Looking for additional group departures? Check out Western Andes & Santa Marta - 14 Days.
- Go birding along the mythical and recently opened Anchicaya Road
- Bird in Rio Blanco Nature Reserve, a world-renowned birdwatching site
- Look for the Gold-ringed Tanager, one of 600 bird species on the Montezuma Road
- Visit Alto Ventanas to look for the Yellow-eared Parrot, once thought to be extinct
- Wade across a stream to reach the Condor Cave, a roosting place for the strange-sounding Oilbird
This 16-day journey begins in Bogotá and continues with a descent of over two km in altitude into the humid, lush green depths of the Magdalena River valley. Isolated arid deserts, humid tropical forests and stunning landscapes are home to many 'Magdalena endemics', which you'll be looking for on this tour.
After touring the Marble canyons of the Rio Claro Reserve, and a stop in Medellín, you'll travel to the picture-perfect Antioquian town of Jardin, where dense forest nearby is home to possibly Colombia's favorite bird, the Andean Cock-of-the-rock. The area is also home to Colombia's symbol of conservation — the endemic, rare and altogether beautiful Yellow-eared Parrot.
Next follows an ascent up into the high reaches of the volcano-topped Central Andes. The national park of Los Nevados protects a large tract of the world's fastest evolving ecosystem — páramo — a high altitude tundra that is full of unique and wonderful wildlife. A nearby reserve 'Rio Blanco' is regarded as one of the world's top sites, and their antpitta (also known as Grallariidae) feeders do not disappoint.
The journey continues to the jungles and cloud forests of PNN Tatama. Birding here can only be described as 'unbelievable', for the sheer number of rare (yet locally frequent) small-range endemic and near-endemic species. Over 600 birds have been recorded here, a simply staggering number.
A drive down the second inter-Andean valley of the trip takes you to the city of Cali — the capital of salsa and possibly Colombia's birding capital. The nearby cloud forests are heavy with glistening tanagers, rare and curious hummingbirds. Multicolored Tanager, Toucan Barbet, noisy Chachalacas and hungry hawks will be on the cards during this tour finale.
|Day 1||Arrive in Bogota||Bogotá|
|Day 2||PNN Chingaza||Bogotá|
|Day 3||Enchanted Garden & Tabacal Lagoon. Transfer to middle Magdalena Valley||Magdalena Valley|
|Day 4||Rio Claro Reserve||Magdalena Valley|
|Day 5||Rio Claro Reserve. Transfer to Medellin||Medellín|
|Day 6||La Romera to Bolombolo. Transfer to Jardin||Jardín|
|Day 7||Yellow-eared Parrot Reserve Road||Jardín|
|Day 8||Alto Ventanas & Andean Cock-of-the-rock Lek. Transfer to Manizales||Manizales|
|Day 9||Rio Blanco Reserve||Manizales|
|Day 10||Los Nevados & Termales El Ruiz. Transfer to PNN Tatama||PNN Tatamá|
|Day 11||Montezuma Road, PNN Tatama||PNN Tatamá|
|Day 12||Montezuma Road, PNN Tatama||PNN Tatamá|
|Day 13||Montezuma. Transfer to Cali||Cali|
|Day 14||El Queremal & Doña Dora||Cali|
|Day 15||KM18 & San Antonio Cloud Forest||Cali|
|Day 16||Depart Colombia|
Day 1: Arrive in Bogota
Today you'll arrive in Bogotá and be met at the airport. A transfer will take you to your hotel located in the north of the city. With more than 8 million people, Bogotá covers a large metropolitan area (around the size of London), at an altitude of 8600 ft (2600 m)
This high-Andean savanna in which Bogota sits is located on the Cundi-boyacense plateau of the Eastern Andes. After checking in and some time to organize, you'll head out for dinner with the tour leader to talk about the incredible experience that's in store for you over the next couple of weeks.
Day 2: Visit Parque Nacional Natural Chingaza
We'll leave Bogotá early in the morning for a 90-minute transfer to the town of Guasca. Our destination is the beautiful national park of Chingaza (PNN). This stunning protected area provides much of the freshwater used in Bogotá. In Chingaza, the high-Andean forest is the predominant ecosystem and is certainly one of the most beautiful neotropical landscapes.
You'll spend the morning walking a gently sloping road between 8800 – 10,200 ft (2700 – 3100 m) At this altitude, cold weather is a definite. Here you'll will have the chance to find the small stunning hummers Blue-throated Starfronlet (near-endemic) and Amethyst-throated Sunangel, noisy Brown-breasted Parakeet (endemic), diminutive Rufous-browed Conebill – (near-endemic), gorgeous Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, shy Rufous Antpitta, Green-and-black Fruiteater and many more birds that are typical of the high-Andean ecosystems of Colombia.
