud forest very close to the Colombian Caribbean coast and surrounded by a vast desert.

This is why being in the Macuira you can go from the blue of the ocean, through the yellow of the desert, to the green of the jungle. Among the most important characteristics of the Serranía de Macuira is the presence of forested mountains which are the only source of fresh water in the dessert.

Find here why you should visit this beautiful destination in Colombia, the Macuira National Natural Park in La Guajira.

Discovering Macuira National Natural Park

In 1977 and by means of Executive Resolution Nº 149, the National Government created the Macuira National Park, located northeast of the Guajira Peninsula, in the mountain range of the same name.

In practice, it covers an area of 24,103 hectares, corresponding to a mountainous massif that forms the northernmost mountain range in South America, with elevations ranging from 100 to 867 meters above sea level approximately, the Serranía de la Macuira.

This national park, located in Nazareth, in the municipality of Uribia, is ideal for birdwatching, as some 140 bird species have been recorded there, 17 of which are endemic. In addition, the reserve has several forest ecosystems.

The Serranía de Macuira

Serranía de Macuira is composed of three main mountains: Cerro Palúa (865 m), Cerro Huaresh (852 m) and Cerro Jihouone (753 m), which rise from the desert plain. Another isolated hill within the park is Cerro Oriore. There are several freshwater streams, which disappear when they reach the sand dunes at the eastern base of the Sierra.

Picture of Serrania de la Macuira by Luis Pérez, Flickr Creative commons Licence

The main characteristic of the Macuira, which makes it unique in the world, is that it has an evergreen dwarf cloud forest, an ecosystem very similar to the Andean forests located in the páramos. It is an area of great environmental importance because this unique cloud forest ecosystem functions as a water regulator for the region.

The cloud forests themselves are located at altitudes above 2,700 meters above sea level, but in Macuira National Natural Park they can be seen at only 550 meters above sea level and very close to the sea. Definitely, this is a must to see scenery in the world.  It is an oasis in the middle of aridity that supports a great diversity of fauna and flora, especially adapted to survive, grow and reproduce in this type of environment.

Why is there a cloud forest in the Macuira?

The Serrania de la Macuira forms a geological barrier where humidity from the Caribbean Sea condenses, causing the formation of fog that penetrates the forest and creates a humid enclave in the middle of the desert.

This is because the region has a low rainfall and high temperatures, which when combined with the trade winds from the sea and saturated with moisture, rise to meet the barrier of the Serrania, which is why it forms cumulus clouds in the day and nimbostratus in the afternoon.

Traveling to Macuira, Alta Guajira, Colombia

Characteristics of the Macuira Park

Macuira NNP has a territorial area of 250 km², and is located in the extreme north of the department of La Guajira, northwest of the municipality of Uribia, neighboring the small villages of Puerto Estrella, Nazareth, Waretpa, Punta Espada, Siapana and Tawaira.

The are four ecosystems in the park: Dwarf Cloud Forest, Dry Evergreen Forest, Dry Deciduous Forest and Tropical Dry Forest. As mentioned before, this is the most significant rarity of the park, because it has similar conditions to those present below the Andean paramo line around 2,700 meters above sea level. The presence of a cloud forest amidst the desert makes it a unique landscape, a real oasis in La Guajira dessert.

Regarding the dry evergreen forest, It is located at an altitude between 250 and 550 meters above sea level, this allows trees to keep their leaves (foliage) despite possible climate changes. At lower altitudes, there is the Dry Deciduous Forest, located at an altitude between 50 and 400 meters above sea level.

Finally, the Tropical Dry Forest, in the desert plains, is an ecosystem with unparalleled diversity of plants and animals that are adapted to extreme conditions. This ecosystem contains the largest number of endemic species of flora and fauna in the park.

Macuira as an Important Bird Area (IBA)

The entire IBA corresponds to Macuira National Natural Park, created in 1977. The park safeguards endemic and migratory bird species, with a record of 140 bird species, seven of which are endemic subspecies. This is why it was declared an Important Bird Area (IBA), or AICA in Spanish, in Colombia and the world in 2003.

The park is also an especially important scenario within the cosmogony, mythology, social and cultural order of the Wayuu ethnic group.

Presence of Indigenous Communities in Macuira

The indigenous communities present in the department of Guajira are the Wayuú, of the Arawak linguistic family, who have occupied this sector for centuries. They are distributed in communities throughout Guajira, but the most important settlement are in Nazareth or Akuwai, northeast of Guarece Hill.

@Colombiafrank Sharing time with the Wayuu people in Alta Guajira, Colombia

The economy of these communities is based on grazing activities, artisanal fishing, handicrafts and seasonal agriculture. In addition, the organization of National Natural Parks offers work on an annual basis to a representative of each clan.

Wayuu Handicrafts, La Guajira, Colombia

Two clans out of 7 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.

Uribía, one of the nearest towns from Macuira, is the most important Wayuu town in La Guajira and is considered the indigenous capital of Colombia.

How to Get to Macuira National Natural Park

Macuira National Natural Park is located in the extreme north of the department of La Guajira, northwest of the municipality of Uribia, is adjacent to the villages of: Puerto Estrella, Nazareth, Waretpa, Punta Espada, Siapana and Tawaira. In addition, it is totally overlapped with the reservation of Alta and Media Guajira.

Traveling in La Guajira

To get to the park from Riohacha, you must go by land to the city of Maicao, then continue to the town of Uribia, and from there to Puerto Portete, a town located on the bay of the same name. From there, a dirt road leads to the town of Nazareth. This trip takes between 6 and 8 hours in a four-wheel drive vehicle, as long as the weather conditions are favorable.

From Bogotá

Take a 1-hour flight from El Dorado International Airport (BOG) Bogotá to Almirante Padilla International Airport (RCH) at Riohacha city. Once at the airport, take an approximately 1,5- hours ride to Uribia. Then, in Uribia you should take a 2-hours ride to Bahía Portete. Finally, once in Bahía Portete you should take an extra 6-hours ride to Nazareth.

What to do in Macuira National Natural Park

As a visitor to the park you can hike through the Serranía de Macuira, you can visit the indigenous Wayú cemeteries, or you can also find handicrafts made by the inhabitants of the region in the surrounding municipalities.

Hiking and Trekking

Hiking is the most exciting activity in Macuira National Natural Park. The park has hikes of different degrees of difficulty (low and medium), where you can appreciate dunes, natural pools and temporary streams.

If you want to make the ascent to the Macuira mountain range you must be clear that the degree of difficulty is high, so you must have good physical condition and endurance for long walks of 5 to 7 hours.

