Did you Know that the Oilbirds have their own National Park in Colombia?

The Southern part of the department of Huila holds the oldest and one of the best-preserved protected areas in Colombia-. It is an amazing place where various endangered species are still preserved and protected, such as the Oilbird. We are talking about the Cueva de Los Guácharos National Park (Oilbirds Cave).

The Oilbirds, or Guácharos

For reference, Oilbirds (Steatornis caripensis) are birds that spend all day in the depths of the caves and go out at night to hunt food, usually insects, fruits, and aromatic plants.

Same as bats, Oilbirds also use a quite precise natural echo localization system. Hence, they make a series of short and squealing sounds that serve as waves that are used for their localization.

According to the American Bird Conservancy about the Oilbird:

“it is named for the young birds, which are so fat that indigenous people and early settlers once collected and rendered them down to oil for lighting and cooking”.

The Oilbird, Steatornis caripensis, or Guácharo in Spanish. ©BirdsColombia

Discovering the Cueva de Los Guácharos Natural National Park

Cueva de Los Guácharos NNP was named after the Oilbird, which is called Guácharo in Spanish.

The Cueva de Los Guácharos NNP was created in 1960 and belongs to the “Biósfera Cinturón Andino”, Andean Belt Reserve declared by UNESCO in 1979.

Find out more about Colombian Biosphere Reserves in our entry Next Travel Ideas? Visit the Biosphere Reserves of Colombia.

It totals an area of 90 square kilometers and is located at the western flank of the Cordillera Oriental, between the departments of Huila and Caquetá. Also, the Cave of the Guácharos is very close to the Magdalena River.

Lastly, Cueva de Los Guácharos is considered part of “Andean Amazonian” transition ecosystems, having a great role as a water regulator, among other ecosystem services. Due to its unique characteristics, it is a nest and transitory refugee stop for a large number of migratory birds.


Cueva de Los Guácharos Park is between 1200 meters and 3800 meters above sea level and its temperatures vary between 19 °C and 26 °C, with very humid climatic characteristics.

How to get to the Cueva de Los Guácharos National Park

From Bogotá

Take a 1.5-hour flight from Bogotá to El Contador Airport (PTX) at Pitalito city. From Pitalito, take a 1-hour ride to Palestina, and an additional 1-hour car ride to La Mesura.

Once at Mesura, look for Cedar where the National Natural Parks access point to Cueva de Los Guácharos is located.

At this point, you can choose to take an 8.5 km hike (3.5 to 5 hours long) or take the transport service available to the accommodation area.

Bear in mind that Satena (Colombian national public airline) is the only one flying to Pitalito Saturdays and Mondays.

What to do in the Cueva de Los Guácharos National Park

Cueva de Los Guácharos National Natural Park has community-based ecotourism operators that provide lodging services in cabins and shared bathrooms for up to 50 people, a camping area for up to 24 people, restaurant service, horse rental, and guiding.

You must know that it is not possible to access or hanging around the park without the accompaniment of a local guide.

Hiking and Trekking

Within the area of the park, there are many canyons and labyrinths. The Cueva de Los Guácharos has caves formed by the chemical and mechanical action of the Sauza River and its tributaries.

Hiking is the most exciting activity in Cueva de Los Guácharos Park. You can hike only until the glacier edge along 4 trails:

  • Black Oak Trail with a 4-hour round trip (3.9 km) and high difficulty.
  • Giant’s Way Trail with a 2-hour round trip (2.7 km) and medium difficulty.
  • Rain of Crystals Trail with a 2-hour round trip (1.7 km) and medium difficulty
  • Waterfall of colors Trail with a 5-hour round trip (3.1 km) and high difficulty.

This activity allows you to admire the 2 caves of Oilbirds, the caves of calcareous formations, and the 2 natural bridges over the Rio Suaza. Also, the Cristales waterfalls, and the Lindosa waterfall.

Cueva de los Guacharos National Park. ©David Páez, Parques Nacionales Archives

Wildlife observation

Along the trails, you may spot the wonders of Cueva de Los Guácharos, among which stand out native species such as the Spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), the Northern Pudu (Pudu mephistopheles), the cougar (Puma concolor), the long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata), and the mountain tapir, also known as the Andean tapir or woolly tapir (Tapirus pinchaque).

Regarding flora, you will be able to appreciate almost extinct species in their natural state such as black oak (endemic), white oak, copper, black cedar, cumin, hayuelo pine, and the Colombian pine.

Birdwatching, and the Oilbirds Caves

Cueva de Los Guácharos is a permanent habitat for more than 300 species of birds including the Oilbird, the Andean cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruviana), and the Torrent Duck (Merganetta armata colombiana).

The Oilbird, Steatornis caripensis., or Guacharo in Spanish. ©BirdsColombia

Do not forget that depending on the season different migratory birds that inhabit this territory may be observed.

Where to stay in the Cueva de Los Guácharos National park

The park has a Visitor Center called Andakí. The community-based ecotourism operator, Fundación Cerca Viva, provides lodging for 50 people in multiple accommodations (cabins), distributed in 5 bedrooms with bathrooms.

Additionally, the park also offers a VIP cabin with accommodation for 8 people and a private bathroom.

There is also a classroom for environmental education activities.

Best time to visit Cueva de Los Guácharos

The dry season (December to late February) is climate-wise the most preferable choice, however, it is also a peak season for national tourists so be prepared.

Worth noting is that usually between March and April Oilbirds’ offspring begin to hatch, which is considered a very attractive natural phenomenon.

