Birdwatching in Colombia focusing on Andean Specialities
This 14-day birding Colombia tour includes one of the country's newest birding lodges, which combines very comfortable accommodation with some of the best birding sites in Colombia, and involves less time spent in a vehicle.
The Araucana Lodge (www.araucanalodge.com) was opened in January 2019 and is designed to cater specifically for birders and nature lovers, with spacious rooms containing all the necessary comforts to ensure a good night’s rest. For those who enjoy bird photography, Araucana Lodge, along with many of the reserves along the route, has excellent feeder setups that provide some of the best photographic opportunities in Colombia.
The rest of the trip is spent in the central Andes, visiting many sites including the world-renown Rio Blanco Reserve near Manizales. Here there are excellent chances for some of Colombia's most iconic antpittas, plus many other cloud forest and montane birds. You then head to the highest elevation reached on the tour (close to 4,000 meters), where one can soak in hot springs overlooking the scenic Central Andes, and look for species adapted to high elevations in Los Nevados National Park with the beautiful Nevado del Ruiz as a backdrop. The route then heads to the Otun-Quimbaya Sanctuary in search of the endemic Cauca Guan and for the best views in the world of Red-ruffed Fruitcrow. This tour is a great introduction to Birding Colombia, with a wide range of habitats without an incredibly demanding pace!
- Bird the Anchicaya Watershed, an area that inspired the first bird ID guide for South America.
- Enjoy the feeders at KM 18, where more than 22 species of hummingbirds have been recorded.
- Stay at the Araucana Lodge, owned and operated by Colombia Birdwatch and specially designed for birders.
- Visit an active Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek that is only a 20-minute hike.
- Take an exhilarating rail ride in the Pacific Lowlands where you will bird close to sea level in search of lowland species.
- Visit the world-famous Rio Blanco reserve, where 1 day of birding can yield 5 species of Antpittas.
- Visit the surreal paramo ecosystem where you will bird above 3,500m in search of the endemic Buffy Helmetcrest.
If you are interested in a shorter tour that is based around the Araucana lodge, we recommend the Exclusive Araucana Colombia Birding Lodge Tour.
A representative will meet you at the airport for your transfer to the hotel (40 minutes).
Lodging: Hotel Guadlajara de Buga
We will start early to take a 10-minute drive to the wetland gem of Sonso Lagoon. It is one of the only remaining wetlands in the Cauca Valley and is teeming with birds, making it one of Colombia’s best wetland birding locations.
Here we will search the marshes and lagoons that line the Cauca River for Fulvous and Black-bellied Whistling-ducks, Roseate Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Anhinga, Little Blue, Cocoi, and Striated Herons, Snowy Egret, Black-necked Stilt and Snail Kite.
We are also likely to find Wattled Jacana, which has a polyandry mating system, where females mate with many males within a breeding season. Polyandry is a fascinating adaptation that occurs in fewer than 1% of birds and is most common in shorebirds.
Other interesting species we might spot include the endemics Apical Flycatcher and Grayish Piculet, Jet Antbird, Blackish Rail, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, and Horned Screamer.
Along the riparian areas we may find Greater Ani, Ringed Kingfisher, Crested and Yellow-headed Caracara, Red-crowned and Spot-breasted Woodpeckers, and Cocoa Woodcreeper. Greater Anis is fascinating because two to four unrelated pairs form a nesting group that build a single nest in which all the females lay their eggs and raise the young communally.
Lunch is back at the hotel, leaving time to prepare for a four-hour drive to the Rio Blanco Lodge near the city of Manizales.
Lodging: Rio Blanco Lodge
The Rio Blanco Reserve is owned by Aguas de Manizales, the local water company, and is situated along an altitudinal gradient, therefore including a wide variety of ecosystems. We could possibly observe five antpitta species at feeders located within a short hike from the lodge, including the endemic and endangered Brown-banded, and the elusive Bicolored, Chestnut-crowned, Chestnut-naped, and Slate Crowned Antpittas.
Other feeder visitors seen a little less often include Slaty-backed Nightingale Thrush and Stripe-headed Brush-Finch.
Additional species observed in Rio Blanco include the uncommon and endangered Rufous-fronted and Golden-plumed Parakeets and the very rare and sought-after Masked Saltator.