Birdwatching and Wildlife Observation

Within the 5 ecosystems of the park, there are 140 bird species recorded and that can be appreciated, 7 of which are endemic subspecies:

  • Scrub Greenlet (Hylophilus flavipes)
  • Pectoral sparrow (Arremon taciturnus fratruekis)
  • Blue-crowned Motmot (Momotus momota)
  • Pale-breasted Thrush (Turdus leucomelas)
  • Red-legged honeycreeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus)
  • Buff-breasted Wren (Cantorchilus leucotis)
  • Rufous-vented chachalaca (Ortalis ruficauda)

Additionally, 10 of the species are reported to be migratory.

Besides birds, there are a significant number of insects at the Park, as well as a notable presence of amphibians (toads and frogs), iguanas, snakes and mammals, such as the White-fronted capuchin (Cebus albifrons), ocelot (Felis pardalis) and Jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi).

Where to stay in Macuira National Natural Park

Macuira National Natural Park does not currently offer lodging for travelers. It is possible to stay in the nearby “rancheria” of Nazaret. In the rancheria of Nazaret there are 2 camping areas called Villa Inmaculada and Emerrare.

Rancherias in La Guajira

Moreover, if you wish to spend a night in a traditional Wayú ranchería, the village also offers a night full of tradition with the locals of the sector.

If you want to rest in a hotel we recommend: Hotel Mulamana

Best time to visit Macuira National Natural Park

Dry season starts at the beginning of December until late of March with weather around 30º C (86 ºF). In the higher parts of the Macuira mountain range there are persistent winds and in the lower parts the temperatures are higher and the humidity increases.

Macuira National Natural Park Entrance fees

The park does not currently charge admission fees, but visitors must register at the park’s facilities and stay for a defined period of time.

What to consider before visiting Macuira National Natural Park

  • Currently access to the cloud forest is not allowed, as it is a very fragile ecosystem and highly valued by the Wayuu people.
  • The ranchería of Pusheo is the only restaurant in the sector, since the distances are very long and it is necessary to buy enough food for the trips.
  • You should always travel accompanied by a Wayuu driver and/or guide with a good command of Wayunaiki and Spanish, as well as knowledge of the communities of Alta Guajira.
  • For tours inside Macuira National Park, a local Wayuu guide authorized by the park must be hired.
  • The use of flash when taking photographs is prohibited.
  • Use of binoculars to watch animals’ behavior.
  • Bring along valid identification documents and health insurance.
  • Be vaccinated against yellow fever, tetanus and covid-19.
  • If you take specific medications, take them with you a personal first aid kit.

Some prohibitions

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

References
  • Colparques
  • Parques nacionales
About the authors

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.

Luisa Martin

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

Travel Guide to El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park

Meet the most iconic marine life paradise in Colombia, the El Rosario, and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park. On the Caribbean coast of Colombia close to the coastal areas of the provinces of Bolívar and Sucre, and part of the jurisdiction of Cartagena, you will find the archipelago of El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park.

This archipelago is formed by 40 small islands, and it was declared a National Natural Park to protect the population of coral reefs and mangroves that are found in this area.

The crystal-clear waters and white beaches welcome those who visit the park to experience a large variety of flora and fauna. At the Rosario and San Bernardo islands, water activities such as canoeing, snorkeling, and diving are all must-do activities.

Discovering El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park

With an area of 1,200 square kilometers, the park has an underwater set of ecosystems that give life to the largest coral platform in the Colombian Caribbean. Thus, the park is host to the largest coral reef formations in Colombia. The three ecosystems you can find in the park are:

Coral reefs

These are the essential ecosystem that provides food and shelter for approximately 25% of the marine fauna present in the area.

Coral reefs, as in the rest of the world, are very vulnerable and need crystal waters, light, and stable substrates that do not affect their composition. The ideal temperature should be between 25º C (77º F) and 31º C (86ºF).

At San Bernardo, they take an area of 191.68 square kilometers, approximately 72% of the total amount of coral reefs in Colombia.

Mangroves

This marine-coastal ecosystem, formed by trees of different sizes with roots that protrude from the mud, is a powerful filter of salty water. Mangroves are by far the most productive ecosystem in these areas and an important source of flora and fauna resources.

More than 60% of the world’s tropical fish depend on this ecosystem for their survival. The park has four species of mangrove worth preserving:

  • Red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle),
  • White mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa),
  • Buttonwood or button mangrove (Conocarpus erectus); and
  • Black mangrove (Avicennia germinans).

Coral reefs and mangroves are also a powerful natural barrier to tsunamis and hurricanes.

Seagrass

The park has 30.35 square kilometers of sea pastures, serving as a food provider and shelter for several marine species.

Pastures depend on calm waters between 20 and 30 meters deep for their survival. This allows the circulation of nutrients that benefit them as well as the species that depend on them.

In the park, the most common seagrass species is the Turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum), providing firmness to the bottom of the ground where they live.

How to get to El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park

From Cartagena

When you arrive at Rafael Nuñez International Airport (CTG) take approximately 15 minutes to ride to the “La Bodeguita” dock (8 km). In “La Bodeguita” is necessary to take a boat trip of 2 hours to reach the facilities of the park in the archipelago of Our Lady of the Rosary (Nuestra Senora del Rosario).

From Santiago de Tolú

Take a 50 minutes flight from Bogotá to Las Brujas Airport (CTG) at Sincelejo city. From Sincelejo take an approximately 45 minutes ride to Santiago de Tolú (40 km).

Once at Santiago de Tolú is necessary to take a 1-hour boat trip to reach the facilities of the park in the archipelago of San Bernardo.

What to do in El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park

Diving and snorkeling

The underwater trails of Punta Brava and Luis Guerra in Isla Grande and Isla Tintipan are perfect for sea diving or snorkeling. A supervised company by authorized instructors is highly recommended.

We recommend staying within delimited marked areas.

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

Sailing in the mangroves

The natural aquatic-terrestrial path of Isla Grande, the Lagoon of Silence, an ideal place to take photos and videos.

Help support Cangrejos Azules, the entity in charge of organizing ecotourism in the area with the help of local communities at Islas del Rosario.

Wildlife Observation

In the protected area it is possible to see 62 species of corals, including the blade fire coral (Millepora complanata), the thin leaf lettuce coral (Agaricia tenuifolia), and the massive starlet coral or round starlet coral (Siderastrea siderea).

In the case of decapod crustaceans, there are 153 species; mollusks with 244 species. No less than 153 species of echinoderms; 199 species of sponges and 513 species of fish.

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

Finally, it is possible to find sea turtles such as the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), and the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).

