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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENO 2018, Mitú – Vaupés – Colombia

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

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

Where is Vaupes?

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

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

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

How to get to Vaupes

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

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

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

Best time to visit

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

Birds of Vaupes

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

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

Highlighted birds

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

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

Other interesting birds you can find are:

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

Birding Routes in Vaupes

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

Mituseño – Urania

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

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


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

Mitu Cachivera

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

Birdwatching at the Colombian Amazon, Mitú, Vaupés


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

Cerrito Verde

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

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


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

La Libertad

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

Birdwatching at the Amazon Forest, Mitú, Vaupés, Colombia


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

Santa Marta – Puerto Golondrina

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


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

Pueblo Nuevo

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

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


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

Santa Cruz

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

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


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

Recommendations for your visit

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

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

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

Sara Colmenares

The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism–environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

Jirijirimo Waterfall and the Anaconda Trail in Vaupes, Amazon Region, Colombia

The Raudal de Jirijirimo (or Jirijirimo waterfall) is a regional nature reserve between the limits of the amazonian departments of Vaupes and Amazonas in Colombia. It is located in the middle-lower course of the Apaporis river.

The reserve is named after the waterfall that is located there, the Jirijirimo, which is one of the most beautiful and impressive in Colombia.

The Apaporis River: The Anconda Trail

The Apaporis River rises in Mesa de Pardos, in the municipality of La Macarena, department of Meta. It results from the union of the Tunia and Ajajú rivers, and has a length of 1,200 kilometers.

This river serves as the northeastern limit of the department of Caquetá with the department of Guaviare. It is of black water and has a general NW – SE direction throughout its course.

In the upper part of its course it serves as a natural boundary between the departments of Caquetá and Vaupés.

It bathes the lands of Caquetá, Guaviare, Vaupés and Amazonas and serves as Colombia’s border with Brazil. It is little used for navigation because of its streams, among which is the Jirijirimo.

Raudal de Jirijirimo (or Jirijirimo Waterfall)

Jirijirimo is a waterfall in the form of gigantic steps, and it is about 100 meters wide and almost 100 meters high.

The word “Jirijirimo” is an indigenous word that means “Bed of the guio”. The guio is an indigenous word to call the Anaconda. They are aquatic boas, which can measure up to 10 meters and feed on large animals. Their scientific name is: “Eunectes“. The Anacondas are often found in this place.

The Apaporis River at this point reaches a width of 100 meters. It splits in two by surrounding an island in the middle of the river. Just there, the Raudal de Jirijirimo (Jirijirimo Waterfall) begins. There, the river falls furiously through a rocky and deep gorge. It is a route of impressive waterfalls and rapids.

It is a sacred place of the Macuna, Tanimuka, Letuama, Cabiyari, Barazano, Yujup Maku and Yauna peoples of the Apaporis, who are spread out in about twenty communities along the river.

The spiritual practices of the indigenous people and their management of the territory have made this region one of the best preserved natural destinations in Colombia.

The river closes at about 40 meters beyond, and rushes between rocky walls with impressive force. Then, it runs for several kilometers until it reaches a tunnel where it backwaters.

The Apaporis Tunnel

Either because the river found it, or because the river itself carved it, the fact is that, after the Jirijirimo, the Apaporis ends in a tunnel about 60 meters high, 20 meters long and 10 meters wide.

It is the mythical tunnel of the Apaporis, which is also sacred to the indigenous people of the region and the subject of many legends.

It is an impressive place due to the scene formed by the black rocks, the vegetation, and the light crossing the tunnel. The river, which before rushing down the waterfall was several hundred meters wide, is now reduced to a mere 10 meters and therefore the depth is incalculable.

Local people affirm that the depth of the Apaporis is several tens of meters inside the tunnel.

Morroco Mountain Range

Near the raudal flows the black water river called Cananari. In the background, the Morroco mountain range frames the landscape of the river. This mountain extends for 5 km, and reaches a height of 500 meters above sea level.

The Morroco Range breaks the Apaporis River to form the Jirijirimo waterfall, a few kilometers from the mouth of the Cananari River.

You can hike to the top of the Morroco mountain range. From the top, it is possible to observe the landscape of the raudal of Jirijirimo, the Apaporis river and the jungle in all its splendor and extension.

There are many macaws in Morroco, and these have become emblematic birds of the destination.

Expeditions to the Jirijirimo

Since the late 19th century, Jirijirimo has been admired by travelers, scientists and tourists. One of its most famous visitors was the British botanist Richard Evan Schultes, in the 1940s. And most recently, the botanist Wade Davis, who made a documentary, along with Martin von Hildebrand.

