- Depart London on an overnight scheduled flight, arriving in Bogota the following morning.
- On arrival at Bogota in the early morning, we meet our local tour leader/guide and drive to nearby Parque La Florida, whose wetland makes a convenient introduction to birding in Colombia and is representative of the habitat on Bogota’s largely flat, high-altitude, tropical savannah. Here we hope to see three Colombian endemics: Bogota rail, Apolinar’s wren and silvery-throated spinetail.
- We head back to the airport for a short onward flight to Pereira in the central Andes, where our hotel is a lovely colonial-style hacienda set in stunning gardens. Birding here can produce grayish piculet, apical flycatcher and Colombian chacalaca – all Colombian endemics. The stunning vermilion flycatcher is also common here, as is the striking bar-crested antshrike.
- Later we gather for a welcome dinner and an opportunity to discuss the forthcoming trip.
- Accommodation: Hacienda San Jose, Pereira, 1-night on full board basis.
- This morning we head to nearby Otun Quimbaya Reserve, where our targets include the hard-to-see endemic chestnut wood-quail and endemic Cauca guan – which was presumed extinct until its rediscovery in 1994 - and the striking red-ruffed fruitcrow. At one particular location, we have an excellent chance of seeing the stunning multicoloured tanager, as well as crested ant-tanager – both Colombian endemics.
- This is the perfect place to locate roaming mixed-species flocks made up of metallic-green, golden-naped and saffron-crowned tanagers, as well as a selection of flycatchers and allies, foliage-gleaners and woodcreepers. Early morning also offers chances of mammal sightings, including red howler monkey, Hoffmann's two-toed sloth and even the elusive mountain tapir.
- After a productive morning we have lunch at the ranger station, whose gardens attract a range of hummingbirds and so provide excellent photographic opportunities. We then stop at a bridge that spans the Otun River and scan for three sought-after water birds: torrent duck, white-capped dipper and torrent tyrannulet, before continuing to the mountain settlement of Manizales.
- Accommodation: Hotel Lindsay, Manizales, 3 nights on full board basis.
- Rio Blanco Reserve, which protects pristine cloud forest, has a reputation as one of Colombia’s top birding sites, thanks to species that include masked saltator, white-capped tanager, mountain cacique, powerful woodpecker, golden-plumed parakeet, rusty-faced parrot, chestnut wood-quail, ocellated tapaculo, plushcap, red-hooded tanager, buff-breasted mountain-tanager and black-billed mountain-toucan. However, it is the opportunity to see a variety of antpittas that makes this a must-visit location - a single morning’s birding can result in no fewer than five species of this skulking group.
- We lunch at the reserve’s small guesthouse, where hummingbird feeders provide opportunities to photograph long-tailed sylph, tourmaline sunangel, Andean emerald and sparkling violetear, all of which are regular visitors. This keeps us busy in the early afternoon, when the forest is quiet. We stay on until after nightfall to try for nocturnal species that include various nightjars and owls.
- After an early start, we head into the mountains east of Manizales, stopping in cloud forest to try and locate a feeding flock of rare and endangered rufous-fronted parakeets – an unpredictable and often skittish Colombian endemic. Higher up we enter beautiful páramo, which harbours a number of sought-after species. Top of our list is the buffy helmetcrest – a páramo specialist that feeds repetitively on the same flowers, so we can lie in wait and get close-up views of this jaw-dropping, emblematic bird.
- All the while we keep a lookout for birds that might include many-striped canastero, Andean tit-spinetail, sedge wren, brown-backed chat-tyrant and tawny antpitta.
- We lunch at a nearby hotel, which has hot springs and hummingbird feeders that attract, amongst others, shining sunbeam, rainbow-bearded thornbill and sword-billed hummingbirds.
- Our route back to Manizales gives an opportunity to search for more special birds such as golden-headed quetzal, plushcap, Andean motmot and both scarlet-bellied and black-chested mountain-tanagers.
- Depending on how lucky we were at Rio Blanco, we may revisit the reserve for a few hours, otherwise we make our way north to the quaint colonial town of Jardin, stopping to bird on the way.
- There will be time to wander the beautiful central square, before we head to a lekking site for Andean cock-of-the-rock just outside town. It’s scarcely credible that this lek could be so close to human habitation, but it doesn’t seem to put off the males who often approach to within a metre or two!
- Accommodation: Guesthouse in Jardin, 1-night on full board basis.