Bird Watching

Within the park, it is possible to identify more than 60 species of birds. 31 of which are seabirds, including cormorants, gulls, frigates, and pelicans. There are also colonies of herons and ibis.

Where to stay in El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park

It is possible to find different accommodations. Suggested choices are:

  • Hotel Las Islas, a luxury ecolodge in Baru.
  • Coralina island is the perfect place to relax, in Isla Grande.
  • Gente de Mar Resort, Location, and service are exceptional, in Isla Grande.
  • Hotel San Pedro de Majagua, the staff is wonderful, and the rooms excellent, in Isla Grande.
Las Islas Hotel – Barú, Cartagena

Best time to visit El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park

The dry season that starts December until late March is the best to visit El Rosario and San Bernardo islands. It is also the peak season for national tourists, so be aware the place must be crowded.

Entrance fees

The entrance fee varies depending on the nationality and age of the visitors. These are the entrance fees for 2021:

  • Colombians, foreigners holding a valid residence permit, and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru (ages 5 to 25): COP 9,500
  • Colombians, foreigners holding a valid residence permit, and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru (over 25 years old): COP 9,500
  • Children under 5 and Colombians over 65 years old have free entrance provided they present their identification cards.

What to consider before visiting El Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park

  • Guided tours must be taken with authorized and certified tourist guides
  • Consider wearing personal protective items (sun blocker, sunglasses, towel, insect repellent, and hat).
  • The use of flash when taking photographs is prohibited.
  • use of binoculars to admire animal behavior and beauty in their natural habitat is recommended
  • 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, throwing cigarette butts, burning garbage, felling, and capturing wildlife.

References
  • Colparques Website
  • Parques Nacionales Website
About the authors

Luisa Martin

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

Ultimate Travel Guide Capurgana: an Exotic Paradise in the Colombian Caribbean


Ever dreamt of visiting a place covered with white sandy beaches, a blue sea, and full of nature and wildlife? At the village Capurgana, your dreams can come true!

A little bit of Capurgana’s history

This region was inhabited by the Kuna Indians, for whom it was the “land of chili” or Capurganá in their language. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Kuna were displaced by black-mulatto communities arriving from the cities of Cartagena de Indias and the department of Córdoba.

The indigenous people migrated to the archipelago of San Blas (Comarca Kuna Yala) in the neighboring country of Panama, another paradise of the Caribbean Sea.

On December 12, 1999, Capurganá was the victim of a guerrilla attack that temporarily paralyzed tourist activities. Today it is re-emerging as one of Colombia’s post-conflict, community-based tourism destinations.

Where is Capurgana located?

Capurgana is at the northwestern pacific coast of Colombia, in the small village of Acandí (Chocó), boarding the Republic of Panama, in the Gulf of Urabá. Although located in the Pacific region of Colombia, it belongs to the Colombian Caribbean with no contact with the Pacific Ocean.

The Gulf of Urabá is the southernmost area of the Caribbean Sea located in Colombia. It is contained within the Gulf of Darien, between Cape Caribana and Cape Tiburon on the border of Colombia and Panama. The towns of Turbo, Necoclí, and Acandí are located on their shores.

At Capurgana you can enjoy a tropical and very humid climate with temperatures between 23° and 35 ° C° (73° and 95° F°), and a high humidity between 85 and 98%.

How to get to Capurgana?

In the past, it was necessary to wait for the vacation season to visit Capurgana. Today there are flights and boats available all year round, and visitors are received from the interior of the country and from around the world. Even so, it is a destination little explored by international tourists.

Traveling to Capurgana might be challenging so take note of the following options.

Air Connection

Charter flights

Charter flights in low season depart on Mondays and Fridays, while in high season there are daily flights with schedules generally at 9 a.m., 11.30 a.m., or 2.30 p.m. departing from Medellin.

Commercial flights

To arrive from different cities in Colombia such as Bogota, Cali, and the coffee region, it is necessary to make the connection through the Olaya Herrera Airport in Medellin, but the flight schedule allows connections with different national airlines, being the recommended Satena from Bogota to arrive directly to the Medellin airport.

Flights from other cities arrive at José María Córdova Airport in Rionegro with a one-hour ground connection to Medellín.

Bogota – Medellin – Capurgana (in yellow)

You will first land at the nearby Rionegro José María Córdoba (JMC) airport in Medellín. At this airport, you cannot take a flight to Capurgana. For this reason, you must take a cab to the Olaya Herrera airport (OH) in the center of the city, about 40 minutes away.

Once at the airport, you take a flight to Acandí with Satena airline. Finally, from Acandi you take a boat to Capurgana. 

Bogota – Monteria – Necocli – Capurgana (in orange)

A 1.5 hours flight from Bogotá will take you to Los Garzones International Airport (MTR) at Montería city. From Monteria, you have to move by land to Necoclí, the ride lasts approximately 2 hours. Once at Necoclí you should take an extra 2-hour boat ride to Capurgana.

Ground Connection

By land, the connection is also made from Medellín, traveling to Medellín – Turbo or Medellín – Necoclí, from where speedboats leave every day in the morning. From Turbo the trip can take approximately 2 hours and from Necoclí approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Boat Services

Boats leave every day from the towns of Turbo, in Antioquia, and Necoclí, in Choco. Also, many tourists and traders who travel between Colombia and Panama do so via the Turbo-Capurganá route. The first Panamanian municipality is Puerto Obaldía, accessible from Capurganá by boat in about 45 minutes.

Where to Stay in Carpurgana?

Capurgana offers a wide variety of accommodations, from camping areas to five-stars hotels. As in other places in the world, it all depends on your taste and budget.

Our recommended options for you to stay in are Tacarcuna Lodge, one of the oldest lodges in the region, the Hotel Bahia Lodge, and Hotel Bahia Aguacate.

Power shutdowns happen on a daily basis from 04:00 am to 09:00 am. So make sure to ask if your hotel has any installed solar energy system (working and running). Do not forget to charge your electronic devices (camera, cell phone, drone, etc.) every night.

Currently many hotels, and most of the stores in Capuraganá, have their own power plants to meet the needs of visitors and tourists.

Must-see Places at Capurgana

Capurganá is made up of three smaller villages called: El Cielo, El Aguacate, and La Mora, and each one of them has its own attractions. Outdoor activities such as hiking, bird watching, wildlife watching, diving, and contact with the local culture are available.

La Coquerita

Quite popular for its magical pure and salty water bodies, this place will refresh your day. You will reach La Coquerita after a 1-hour hike through beautiful landscapes and natural sights. Snorkeling is also available for those who cherish sea life.

