Santa Marta Birdwatching Tour
A 12-day birding Santa Marta tour showcasing the endemics of the Santa Marta Mountains, Caribbean Coast and Perija mountain range. Colombia is a mecca for birding, and the Santa Marta mountains are the epitome of good birding country. If that were not enough, this tour also includes trips to the coastal forests in the lowlands and the Perija mountains, which will surely boost your life list even higher!
The tour begins and ends in the city of Barranquilla, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the highest coastal mountain range in the world and one of its most important endemism centres, with 22 species of birds restricted to it. It truly is a birder’s paradise!
On the Birding Santa Marta tour we will be on a search for many of those endemics, including the Santa Marta Screech-owl, Antpitta, Mountain-tanager, Tapaculo, Foliage-gleaner, Brush-finch, Parakeet, Sabrewing, Bush-tyrant, Seedeater, Warbler, and a plethora of others.
This trip also takes us to Isla Salamanca, Tayrona and Los Flamencos National Parks, where birding through mangroves and coastal wetlands, along the ocean and in the dry scrub forest should yield species such as the near-endemic Buffy Hummingbird, the endemic Chestnut-winged Chachalaca, Russet-throated Puffbird, the near-endemic Chestnut Piculet, Bicolored Conebill, Tocuyo Sparrow, and Panama Flycatcher among many others.
The last stop on the tour is the Sierra de Perijá, the Holy Grail for birders interested in Colombia’s birds. This isolated offshoot of the Eastern Andes forms the border with Venezuela and is one of the least explored areas in Colombia. The ability to move from montane forest to páramo, then down to foothill subtropical areas, gives visitors here more than enough to look at. After years of being off-limits due to a volatile political situation, this area is now opening up and is right on the cusp of discovery. Now is the time to go, as more and more new endemics are being identified. Who knows? It could be you at the forefront of finding a new species while Birding Santa Marta!
If you are interested in a longer tour that includes the endemics of the Santa Marta region and many more in the Andes mountains and Choco bioregion, we suggest looking at our Endemics tour which can be found at https://www.blueskywildlife.com/tour/endemic-colombia-birding/
Depending on your arrival time at Barranquilla, an afternoon of birding is possible near the town, in search of the endemic Chestnut-winged Chachalaca. This is one of the most attractive chachalacas in not only Colombia but possibly the whole of South America. The dry forests on the outskirts of the town will also provide opportunities for species such as the very photogenic Russet-throated Puffbird and the common Brown-throated Parakeet.
Lodging: Hotel Movich Buro 51
We will rise early and spend the morning birding at Isla Salamanca National Park, 35 minutes from Barranquilla, where we will use the newly rebuilt walkways through the mangroves in search of Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Bicolored Conebill, the common Brown-throated Parakeet, Green-and-rufous Kingfisher and Yellow-chinned Spinetail among many others.
We will also have time to bird some wetlands in the area in search of Northern Screamer and other specialities. After a morning of birding, we will embark on a two-hour drive to Minca, a quaint little town with nice lodging along the river.
Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Minca is a great location to bird for lower elevation species. We will arrive in town and visit some hummingbird feeders at lunchtime, where Rufous-breasted Hermit, Black-throated Mango, Long-billed Starthroat, the near-endemic Red-billed Emerald and Violet-crowned Woodnymph can be found.
We will also have time to explore the surroundings in search of birds such as Black-backed Antshrike, Scaled Piculet, Swallow Tanager, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Keel-billed Toucan, Masked Tityra, and Whooping Motmot.
Lodging: Hotel Minca
This day will have us birding through a vast altitudinal gradient, covering different elevations along the road to El Dorado Lodge. Birding up the mountain will surely yield a large number of species, including Golden-winged Sparrow, Rosy Thrush-tanager, Rustyheaded Spinetail, Ruddy Foliage-gleaner, the recently described Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner, Rusty-breasted Antpitta, Santa Marta Tapaculo, Black-backed Antshrike, the magnificently colored Blue-naped Chlorophonia, and the attractive Rufous-capped Warbler.
Lodging: El Dorado Lodge
We will rise early and head up to higher elevations towards Cerro Kennedy, in search of these endemics: Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Warbler, Santa Marta Mountain-tanager, Santa Marta Bush-tyrant and Brown-rumped Tapaculo, among many others.
We will have a picnic at high elevation with great views of the Sierra Nevada, and bird along the road on our way down, hoping to run into awe-inspiring species such as Swallow Tanager, Grove-billed and Santa Marta Toucanet, Black-chested Jay, the endemic White-lored Warbler, Golden-breasted Fruiteater and the near-endemic White-tipped quetzal.
After dinner, we will scout for the endemic and recently described Santa Marta Screech-owl.
