Did you know that Colombia is very rich in orchids? Not only it is very rich, but it is the richest country in the world in orchids with 274 genera, and 4270 species. Of these, around 1572 species of orchids are unique and exclusive to Colombia. However, this is a small number.
Given their size and taxonomic complexity, it is difficult to have an accurate estimate of the number of species of orchids that exist not only in Colombia, but in the entire world.
Some botanists estimate that there are between 15,000 and 22,500 species of orchids, while others consider that there are as many as 30,000 to 35,000 species of orchids in the world.
Orchids in Colombia
In Colombia, each natural region has its own richness and diversity of orchids: 2542 species in the Andes, 533 species in the Pacific, 143 species in the Orinoco, and around 130 species distributed between the Amazon and the Colombian Caribbean regions.
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Additionally, Colombia’s 42 National Natural Parks have 819 orchid species, representing a quarter of the total registered in the country.
Among the national natural parks of Colombia, the greatest representation of the total endemic and threatened species of orchids is found in the: National Park Las Orquídeas in Antioquia, Tatamá in Risaralda, Los Farallones de Cali in Valle del Cauca, Puracé in Cauca, Chingaza in Cundinamarca, and Munchique in Cauca.
Moreover, the departments (Colombian states) with the largest number of orchid species are Antioquia, Chocó, Cundinamarca, Cauca, and Valle del Cauca.
Endemic Orchids of Colombia
In Colombia, 36.8% of the country’s total orchid species are endemic. Most of the endemic species are distributed in very few genera, as about half belong to only five genera.
Thus, Lepanthes, with 239 species, is the orchid genus with more endemism in Colombia, grouping 15% of the species in this category. Other genera with high richness of endemic species are Epidendrum (186 spp.), Stelis (114 spp.), Pleurothallis (106 spp.), and Masdevallia (99 spp.).
The Andean region is the area with the highest number of endemic orchid species in the country with a total of 944, representing 78% of the endemic species registered for Colombia. It is followed by the Pacific region with 98. The Orinoco region has the fewest orchids native to Colombia with 15 species.
Why are there so many Orchids in Colombia?
The high diversity of orchids found in Colombia is attributed to the great variety of habitats generated by Colombia’s broken and discontinuous topography, which gives rise to strong altitudinal and climatic gradients.
As incredible as it may seem, in Colombia it is possible to find trees that can hold more orchid species than an entire forest in a country with seasons.
On the other hand, the genera with the most orchid species in Colombia are Epidendrum, Lepanthes, Stelis, and Pleurothallis.
Importance of Orchids
The orchid family (Orchidaceae), is permanently admired for its colors, smells, shapes, textures, and sizes. Also, for their beauty, their uses, the way they grow, and the contribution they make to the ecosystems.
Ornamental, medicinal, edible, aromatic, aphrodisiac, and ritual uses are some of the best-known use options for orchids since ancient times. In addition, they also play a key ecological role in the functioning of ecosystems as well as an indicator of their state of conservation.
As a curious fact, and even without knowing the importance of orchids for the country’s biodiversity, in 1936 the Cattleya trianae (endangered) orchid was named Colombia’s national flower emblem.
Also, notable Colombian architects have used these plants as an important element in their works.
Curious Facts about Orchids
Orchids can be terrestrial, and they can also grow on many types of substrates. Most are epiphytes, meaning that they grow on trees or other structures such as power lines, telephone lines, or roofs.
It is estimated that 93% of tropical orchid species are epiphytes and that many of the terrestrial species grow in lowland forest areas, which are characterized by less illuminated environments, higher humidity, and soils rich in organic matter.
The orchids present in their roots a specialization known as “velamen”. This structure works like a sponge, allowing the plant to quickly absorb moisture from the environment. For this reason, the roots of the orchids remain almost always uncovered, looking for good aeration.
The variety in sizes, shapes, colors, and aromas of its flowers respond to its close relationship with pollinators, thus ensuring the loyalty of its visitors.
Its fruit is a capsule that opens naturally and exposes thousands of seeds that are dispersed in the wind.
