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Heard that Colombia is an amazing place to watch wildlife but don’t know exactly what animals live there and where you have to go to see them? Our guide will help you find out more about the wildlife of Colombia.

What makes Colombia such a good place for wildlife watching?

Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, following only Brazil in its variety of habitats and the number and range of native species. Having coastlines on both the Pacific and the Caribbean gives Colombia an enviable variety of underwater habitats and marine animals. The countryside ranges from wetlands, mangrove swamps and dry desert scrub to rainforest, vast savanna grasslands, riverine plains, and complex montane ecosystems of the Santa Marta and Andean mountain ranges, all rich in animal and plant species.

Cotton-top Tamaron

Photo Credit : Manakin Nature Tours, Cotton-top Tamaron

Where can I see wildlife in Colombia?

There are 59 nationally protected areas in Colombia that have been designated over the past 50 years. The first protected area, Cueva de los Guácharos in the eastern Andes, was defined in 1960 to protect the cloud forest and páramo ecosystems. It is the home of the world’s smallest deer, the Northern Pudu, as well as Red Brocket Deer and three monkey species – Brown Woolly, Red-faced Spider and the Tufted Capuchin. It also boasts Andean Tapirs, the only one of the four tapir species to live outside a tropical rainforest environment.

Tayrona National Park in the northern Caribbean area of Colombia has a population of Cotton-top Tamarins, an endemic and rare monkey species.  It’s also a place to see the Oncilla, or Northern Tiger Cat, a small wildcat with tiger-like markings. The park is on the Northern Colombia Birding Trail and has a list of 300 bird species, including the Lance-tailed Manakin, the Boat-billed Heron and the Greater Ani.

In the Sierra Nevada National Park of Santa Marta you can find 44 of Colombia’s endemic animal species, including seven species of endemic hummingbirds. The number of ecoregions in the park make it richly diverse and protective of iconic species such as Jaguar and Puma.

Los Nevados National Park is famous for its volcanoes, high altitude lakes and páramo grasslands. This is coffee-growing country, possibly best known for its birdlife. Here you can find Andean Condors, the area endemic Buffy Helmetcrest Hummingbird and the Yellow-eared Parrot. However, it is also somewhere you might encounter Pumas and Spectacled Bears.

Los Katíos National Natural Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 due to its exceptional biodiversity. It dovetails with Darién National Park in Panama. This is one location to find Colombia wildlife species such as Giant Anteater and Baird’s Tapir.

Amacayacu Nature Park contains much riverine habitat where you can find Pink River Dolphins, Manatees and freshwater turtles, with Marmosets and many species of monkeys inhabiting the islands and river margins.

Chingaza National Park is one of the best places to see Spectacled Bears living their lives in the high-altitude moorlands along with Pumas, Jaguars and many nocturnal monkeys.

Apart from the National Parks you can also find good wildlife in La Planada National Reserve. It offers around 240 species of birds and 300 species of orchids in a relatively small area of 3,200 acres. It’s also possible to see Spectacled Bears and Brocket Deer here.

Flame-faced Tanager

Photo Credit: Luis Uruena, Manakin Nature Tours, Flame-faced Tanager

What common animals can you see in Colombia?

Colombia has more terrestrial mammals than any other country in the world. Those that can be most easily seen are Giant Anteaters, two species of sloths, several species of tapirs, Capybaras, Howler Monkeys, Capuchins, Black Caimens, Agoutis and Anacondas. Choose your location and habitat depending on the animals you want to see.

This South American country is also a brilliant destination for butterflies. There are more than 1,600 known species here including the exotic Diaethria Phlogea, a native that has been nicknamed the 89’98 butterfly because patterns forming these numbers appear in balloon-like shapes on its outer wings.

Guianan Cock-of-the Rock

Photo Credit: Native Birding Colombia, Guianan Cock-of-the Rock

Is Colombia good for birdwatching – how many bird species are there?

Decidedly yes! This South American country boasts more than 1,900 species of birds, including more than 70 endemics – a greater variety of bird types than can be found in Europe and North America combined! Consider the Bogota Rail, Cauca Guan, Gorgeted Wood-quail, Colombian Turkey (aka Blue-billed Curassow), Spix’s Guan and the Channel-billed Toucan for starters. Then there are the Rufous-fronted Parakeet, the Hoatzin, the Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, the Tropical Screech-owl, the Colombian Orange-headed Tanager and the Plum-throated Cotinga, to name but a very few of the desirable avian offerings in this land of so many diverse habitats.