In the afternoon, the group will descend from the park and visit a beautiful farmhouse called the “Observatorio de colibríes” (Hummingbirds Observatory) in the mountain town of La Calera. Birds here include Coppery-bellied Puffleg (near-endemic), Blue-throated Starfronlet (near-endemic), Glowing Puffleg, Great Sapphirewing, unbelievable Sword-billed Hummingbird, delicate Black-tailed and Green-tailed Trainbearers among many others. Silvery-throated Spinetail (endemic) and Red-crested Cotinga are also possible.
Day 3: Enchanted Garden & Tabacal Lagoon. Transfer to middle Magdalena Valley
After breakfast, you'll depart Bogotá early for the western slopes of the Eastern Andes and down into the Magdalena River valley.
On the way, stops will be made at two excellent and unique sites. The first stop is at the Enchanted Garden, packed to the brim with hummingbird feeders (and associated hummers!) where the group will have the chance to watch some feathered jewels, including the locally common Indigo-capped Hummingbird (endemic), bee-like Gorgeted and White-Bellied Woodstars, frequent Red-Billed Emerald (near-endemic), luminescent Short-tailed Emerald (near-endemic), Black-throated Mango and White-necked Jacobin. The fabulous Ruby Topaz is known to zip in and visit the feeders from time to time.
After leaving the garden, you'll head to Tabacal Lake, a small body of water is surrounded by sub-tropical forest of volcanic origin. This relatively small site has a diverse birdlife; specialities that can be found here include Bay-headed Tanager, common Scrub Tanager (near-endemic), Plain coloured Tanager, difficult (but very special) Rosy Thrush-Tanager, skulking Speckle-breasted Wren, wonderful but shy Rusty-breasted Antpitta, elusive White-throated Crake, Ringed Kingfisher, Osprey, Spectacled Parrotlet and Black-bellied Wren. Cormorants, Grebes and a lot of birds from the adjacent lowlands are possible here.
Both sites are at 4600 – 5300 ft (1400 – 1600 m) so today will be comfortable and warm, possibly even hot if the sun is out. After lunch, you'll transfer to the Magdalena Valley, which takes around 4 hours.
Day 4: Explore the Rio Claro Reserve
After breakfast, you'll travel to the marble canyons and jungle of Rio Claro Reserve at 980 ft (300 m) This canyon is thought to have been a type of Pleistocene Refuge (a theory which is widely contested) where species would have been able to diversify through the past ice ages. The surrounding tropical forest and jungle harbor many animals and birds, many of which have been geographically isolated from the rest of the country by the 5000 m+ mountain ranges lying either side of the Magdalena.
The once vast forests of the Middle Magdalena Valley have been mostly destroyed for agriculture and animal rearing. That said, the forests that remain, hark back to a time when this was once one of the greatest and most unique forests on the continent, providing an essential vegetation bridge between the isthmus and Darien of Panama, to the lowland forests of the Llanos plains and Amazon basin.
All the morning and part of the afternoon will be spent looking for some of the Magdalena Valley specialities, including Magdalena Antbird (endemic) — sightings are common for this stunning rarity, the difficult Antioquia Bristle-tyrant (endemic), Sooty Ant-Tanager (endemic), Cinnamon Woodpecker, Beautiful Woodpecker (endemic), Dusky-faced Tanager, Tawny-crested Tanager, Rufous Motmot, Broad-billed Motmot, Pacific Antwren, Blue-crowned Manakin and many more!
After lunch, a little more time will be spent before your visit to “El Condor” cave, a roosting place for Oilbird — a large, strange sounding (and looking) bird where the group will have to do some wading in a shallow stream in order to reach the cave. Endemic Silvery-backed Tamarin can be seen along the trail with large birds such as Savanna Hawk, perching conspicuously above the pastures that lie before the forest.
Day 5: Rio Claro Reserve. Transfer to Medellin
This morning you'll walk along the Godoy Trail, which lies between the hotel and Rio Claro Reserve. This private trail leads to an abandoned open cut mine, now overgrown and literally teeming with birds, highlighting the incredible diversity of this once vast habitat.
Here you'll be able to look for an incredible array of lowland birds, including Barred Puffbird, uncommon Grey-cheeked Nunlet, Chesnut-backed Antbird, Southern Bentbill, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Rufous Piha, Black-bellied Wren, Gartered Trogon, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Collared Aracari and many more! After the morning you'll transfer to Medellin. Lunch will be taken on the road in a local typical restaurant where you'll be able to do some more birdwatching before arriving in Medellín.