The seeds can also withstand long periods of freezing and drought without losing their germination capacity.
Most orchid roots have a strong relationship with fungi (mycorrhizae), which is fundamental for seed germination and nutrient absorption.
Rare orchids are worth more than gold worldwide. It is estimated that the global orchid trade is worth at least $6 billion.
Where to find Orchids in Colombia
There are many orchid farmers in Colombia. The main orchid crops are in Antioquia, Boyacá, Caldas, Cauca, Cundinamarca, Huila, Putumayo, Quindío, Risaralda and Valle del Cauca.
Orchids Fairs and Shows
There are also many events such as exhibitions and fairs. The main ones are the Orchid Show in Medellin, during the Flower Fair, and held at the Medellin’s Botanical Garden.
The second event is the Annual National Orchid Exposition at the José Celestino Mutis Botanical Garden in Bogotá.
Some of the destinations where you can do orchid tours in Colombia are:
La Corota Island Flora Sanctuary and Encanto Andino Nature Reserve
GUÍA PARA LA IDENTIFICACIÓN Y EL CULTIVO DE ALGUNAS ESPECIES DE ORQUÍDEAS NATIVAS DE CUNDINAMARCA .pdf
About the author
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.
As we have said so many times before, Colombia is the country with most bird species in the world. Well, this also applies to orchids! What we haven’t mentioned is that Colombia ranks second in quantity of plants, amphibians, butterflies and freshwater fish, third in palms and reptiles, and fourth in mammals.
Because of this, it is the second most biodiverse country on the planet. What an amazing country for an amazing wildlife tour.
The great diversity of this plants and animal groups in Colombia is associated with its geographical location and topography, which allows the confluence of five major biogeographical regions: Caribbean, Pacific, Andean, Orinoco and Amazon; and the presence of a wide range of ecosystems.
If you are interested in wildlife in Colombia, there are so many places for birdwatching and you can have a unique safari experience as well.
In Los Llanos, the Amazon and even in Antioquia, you can see capybaras, deer, caimans, giant anteaters, monkeys, armadillos, pumas, and many more animals. In this case, we will present to you other exciting wildlife to see in Colombia.
Land Animals to See in Colombia
Spectacled Bears in the Andes
The unique Andean or Spectacled Bear (Tremarctosornatus) is the last remaining short-faced bear and the only surviving species of bear native to South America. This medium-sized, black mammal –with beige face marks that seem like glasses, inhabits the three Andes mountain ranges.
It is a harmless animal that wouldn’t attack a human unless it feels under threat. However, it is considered Vulnerable in the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, due to loss of habitat and illegal hunting.
Fortunately,Colombia’s National Parks System has developed a monitoring and conservation strategy for the Spectacled Bear in several protected zones.
Those who can see this bear in freedom can consider themselves lucky human beings since its population is small and they are elusive. They can be seen in humid montane forests and paramos, in altitudes up to 4,800 meters above sea level.
Solitary Andean bears have been recorded (watch here!) by camera traps in Chingaza National Natural Park, Cueva de Los Guácharos NNP, and Guanentá Alto Río Fonce Flora and Fauna Sanctuary.
If you travel to Bogotá, a day trip to Chingaza NNPmight be your chance to see the Spectacled bear directly or indirectly, through tracks on the ground, scratches on trees, beds made of leaves, and other signs.
Jaguars in Llanos Orientales
The largest feline in the Americas, and the third–largest in the world, wanders the tropical and subtropical moist forests, dry grasslands, and swamps of Colombia. The existence of water bodies in these habitats is a sign of the jaguar‘s presence — it is a swimmer par excellence.
This large, solitary feline on the top of the food chain inhabits most of the country’s land: the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, some parts of the Pacific coast, the Orinoco eastern plains, and the vast Amazon.
However, as a Near Threatened species due to illegal hunting and habitat destruction, it is uncommonly spotted by tourists during wildlife tours in Colombia.