El Cielo Nature Reserve

It is a nature reserve within a farm where you can make a tour between streams of crystal clear water, trees, and lush jungle wildlife. El Cielo has the option of lodging in cabins.

Take a 2-hour hike through the marvelous virgin jungles of the Tapon del Darien, in the Colombian Pacific Region. Upon arrival, you can visit the Botanical Garden, located 22 meters above sea level. You will need a guide to provide all information about the flora and fauna found at this place.

El Cielo, Capurgana, Colombia

There is the option of renting horses to make the ascent, although it is possible to do it on foot in a journey of two and a half hours.

Inside El Cielo, there are two natural pools of cold water, two small stone waterfalls, and an open-air stone grotto. At the end of the excursion, enjoy a swim in a natural waterfall.

Aguacate Bay

If you want to visit one of the most peaceful places at Capurgana and relax, Aguacate Bay is the ideal place for you. 10 minutes away by boat.

Sapzurro

Head to the main port of Capurgana and take a 20 minutes boat ride to this magical place full of turquoise waters. Once there rent a kayak and spend a magical afternoon enjoying the calm tide.

La Miel

It is a 200-stairway hill checkpoint bordering the Republic of Panama. You will ask to provide your ID to access it. From there you can appreciate the Colombian and Panamanian coast at the same time. When you descend you will be stepping on the Panamanian coast you can enjoy a typical Panamá beer, Balboa.

El Aguacate, Capurgana, Colombia

What to do in Capurgana

Eating in Capurgana

The first thing you should know about local food in Capurgana is that a mix of tastes from around the world. Capurgana is full of fish and seafood delicacies, prepared with various aromatic herbs and vegetable plants.

Dishes are served with traditional sweet “coconut rice”, along with fried aborrajados (patties). Do not forget to taste the famous ceviche prepared with lemon juice, tomato, onion, coriander, mayonnaise.

A “must try” it’s the well-known “Encocado de Pargo (Red porgy)”, a local saltwater fish cooked in coconut sauce.

A shrimp ceviche cocktail served on plantains, Josefina’s Restaurant, Capurgana, Colombia

When it comes to drinks, at Capurgana you will find the largest variety of exotic fresh fruits, like chontaduro, almirajó, borojó, and others. So don’t miss the chance to try them all!

Among the different restaurant alternatives in Capurganá, we recommend Donde Josefina’s restaurant, whose menu includes lobster and octopus.

Bear in mind that whatever you eat comes from a local artisanal fishing project. Fishing generates employment, thus, improving their economic conditions.

Interested in environmentally friendly activities?

Head to Capurgana or Sapzurro, and help with some beach cleaning at ECOPAZIFICO foundation. This “plastic-free ocean” foundation keeps beaches and forests well-preserved from human interaction.

Diving

In Capurgana you can still find many coral reefs very well preserved. Among the great variety of marine life, you can appreciate the following species: Lobsters, groupers, surgeonfish, damselfish, parrotfish, trumpet angelfish, trumpet fish, snappers, nurse sharks, and hawksbill turtles.

These species you can see in any of the 30 dive sites, where certified divers are available.

Cabo Tiburón

The best sector for diving in Capurgana is between the border with Panama at Cabo Tiburón to the municipality of Acandí. There is 30 km of crystal clear waters suitable for freediving and scuba diving.

The best time for diving is in the middle of the winter season, from April to November, when the waves practically disappear.

Capurganá has certified diving operators by the international agency PADI. In the area, you can observe a variety of corals, reef fish, and marine landscapes in an excellent state of conservation.

Turtle watching

The turtle season in Capurgana runs from April to May, and beautiful sea turtles can be observed, including the endangered Leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), and Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), which come to these shores to lay their eggs, which hatch between June and July each year.

Acandí is the only place in Colombia where the giant Leatherback sea turtle nests. The entire municipality of Acandí is considered a safe natural sanctuary for these turtle species because the inhabitants have been educated for their conservation and to avoid their extermination.

The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), Tinglar, USVI

Things to Bear in Mind

  • Traveling is most convenient between April and October since it is not a peak season and places should not be that crowded. During December and January, queues are crazy and booking accommodation is challenging.
  • Mobile connection in the area is very unstable, so you use CLARO (a local mobile service provider). Get a local SIM card at any of the airports before traveling to Capurgana;
  • It is necessary to carry cash with you since ATMs will not be available.
  • If you are taking the Necocli route, bear in mind that only one boat departs early in the morning (8:00 am). If you are landing later, considering booking a place to stay for the night.

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

References
  • Correa Herrera Tatiana, Toro Restrepo Beatriz, Rosique Javier. SOME ASPECTS OF THE BIOECOLOGY OF THE WEST INDIAN TOPSHELL CITTARIUM PICA (MOLLUSCA: GASTEROPODA) IN THE DARIEN COLOMBIAN CARIBBEAN. Bol. Cient. Mus. Hist. Nat. Univ. Caldas [Internet]. 2012 Dec [cited 2021 Apr 23] ; 16( 2 ): 162-172. Available from: http://www.scielo.org.co/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0123-30682012000200014&lng=en.
  • Ecopazifico NGO Website
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.

The Northern Caribbean Birding Trail of Colombia


The north of Colombia borders the Caribbean Sea and has a continental area of almost 133,000 square km. Try not to get excited with this fantastic video about the northern birding route in the Colombian Caribbean: Northern Caribbean Birding Trail of Colombia!

 

Colombia’s Caribbean coast is home to some incredibly special birding hotspots. One of them is the highest coastal mountain range on the planet, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, with a wide elevation gradient, offering all thermal floors and a great biodiversity, it concentrates a large number of endemic species.

In front of it, the Serranía de Perijá, another mountain range that also has a very different avifauna and is very rich in endemisms.

Between these mountains are the threatened dry forests of Cesar and La Guajira, which also harbor very special birds and ecosystems.

Fianlly, also located there, between the Caribbean Sea and the dry forest of La Guajira, is the Los Flamencos flora and fauna sanctuary, an area of coastal lagoons watered by streams. This is an important feeding area for the birds that give it its name: flamingos.

Thus, in the Northern Caribbean of Colombia you can find most of the ecosystems of the tropical fringe of the planet: Tropical dry forest, Tropical humid forests, Low dense forests, Mountain forests, Páramos, Grasslands, Savannas, Wetlands, Mangroves and Coral reefs in the Caribbean islands.