Day 6: La Romera to Bolombolo, Transfer to Jardin
Today you'll travel to “La Romera”, a public park in the mountains that surround Medellín and the Aburra Valley. The park is located at 6234 ft (1900 m) The main reason for visiting the park is because it is home to regular families of the lovely endemic Red-bellied Grackle.
Lots of other Andean and high-Andean birds occur here as well, including Andean Motmot, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Colombian Chachalaca (endemic), Red-headed Barbet, Golden Tanager and Yellow-headed Manakin (near-endemic). Rufous-banded Owl and Greenish Puffleg are also known to occur here.
At midday, you'll head to the coffee colonial town of Jardín, in the south-west of Antioquia department. Stops will be made along the way for lunch and to see some dry-forest endemics such as the recently described Antioquia Wren (endemic), Apical Flycatcher (endemic) and tiny Greyish Piculet (endemic).
Day 7: Yellow-eared Parrot Reserve Road
Today will be an earlier-than-normal start to go to the “Alto Ventanas”. This incredible place is a top birding site that covers an elevation range from 5200 - 9200 ft (1600 – 2800 m) Due to our location on the road, breakfast and lunch will be taken in the field.
Without a doubt, the main highlight of any visit to Alto Ventanas is to potentially see the Yellow-eared Parrot (endemic), an endangered bird that was thought be extinct until it was re-discovered here in 2001. This bird is strictly associated with tall wax palms where it makes its home.
Other big targets are the skulking and difficult Tanager Finch (near-endemic), Rufous Antpitta, Chestnut-naped Antpitta, Lachrymose Mountain-Tanager, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, Sharpe´s Wren, hard to see Plushcap, Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Speckled Hummingbird, Buff-tailed Coronet, Grass-green Tanager, Golden-faced Whitestar (near-endemic), Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Golden-headed Quetzal, Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Torrent Duck, Crested Oropendola, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher (near-endemic) and many more.
In the afternoon, you'll go back to Jardín to enjoy the lively atmosphere in one of Colombia's most beautiful towns.
Day 8: Explore the Alto Ventanas Road & Andean Cock-of-the-rock Lek. Transfer to Manizales
You'll leave Jardin this morning nice and early, packed and ready to head to your next destination in the Colombian Coffee Cultural Landscape. Prior to that, you'll explore lower elevations along the Alto Ventanas road and have breakfast in the field.
At the lower elevations, possible birds include Spillman´s Tapaculo, Oleaginous Hemispingus, Slate-throated Whitestar, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Metallic-green Tanager, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Russet-backed Oropendola and the stunning yet somewhat slow Purplish-mantled Tanager.
Before midday, you'll visit a lek of the amazing Andean Cock-of-the-rock (a lek is an area where animals, usually birds, gather to perform courtship displays) and then head to the mountain city of Manizales.
Day 9: Visit the Rio Blanco Reserve
This morning you'll set out to Rio Blanco Nature Reserve, which is rightly considered to be among the best places to birdwatch in Colombia and the world.
The reserve, that ranges in altitudes starting at 5900 ft (1800 m) and reaching up to 12,467 ft (3800m) protects one of the largest intact tracts of Andean to high-Andean forest in the region, much of which was lost for animal rearing and milk production. After breakfast at the reserve, you'll go with a local guide to the famous Antpitta feeders where we can spot Brown-banded Antpitta (endemic), difficult Bicolored Antpitta, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Slate-crowned Antpitta and Green and Black Fruiteater.
On the way to the feeders in the forest, many typical Andean birds are possible to see, including Dusky Piha, the rare Masked Saltator, stunning, vocal and seasonal White-capped Tanager, richly coloured but skulking Ocellated Tapaculo, uncommon and local Red-hooded Tanager, iridescent Blue-and-black Tanager, Pearled Treerunner, Rusty-faced and Scaly-naped Parrot, Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager, Rufous-headed Pygmy-Tyrant and countless more.
Rio Blanco never disappoints and to witness one of the legendary (and at times immense) mixed flocks passing through the canopy is a joy to behold, the only problem is deciding where to look first.
After an amazing morning of birding, you'll go back to the lodge to have lunch and watch some hummingbirds at the feeders: Long-tailed Sylph, Bronzy Inca, Andean Emerald, Collared Inca, Buff-tailed Coronet and Speckled Hummingbird, among many others.