In the documentary they follow the steps of Schultes through the jungles and rivers of the Colombian Amazon. The documented journey is called El Sendero de la Anaconda, which is available on Netflix.

El Sendero de la Anaconda – Trailer from Laberinto Producciones on Vimeo.

In the last Colombia Bio expedition, which results were presented in July 2019, scientists recorded around 2,335 species of flora and fauna, and 228 of which were new records for the country.

In the reserve is possible to observe the exotic Amazonian fauna. It is perfect to find anacondas, macaws, deers and large mammals such as Amazonian tapirs.

How to get to Jirijirimo

To get there you will have to take a plane from Bogota to Mitu, the capital of Vaupes. From there, you have to take another plane to the region where the raudal is located. The flight covers 179 km from Mitú to the municipality of Taraira.

You can also arrive by boat from the municipality of Pacoa in the Amazon. The trip lasts 4 hours.

Weather at Jirijirimo

The climate in the region is warm and humid, with a temperature between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius (+/- 83 F).

Best time to visit Jirijirimo

The best time to visit this place is between November and January, after the rainy season. Before is not recommended since it can be very dangerous, and the landscape get lost below the strong waters.

This destination is part of the deep Colombia, and it is a place that recently opened its doors to tourism. For this reason, and for being in the middle of indigenous settlements, the environment is preserved unaltered.

Sometimes, visits are restricted or closed, so it is important you get informed about that in advance.

Do not expect to find hotels, or a great infrastructure. You will have to stay in the nearby towns to spend the night, or you can also camp in the places allowed by the indigenous community.

The Cabiyari indigenous people inhabits these area of the reserve. They will be your guides, and you will learn a lot about their customs and traditions.

Recommendations for your visit

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

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

  • Colombian Airforce Website
  • Colparques Website.
  • Caracol TV Youtube Channel
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.

Remote Birding Hotspot in Putumayo: La Isla Escondida, Colombia

For me, La Isla Escondida Reserve ranks in the top 5 of any sites I’ve ever birded in the Neotropics! After my first 6 months traveling through parts of Colombia and the Brazilian Amazon in 2018, I finally got some downtime in December. But not for long.

To escape some X-mas blues and treat me with some advanced birthday present, I decided for a getaway from late December until early January to La Isla Escondida Nature Reserve.

I received some firsthand tip from a good friend about a recently established reserve in the foothills of southern Colombia’s East Andean slope. He mentioned it to be remote, rarely visited by birders, but with an excellent reputation and amazing birding. Exactly, what I was looking for.

The talk is about “Reserva Natural La Isla Escondida”. The owner of which is Jürgen Beckers, one of the main authors of “Birdwatching in Colombia”.

La Isla Escondida Reserve – Picture by Jürgen Beckers

La Isla Escondida Nature Reserve

My friend’s suggestions and a quick glance at the reserve’s checklist was more than enough, to convince me for a 9-day trip. The list hosts some highly sought-after species like Nocturnal– Salvin’s Curassow, Lined Forest-Falcon, Fulvous AntshrikeBanded-, Hairy-crested AntbirdFiery-throated Fruiteater & many more. 

From a Colombian perspective, many species confined to this particular corner of the country occur Black Tinamou, Buff-tailed Sicklebill, Pink-throated BrilliantNapo SabrewingCoppery-chested Jacamar, Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Western Striolated PuffbirdWhite-throated WoodpeckerBlackish Antbird, Buff-rumped Foliage-gleanerFoothill Elaenia, Ecuadorian TyrannuletSpectacled Bristle-TyrantBuff-throated Tody-TyrantYellow-shouldered GrosbeakSpotted Tanager… 

Furthermore, as a newly established reserve in such a bird-rich region, many species remain to be added to the list. Possibilities for new discoveries are mesmerizing, including Wing-banded Antbird and Shrike-like Cotinga await the lucky and persistent one. 

The Department of Putumayo was heavily affected by Guerilla operations not long ago. But the reserve’s isolated location between two deep river valleys (Sucio River & Guamuez River) prevented the Guerilla of penetrating into the area. The immediate area around Isla Escondida is and always has been safe. 

How I got to Isla Escondida

I flew into Puerto Asístook a bus ride to Orito.  There I was picked up by a taxi driver who dropped me off at the trailhead, leading to the reserve. Mules were organized to carry my luggage to the lodge.

As soon as I stepped on to the forest trail, I realized, I was in birder’s heaven. I was surrounded by tall, lush forests. The trail starts at an elevation of about 650 above sea level and leads the lodge at about 800m. aslSo, it’s located in the ecotone between Amazonian lowlands and Andean foothills, one of the most interesting elevation belts for birding.