The reserve boasts many sought-after species that we may also enocunter, including Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Golden-fronted Whitestart, Dusky Piha, Lachrymose and Buff-breasted Mountain-tanagers, showy Grass-green and White-capped Tanagers, Powerful Woodpecker, and the hard to see Ocellated, Blackish, and Spillman’s Tapaculos.
Other less common species that are possible are Long-tailed Black-billed Peppershrike, the handsome Plushcap, Red-hooded Tanager, Mountain Cacique, and the endangered Golden-plumed Parakeet.
Lodging: Rio Blanco Lodge
Today is a chance to visit the reserve’s several well-maintained hummingbird feeders that attract a great variety of hummingbird species. We hope to see Tourmaline Sunangel, Buff-tailed Coronet, Speckled Hummingbird, Bronzy and Collared Incas, Mountain Velvet¬breast, the tiny, slow-flying White-bellied Woodstar, and the showy Long-tailed Sylph.
In the afternoon we will drive up the mountain to spend two nights at Hotel Termales del Ruiz, at 11,000ft, where we can relax in mineral-rich, medicinal hot springs and enjoy scenic views of the central Andes.
Lodging: Hotel Termales del Ruiz
We will explore Los Nevados National Park, located on the highest part of the Colombian central Andes. We will wind through patches of forest that open up to paramo, an ecosystem of tropical grasslands above the tree line, and toward the picturesque 5,300m (17,400ft) volcano of Nevado del Ruiz.
The scenery in the paramo is magical, with velvety Frailejon plants creating a surreal effect. Frailejon plants belong to the Espeletia genus and are endemic to Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.
The tour reaches elevations of up to 3,950m (13,000ft), so it will be cold. Here the goal is to find species adapted to high elevations such as the endemic Buffy Helmetcrest and the near-endemic Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, both of which sometimes forage on the ground.
Also possible are Viridian Metaltail, Stout-billed Cinclodes, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, the beautiful Golden-crowned Tanager, near-endemic Black-backed Bush-Tanager, and the Glossy Flowerpiercer. We may also find a variety of seedeaters in the paramo, including Plumbeous Sierra-Finch plus Paramo and Plain-colored Seedeaters.
Lodging: Hotel Termales del Ruiz
The morning is spent searching for any targets that may have been missed and enjoying the hummingbird feeders at the hotel. There is also a chance to look for the very rare and endangered endemic Rufous-fronted Parakeet along a 2km stretch of road that passes through elfin forest, an ecosystem of dwarfed plants.
We also hope to spot the very tame Tawny Antpitta, a common companion in this area. On the drive down to the Pereira airport, the road passes by some interesting spots, including a glacial lake, Laguna Negra, where you can find goodies such as Many-striped Canastero, White-tailed Hawk, the rare Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Andean Tit- Spinetail, White-chinned Thistletail, Andean or Ruddy Duck, Andean Teal, Grass or Sedge Wren, and Pale-naped Brush-Finch.
After lunch we will head towards the Otun-Quimbaya Reserve, a two-hour drive. We will pass through the city of Pereira and wind along the Otun River, finally arriving at the locally run and rustic lodge where we will spend two nights.
The afternoon drive along the Otun River will be devoted to finding the infamous Torrent Duck.
Lodging: Yarumo Blanco Cabins
We will rise pre-dawn to look for the Choco endemic Colombian Screech-Owl, and then continue birding at the Otun-Quimbaya Reserve right on the doorstep of our hotel.
The Otun-Quimbaya Reserve is a flora and fauna sanctuary located on the west slope of the Central Cordillera that is home to the Wax Palm, the tallest palm in the world and the national tree of Colombia. These palms, unlike most other species of palm, thrive at high altitudes and the cool climate found here.
We will be greeted by the sounds of Howler Monkeys and the endangered, endemic Cauca Guan, once believed to be extinct until the rediscovery of a population in 1990. Otun-Quimbaya is also one of the best places in the world to observe Red-ruffed Fruitcrow.
We will search for endemics – Chestnut Wood-Quail, recently described Stiles’s Tapaculo – and near-endemics such as Moustached Antpitta, the handsome Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, and brightly coloured Golden-fronted Whitestart.
Other impressive birds we hope to find include Three-striped, Russet-crowned, and Canada Warblers, Masked Trogon, Green Jay, Andean Motmot, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, and Orange-bellied Euphonia.
