Travel Guide to Los Flamencos Fauna & Flora Sanctuary in Colombia

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

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

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

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

Discovering Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary

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

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

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

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

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

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

The American Flamingo

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

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

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

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

Why are Flamingos Pink?

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

Archaeological ruins

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

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

How to get to Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary

From Bogotá

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

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

From Santa Marta

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

What to do in Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary


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

Wildlife Observation

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

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

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

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


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

Vermilion Cardinal – Cardinalis phoeniceus

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

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

Where to stay in Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary

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

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

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

Best time to visit Los Flamencos Sanctuary

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

Entrance fees

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

What to consider before visiting Los Flamencos Sanctuary

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

Some prohibitions

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

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:

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. 


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. 


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

 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.

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. 


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. 


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!


  • 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.