Welcome to a birdwatcher’s paradise!
Colombia, a country renowned for its breathtaking biodiversity, is a haven for avian enthusiasts seeking a unique and enriching birding experience. In this blog post, we embark on a journey through the lush landscapes and diverse ecosystems of Colombia to unveil the Top 19 Unique Birding Destinations in Colombia.
From the misty Andean mountains to the vibrant Amazon rainforest, each location on our list offers a distinctive blend of rare and endemic bird species, providing birdwatchers with an unparalleled opportunity to witness the kaleidoscope of colors and melodies that make Colombian birding truly exceptional.
Join us as we explore the untamed beauty of Colombia’s avian wonders and discover why it has become a must-visit destination for bird lovers around the world.
Birding Destinations in Colombia
This excellent new location for birding in the Central Andes is an important site for the critically endangered endemic Fuertes’ Parrot (or Indigo Winged Parrot) an enigmatic and tricky species to see.
Other top targets at Cortaderal include White-capped Tanager, Mountain Avocet bill, Andean Pygmy-Owl, Golden-breasted & Black-thighed Puffleg, Gray-breasted & Black-billed Mountain Toucan, Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Agile Tit-Tyrant, and Black-chested Mountain-Tanager.
2. Otun Quimbaya
The Otun Quimbaya Flora and Fauna Sanctuary is a classic Colombia birding site and boasts an impressive list of 450+ species, including some rare and range-restricted endemic species. The key target bird is the recently rediscovered Cauca Guan, an endangered endemic species that is relatively easy to spot within the park. Other endemic species which you may spot include Grayish Piculet, Chestnut Wood-Quail, Multicolored Tanager, Crested Ant-Tanager and Stiles’ Tapaculo.
Along a stretch of the Otun River, you may get a glimpse of the charismatic Torrent Ducks, the daredevils of freshwaters rivers in the Colombian Andes. Rare and hard to see one but of the dream species of any Neotropical birder: the almost mythical Hooded Antpitta, which was barely known in Colombian before being discovered at Otun Quimbaya.
Other top species at Otun Quimbaya include the near-endemics Rufous-breasted Flycatcher and Bar-crested Antshrike, as well as Moustached Puffbird, Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Golden-plumed Parakeet, Wattled Guan, Moustached, Chestnut-crowned and Scaled Antpittas, and White-capped Dipper.
Otun Quimbaya is also home to some interesting mammal species as well, with Red Howler Monkeys commonly seen in the trees around the lodge, and the elusive Mountain Tapir observed surprisingly often. This reserve seems to be a place where otherwise rare and elusive species like to show themselves!
3. Montezuma Lodge, Tatamá National Park
Montezuma Lodge, located within the zone of influence of Tatama National Park, has reached legendary status among Colombian and international birders due to its remarkable range of endemic and near-endemic specialty species. The road along which we will be birding has a gradient of 1,100m to almost 2,800m, so you can only imagine the bird diversity: more than 600 species have been recorded here!
Top species to look out for include the near-endemics Velvet-purple Coronet, Brown Inca, White-tailed Hillstar, and Purple-throated Woodstar, as well as a multitude of other species including Empress Brilliant and Violet-tailed Sylph.
4. Laguna de Sonso
Today’s birding couldn’t be much more distinct from the past days in the Central and Western Andes, as we head down into the Cauca River Valley in search of some dry forest and wetland species in the shadow of both ranges of the Andes. Although the lake itself is very picturesque, we will focus our birding time on the trails through the scrubby forest and the wetland borders.
We will depart early from Buga and and arrive just 15 minutes later at the entrance to the Lagoon. Our principal targets in the dry forest will be the two endemic species for which Sonso is well-known: Grayish Piculet and Apical Flycatcher, both of which should prove easy enough to track down. Within the forest we will also search for Dwarf Cuckoo, Jet Antbird, Gray-headed Dove, Ruby Topaz Hummingbird, Great Antshrike, and Dusky Antbird.
In the wetlands our primary targets will be Horned Screamer, Least and Pinnated Bitterns (both tough to spot but possible), Glossy Ibis, Blackish Rail, Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teal, White-faced, Black-bellied, and Fulvous Whitling-Ducks, and the surprisingly common Snail Kite.