The cloud forests of the central Andes are home to hundreds of bird species and the green plains known as Los Llanos host hundreds more. Along the coasts of the Pacific and the Caribbean seabirds abound. And the sparsely populated Chocó region is a veritable paradise of avian life.

Colombia is also on a major migration route for birds to and from North America so resident numbers are augmented twice a year by birds on passage between their wintering and breeding grounds.

Emerald-eyed tree frog

Photo Credit: Rene Montero, Jaguarundi Travel, Emerald-eyed tree frog

What is the national bird of Colombia?

The Andean Condor is the country’s national bird. This is one of the largest bird of prey in the world with a wingspan of up to 3.2m (10.5ft). Although it is a national symbol, there are not so many Andean Condors in Colombia. It achieved its status because it features prominently in indigenous Andean culture and art, harking back to times when the birds were plentiful in the mountains. Nowadays they are the subject of conservation efforts to captive breed and release, and a focus of attention to reduce the use of pesticides that poison the carrion they feed on. It is possible to see them in some of the national parks, such as Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Cocora Valley and Puracé National Park, when they take to the air around mid-morning to ride the warm thermals that enable them to soar to great heights.

Colombia Birdwatch - Multicolored Tanager

Photo Credit: Colombia Birdwatch, Multicolored Tanager

Can I see hummingbirds in Colombia?

There are hummingbird species to be found all over Colombia, even in city parks, with several endemics located only in relatively small areas of specialist habitat. The geography and climate of the country suit these birds perfectly. In fact, ornithologists generally regard Colombia as a premier place to see these tiny nectar eaters in their natural surroundings. That’s not surprising given that Colombia has more hummingbird species than any other country in the world – 147 at the last count.

The recently created Paramuno Ecological Trail on Monserrate Hill outside Bogotá is the ideal place for easy viewing and photographing of up to 18 species of hummingbirds. The trail is easy to access and navigate, being relatively flat and only around 360m (around a quarter of a mile) long. Carefully positioned feeders attract a wide variety of hill-dwelling species, including the hummingbirds. The trail is named after the Paramuno Hummingbird, the name of which is Shining Sunbeam in English, a delicate cinnamon-coloured bird.

Does Colombia have many endemic species?

It certainly does! Three hundred and forty to be precise. Unique bird species such as the Santa Marta Sabrewing and the Turquoise Dacnis and mammals such as Handley’s Slender Opossum and the White-footed Tamarin.

Endemic reptiles include the Magdalena River Turtle and the Blue Anole in their numbers, along with many other species of lizards, skinks and snakes. There is an abundance of endemic amphibians in Colombia’s wildlife offering, too, such as the Palm Rocket Frog and the gloriously named Pandi’s Mushroom Tongue Salamander.

There are many fresh and saltwater fish that live only in Colombian waters – the Emperor Tetra and the Twinspot Triplefin, for instance. And unique butterflies inhabit the forests, such as the Reliquia Santamarta and the Ruby-spotted Swallowtail, along with other fascinating invertebrates with names such as the Opaon Varicolor grasshopper.

In terms of plantlife, Colombia has endemics to gladden the heart of any botanist, over 6,000 vascular species as well as a number of non-vascular liverworts and mosses, lichens and fungi.

Where can I see Capybaras and tapirs in Colombia?

Capybaras live on the open plains in the east of the country. These large rodents are known as Chigüiro in Colombia and they are easy to see in the dry season when extensive family groups gather at waterholes.

Tapirs’ locations vary depending on which of the four species you are considering. Generally, they are animals of the tropical rainforest but one type, the Andean Tapir, can be found in the high mountains of the eastern Andes, in páramo habitat.

Capybara

Photo Credit: Rene Montero, Jaguarundi Travel, Capybara

Can I see big cats in Colombia?

Colombia is known for its Jaguars, Pumas, Ocelots and Jaguarundis. Unlike further south in South America where the big cats live in the Amazon jungle, in Colombia big cats are to be found in the savannas and grasslands amongst the mountains. It is possible to see all four of these big cats, but be warned, they are shy and elusive, and mostly nocturnal, so you have to have luck on your side.

Jaguars are mostly found in the northwest of the country – Tayrona National Park on the edge of the Caribbean is particularly known for them. Pumas, also known as South American Cougars and Andean Mountain Lions, can be found not far from the capital, Bogotá, in Chingaza Natural Park and also in the grasslands of Los Llanos.