Lodging: El Dorado Lodge
After breakfast we will have time to enjoy the well maintained feeders at the lodge. Hummingbirds that visit the feeders include the endemic White-tailed Starfrontlet, White-vented Plumeteer, and Long-tailed Hermit. The bananas attract the endemic Santa Marta Brush-finch and also the endemic Colombian brushfinch, and the many flowers in the garden attract White-sided and Black Flowerpiercers.
We will spend some time seeking out the Santa Marta Antpitta, a skullker that will definitely take some work. A day of birding near the lodge will have its rewards, though, a special treat being the near-endemic Black-fronted Wood-quail that visit the lodge's compost pile in the afternoon.
Lodging: El Dorado Lodge
We will spend the day birding the road en route to our next stop - a hotel beside a beautiful beach. We will pause along the way to catch any birds we missed on the way up.
Finca Barlovento, our accommodation for one night is an exquisite lodge right on the beach that is touted as one of the best places to stay in Colombia.
Lodging: Finca Barlovento
We will have a morning visit to the Tayrona National Park and, if all things align for us, the Blue-billed Curassow could show up. Otherwise, this is a great place to see some species that we are not as likely to see elsewhere on the trip.
One abundant bird that is easiest to see here than anywhere else is the stunning Lance-tailed Manakin. Sometimes it can be found with its relative, the White-bearded Manakin.
The birds at this location are varied, from Crane Hawk and Boat-billed Heron to Greater Ani, White-necked Puffbird and Rufous-tailed Jacamars. Blue-headed Parrot is common, and Lineated Woodpeckers are impressive to see as they forage on the large trees in the area.
White-bellied Antbirds belt out their song from the understorey and if you are lucky they will even show themselves.
The complex songs of Buff-breasted and Bicolored Wrens are heard in the forest, along with the repetitive songs of Scrub Greenlets, nasal sounds of Barred Antshrikes and loud calls of Boat-billed and Streaked Fycatchers. It is an active area, full of birds!
Crimson-backed Tanagers and the gorgeous Redlegged Honeycreepers give a lot of colour to the local flocks. While you are birding here it is common to see the Cottontop Tamarin, a gorgeous little monkey that is dwarfed by the less common White-fronted Capuchin.
While our visit to Tayrona will be brief we will see a lot, and we will enjoy the company of our trained guides who have their fingers on the pulse regarding where to find the birds.
The afternoon will be spent driving to Riohacha, with a stop at a spot where it is known that Double-striped Thick-knees are often seen. Our hotel is again right on the beach.
Lodging: Hotel Taroa
Very close to the city of Riohacha is Los Flamencos and the village of Camarones. This is the west edge of the Guajira desert, where dry forest becomes shorter and sparser and bare dry earth separates the trees from each other.
However, before you have the mistaken idea that this is a parched world, Los Flamencos is on the coast and it has shallow waterbodies that fill as the rains come but evaporate during the dry season.
These evaporating ponds concentrate salt and then the brine shrimp bloom, which brings in the birds that give their name to the park – American Flamingos!
Their numbers vary depending on water levels, but they can be here in their hundreds on a good day. Then, if you have not had enough pink, how about the even brighter Scarlet Ibis? These birds concentrate here as well, with their very close relatives, the White Ibis. Relations are so close, in fact, that every once in a while a hybrid Pink Ibis is seen here. Gulls, terns and many migratory shorebirds are also to be found at Los Flamencos.
Retreating to the forest, you can find a series of very attractive regional specialities. In this drab desert habitat there are wonderful dry forest birds to be found.
The sole South American offshoot of what is really a North American group, the Vermilion Cardinal in one of these. Nothing prepares you for the striking red of this species, even if you are familiar with Northern Cardinals. The Vermilion also has an overdone crest and a very different look to its close relatives from the north.
On the ground, the White-whiskered Spinetail is one heck of a good looking Spinetail - a member of a group that is usually very drab and brown - and tends to bring a "wow" from the crowd.
Pecking in the branches in the forest, and trilling away, will be a tiny and colourful woodpecker, the Chestnut Piculet. And there are specialities that are more somber in tone, such as the Slender-billed Inezia (Tyrannulet), and White-tipped Inezia.
A Santa Marta birding tour favourite is the Russet-throated Puffbird (the Bobo, or fool bird as the locals call it) that will sit and stare back at you as hard as you stare at it.
The less common Orinoco Saltator is another good looking bird to find here, standing out, as it does, from the general saltator group that tend to be relatively greenish, greyish and nondescript birds,
Our forest birding over, after lunch, we will spend the afternoon driving to Villavicencio.
Lodging: Hotel Hampton by Hilton
There will be lots of good birding to be had on our way to the Perija Reserve. The Sierra de Perijá is an isolated offshoot of the Eastern Andes and forms the border with Venezuela. It is one of the least explored areas of Colombia. Much of the country suffered from internal strife that lingered for decades and Perijá was a final stronghold.