The Northern Caribbean Birding Trail

 The National Audubon Society the largest bird conservation organization, along with the US Agency for International Development (USAIDand the Colombian bird study and conservation association, Asociación Calidris developed a sustainable bird watching itinerary in Colombia in order to achieve economic development and nature conservation: the Northern Caribbean Birding Trail. 

Clink in the following link to see the suggested itinerary proposed by them: http://www.northerncolombiabirdingtrail.com/

Birding Spots of The Northern Caribbean Birding Trail

The birding spots included in the Northern Caribbean Birding Trail are:

  • Los Besotes Ecopark,
  • Serranía del Perijá, 
  • Los Flamencos Flora and Fauna Sanctuary,
  • Tayrona National Natural Park and
  • Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

In Serranía del Perijá, Los Flamencos and Sierra Nevada, birdwatchers and bird photographers will be delighted with the avian diversity and will be able to shoot unique and gorgeous species. 

Accomodation

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta offers one of the most known birding lodges in Colombia and around the world, El Dorado Birding Nature Reserve. Located in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, it is the best place to stay for a birdwatching tour in this area. 

Serranía del Perijá offers a simple birding lodge with basic amenities. It is called Chamicero del Perijá Reserve. However, if you dont mind to wake up very early in th morning to get to the highest area, you can stay at the lower part in the town of Manaure.

Finally, the accommodation in the cities of Valledupar and Riohacha is intended to be at local hotels. We recommend you Casa Rosalia Hotel Boutique in Valledupar and Hotel Taroa in Riohacha. 

Itinerary

The trip lasts 10 days, it starts in Valledupar and ends in Santa Marta, and includes experienced tour leaders and trained local guides in every location. 

Paramo and Dry Forest in Cesar

Los Besotes Eco Park

Ten kilometers from Valledupar, in the direction of Patillal, is the natural reserve Los Besotes, which treasures a large part of the fauna and flora of this region of the Colombian dry forest in the department of Cesar.

Los Besotes Eco Park, Valledupar, Cesar, Colombia.

Established in 1993 by the lawyer and historian Tomas Darío Gutiérrez, the ecological park is the result of an extraordinary, almost individual effort of a man with a passion for nature.

Toucans, macaws, chachalacas, condors and other typical Caribbean species live in this region. One of the most important highlights is the Blue-billed Currassow, Crax alberti.

The 14 kilometers of trails that run through the park allow you to circulate through the massif of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, between the Murillo and Los Besotes hills, and access points of almost 2,000 meters high, such as the Alto del Condor.

Serranía del Perijá: Páramo

Cerro Pintado, Perijá Mountain Range, Manaure, Cesar

Perijá is an isolated offshoot of the Eastern Andes that forms the border with Venezuela and was a key spot during the Colombian internal conflict before turning into a paradise for birders all around the globe.

Since it has not always been accessible, scientists are still discovering and classifying many local species. The endemic species are  the Perijá Metaltail, Perijá Thistletail, Perijá Sierrafinch and Perijá Tapaculo.

Perijá Thistletail – Asthenes perijana, endemic

However, it has been found that common species such as the Rufous Spinetail and the local variety of the Yellow-breasted Brushfinch are endemic.

Other birds that can be spotted are Crested and Goldenheaded Quetzal, Barred Fruiteater, Andean Condor, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Plushcap, Buffbreasted Mountain-Tanager, Hook-billed Kite, kinds of Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager and Golden-bellied Starfrontlet.

Luckily you may see  the White-rumped Hawk or even Black-and-chestnut Eagle. The Chamizero del Perijá Reserve is the birding lodge that receives tourists that want to explore this remote area full of avian surprises. 

Dry Forest and Wetlands of La Guajira

Los Flamencos Flora and Fauna Sanctuary 

In La Guajira peninsula, characterized by vast desert areas, this nature reserve has shallow ponds that fill with rain and evaporate during the dry season.

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

The salt water is the proper habitat for brine shrimp, which attract the American Flamingos —the stars of the sanctuary—, as well as Scarlet and White Ibis, gulls, terns and other shore birds.

Birds of La Guajira – Royal Tern – Thalasseus maximus

Caribbean Dry Forest

Orinocan Saltator – Saltator orenocensis at Camarones, La Guajira, Colombia

The bright-color pattern continues with the Vermillion cardinal found in the dry forest and other species that can be seen are the White-whiskered spinetail, the Chestnut piculet, the Slender-billed inezia, the White-tipped inezia, the Buffy Hummingbird and the Orinocan Saltator. 

Buffy Hummingbird – Leucippus fallax, Camarones, La Guajira, Colombia

Find out more details about these destinations in our entry Discover the Caribbean Dry Forest Birding Trail of Colombia.

Mountain Forest and Páramo of Santa Marta

Tayrona National Natural Park

Tayrona National Park is a place full of myths and legends of the ancient communities that inhabited the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. It is a place for those seeking new and amazing ecotourism experiences.

Tayrona Park, picture by David Paez

Around 396 species of birds have been recorded here, including Little tinamou (Cripturellus soui), King vulture (Sarcoramphus papa), Road hawk (Buteo magnirostris), Yellow-headed Caracara (Milvago chimachima) and Pale-vented Pigeon (Patagioenas cayennensis).

Find out more details about this destinations in our entries Best Time to Visit Tayrona Park to Avoid Crowds and Bad Weather and Travel Guide to The Lost City Trek – Ciudad Perdida – in Colombia.

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta 

The Santa Marta mountain range is isolated from the Andes and the highest coastal mountain in the world! With 19 endemic bird speciesit is also among the most important endemism centers in the world

W Santa Marta Antbird – Drymophila hellmayri, endemic. Minca, Colombia

Many endemics have the Santa Marta moniker, such as  the Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Antbird, Santa Marta Foliage-Gleaner, Santa Marta Warbler, Santa Marta Woodstar and Santa Marta Brush-Finch.

There is a screech owl unnamed but endemic, and species such as the Santa Marta Wren, the Santa Marta Sabrewing and the Santa Marta Blossomcrown are difficult to spot.

Santa Marta Brushfinch – Atlapetes melanocephalus. Minca, Colombia

If you are lucky, you will see  Black-backed Thornbill,  Santa Marta Woodstar,  Santa Marta Antpitta and Black-fronted Wood-Quail, but there are others that are more common: Santa Marta Brushfinch, Yellow-crowned Redstart, and Rusty-headed Spinetail. 

Be ready to focus your lens on the stunning White-tipped Quetzal, Band-tailed and Sickle-winged guans, Rosy Thrush-Tanager and Golden-breasted Fruiteater. El Dorado Bird Reserve is the lodge where you will stay and relax while birds are not around. 