We will also look for Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, Chestnut-breasted Wren, Plumbeous-crowned Tyrannulet, Marble-faced and Variegated Bristle-tyrants, and Glossy and Masked Flowerpiercers.
Lodging: Yarumo Blanco Cabins
The morning is spent looking for any targets we may have missed. After lunch we head to the exquisite Araucana Lodge, arriving in time to enjoy the feeders and trails at the lodge.
Lodging: Hotel La Araucana
Today we spend the morning around the famous El 18, located on an 1800m (5,900ft) pass 18 km (11 miles) northwest of Cali along the road that connects Cali with the port city of Buenaventura. Birding can be very productive here, and we will look for four endemics – Chestnut Wood-Quail, Colombian Chachalaca, Grayish Piculet and the spectacular Multicolored Tanager.
This area is a tanager paradise, where we have a good chance to see Purplish-mantled, Summer, Beryl-spangles, Flame-rumped, Golden, Metallic-green, Saffron-crowned, and Golden-naped Tanagers as well as Ashy-throated Bush-Tanager and Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager.
We hope to be dazzled by an impressive show of hummingbirds at a private house along the same road, including the beautifully ornate Long-tailed Sylph, Booted Rackettail, Blue-headed Sapphire, Green Violetear, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Speckled Hummingbird, White-necked Jacobin. Brown Violetear and Tawny-bellied Hermit.
Birding the forest can also produce many near-endemics such as Scrub Tanager, Purple-throated Woodstar, Nariño Tapaculo, Purplish-mantled Tanager and Yellow-headed Manakin. Here we will see striking birds such as Green-and-black Fruiteater, Chestnut-breasted and Blue-naped Chlorophonia, the inconspicuous Golden-headed Quetzal, Scarlet-fronted Parakeet, Red-faced Spinetail, Spotted and Rusty-winged Barbtails, Streaked Xenops, and the noisy, inquisitive Crimson-rumped Toucanet.
We will also listen for species with interesting calls and songs, hoping to pick up the hawk-like whistle of the Scaled Fruiteater, warbling song of Black-billed Peppershrike, and beautiful flute-like song of Andean Solitaire.
Other species we may find are Chestnut-breasted Wren, Greenish Puffleg, Montane Woodcreeper, Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant, and the hyperactive Cinnamon Flycatcher.
Lodging: Hotel La Araucana
We will spend the morning birding in the pristine cloud forest of the San Antonio Forest. Here we will may see striking birds such as Green-and-black Fruiteater, Chestnut-breasted and Blue-naped Chlorophonia, the inconspicuous Golden-headed Quetzal, Scarlet-fronted Parakeet, Red-faced Spinetail, Spotted and Rusty-winged Barbtails, Streaked Xenops, and the noisy, inquisitive Crimson-rumped Toucanet.
We will listen again for the whistle of the Scaled Fruit¬eater, warble of Black-billed Peppershrike, and flute-like song of Andean Solitaire. If we didn't succeed on Day 9 we will try again for Chestnut-breasted Wren, Greenish Puffleg, Montane Woodcreeper, Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant, and Cinnamon Flycatcher.
At 2 pm we will visit an active Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek for some close-up views of this magnificent bird’s display. The 25-minute hike will take us down a steep trail to the lek near the river. After the lek we will make our way back to the lodge.
Lodging: Araucana Lodge
After a two-hour drive to Zaragosa and a pleasant 20-minute ride on “brujitas” (motorcycle-powered wooden carts on rails), we will arrive at the town of San Cipriano. The area is a protected reserve and is the source of drinking water for the nearby port city of Buenaventura.
Located in the Choco Bioregion, this is known for being one of the wettest places on the planet. Some of the birds that are possible include Choco Toucan, Stripe-billed Aracari, Black-tipped Cotinga (NE), Rose-faced (NE) and Blue-headed Parrots, Spot-crowned and Five-colored Barbet (NE), Broad-billed Motmot, Black-chested Puffbird and Purple-throated Fruitcrow.
The area is teeming with antbirds, with chances to see Ocellated, Jet, Stub-tailed and Bicolored Antbirds.
We will leave after lunch and drive two hours back to the hotel.
Lodging: Araucana Lodge
Perhaps Colombia’s most famous birding location, the Anchicaya watershed is located along the edge of the Farallones National Park, one of the most diverse parks in the world.