- The morning we search for the endangered yellow-eared parrot, whose range once covered northern Ecuador and much of Colombia’s Andean ranges, but is now only known from a few isolated populations in Colombia. Thanks to conservation efforts, the population is now stable and slowly recovering. We hope to see these special birds this morning, before they leave their roost and disperse in noisy feeding parties to inaccessible forested valleys.
- Continuing along a little-travelled dirt road by 4x4 vehicle, we search for other specials including the near-endemic tanager finch, spectacular black-billed mountain toucan and noisy bands of black-collared jays. The humid montane forests also support a small population of striking chestnut-crested cotinga.
- We enjoy a mid-morning break at a small private garden with feeders that attract various hummingbirds including the incomparable sword-billed hummingbird, as well as tourmaline sunangel and Andean emerald. This is also a good spot for a yellow-eared parrot flyover, and if it is clear we might enjoy views of raptors as they soar over the forests.
- Moving on, we continue to Las Tangaras Reserve, nestled high in the western Andes. This afternoon we can bird near our lodge and at the hummingbird and fruit feeders. Crimson-rumped toucanets are regular visitors at the fruit feeders, while several species of tanagers put in frequent appearances including flame-rumped, silver-throated and metallic-green.
- Accommodation: Las Tangaras Lodge, Las Tangaras Reserve, 3-nights on full board basis.
- The Pacific slope of Colombia’s western Andes, known as the Choco, is among the most biologically diverse habitats in the world, and we have two full days to explore this treasure trove of birds, orchids and perhaps even a mammal or two!
- Two star species here are near-mythical Colombian endemics: black-and-gold tanager and gold-ringed tanager. Other highlights might include Choco specialities such as black solitaire, Choco trogon, toucan barbet, black-chinned mountain tanager, yellow-collared cholorophonia, bicoloured antvireo and indigo flowerpiercer. Indeed, Las Tangaras is so productive and holds so many species found only in the Choco, that this may well prove the top birding location for the trip!
- We make the most of the clear mornings and, if the skies are clear, we might be lucky to see a flyby from raptors such as the beautifully marked ornate hawk-eagle or an impressive black-and-chestnut eagle. We can expect a dazzling list of tanagers that might include purplish-mantled, silver-throated, rufous-throated, glistening green and flame-faced! Woodpeckers, too, are well represented, with regional specialities including yellow-vented, crimson-mantled and powerful.
- This morning we have a final opportunity to try for any species that might have eluded us until now. After breakfast we make the relatively long drive to Medellin, from where we fly to the Caribbean coastal city of Santa Marta and transfer a short distance to the small settlement of Minca. This little village is popular with visitors thanks to the cool mountain streams, waterfalls and friendly atmosphere.
- We should arrive in time to enjoy some gentle birding around our lodge, including the hummingbird feeders that are set up on the balcony and attract rufous-breasted hermit, steely-vented and rufous-tailed hummingbirds, black-throated mango, white-necked jacobin and white-vented plumeleteer.
- Accommodation: Hotel Minca La Casona, Minca, 1-night on full board basis.
- This morning we enjoy birding in productive sites around Minca, as well as around the lodge. Target species include golden-winged sparrow, rosy-thrush tanager, coppery emerald, northern royal flycatcher, black-crowned antshrike and keel-billed toucan, among many others.
- Later on we make our way by 4x4 vehicle to the famous El Dorado Lodge, which perches high on the San Lorenzo ridge of the Sierra de Santa Marta - a truly spectacular location and a fitting final stop on this epic birding tour!
- Accommodation: El Dorado Lodge, El Dorado Reserve, 3-nights on full board basis.
- We enjoy two full days on the San Lorenzo ridge of the Sierra de Santa Marta – surely one of the world’s top birding locations!
- The Sierra de Santa Marta harbours some 20 Colombian endemics – the highest concentration of any location in the country! Of these, it is perfectly feasible to view 15-18 during a three-night stay! We can encounter some – such as Santa Marta brush-finch, yellow-crowned whitestart, Santa Marta mountain-tanager and rusty-headed spinetail – with relative ease. Others require greater effort, and it is these more furtive and tricky species that are our main focus. These include Santa Marta sabrewing, Santa Marta parakeet, Santa Marta antpitta, Santa Marta foliage-gleaner and black-backed thornbill.
- However endemics make up only part of the birding picture here, since there are many more excellent birds such as black-chested jay, band-tailed guan, white-tipped qquetzal, golden-breasted fruiteater, coppery emerald, rosy-thrush tanager, red-billed parrot, rusty-breasted antpitta, lined quail dove, black-fronted wood-quail, white-rumped hawk and grey-throated leaftosser.