San Lorenzo Ridge – Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

Watch our birding experience in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta here. Find out more details about this destinations in our entry Colombia’s Prime Birding Destination: Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

As time goes by, the list of Colombian birding trails has grown and you can be sure that you will find fantastic birds in any region of the country.

Check all of our Birding Routes here

References 
 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.

Ana María Parra

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

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.

Discover the Caribbean Dry Forest Birding Trail of Colombia

We visited parts of Colombia’s Caribbean Dry Forest (Departments of Atlántico, Magdalena, La Guajira and Cesar)From a birding perspective, especially the department of Magdalena encompasses probably the best-established birding routes in the Country. But other areas in this region are yet to be fully explored by birders, and more sites will be put on the radar in close future 

From a cultural point of view, the famous colonial city of Cartagena and the carnival of Barranquilla have been frequently visited by tourists for a long time. There are also interesting and low explored destinations as indigenous experiences with the Wayuu tribe in La Guajira and musical experiences in Valledupar, the city of Vallenato music a popular folk music genre of the Colombia’s Caribbean region. Vallenato literally means “born in the valley”, which makes reference to the city of Valledupar.  Its name, Valle de Upar (Valley of Upar), was established in honor of the Amerindian cacique who ruled the valley; Cacique Upar… but let’s not get off topic.

The Caribbean Tropical Dry Forest

According to Colombia’s Instituto Humboldt, the tropical dry forest is a dense forest with palms and tall trees where epiphytes, ferns and vines abound. The tropical dry forests in Colombia were originally extensive. They covered much of the geographic valleys of the Cauca and Magdalena rivers, the Caribbean Coast, and the Llanos Orientales; today they are on the verge of disappearing. Only 8 % remain.

In the Caribbean region, the tropical dry forest is distributed in the sector of the Guachaca River, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta ecoregion (Magdalena) with 45,000 hectares. It also distributes in the sector of the Caribbean coastal plain in Montes de María and Piojó (at Atlántico and Bolívar Departments), Cartagena, Caracolcito, Ariguani-Cesar, Baja Guajira-Alto Cesar (in La Guajira and Cesar Departments). This region is known as the Pre-Caribbean Arid Belt and has an area of 6’046.376 hectares.

The Colombian Caribbean region is part of the “Endemic Bird Area Caribbean Colombia and Venezuela“, including tropical dry forests from the lowlands of the Guajira peninsula, Alto – Cesar, the bases of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to the Bolivar and Atlantic departments in Colombia.

Importance of the Caribbean Tropical Dry Forests of Colombia

Although this is one of the most threatened ecosystems, it is also one of the least known. Many do not know that, for example, the passion flower used as a sedative, or the cactus and its tunas, cocoa, corn, beans and totumo are part of this biome.

According to studies conducted by the NGO Alliance for Critical Ecosystems (ALPEC), the remnants of tropical dry forests are key areas because of their great potential for the conservation of migratory birds. Because of their geographical location, these islands of natural habitat are strategic places for these birds as they are seasonal and refuge points on their way to the Andes or to the east of the continent. The tropical dry forests are the first forest ecosystem to be found by millions of terrestrial migratory birds (60 species) after their journey over the Caribbean Sea on the Colombian Caribbean coast.

Ecotourism has recently been used as an additional economic source by local communities that receive support from NGOs and government entities for their development. Infrastructure improvements (trails, observation towers, accommodation) have been made in some protected areas, and educational material has been produced. It is expected that the promotion and marketing of local artisanal products and ecotourism, associated with conservation, will ensure the functioning of protected areas to improve natural resource management and to protect the habitat of migratory birds in the long term.

Our Visit to the Caribbean Tropical Dry Forest for Birding

We had the opportunity to visit these places thanks to the collaboration of  our local partners in each of the regions. We thank the support of the association Atlántico Birding, Yaneth Bautista, as well as the Government and the Secretary of Tourism in the Atlantic. Also we thank the support of Gabriel Utría in Magdalena, José Luis Pushaina in La Guajira and, last but not least, of Luis Ropero and Tomás Darío Gutiérrez in Cesar.

Atlántico Department

Visiting Usiacurí and Luriza Reserve in the company of our local partners and the local community.

With the help of local authorities & guides, we first explored the reserves of Luriza and Los Charcones. Both are relatively close to the city of Barranquilla and host a number of interesting species of the northern Colombia’s dry forest biomes. 

Both these reserves still lack a bit of infrastructure for visiting birders, but big efforts are undertaken by privates and the government to promote birding tourism at these places. 

Usiacurí

Usiacuri is a small picturesque town. It is known as the Nativity of the Atlantic Department. There, the crafts are made from iraca palm (Carludovica palmata) and are the livelihood of many families who, by weaving, sustain an ancestral tradition learned from the indigenous people who inhabited the region.

Usiacurí is located 40 minutes from Barranquilla along the Via Cordialidad. It is 95 meters above sea level and its average temperature is 28°C. A quiet place, which has recently been catalogued as a sustainable tourist destination.

722Santo Domingo de Guzmán Church. Usiacurí is a municipality and town in the Colombian department of Atlántico.

In Usiacurí there is a monument called the Weaver Muse (Musa Tejedora), a monument made of stainless steel that commemorates the town’s artisan tradition and is inspired by the poem La Araña (The Spider) by Julio Flórez.

Usiacurí must be visited on foot, because in its streets you can find its inhabitants walking on donkeys, or simply passing by a house where the crafts are being woven, or observing the landscape and the greenness of the forest.

You can visit the mineral wells of Usiacurí, very close to the main square of the town. This is a natural trail surrounded by dry forest that borders a stream that leads to the healing wells that made Usiacurí famous in the early 20th century. The waters of these mineral wells cannot be drunk, but they can be used for various medicinal treatments. Bird watching is also possible on this trail.

You can enter the Iraca palm handicraft shops where local artisans sell multicolored products such as bags, chests, hand fans, baskets, placemats, necklaces… which the inhabitants of Usiacurí make with their own hands, and which you can buy to help the local economy and keep this beautiful tradition alive.

Finally, we recommend visiting the church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, which stands on a hill and from where it is possible to observe the geography of the whole town. Also visit the house museum of the poet Julio Flórez, who died in the village and went to live there in search of the medicinal waters.

Regional Integrated Management District Luriza

The name of the protected area honors the spring that crosses it and has the same name as the “Luriza” village.

It is located in the municipality of Usiacurí, 6 kilometers from the center of Usiacurí town. It has an extension of 837.17 hectares where approximately 17 families live. This a magical place is surrounded by giant trees and howler monkeys with mineral water wells. The Luriza Natural Reserve is an ideal destination for bird watching and hiking.