Since 2009 the area has thankfully been clear of any political problems, and birders are now venturing to this amazing range of endemic-rich mountains. A new birding lodge, ProAves’s Chamizero del Perijá Reserve, started to receive tourists from May 2015. It is a small, comfortable lodge surrounded by amazing montane forest.
Currently, the Sierra de Perijá is considered to have four endemic species, the Perijá Metaltail, Perijá Thistletail, Perijá Sierrafinch and the newly described Perijá Tapaculo. Yet, this is where things get interesting!
This area was out of reach to birders and scientists for decades. Now, even a cursory visit to the area has revealed that many of what were thought of as common species, such as the Rufous Spinetail and the local Rufous Spinetail version of breasted Brushfinch, are in fact endemic species!
And those are just the common ones, many new discoveries await as birders and biologists increase their visits to Perijá. There is a spinetail there that could be a new species, but so little is known of it a decision on its exact status has not yet been reached.
This area may never rival birding in Santa Marta in the number of endemics it offers, but it will come close once taxonomy has been updated for these birds.
This is a unique area, still being discovered, gorgeous to look at and wonderful to be in. The morning views across the valley to the Sierra Nevada are breathtaking.
Other birds to be found here include Crested and Golden-headed Quetzal, Barred Fruiteater, Andean Condor, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Plushcap, and Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager.
A unique looking form of Lachrymose Mountain-Tanager is common in the higher areas, as well as another unique endemic that may one day be a full species - the local form of the Golden-bellied Starfrontlet.
Hook-billed Kites are relatively easy to see and, with luck, White-rumped Hawk or even Black-and-chestnut Eagle may fly through.
The road that reaches the Perija reserve continues into páramo habitats, where Rufous-breasted Chattyrants abound and Páramo Seedeater may be found, as well as many Tyrian Metaltail and a few of the stunningly purple-tailed, endemic Perijá Metaltail.
A full day to continue enjoying the amazing habitats and birds of the Perija Reserve.
Lodging: Perija Reserve Lodge
We will spend the morning birding down the road towards Valledupar to catch an afternoon flight to Bogota.
Lodging: Hotel Habitel
|Santa Marta Screech-Owl|
|Santa Marte Blossomcrown|
|Santa Marta Woodstar|
|Santa Marta Parakeet|
|Santa Marta Antbird|
|Santa Marta Antpitta|
|Santa Marta Tapaculo|
|Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner|
|Santa Marta Wren|
|Santa Marta Warbler|
|Sierra Nevada Brush-Finch|
|Santa Marta Brush-Finch|
What is included?
- Internal Airfare (Valledupar- Bogota)
- Bottled Water Throughout the Trip
- Snacks Throughout the Trip
- Meals From Breakfast on Day 2 to Breakfast on Day 12
- All Lodging (Double Occupancy)
- Entrances to Parks and Reserves
- Bilingual Regional Guide and Local Guides at Many Sites
- Internal Terrestrial Transport From Airport Pickup to Airport Drop-off
What is not included?
- Alcoholic Beverages
- Airfare to Colombia
We stand out from the rest because, as locals, we can provide a 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 thrive to support the local communities we visit. We are an efficient and reliable company, offering the highest level detail and service
This tour features two Conservation Alliance (Proaves) lodges in remote areas, the world-class El Lodge and the more basic Perija Lodge. Hotels in cities range between three and four stars and you will spend two nights at Ecohabs Los Naranjos lodge on a beach-front property with access to one of the most beautiful beaches in Colombia. One night will be spent at Hotel Minca, which is basic but caters to birders and has some very nice feeders. The lowland portion of the tour will be done in either a 7 pax Hyundai van or a 17 pax Volkswagen or Mercedes van (depending on number of people on tour). Mountainous areas require use of 4x4 vehicles, in which case we use Toyota Land Cruisers or something similar.
This tour includes one internal flight from Valledupar to Bogota, which is your departure city.
We have the lowest group size in the industry with a maximum of 8 birders per group!
Yes, all airport transfers are included.
Yes, your Valledupar to Bogota internal flight is included.
We rarely have to change the tour leader, but sometimes unforeseeable things happen. If we do, we will give you as much notice as we can.
Yes, the single supplement for this tour is $895. We can most definitely cover a third person/family member and can offer a discount for triple occupancy.
Yes, all meals from breakfast on Day 2 to breakfast on Day 12 are included. We also include snacks and bottled water throughout the trip.
November through late March is the best time in terms of weather, with an added bonus of getting North American migrants. However, this tour can be done year-round without a problem.
We expect our travellers to be able to walk 1 – 3 miles daily. This tour takes you birding on lightly travelled roads with support vehicles nearby.
All lodges/hotels have wifi internet availability but it is not as reliable in the more remote lodges. At El Dorado Lodge and Perija, wi-fi is available only in the communal areas.
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.
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).
What happens if I need to change my tour?
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.
Packing List: Please note that this is a general packing list and is not all-inclusive. 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 Quinones. WCS, 2019.