You can embark on a trip to Hato La Aurorain Los Llanos to seek out a jaguar. Hopefully, you will spot one hiding while waiting to ambush its prey or even chasing its victim.
La Aurora is the largest Civil Society Natural Reserve in Colombia and is located in the towns of Paz de Ariporo and HatoCorozal, 4.5 hours by car from the capital of Casanare.
Colombia is the sixth richest country in the world in primates along with Brazil, Zaire, Cameroon, Indonesia, Madagascar, and Peru, and the third richest in the region after Brazil and Peru, as it has 38 species and 45 subspecies, including 10 species and 15 endemic taxa.
Of all the primate species found in Colombia, 53% are endangered as a result of the dramatic deforestation of its habitat and its capture for the illegal trade.
Critically endangered species include the Variegated Spider Monkey (Ateles hybridus), the Brown-headed Spider Monkey (Ateles fusciceps), the Caquetá Tití Monkey (Plecturocebus caquetensis) and the Cotton-top Tamarin (Saguinus oedipus). The last two are endemic.
The howler monkeys can be found in the eastern plains, in the department of Meta, easy to hear and somewhat difficult to observe in places like Unamas or Lagos de Menegua. Also in the Amazon.
The cotton-top tamarin is endemic to the tropical forests of northern Colombia, and it is possible to observe them at Los Limites, a small village located on the border between the departments of Atlántico and Bolívar, very close to the town of Luruaco, where the “arepa de huevo” (egg-shaped arepa) originates.
Proyecto Tití places there and focuses on scientific studies of the biology of wild cotton-top tamarins and working with rural communities living in close proximity to cotton-top tamarin forested areas, through sustainable community development and conservation education programs, which includes ecotourism.
Marine Life to See in Colombia
Coral reefs in the Caribbean
Most people think that corals are marine plants, but they are actually invertebrate animals of great ecological importance. An individual coral is called a polyp and they live in groups of hundreds to thousands of genetically identical polyps that form a ‘colony’.
Hard corals form what we know as coral reefs, the largest living structure on the planet, and the only living structure to be visible from space! Coral reefs are amazing, colorful living beings that host and protect many other marine species, hence its importance.
In Colombia, you can find the most important coral reef formations in San Bernardo Archipelago and Corales del Rosario Islands, located on the Caribbean sea, approximately 2 and 1–hour boat ride from the city of Cartagena.
Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo National Natural Park
Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo National Natural Parkcovers an area of 120,000 hectares, protecting the largest coral reef of the Colombian continental Caribbean, with about 420 km2! To appreciate the immense and stunning wildlife inhabiting coral reefs, you can practice scuba diving near Baru, Isla Grande, and Tintipan islands.
Sea turtles, nurse sharks, Caribbean spiny lobsters, Nassau groupers, and many other animals can be seen swimming around these corals, in shallow waters.
In Providence Island, next to San Andres island, you can explore part of the world’s third–largest coral reef, protected as Seaflower Biosphere Reserve.
Visit the Old Providence McBean Lagoon NNP with its mangroves and seven colors sea.
Scuba diving with schools of sharks is one of the attractions of Malpelo, the best diving spot in Colombia. Malpelo is one of the world’s top three spots to dive among sharks!
Malpelo Island is a Flora and Fauna Sanctuary and World Heritage Site found in Colombian Pacific waters, 500 km (up to 36–hour boat ride) from the city of Buenaventura, in Valle del Cauca.
This volcanic formation is actually the highest point of a submarine range: Dorsal de Malpelo, which hosts incredible marine wildlife. Know more about conservation projects in Malpelo at Protect Malpelo.
Scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) are found in schools of up to 200 specimens around this island and one of the best spots to observe them is La Nevera, a ‘cleaning station’ where small fish take parasites off the sharks.
Apart from these peculiar sharks, divers can see great schools of fish such as barracuda, tuna, red porgy, and more, along with the rosy-lipped batfish — the ugliest fish in the world, the giant oceanic manta ray, and luckily the small tooth sand tiger—’Malpelo’s monster, in depths over 45 m (150 ft).