Red Howler Monkey – Alouatta seniculus. Observed at Luriza.

The management plan of this area, among its conservation objects, contemplated the artisan tradition as one of the main activities to protect. These artisan activities  depend on the fibers of species such as the iraca palm (C. palmata). This species used to be in decline due to over-exploitation, but today it is protected. Other objects of great importance for conservation are the Carreto tree species (Aspidosperma polyneuron), the typical bird communities of the Tropical Dry Forest, the bodies of water, and the ancestral knowledge of medicinal plants.

Birding at Luriza

The access trail is steep in the beginning, leading through scruby area with scattered trees. Black-crested Antshrike, White-whiskered Spinetail & Glaucous Tanager were spotted. By the time we made it to the lower parts of the reserve it was already past 9 a.m. and hot. The forest in this area is taller, in better condition and there are trails that run along a nice creek and elsewhere into dry forest.

Without doubt birding potential there is great. Endemics like Chestnut-winged Chachalaca and Chestnut Piculet both occur. Every now and then the attractive Lance-tailed Manakin called from the forest undergrowth. These dry forests host a variety of good Tyrant-Flycatchers, too. Slender-billed TyrannuletVenezuelan FlycatcherPale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher to name but a few. 

We heard the beautiful song of Rufous-and-white Wren, eventually we coaxed one out into view. We were offered a nice lunch at a newly established “visitor center” run by local families. 

Piojó

The next day we travelled to the town of Piojó. Piojó is a town with an agricultural economy. The municipality was founded long before the arrival of the Spaniards by the indigenous people of the Mocaná tribe. Before the Spanish invasion, the region was ruled by Cacique Phión, which gave rise to the current name, Piojó.

The territory has the highest elevations in the department of Atlántico, with Cerro de la Vieja standing out at 530 meters above sea level, which corresponds to the last extensions of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Civil Society Nature Reserve “Los Charcones”

The Civil Society Nature Reserve “Los Charcones”, is the first and only one in the department of Atlantico, registered and recognized by Natural National Parks of Colombia as a Civil Society Nature Reserve. Know more about Colombian Civil Society Nature Reserves here.

Civil Society Nature Reserve Los Charcones – Caribbean Tropical Dry Forest

Los Charcores Nature Reserve is located two kilometers from the rural area of the municipality of Piojó, and 46 kilometers from the urban area of the city of Barranquilla, on the highway to the sea. It has a total of 42.98 hectares of Tropical Dry Forest, with water alternation, and relics of secondary forest in good state of conservation. It is located in the middle of a topography full of mountains, hills and rocks. It has excellent trails and natural pools up to 7 meters deep.

Its main water supply is the underground water of the Municipality of Piojó, a system called ‘Lagunaje’, where freshwater and springs flow. Without a doubt, a jewel of nature of unquestionable landscape, environmental and ecological importance.

Protecting this relict of the forest was the initiative of a group of citizens from the municipality of Piojó concerned about the situation of poverty, low quality of life, lack of opportunities and stagnation of progress of its inhabitants. They took the decision to the implementation of the creation of the reserve, with the aim of preserving the environment, and in turn provide the opportunity for sustainable development to local communities.

Birding at Los Charcones

This reserve reaches slightly higher elevations than Luriza, is larger and a bit more varied. While eating some breakfast outside the reserve, we logged some Keel-billed ToucansProthonotary Warblers and Grey KingbirdsOur group visiting the site quickly expanded to about 20 or so, mostly non-birder people, much to the chagrin of our local guide. He did his best to show some chosen few (including me) a family group of Chestnut-winged ChachalacaA pair of Rufous-tailed Jacamar posed for pictures. 

Rufous–tailed Jacamar – Galbula ruficauda

Then totally unexpectedly, the local guide’s enthusiasm for the reserve and exploring spirit broke through with him. He dragged parts of the party through pathless, thorny scrub forest to show us some remote parts of the reserve. As the morning processed and the sun bashed mercilessly on us, some people rebelled to go any further and insisted to get back! What a relief… We saw many Crested Oropendolas flying by, but nothing else. 

Once we crawled back to the ridge, we persuade our local guide to do one of the established trails of the reserve where we could focus on some birding. There we logged Pale-tipped TyrannuletWhite-bellied Antbird and a vocal Striped CuckooThe non-birders of our group, opted from some refreshing (and well deserved) dip into water pools 

A delicious soup and typical dishes of the region were offered for lunch and a little siesta in a hummock rounded off this unexpectedly adventurous visit to Los Charcones. 

Magdalena Department

The most known birding destination in the department of Magdalena is Minca, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. We will talk about it in another blog, since it no longer corresponds to tropical dry forest.

Vía Parque Isla Salamanca

However, we can visit the tropical dry forest in the Vía Parque Isla Salamanca. This area, together with the Flora and Fauna Sanctuary of the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta, was declared in 1998 as a Ramsar Site of world importance. In November 2000, it was also declared as a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Both constitute the core zone of the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta Lagoon Complex Biosphere Reserve because they are representative of the Magdalena River delta, considered a strategic ecosystem.

The island of Salamanca is an extraordinary group of beaches, marshes and forests that occupy the old estuary of the Magdalena River. The coastal mangroves are one of the last refuges for the critically endangered South-American ManateeIt is crossed longitudinally by the road that connects the cities of Barranquilla and Santa Marta, so its lake and mangrove landscapes can be perfectly appreciated on the way. It is for this reason that it has been given the category of “Via Parque”, unique in the System of National Natural Parks of Colombia.

Birding at Vía Parque Isla de Salamanca

The next day we dawned at Salamanca Island Road Park (Spanish: Vía Parque Isla de Salamanca) national parkIt’s only about a 40-minute drive from Barranquilla. This small site offers some easy access to a mix of habitats. It encompasses the typical dry forest of the area along with access to mangrovesvia wooden boardwalk. 

Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs – Tringa flavipes and Tringa melanoleuca at Via Parque Isla de Salamanca

A Northern Scrub-Flycatcher sang, and on a small pond we compared Greater– and Lesser Yellowlegs, alongside a Spotted Sandpiper side by side.  Wwere shown a singing Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird, a taxon of much debate. Some consider it to be a hybrid with Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, others claim it to be a plumage stage of latter species. Hopefully, further studies will clarify its taxonomic status soon. Despite seeing the bird at close range, we were unable to discern any colors because of bad light, thus incapable of checking the few known identification criteria. But according to the park guard the individual we saw, was one of the Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird’s known steak out perches. 