After a full day at Rio Blanco we may decide to stay and do some owling before heading back to the hotel.
Day 10: Los Nevados & Termales El Ruiz. Transfer to PNN Tatama
This incredible morning will be spent at the base of the Nevado del Ruíz volcano at 13,450 ft (4100 m) The national park of Los Nevados is named after the three glacier-capped volcanoes and the other five or so volcanic structures that give the park its height and form. Along the slopes of the various volcanoes, both active and long-since extinct, the beautiful páramo abounds — an ecosystem which only occurs in four countries in the world, where the altitude and tropical latitude combine to create an almost fairytale-like landscape.
The morning will be spent looking for the many beautiful birds that are restricted to the Páramo ecosystem. You'll be searching for specialities like Buffy Helmetcrest (endemic and limited almost exclusively to the park), uncommon Viridian Metaltail, charismatic, emerald-green Rufous-fronted Parakeet (endemic), Black-backed Bush-Tanager (near-endemic), locally endangered Andean Condor, Páramo Tapaculo, majestic Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, wonderfully coloured Many-striped Canastero, White-chinned Thistletail, Andean Tit-Spinetail, confident Tawny Antpitta, Rufous Antpitta, stunning Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Lacrimose Mountain-Tanager and many more.
At midday you'll head down to Termales El Ruiz at 11,811 ft (3600 m), a hotel and hot-springs which has an excellent array of hummingbird feeders where many winged jewels of the high-Andes frequent: Black-thighed Puffleg (near-endemic), Golden-breasted Puffleg (near-endemic), Shining Sunbeam, seasonal and unbelievable Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, bat-like Great Sapphirewing and Tyrian Metaltail.
After the lunch at the hotel, you'll set off on a five-hour drive towards the warm and humid Western Andes and Choco transition, specifically the town and region of Pueblo Rico, above which lies the lodge of Montezuma on the outskirts of Parque Nacional Natural Tatamá. Doña Leo's legendary hospitality will abound upon the group's arrival and plans will be made for the next few days at one of Colombia's most special birding sites.
Day 11: Travel along the famous Montezuma Road & PNN Tatama
The Montezuma Road winds to the top of the hill of the same name - Cerro (hill) Montezuma, beyond which lies a military base. On either side of the road, an amazing super-humid forest (rainforest) stretches out in all directions and cloaks one of Colombia's best preserved national parks — Tatama or 'Grandmother of the Waters' in the local Embera indigenous dialect stretches for over 51,000 hectares.
The portion of the road that you'll be exploring today ranges from 5570 – 8530 ft (1700 – 2600 m) Upon arrival, you may well have noticed the marked increase in humidity which characterizes this Western Andes / Pacific influence transition. The great rainforest of the Chocó is not far away and the humidity that rises up this valley is from the sea and forest itself.
You will spend two and half days on the 12 km road. The first day will be dedicated to the upper part of the trail and the second day the lower elevations will be explored.
Our main target list includes: Black-and-gold Tanager (endemic), Gold-ringed Tanager (endemic), Munchique Wood-Wren (endemic), Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer (endemic), Alto-Pisones Tapaculo (endemic), Velvet-purple Coronet (near-endemic), Empress Brilliant (near-endemic), Western Emerald, White-tailed Hillstar, Barred Hawk, Toucan Barbet (near-endemic), enigmatic White-faced Nunbird, tiny, inconspicuous but altogether beautiful Lanceolated Monklet, Golden-headed Quetzal, Star-chested Treerunner, Yellow-breasted Antpitta (near-endemic), Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Choco Tapaculo (near-endemic), Nariño Tapaculo (near-endemic), uncommon Black Solitaire (near-endemic), perfectly coloured and speckled Rufous-throated Tanager (near-endemic), Tanager Finch (near-endemic), Barred Fruiteater and Scaled Fruiteater - both of which are uncommon, Orange breasted Fruiteater (near-endemic), Olivaceous Piha, Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia and many more.
After a full day of birding, with lunch on the road, an evening of bird-related stories will be shared, before a well-deserved rest.
Day 12: Montezuma Road, PNN Tatama
Today will be spent looking around for birds on the lower altitudes of the road, targets include: Choco Vireo, Black-headed Brush-Finch, Purplish-mantled Tanager, Yellow-collared Chlorophonia, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Tricoloured Brush-Finch, rare Lemon-browed Flycatcher, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager, Yellow-vented Woodpecker, remarkable Club-winged Manakin (near-endemic), Black-billed Peppershrike, White-headed Wren, Olivaceous Flatbill, Sooty-headed Wren (near-endemic), Crested Ant-Tanager (endemic), Zeledon's Antbird, White-shouldered and Yellow-rumped Tanagers among many many more.