The birding begins just 40 minutes from the hotel via a paved road that can offer many of the Choco endemics that this megadiverse locality has to offer.
Our day on the Anchicaya road will allow time to enjoy its upper portion and some very well-maintained feeders at our breakfast spot where Rufous-throated, Glistening-green and Silver-throated Tanagers are known to occur.
The road will surely yield many highly prized species such as Golden-collared Honeycreeper, White-whiskered Puffbird, Uniform Treehunter, Sooty-headed Wren, Green Thorntail and White-tailed Hillstar.
One of the main targets is Toucan Barbet, sporting five different colours elegantly while still maintaining a tough demeanour.
We will search the skies for Barred Hawk, Ornate Hawk-eagle and Swallow-tailed Kites, whilst keeping an eye out for the attractive Ornate Flycatcher feeding on low branches.
Another mega target is the recently described Pisones Tapaculo. The road can be extremely productive as it rarely disappoints.
Lodging: Araucana Lodge
On this day we bird the same lightly travelled road as the day before, but this time having the opportunity to explore the lower portion after a two-hour drive from the hotel.
The “El Danubio” area hosts many interesting species, including the near-endemics Rose-faced Parrot and Black-tipped Cotinga, Choco Trogon, Lita Woodpecker and Baudo Guan.
The tanagers can be quite a treat, with chances for Scarlet-and-white, Golden-chested, Gray-and-gold, and Scarlet-browed Tanagers among many others.
Having lunch along the way will allow a long day of birding, as we seek out other goodies such as Long-tailed Tyrant, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Lanceolated Monklet, Bay Wren, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Collared Aracari and colonies of Russet-backed Oropendolas.
The area is teeming with many of our friends with the word “ant” in their name, and if we are lucky enough to encounter an ant swarm the action can bring birds such as Stub-tailed, Immaculate, Ocellated, and Bicolored Antbirds as well as Streaked and Pacific Antwren, amongst many others.
This last day of birding is sure to provide a lot of specialities, which is the perfect way to end a fabulous tour.
Lodging: Araucana Lodge
Guest will be taken by private transport to the airport. For those who wish, we can arrange more birding for you in other regions of Colombia.
|Black-backed Bush Tanager|
What is included?
- Professional Bilingual Bird Guide
- All Lodging (Double Occupancy)
- Bottled Water Throughout the Trip
- All Meals From Breakfast on Day 1 to Breakfast on Day 14
- Snacks Throughout the Trip
- Entrances to Parks and Reserves
- Local Guides
- Internal Terrestrial Transport From Airport
- Pickup to Airport Drop-off
What is not included?
- Airfare to Colombia
- Alcoholic Beverages
- Items of Personal Nature
We stand out from the rest because, as locals, we can provide better value and our familiarity with Colombia, its avian diversity, customs, culture and gastronomy is unsurpassed. It is our privileged local access that will make your experience exclusive and unforgettable, and we support the local communities we visit. We are an efficient and reliable company, offering the highest level of detail and service from start to finish.
Colombia has an incredible level of diversity in a small space. In this tour's compact itinerary we visit two different mountain ranges, a low-lying valley and the high altitude paramo ecosystem. Please note that we will be sleeping at 11,000ft for two nights during our visit to the paramo ecosystem. We will mostly be birding on dirt roads or wide trails with the vehicle nearby in case participants want to take a rest. Roads may be steep and slippery and we may occasionally venture off onto small trails that spur off the roads. So a reasonable degree of physical fitness is recommended. We suggest that you practice carrying your equipment for the amount of time and distances that you may encounter during this trip so you are well prepared! We will have purified or bottled drinking water available throughout the trip. You should be prepared for early morning birding, as it is important to be out before it becomes too hot. Whenever possible we will have an early afternoon break before continuing out in the late afternoon. Also, for those interested in mammals and night birds there will be some opportunities for owling and maybe spotlighting for a mammal or two. Most of our meals will be sit-down affairs, although field lunches or even a field dinner is likely somewhere along the trip. If you have specific food allergies, please communicate these to us on signing up. Note that the tour starts in Cali and ends in Cali, and requires no internal flights.