The trail is well marked and you can follow detailed instructions on the reserve’s webpage. As well, rely on Jürgen’s help about any queries visiting and accessing the reserve.  

To give you an idea, it’s a roughly 1 ½ hours hike up a muddy trail, walking slowly without birding. It is hot and humid and you could get rained out, anytime. So be prepared. There’s the possibility to rent a horse to bring you up. 

I walked up the trail mid-day in sunny conditions, so it was fairly quiet. Short before the lodge I hit a small mixed flock including Black-and-white Tody-Flycatcher. 

The lodge

The lodge is built in a small clearing in the middle of a pristine forest, and really deserves the term Eco-lodge! The rustic but very charming cabins are mainly built by fallen trees, electricity is taken from solar panels, vegetables and fruits for food are mainly taken from the garden, the water waste is equipped with a double biological filtration system. 

I was greeted by Estefan, the reserve’s hardworking soul and caretaker of the placeHe and his whole family are from the indigenous Cofan tribe. In fact, it was his father that guided Jürgen on an exploration trip years ago to the present properties of Isla Escondida. 

Birding at La Isla Escondida Natural Reserve

After a quick snack, I was off to the first forest trail. I took my not even 25 minutes to located Banded Antbird, a bird I’ve only glimpsed once before, about 20 years ago in Peru! I did some nice sound recording of it (play here).

At some point, the birds walked right past in front of me. A pretty good start. The calls of Fulvous Shrike-Tanager revealed a small mixed flock of about a dozen species, a Rusty-belted Tapaculo singing right next to trail was literally asking to be sound recorded, too. 

After some late afternoon birding, I was treated by the first of Estefan’s delicious meals and some crazy story about a guest stepping on a Bushmaster (the largest Pit-Viper), about 80 meters away from the lodge in the middle of the trail! He showed me the picture of the snake and was telling me it’s size: It was over 2 meters long. Somebody got very, very lucky. I told myself to pay some extra attention to the trails 

Birding around the vicinity of the lodge

The next morning found my birding in the clearing and close vicinity of the lodge. Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and Amazonian Umbrellabird frequent the same flocks. The latter was seen eating fruits of a Cecropia Tree. Lemon-browed-, and Dusky-chested Flycatchers were calling overhead, Golden-winged Tody and Black-and-white Tody-Flycatchers were found right outside my cabin.

Birding around the trails

Time to hit trails. I immediately run into a large mixed flock containing one of my sought-after species for the trip: Spectacled Bristle-Tyrant, a species I was looking for many times without success in Ecuador. My goal was to get as many sound recordings of this species as possible. But on my first encounter with it, I just enjoyed watching, as the bird wasn’t vocalizing at all.

The understory flock further contained: Tschudi’s-, Rufous-rumped Foliage-gleanerRusset AntshrikeFoothill Antwren4 more Antbird speciesseveral TyrannidsWing-barred Piprites and Fulvous Shrike-TanagerIn the afternoon I encountered more mixed flocks and sound recorded Sapphire Quail-Dove – the first sound recording of that species for Colombia on Xeno-Canto. 

The following days I spent exploring the same trails over and over, as every day revealed something new. I had walk-away views of Nocturnal Curassow, Fulvous Antshrike and Grey-tailed Pihaand I run into at least 2 large mixed flocks each day. I was able to sound record various vocalization types of the very little studied Spectacle Bristle-Tyrant – one of my main goals of the trip. Listen here

Trail up to Fin del Mundo

Excursions the trail up to Fin del Mundo revealed 2 new species for the reserve’s list: Zimmer’s Flatbill and Deep-blue Flowerpiercer, both of which I was able to document with sound recordings. Zimmer’s Flatbill proved to be fairly common in the area, accompanying almost all larger mixed flocks. It has been overlooked, obviously. 

The Canopy Platforms

The reserve’s 2 canopy platforms are the only ones in whole Colombia! But you have to be free from giddiness in order to be able to climb them. You only access with a ladder-climbing up a 30 m tall tree, secured by harness, of course.

My time up there proved to be fruitless because the tree was so! The only notable species up there were some Paradise Tanagers and an eye-level encounter with Ecuadorian TyrannuletShould you be up there when the tree has fruits – you shall be very happy.

It’s the place to observe Fiery-throated Fruiteater, many colorful Tanagers and Foothill Elaenia, which accompanies mixed flocks. One platform has sleeping opportunities, and meals are catered to you via cable pull! 

On my birthday I was surprised by the whole team with an (especially) delicious meal, wine and birthday cake.  

This finally marked the end of my brief visit to this special place. I can’t wait to go back there and explore more remote and unbirded forest. 

About the authors

Jérôme Fischer

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