Malpelo is every diver’s paradise! You should know that only experienced/professional divers with 35 previous logged excursions can visit the island, with a local guide.
Whales in the Colombian Pacific
During the second half of the year or most of it, the Colombian Pacific coast gains prominence among wildlife lovers.
From July to late October, large groups ofHumpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) migrate from the South Pole to the warm waters of the northern Pacific Ocean to mate, give birth, and raise their calves.
Whale watching is one of the greatest wildlife tours for tourists visiting Colombia during this time.
Choco, Cauca, and Valle del Cauca are common places to observe the whales’ acrobatics and hear their songs. These departments have different spots on the coasts surrounded by lush tropical forests and warmed by the kindness of its inhabitants.
Gorgona island, Bahía Solano and Ensenada de Utría NNP in Nuquí are favorite spots!
Gorgona stands out for being a mysterious island with dense jungle, a former prison’s ruins, and a lot of snakes. Here you can also hike, snorkel and do scuba diving to see whale sharks and whitetip reef sharks, and coral reefs.
Colombia, along with Venezuela, hosts the largest number of crocodile species (read more). These semi-aquatic reptiles live in tropical regions, gathering around freshwater habitats, such as rivers, lakes, and wetlands. You can find 2 species in Colombia: the Orinoco crocodile and the American crocodile.
The Orinoco crocodile
The Orinoco crocodile(Crocodylus intermedius), measuring up to 7 meters,is among the largest crocodiles in the world, and the largest predator in South America! It is critically endangered, though. As its name indicates, it lives in the Orinoco basin, both in Venezuela and Colombia.
Sierra de la Macarena in Meta and El Tuparro National Natural Park in Vichada are both large protected areas open to ecotourism, where you can spot Orinoco crocodiles while discovering the beauty of the llanero landscapes and its wildlife.
La Macarena is home to ‘the most beautiful river in the world’ —CañoCristales, and animals such as Capuchins, the Speckled tanager, and the Straight-billed woodcreeper.
The American crocodile (Crocodylusacutus) is the most widespread of the crocodiles from the Americas and inhabits coastal areas, including mangrove swamps and lagoons.
If you travel to Colombia’s Caribbean or Pacific region, you will probably find it still, perhaps with its jaw wide open. Don’t worry, it’s not that they want to hunt you, but this is the way they gain heat.
The Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta Flora and Fauna Sanctuary is one of the crocodiles watching spots. This is a large mangrove swamp where the Northern tamandua, Neotropic cormorant, and West Indian manatee also live.
The Spectacled Caiman
As if it weren’t surprising enough, you can also find the Spectacled caiman—or Babilla, (Caiman cocodrilus) in Hato La Aurora, the pioneer of the Colombian Safari, or El Encanto de Guanapalo (see tour), also in Casanare.
About 800 amphibian species of different shapes and colors live in Colombia. Frogs account for 93% of amphibians in the country, which means that there are 734 species. Also, more than half of them are endemic!
However, 53 species are critically endangered because of the destruction of their habitats and collectors of exotic animals. Although most species can be found in the Andean region, the greatest wealth is in the tropical rain forests of the Amazon and the Pacific region, between 0 and 249 MASL.
Poison dart frogs
All bright colored and dangerous, are one of the main attractions to herpetologists and wildlife lovers. These can be found in the Biogeographic Choco region, one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet.
There are frog tours in the departments of Choco and Valle del Cauca, along the Colombian Pacific coast.
Golden Poison Dart Frog
Actually, in the lush jungles of Choco, you can find the Golden Poison Dart Frog (Phyllobatesterribilis), the most poisonous in the world! An adult frog’s skin has enough poison to kill 20,000 mice or 100 human adults.
Although the poison of the Golden Poison Dart Frog only acts when ingested or when entering the body through the mucosae, not the skin, you should be cautious with dart frogs during your wildlife tour.
Other Dart Frogs
Other dart frogs found here are the Black-legged Poison Dart Frog, Kokoe Poison Frog, Yellowbelly Poison Frog, different Harlequin Poison Frogs and the Diablito Poison Frog.