Putative Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird – Lepidopyga lilliae at Via Parque Isla de Salamanca

In the mangroves we observed Golden-green-, Red-crowned-, Red-rumped-, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Straight-billed Woodcreeperan obliging Pied Water-Tyrant, Prothonotary-, Yellow WarblerBicolored Conebill. Aquatic birds abound too. We spotted 5 Heron-species, LimpkinWoodstork and Large-billed Terns. Russet-throated Puffbirds are always a treat to look at. 

Pied Water-tyrant – Fluvicola pica at Via Parque Isla de Salamanca
Prothonotary Warbler – Protonotaria citrea at Via Parque Isla de Salamanca

Mid-morning, we visited a small marsh near Palomino where we found a typical scatter of that habitat. We were looking for Northern Screamer but no cigar… 

La Guajira Department

 

East of the Santa Marta Mountains & famous Tayrona National Park, the Guajira Peninsula extends to Colombia’s most northern point, bordering Venezuela. This (together with the Tatacoa Desert) represents the country’s driest area. Tropical Dry forests – in parts the area appears almost like a desert – are the main habitat there. Several near-endemic species only to be found in this part of the country, are the main targets.  

Most of the Guajira Peninsula and the areas interesting for birders lie within the territory of the Wayuu-tribe – the largest indigenous tribe in Colombia. Their territory extends well into Venezuela. The communities here are among the poorest in Colombia. It is advisable to visit all sites with the aid of local guides. Several of them have been trained by the Audubon Society and are among the most experienced local guides in Colombia! 

Birding at Camarones & Flamencos Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

With the help of Jose Luis Pushaina, a local birding guide, we started the day early at Camarones. In a fruiting tree we saw Trinidad Euphonia and Green-rumped Parrotlet. 

Green-rumped Parrotlet – Forpus passerinus
Trinidad Euphonia – Euphonia trinitatis
Glaucous Tanager – Thraupis glaucocolpa

Little later we’ve seen the regional endemic birds Buffy HummingbirdChestnut Piculet (national endemic), Orinocan SaltatorVermillion Cardinal & Glaucous Tanager alongside with White-whiskered SpinetailSlender-billed Tyrannulet and Russet-throated Puffbird

Access to the beach at the hamlet of Camarones provided us with views of Scarlet Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, American Oystercatcher Semipalmated Plover and SemipalmatedLeast Sandpiper, SanderlingWilletBlack SkimmerRoyal-Caspian- and Sandwich TernIn the afternoon we checked a large brackish lagoon where – depending of the time of year – large numbers of American Flamingo gather. They commute between here and their breeding site in the Venezuelan Maracaibo-Basin! We tried for Tocuyo Sparrow, too. But no luck at this time of the day. 

Fauna and Flora Sanctuary Los Flamencos

There’s a new communal-based project in Camarones hosting visiting birders. The recently opened Mar Azul lodge is the first and so far only site, where birders can stay overnight within the park’s limit. It’s right next to the sea and they set up feeders where Buffy HummingbirdsVermilion CardinalOrinocan Saltator, Yellow Oriole & more visits! 

Vermilion Cardinal – Cardinalis phoeniceus
Orinocan Saltator – Saltator orenocensis
Buffy Hummingbird – Leucippus fallax

Cesar Department

Ten kilometers from Valledupar, in the direction of Patillal, is one of the great attractions of this department. It is neither a colonial monument nor a modern building, but something even more relevant: the natural reserve of the civil society Ecoparque Los Besotes. Established in 1993 by the lawyer and historian Tomás Darío Gutiérrez, the ecological park is the result of an extraordinary, almost individual, effort by a man passionate about nature.

In its 20 years of life, the park has known a successful growth and has always maintained a philosophy of independence and rigor. This has facilitated that 92% of the territory is dedicated to conservation, and that the secondary regeneration forest, which comprised approximately 40% of the area, takes more than 10 years to recover naturally.

Ecoparque Los Besotes, department of Cesar, Colombia

Key plant species that can be found at the park are Caracolí (Anacardium excelsum), Camajón (Sterculia apetala), Ceiba blanca (Hura crepitans), Ceiba (Ceiba pentandra), Guaímaro (Brosimun alicastrum), Indio desnudo (Bursera simaruba), Guayacán (Bulnesia sp) and Pivijay (Ficus sp).

Among the fauna, the following stand out: Jaguar (Pantera onca), Puma (Pantera concolor), Tiger (Felis pardalis), Tapir (Tapirus terrestris), Red brocket deer (Mazama americana), Taíno (Tayassu tajacu), Cattle monkey (Alouatta seniculus), Capuchin monkey (Cebus capuchino), Night monkey (Aotus lemurinus). The following threatened mammal species have been recorded: Panthera onca (NT), Tapirus terrestris colombianus (VU), Aotus lemurinus griseimembra (VU).

Birding at Ecoparque Los Besotes

Los Besotes Ecopark

We visited and toured the park with our local guide Jose Luis Ropero. The more than 1000 hectares distributed between the townships of Los Corazones and Rio Seco, offer a dense and varied vegetation of Tropical Dry Forest, that hosts more than 250 species of birds (migratory and native) throughout the year.

The 14 kilometers of trails that run through the park like small veins allow visitors to travel through the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta massif, between Mount Murillo and Mount Los Besotes, and access points almost 2,000 meters high on the top of the Condor. Each of these trails offers unexpected gifts for visitors: viewpoints, observatories, forests, hills, streams and waterfalls that fill visitors with joy and amazement.

The presence of the Blue-billed Curassow (Crax alberti), the Military Macaw (Ara militaris) and the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) is noteworthy. Another species are Lance-tailed Manakin (Chiroxiphia lanceolata), Whooping Motmot (Momotus subrufescens), Tocuyo Sparrow (Arremonops tocuyensis), among others.

Within the unique registry of protected areas in Colombia (RUNAP), Los Besotes Ecopark has the category of Regional Natural Park. It is also recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International.

IBAs are sites of international importance for bird conservation:

  • They are practical tools for biodiversity conservation.
  • They should provide, where possible, all the requirements for the bird populations for which they have been identified.
  • They are different in character, habitat or ornithological importance from the surrounding land.
  • And. IBAs are part of an integrated and broader approach to biodiversity conservation, BirdLife’s conservation strategy, which also includes species and habitat protection.
Shining–green Hummingbird – Lepidopyga goudoti

If you want to know more about birding trips in Colombia, stay tuned or contact us!


References

  • National Parks of Colombia Website
  • Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute Website
  • Critical Ecosystem Alliance ONG Website
  • BirdLife International ONG 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.