- There will be time this morning for some final birding in search of any species which might have eluded us, before we retrace our route back down to Minca.
- Later we return to Santa Marta to catch a flight back to Bogota, where we are greeted and transferred to a comfortable city hotel.
- Accommodation: Emaus Hotel, Bogota, 1-nights on full board basis.
- On our final day we enjoy a full day excursion to the spectacular high-altitude Chingaza National Park, a short distance east of the bustling capital. This is a beautiful site, which protects paramo, sub-paramo and elfin forest habitats, and harbours a number of country endemic and near endemic bird species.
- We also try a little-known patch of cloud forest for the elusive brown-breasted (flame-winged) parakeet – another Colombian endemic. The reserve is also home to spectacled bear, puma and margay, although considerable luck is required to see any of these secretive creatures. Chingaza is all about quality over quantity, but birding in such stunning Andean scenery is a treat – especially when the weather behaves itself.
- We return to our hotel in Bogota with time to freshen up before transferring to the international airport for our flight back to the UK.
Day 16 Arrive UK
All prices are per person and include:
- Services of the naturalist leader
- All meals
- Guided activities
We stay in the best accommodation available at each location, starting with a lovely hacienda in Pereira, followed by a luxurious hotel with a swimming pool and spa in the mountain settlement of Manizales – the perfect base to explore the pristine cloud forest and high Andean páramo. In the small colonial town of Jardin we stay at a cosy family-run guesthouse.
Our lodge at Las Tangaras Reserve is simple but beautifully appointed, and allows access to some of Colombia’s most exciting birding. El Dorado Lodge, which hosts our stay near Santa Marta, is one of the finest and most scenic birding lodges in the Americas.
All meals are included.
Breakfasts and dinners are usually taken in the hotel. Lunches may be a mix of picnics and simple sit-down meals at typical country restaurants.
Colombia has more bird species than any other country in the world – currently 1,920 and still counting! Of these, around 90 species are endemic. It goes without saying that we won’t see all of them, but there are so many birds on this trip, that it really all depends on whether your interest lies in showy colourful species or tricky skulkers. And not only do we encounter Colombia's endemic birds, but we also see iconic South American birds such as Andean cock-of-the-rock, torrent duck, sword-billed hummingbird and possibly Andean condor. There is certainly enough to keep everyone happy!
- Buffy helmetcrest
- Black and gold Tanager
- Sword-billed hummingbird
- Andean cock of the rock
Although the focus of our tour is almost exclusively on birdlife, we are still likely to see a few species of squirrel, plus the Central American agouti. Common opossum may be seen on the fruit feeders at the lodges after dark, and spotlights in Las Tangaras and El Dorado might reveal kinkajou, olinguito (a member of the racoon family that was described only as recently as 2013), South American coati and eastern cottontail.
Tayra is always a possibility, and there is an outside chance of spectacled bear, mountain tapir, or a cat (ocelot, margay or oncilla) – although you would have to be very lucky indeed!
- Red-tailed squirrel
- Andean squirrel
- Western dwarf squirrel
- Central American agouti
In addition to its remarkable birdlife and other wildlife, Colombia is a country of spectacular mountain scenery - from high altitude páramo to most-festooned cloud forest, with many attractive colonial towns – so there is no shortage of subject matter for photographers.
Photographic opportunities on this trip are excellent, with exceptionally rich avifauna and diverse mountain scenery. Macro photographers will appreciate the variety of insect and plant life.
Some forest trails can be steep in parts, but we take these slowly. Although we reach over 3,000 metres, we shall not be walking much at higher altitude.
Price includes return scheduled flights London-Bogota-London, plus domestic flights Bogota-Pereira, Medellin-Santa Marta, and Santa Marta-Bogota.
Ground transport is by small bus or 4x4 vehicles, with driver.
On this tour we will exceed 2,500 metres above sea level in a number of locations such as Bogota, Las Tangaras and Sierra de Santa Marta.
It is generally hot and humid on the coast and in the north, with a rainy season that lasts from May until November (although rainfall is possible at almost any time). Due to Colombia's proximity to the equator, the temperature varies little throughout the year, however it does vary with altitude and at higher elevations it can feel surprisingly cool. Bogota, in the centre of the county at an altitude of 2,640 metres has a pleasant spring-like climate.