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Top Colombia

Birdwatching In Colombia


A trip to Colombia should be at the top of every devoted birdwatcher’s list. It is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, especially where birds are concerned. Colombia is home to more than 1,800 species of birds, about 150 of which are considered rare or endangered. Roughly an additional 1,000 species more also come through on their annual migration path. A quarter of the 800 bird species of Colombia’s Chocó department are unique to that area.


In recent years Colombian tourist infrastructure has improved significantly, and generally you will face little risk at the reserves (although don’t expect any luxury accommodations). Nevertheless, don’t think you can just go wandering around by yourself–there have been a few instances of birdwatchers getting kidnapped. Do make sure to inquire about possible risks before entering an area, and stay abreast of safety developments. Many of the national parks require visitors to first obtain a permit from local authorities before entering. Here are a few of Colombia’s birding highlights by region:


Around Cali

El 18

This forest habitat, with its many varieties of tanager, is a good place to get your feet wet. The Multicolored Tanager is the most sought after, but you are also likely to see Beryl-spangled, Saffron-crowned, Golden, Blue-capped, Golden-naped, Metallic-green, Scrub, Fawn-breasted, Purplish-mantled and Blue-necked Tanagers, as well as several species of woodpecker and hummingbird. There are around 140 different species in total, although in one visit you’ll probably only see about half of that. Unfortunately, deforestation is beginning to affect the region. The habitat is 18 kilometers (11 mi) from Cali, heading down the Buenaventura road, to the village of Dapa. It is an unmarked area of forest, so it is better to hire a guide or at least ask a cab driver who knows the area rather than attempting to go it alone.

Bosque Yotoco

Located in the Western Cordillera, this reserve is especially notable for having Cauca Guan, Turquoise Dacnis Tanager and Multicolored Tanager. You must request permission from the Corporación Autónoma Regional del Valle del Cauca (CVC) in Buga Efrén to be able to visit. Tel: 2-227-8347, Fax: 2-228-6172, URL:

Reserva Natural Laguna de Sonso

There are about 160 species of bird inhabit this wet land area.



Around MedellĂ­n

Yellow-Eared Parrot Reserve

The Yellow-eared Parrot is a critically endangered species now found only in a few small areas in the Colombian Andes. In addition to being a haven for these rare parrots, the 130-hectare (321-ac) Loro Orejiamarillo reserve is also hometo Tawny-breasted Tinamou, Purple-throated Woodstar, Yellow-vented Woodpecker, Spillman’s Tapaculo, Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Black-tipped Cotinga, Sharpe’s Wren, Indigo Flowerpierce, handsome flycatchers and tanager finches. 2.5 hours from Medellín, near Jardín.


Chestnut-capped Piha Reserve

At Arrierito Antioqueno (Chestnut-capped Piha) Bird Reserve, besides the Piha, you may encounter Stile’s Tapaculo, Red-bellied Grackle, Multicolored Tanager, Black-and-gold Tanager, Parker’s Antbird, Black Tinamou, Blue-fronted Parrotlet, Colombian Screech Owl, Red-faced Spinetail, Striped Woodhaunter, Purplish-mantled Tanager, Scarlet and White tanager, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Fulvous-breasted Flatbill and Chestnut-breasted Wren. 4-5 hours from Medellín.



Pacific Coast

RĂ­o Ă‘ambi

This reserve sits between Altaquer and JunĂ­n on the Pasto-Tumaco highway at El Barro. It has around 300 documented species of birds, among which are some of the rarest on earth. Species include the Dark-backed Woodquail, Plumbeous Hawk and Forest Falcon, Pale-eyed Thrush, Rufous Brown Solitaire, Toucan Barbet, Beautiful Jay, Torrent Duck and Fasciated Tiger Heron. You can get to the reserve on any bus coming from Ipiales or Pasto to Tumaco. From the entrance it is a four-kilometer (2.5-mi) walk to the reserve center. Lodging can be arranged on the reserve, and it is best to book in advance. URL:


Pueblo Nuevo

Of all the places listed, this birding area may be the most difficult to access. Also located along the Pasto-Tumaco highway, the little village of Pueblo Nuevo is a six-hour walk through the woods (although you do not necessarily need to walk all the way to the village to see flapping beauties). The best way to get there is to hire a guide nearby at Altaquer or Río Ñambi. Count on only the most basic lodging. Despite its frustrating obscurity, Pueblo Nuevo is worth the trouble for a determined birder. Species in this area include a variety of tanagers (including, if you’re very lucky, the Yellow-green Bush Tanager), woodpeckers, toucans, antbirds, Stripe-billed Araçari, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Purple Honeycreeper, Purple-crowned Fairy, Spot-crowned Antvireo and a great number of Five-colored Barbet.


La Planada

This indigenous-run, 3,200-hectare (7,904-ac) reserve, also off the Pasto-Tumaco road, is one of the most prominent in the country, and protects several species of rare birds, including the White-face Nunbird. The reserve, which forms part of the ChocĂł eco-region, is also home to the Dark-backed Wood Quail, Semicollared Hawk, Black-and-chestnut Eagle, Colombian Screech Owl, Cloud-forest Pygmy Owl, Velvet Purple Coronet, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, Violet-tailed Sylph and Crimson-rumped Toucanet, as well as an assortment of tanagers. Cel: 321-738-9385, E-mail:, URL:



Other Reserves

Parque Nacional Natural Amacayacu

This national park near Leticia is comprised of both swampland and forest. It is made up of different zones, each with its own distinct list of bird species. From the reserve center itself you can see several species of tanager and parrots, as well as others including the Black-fronted Nunbird, Black-crested Antshrike, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Golden-tailed Sapphire and Southern Beardless Tyrannulet. Another fruitful region of the park for birdwatchers is Isla Mocagua. This is a good location for viewing waterfowl, especially Hoatzin, or Stinkbird. You may also see a few varieties of hawk, heron and vulture. To visit Amacayacu, it is mandatory you go with a guide. To get the most out of the park, it is best to go during the wet season.


Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona

This 16,650-heactare (37,000-ac) park outside Santa Marta is home to more than 200 species of birds.


Santa Marta Mountains (Minca Road)

A good place to become familiar with Colombia’s many endemic birds. In a 4x4 vehicle, take the Minca road up to the Parque Nacional Natural Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta ranger station at San Lorenzo, where the is lodging and guides.


Sanctuario de Flora y Fauna Los Flamencos

Made up of two areas—Perico and Camarones— both located near Riohacha in the Guajira. At the reserve reside Rufous-vented Chachalaca as well as a variety of aquatic birds, including the Greater Flamingo.


UcumarĂ­ & Los Nevados

Uumarí, near Pereira, is located in the Zona Cafetera’s Central Cordillera on the edge of Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados. Both parks have incredible amounts of species.


Volcán Chiles

At this inactive volcano on the Colombia-Ecuador border near Ipiales, it is possible to spot the famous Andean Condor.






Granted, some of the best birding locations require a little sense of adventure and an affinity for off-the-beaten-path travel. But there are still amazing birdwatching opportunities for those who prefer to stick to more heavily trafficked areas. Whatever you chose, you will most likely need to make some arrangements in advance or hire a guide.


Birding Tropics

Santa Marta

Cel: 311-402-3799




Cansa Trading


Tel: 1-694-9331




Colombia Birding


Cel: 314-896-3151




Dunanzhe Tours

Santa Marta

Cel: 300-428-4443






Tel: 1-245-5134

E-mail: /



Hansa Tours


Tel: 1-601-5311




Meridian 72°

Cel: 314-331-6351




To discover more about reserves, guides, trip reports, bird lists, maps and more birding information, visit Birding Colombia (


By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

27 Sep 2011

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