Get to know dart frogs of the genus Dendrobatidae and others with us in our Dart Frogs Tourin the Biogeographic Choco! You will visit places in Valle del Cauca such as Cali, Anchicayá, the San Cipriano Forest Reserve –both near Buenaventura, the Yotoco Natural Reserve, and Santa Cecilia in Risaralda.
Also, you will witness the Lehmann Frog, Marbled Poison-arrow Frog, Harlequin Poison Frog, Yellow-bellied Poison Frog, Gliding Tree Frog along spectacular snakes and lizards.
The Green Anaconda(Eunectesmurinus) is the heaviest and one of the longest snake species! This reptile, which can reach up to 5 meters long, is native to South America and is mostly found in the Amazon rainforest and the Orinoco basin.
Because of its weight, which reportedly ranges from 30 to 70 kg (66 to 154 lb) in adults, this snake doesn’t stay that much on the ground, but it is an agile swimmer. Its olive–green skin with black botches allows the anaconda to camouflage in the waters and surprise its prey easily.
It is not venomous, but once it has kept its eyes on its victim, it is hard to run away from a fateful death by suffocation.
When you travel to Colombia and go on an Amazonnight safari, watch out for these nocturnal, stealthy reptiles! The other way to meet them is to visitHato La Aurora—once again. but this place is great!— in the eastern plains of Colombia.
Plants to See in Colombia
Orchids in Colombia
4,270 species of orchids can be found in Colombia. Out of these, 1,572 are not seen anywhere else in the world! Hence, the Cattleya trianae was named as the national flagship flower.
The country’s National Natural Parks host about 20% of the orchids, but the most privileged zone in the national territory is the Andes region, since it hosts overhalf of the total species, with 944 endemics.
Finca Romelia Colors of Life
One of the places to admire the beauty of these flowers distinctively shaped and colored is Romelia Farmon the outskirts of Manizales, in the Coffee Region. This family farm is a haven of 8,000 orchids of 840 species, as well as a variety of bonsai and over 200 bird species.
Romelia offers 3 to 5–hour orchids tours around the house, natural trails, and a garden center, where you get a lesson about these stunning flowers and how to sow them. Plus, you get a snack and lunch. The price is around USD 35.
Puracé National Natiral Park
Another place full of orchids is Puracé NNP in Cauca, a natural reserve that protects a volcanic complex, the source of the Magdalena, Cauca, Patía and Caquetá rivers, some of the main rivers of the country. In this indigenous land, there are over 200 species of orchids that you can appreciate while hiking along the Orquideas trail made of stone. The species Epidendrum fimbriatum is a highlight.
In terms of flora, Colombia has a major role too. Colombia’s over 45,000 plant species account for 10% of the world’s plant species!
The Quindio Wax Palm (Ceroxylonquindiuense) is the national tree and is the world’s largest palm, reaching up to 60 meters. It is native to the Andean humid montane forests of Los Nevados National Natural Park and you can find it in the high Andean valley of Toche, Tolima, and the Cocora Valley in Quindío.
The Queen Victoria’s water lily or Victoria amazonica is another flower that amazes foreigners that visit the Amazon. It is the largest of the water lilies, having a diameter of up to 40 cm (16 in). These amazing floating flowers are pollinated by beetles.
Last but not least, during your wildlife or hiking tour in Colombia, you have to meet the Frailejones (“big monks”).
These subshrubs of the genus Espeletia are native to the páramos of Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador and play a key role in the creation of subterranean water deposits.
The Espeletiauribei is one of the world’s tallest —up to 18 m— and can be found in the Chingaza NNP, a páramo near Bogotá.
So here you have many living reasons to visit Colombia. We hope you dare to explore the breathtaking landscapes of this country and book your wildlife tour with us (tours).
Modern Languages professional with an emphasis on business translation. Interested in the cultural adaptation of written and audiovisual content. Passionate about knowing new cultures and languages, tourism, and sustainable living.
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.