Entrance fees

The entrance fee to Cueva de Los Guácharos varies depending on the nationality and age of the visitors. These are the entrance fees for 2021:

  • Colombians, foreigners holding a residence permit, and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru (ages 5 to 25): COP 15,000
  • Colombians, foreigners holding a residence permit, and tourists from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru (over 25 years old): COP 19,500
  • Non-resident foreigners (over 5 years old): COP 51,500
  • Children under 5 years old and Colombians over 65 years old have free entrance presenting their IDs.

What to consider when visiting the Cueva de Los Guácharos National Park

  • Book reservation in advance with an authorized ecotourism operator.
  • Wear suitable clothing for cold and humid weather.
  • Take reusable water bottles along.
  • Keep away from making any marks on trees, stones, or infrastructure available.
  • Noises or sounds that disturb the environment are not allowed.
  • Return ALL garbage and dispose of it at the waste disposal sites.
  • Admission of children under 5 years old, pregnant women, people with heart or respiratory conditions is not recommended.
  • Tours inside the park must be taken with registered and authorized guides.
  • Avoid taking night walks on the trails.

Some prohibitions

Feeding, bothering, or hunting animals, littering, pets, horses alcoholic drinks and drugs, making bonfires, throwing cigarette butts, burning garbage, felling, and capturing wildlife.

  • National Parks Website
  • Local guides
About the authors

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

#1 Colombia Mid-Magdalena Valley Birding Hotspot: Rio Claro Reserve

The Mid-Magdalena Valley is a biogeographical area of very high interest. Not only does it mark a species limit border for mainly Central American species, but it is also itself an endemic region, too! Its avifauna can be observed, maybe easiest, at the well-established Rio Claro Reserve. Easily accessed from both Bogotá and Medellín, this reserve merits multiple-day visits from birders. 

If I need to convince you more there are some beautiful bathing spots along the Rio Claro and the scenery of the Canyon is very picturesque. But you won’t be the only person finding that: Be aware that the reserve gets very crowded on weekends and national holidaysAvoid those periods for birding. Take my word! 

Early mornings are a must in Rio Claro

And birding starts right away from the entrance on an unpaved road leading to the main accommodations & restaurants within the reserve. Early mornings are a must, as the forests get very quiet in the afternoon. 

I stayed in the last accommodation coming from the entrance, which is the quietest and the top story rooms allow a view into the higher trees often yielding good species. I recommend this to all visiting birders. They are only a 5 minutes’ walk away from the restaurant (through a Magdalena Antbird territory) and a short walk from the Oilbird Cave away. 

Morning hours found me birding along the above-mentioned entrance road. Dusky-faced Tanagers are among the first songsters. Little Tinamou whistles its beautiful tremolo song from the lush roadside forest. Both Citron-throated & Yellow-throated Toucans croak, respectively yelp from high exposed perches. Pacific AntwrenChestnut-backed & White-bellied Antbird join the activity.  

Anywhere along the road can be good for mixed flocks. The very localized, endemic Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant accompanies them. On my first two days, I had only brief, unsatisfying views of a couple of these birds, but I had another ace upon my sleeve for this one I found a Cecropia with fruits and this was frequented by several White-mantled Barbets, a Colombian endemic, Orange-fronted Oriolesand several Tanager species.

Close to the Mulata Creek, I heard the song of Grey-cheeked NunletIt took me only a few minutes to locate this small Puffbird. Not too shabby a start. Activity dwindled a bit after that, but common species like Colombian ChachalacaCrimson-crested Woodpecker, Blue-crowned Manakin, Band-backed Wren & Buff-rumped Warblers kept me entertained. 

A highly refreshing and much-needed dip into beautiful Rio Claro & the following siesta was as much appreciated as needed. 

The Oilbirds leaving the Cave at dusk were the roundup of a highly rewarding day. But the best has yet come… 

The Mulata Creek Trail

The following 2 days I spent on the totally quiet (visitor wise) Mulata Creek Trail. This trail leads to a secluded Finca away from the main visitor area. The first couple hundred meters go through cleared areas. I found Yellow-olive Flycatcher and One-colored Becard

A little further along the same trail, I found one of my main quarries, the Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant. A pair was frequently vocalizing, allowing me to do some video grabs, and sound recordings you can check by clicking here.

Where the trail crosses the Creek, I located more Magdalena Bicolored AntbirdsThe trail now climbs steeply and reaches more fertile birding grounds. I first heard, soon saw a group of the endemic Sooty Ant-Tanager, another species easily recognized by its interesting voice.

A lek of Golden-headed Manakins was active, too. Black-crowned AntshrikeDusky AntbirdSlate-headed Tody-Flycatcher and Trilling Gnatwren, followed. 

Where the trail reaches its highest point, you have a beautiful vista over the area. I took a little break from my birding/sound recording session, taking it all in.

The break was not for long, though… A pair of Red-rumped Woodpecker allowed a close approach. But this Woodpecker only ranked 2nd as I located a pair of the endemic Beautiful Woodpecker calling from low down in the Valley. After a little bit of playback, the birds landed in a Cecropia tree right in front of me, allowing me to record its rarely recorded voice, as the very few recordings on XenoCanto demonstrates

Steady going, more birds showed. White-mantled Barbets displayed right above my head and an obliging Red-billed Scythebill was supporting the cast. 

Slowly making my way back to the main road, I realized that a couple of days more in this reserve would be needed in order to find many of the more difficult species of the area! There such goodies as Yellow-headed Manakin lurking out there somewhere 

But I had to keep this for next time, just including a little night birding on my last night, scoring with Spectacled Owl. 


About the authors

Jérôme Fischer

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