One of the highlights of this tour is the fact that it ends at the world-class Araucana Lodge (www.araucanalodge.com), which we own and operate. The lodge offers farm-to-table meals and was designed specifically to meet the needs of nature travellers, with all the comforts necessary. Your first night is spend at the lovely, colonial Hotel Guadalajara de Buga, and the Hotel Termales del Ruiz in the paramo ecosystems has some amazing hot-springs. Four nights are spent at the basic but charming and comfortable Otun Quimbaya and Rio Blanco Nature Reserves. Most of the tour will be done in either a 7 pax Hyundai van or a 17 pax Volkswagen or Mercedes van (depending on the number of people on the tour). Some sites require the use of 4x4 vehicles, in which case we employ a Renault Duster or Toyota Land Cruiser. In some cases Jeep Willys are used.
This tour only involves ground transportation, be it in a van or smaller 4X4 vehicle. In the San Cirpiano Nature Reserve, riding on train rails on a motorcycle-powered carts called a “bruijta” makes for an exhilarating experience!
This tour is run as a private tour and pricing is based on number of people on the tour.
Yes, all airport transfers are included.
We rarely have to change the tour leader, bus sometimes unforeseeable things happen. If we do, we will give you as much notice as we can.
Yes, single supplement for this tour is $600. We can most definitely cover a third person/family member and can offer a discount for triple occupancy.
Yes, all meals from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast on Day 14 are included.
This tour is great year-round. Rain can occur at any time in the Colombian Andes (rains are somewhat heavier in April/May and Sept to early Nov), so participants should expect some rain, regardless of the time of the trip. However, this does not impact the quality of the birding.
We expect our travellers to be able to walk 1 – 3 miles daily. This tour birds lightly travelled roads with support vehicles nearby except at the San Cipriano locality, and there is one hike to the Andean-Cock-of-the-Rock lek that takes about 20 minutes each way, with steep terrain.
Yes, in many cases we can offer a different option for a person with limited mobility for the San Cipriano and Andean Cock-of-the-Rock lek locations.
There is wi-fi in the rooms at Araucana Lodge.
Colombia Birdwatch supports the local communities we visit in many ways. First, it is our policy to always hire local guides when available and make use of the services provided by the locals (meals, transportation, feeder sites, etc). Secondly, we support various programs and work closely with partners (Audubon Society, Procolombia, Chamber of Commerce, Cali Valle Bureau) in the areas we visit to promote bird tourism and to provide outreach and training in the local communities we visit. We also work closely with Fundacion Ecotonos to promote the conservation of the Bosque de San Antonio in the vicinity of the Araucana Lodge.
Yes, just let us know!
Yes, but we suggest you purchase trip cancellation insurance and your own travel insurance or make sure your insurance covers you while travelling.
A deposit of $1,000 USD (non-refundable) per person is due to confirm the trip on booking and full payment is due 60 days prior to the start date of the tour. You can pay by wire transfer to our bank in the United States or by Credit Card (3% fee).
The tour can be rescheduled within 1 year (no additional fees)
If you cancel before final payment is due a cancellation fee of your deposit will be charged. If you cancel after final payment is due there is no refund but you can reschedule the tour within a year.
REFILLABLE WATER BOTTLE Documents and Money: • Passport • Cash and credit cards • Airline tickets or E-ticket confirmation Clothing: • Waterproof rain jacket • Sweater or medium weight jacket • Three pairs of pants/trousers, at least one lightweight, plus cool long pants and shorts • Four long-sleeved shirts • Four T-shirts • Ten pairs of underwear • Ten pair of socks • Pajamas • 1 pair of waterproof boots and 1 pair of comfortable walking shoes. • Shade hat and 1 bandanna • Bathing suit Toiletries: • Toiletries and washcloth • Personal first aid kit • Prescription drugs • Lip balm with sunscreen • Sunscreen • Soap for hand washing and universal sink stopper • Insect repellent (Chiggers, no-seeums and mosquitoes) and anti-itch ointment Gear: • Pack/rucksack - for rain gear and water on walks • Plastic bags to put wet gear in, in case of rain • Sunglasses and extra prescription glasses • Water bottle - to refill throughout the trip • Camera • Binoculars • Alarm clock • Flashlight and extra batteries Optional: • Sandals • Field guides • Map • Spanish dictionary • Writing materials, paper, and pens • Laundry bag and a few clothespins
Field Guide to the Birds of Colombia by Miles Mcmullan. R + N Editors, 2018. Birds of Colombia by Fernando Ayerbe Quiñones. WCS, 2019.