Breakfast and lunch will be had in the field and some time will be spent in the evening looking for owls.
Day 13: Final birdwatching at Montezuma and transfer to Cali
Today you'll spend the morning around the lodge observing the various hummingbirds that visit the feeders, among them Purple-throated Woodstar and Empress Brilliant, seemingly common birds here but definitely not in the forest.
An early lunch will be had at the lodge before the group heads out to Cali, which lies 5 hrs 30 mins away.
Day 14: El Queremal & hospitality of Doña Dora
Today will be an early start for the two-hour transfer to the town of El Queremal, located on the western slopes of the Western Andes, that eventually lead down to Choco rainforest and the Pacific below. The road was once the main road to the port city of Buenaventura, snaking through the Anchicaya River valley basin and through forests adjacent to the renowned national park Farallones de Cali, one of Colombia's largest and most diverse national parks.
The Anchicaya Road as it now known, was where Steve Hilty, author of A Guide to the Birds of Colombia spent much of his time doing his research for the book. The area, heavily studied and for many years out of bounds due to the Colombian armed conflict, has once again become safe to visit, allowing birders to explore what is arguably the most productive birding road in the neotropics.
You'll arrive at the house of Doña Dora, a shining example of what hard work and a big heart can do in achieving what is now an ecotourism success story. Her house is now a key site for any birding tour in the area, not only because of the delicious food and excellent homely service that she provides but because of the sheer number of excellent and rare birds that can be found here.
During the day you will start at the higher altitudes along the road looking for distinctive call of Glistening-green Tanager (near-endemic), a firm favourite among visitors, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Barred Hawk, Olive Finch and many more before moving down to the house and feeders which are a playground for Silvery-throated Tanager, Purple Honeycreeper, uncommon Golden-collared Honeycreeper (near-endemic), Toucan Barbet (near-endemic), Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager (near-endemic), Red-faced Spinetail, uncommon and local Green Thorntail, White-whiskered Hermit, Black-headed Brush-Finch (near-endemic), nesting Chestnut-headed Oropendola and many more.
A descent further down into the valley will be made to look for birds such as Ornate Flycatcher, Bright-rumped Attila, Long-tailed Tyrant, Cinnamon Becard, uncommon Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo and many more.
Some more time will be spent at Doña Dora's feeders after lunch before heading back down to Cali.
Day 15: KM18 & San Antonio Cloud Forest
An hour's drive will take the group to the KM 18 on the Buenaventura highway which leads to the port city and the Pacific Ocean. Along the turn-off and gravel road, you'll be entering the IBA San Antonio Cloud Forest — a tract of forest that was once connected to the Farallones de Cali national park, which is to the south.
Along this road, which very productive, you can expect to see: Golden-headed Quetzal, the difficult and uncommon Crested Quetzal, Golden-rumped Euphonia, Spotted Barbtail, hear the haunting song of Chestnut-breasted Wren, see Golden-winged Manakin, Lineated Foliage-gleaner, Andean Solitaire, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Chestnut Wood-Quail (endemic), Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Barred Becard, uncommon Scaled Fruiteater, Masked, Rusty and White-sided Flowerpiercers, skulking Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, and even more elusive Moustached Wren and many more.
Midway during the morning you'll arrive at Don Raul's 'Hummingbird Paradise' farm, where feeders attract a massive amount of local hummers including Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Blue-headed Sapphire, Bronzy Inca, Andean Emerald, Buff-tailed Coronet, Purple-throated Woodstar (near-endemic), Long-tailed Sylph, territorial Brown Violetear, beautiful Booted Racket-tail amongst others.
Without a doubt, the main attraction is the sheer abundance of tanagers, with Multicolored Tanager (endemic) being the most prized. Flocks of Beryl-spangled, Golden-naped, Saffron-crowned, Golden, Metallic-green and Bay-headed Tanagers regularly visit along with the Hollywood pair of female and male Red-headed Barbets, noisy and greedy Colombian Chachalacas (endemic) and occasional coati.
There have been recent reports of Ornate Hawk-Eagle nesting nearby with the juvenile perching in prominent places above the farm. Lunch will be had in the field before returning to Cali in the late afternoon. The farewell dinner, commemorating a fine birding adventure and many 'lifers' will be had before heading to bed.
Day 16: Depart Colombia
Depending on your flight times, you'll have the morning at leisure in Cali before being transferred to the airport for your flight home. This completes an epic adventure of world-class birding in Colombia!