Ocelots can be found in almost every region in Colombia, as it inhabits a range of habitats, from tropical forests to savannas and mangrove swamps. It likes good cover and access to water, preferably where there are not many other predators present. Jaguarundis can also be found in a wide range of habitats – cloud forests, mangroves, deciduous woodland and savanna. Unlike the Ocelot they don’t mind open country as long as there are trees to climb, cactus groves to hide in and running water.

All of these big cats are possible on a wildlife trip to Colombia, but you need to keep your eyes open.

Where can I see sloths in Colombia?

Sloths are not the easiest of Colombia animals to spot in the density of the rainforest. Luckily, catching sight of one in the country has been made easier by the establishment of the not-for-profit Aiunau Sloth Sanctuary, which is found close to the city of Medellin, northwest of Bogotá. There, survivors of the illegal animal trade, sloths rescued from private hands or those that have fallen victim to traffic accidents are rehabilitated, with the eventual aim of returning them to the wild.

Are there dangerous animals in Colombia – venomous snakes or other poisonous creatures?

Colombia has a number of snakes varying from the harmless to the highly venomous. An example of the latter is the Chocoan Forest Pit Viper. A bite from one of these can cripple a person and sometimes even cause death. They tend to stay hidden during the day, however, and are only likely to be encountered if you are walking in the rainforest at night.

Another snake species to avoid is the Fer de Lance. It tends to come closer to human habitations due to its fondness for rats and other rodents that hang around rubbish tips. The upside is that if you are healthy and not badly bitten it is unlikely to kill you, although it can cause severe gangrene leading to amputations so it’s worth giving it a wide berth.

Snakes are not the only poisonous creatures to be found in Colombia. The Golden Poison Dart Frog is probably the most famous. One of these small, colourful amphibians has a coating of toxins on its skin sufficient to kill around 20 human beings! Indigenous people have traditionally rubbed the tips of their arrows on the frogs’ skins for hunting.

Another small Colombia animal that packs a powerful punch is the Bullet Ant that lives in tall grass and amongst the leaf litter on a forest floor. Its sting brings pain that can last up to a day and cause temporary paralysis in the area where it was injected.

The Banana Spider is also a formidable forest dweller. During the day they rest up in shady spots but at night they go walkabout and they can be aggressive. If you’re staying in a rainforest lodge it’s probably best to cover shoes to exclude them as a hiding place and not leave clothes lying about on the floor.

Can I go whale and dolphin watching in Colombia? Can I see sharks and other marine life?

The island of Malpelo is a nature reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site where experienced divers can see Silky Sharks and Hammerheads. To the south of that, Isla Gorgona is a snorkelling spot that offers a wide range of Pacific underwater species. On the Caribbean side of the country the archipelago of San Andrés and Providencia are coral cays with mangroves housing an incredible variety of tropical fish and corals as well as dolphins and turtles. Endemic Black Land Crabs make their way out of the forests and down to the beaches between April and June to lay their eggs, creating a wildlife spectacle with their numbers.

Is it safe to go wildlife watching in Colombia?

Until relatively recently Colombia was not a destination you would consider to go exploring in the countryside due to the conflict between large cartels, led by drug barons with private armies of guerrillas such as the notorious Pablo Escobar, and the ruling government military forces. However, in 2016, the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia signed a peace accord and since then access to the amazing ecosystems of the country has opened up. Tourism, particularly wildlife tourism, is now very important to the Colombian economy and facilities have rapidly been set up to cater for travellers keen to see the country’s unique animals and diverse habitats. Birdwatching, in particular, has taken off as Colombia aims to become one of the top – if not the top – birding destination in the world.

Rene Montero - Jaguarundi Travel - Capuchin Monkeys

Photo Credit: Rene Montero, Jaguarundi Travel, Capuchin Monkeys

What is the best month to visit Colombia for wildlife?

Most of Colombia’s regions can be visited at just about any time of year because the country has a very consistent climate. It is mostly hot and humid all year round – between 20 and 30 degrees – the coolest month being January. Rainfall does vary depending on where you are, and can be quite heavy and continuous in some areas such as the Choco district, especially in May. There are two rainy seasons, April/May and October/November, when rain will be experienced in most regions every afternoon, but this is usually short-lived.

Want to visit Colombia to see its wildlife for yourself?

The local specialist tour operators on Blue Sky Wildlife can arrange the perfect trip for you. Contact them direct with your requirements and they will help you put together a trip to suit what you most want to see.

Original Date of Publish: 1st November 2021

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