Our local guide should also be able to locate a roosting Common Potoo: these strange nocturnal birds are common around Sonso and there are often two or three roosting individuals to be seen.
6. La Minga Ecolodge
We will depart bright and early from Cali this morning and head into the fringes of the Western Andes to La Minga Ecolodge, a charming little house surrounded by some excellent cloud forest. The bird feeders at La Minga are visited by some spectacular tanagers, barbets, and hummingbirds, and we will enjoy a leisurely morning observing these species at close-range, as well as birding a section of forest above the lodge, which is home to some interesting local specialities.
The star of the show at La Minga is undoubtedly the handsome Multicoloured Tanager, an endemic species that has taken to feeding on bananas just metres from the patio of the main house – you’ll never get a better chance for a photograph of this stunning Colombian species. Other top feeder birds include Red-headed Barbet, Flame-rumped Tanager, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Beryl-spangled Tanager, Black-capped Tanager, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Booted Racket-tail, Purple-throated Woodstar, and Bronzy Inca.
The forests around La Minga are also home to some excellent birds, with over 150 species recorded. Mixed flocks can contain a multitude of woodcreepers, foliage-gleaners, tanagers, and flycatchers, but our principal target will be the spectacular Crested Quetzal, with its bright-red eye and neon-green plumage. There aren’t many better places in Colombia to spot this Quetzal, so with any luck we will be able to tick it off our list at La Minga.
7. Chingaza National Park and Observatorio de Colibries
We will depart the capital first thing this morning for the roughly 90-minute transfer to Chingaza National Park to the east of the city. We will primarily be birding in the surreal paramo moorlands and high-Andean and Elfin Forest between 2,600m and 3,600m, which shelter some of the region’s most range-restricted and interesting endemic species. Our exact itinerary for the day will be slightly dependent on weather conditions in the paramo, which can often be misty and overcast.
Our principal target in the paramo will be the endangered and endemic Green-bearded Helmetcrest hummingbird, a delightful little hummer of high-altitude moorlands in the Eastern Andes. This species especially favours the flowers of Espeletia plants found in the paramo, so we will concentrate our search in areas where these unique plants predominate.
While looking for the helmetcrest we can expect to encounter species such as Andean Teal, Bronze-tailed Thornbill (another top target for the day), Andean Guan, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Tawny Antpitta, White-chinned Thistletail, Red-crested Cotinga, Sedge Wren, Many-striped Canastero, Purple-backed Thornbill, Paramo Seedeater, and perhaps the rare Andean Condor.
On the winding trails through the high-Andean forest we will have a whole other set of interesting targets. We will mainly be hoping for endemic species like Brown-breasted Parakeet (much prettier than its name suggests!) and Silvery-throated Spinetail, as well as the near-endemic Rufous-browed Conebill, and interesting local specialties such as Matorral Tapaculo, Rufous Antpitta, Golden-fronted Whitestart, Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, Plushcap, and Black-headed Hemispingus.
We will depart from Chingaza in the mid-afternoon, and make a stop at the Hummingbird Observatory in La Calera on the road back to Bogota. This lovely country house has hummingbird feeders that attract a wonderful mix of high-altitude hummingbird species, many of which would be tricky to find otherwise.
With luck we will be able to observe and photograph hummers like the near-endemic Coppery-bellied Puffleg and Blue-throated Starfrontlet, as well as Glowing Puffleg, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Great Sapphirewing, and Black-tailed and Green-tailed Trainbearers.
After a couple of hours enjoying the hummingbirds, it’s back to Bogota for dinner and some rest in your lovely boutique hotel.
8. Sumapaz National Park and Chicaque Park
After another early departure to beat the Bogota traffic, we will arrive at the huge paramo National Park of Sumapaz (the largest paramo in the world), where we will spend the morning in search of some important Bogota endemics. The Green-bearded Helmetcrest is also possible in Sumapaz, but our main goal will be to spot the rare and endemic Apolinar’s Wren and Bogota Rail. Other interesting species that we should observe include Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Tawny Antpitta, Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant, Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, Plain-capped Ground-Tyrant, and Andean Ruddy Duck.
After a morning’s birding in Sumapaz we will transfer to the nearby Natural Park of Chicaque, set in a protected cloud forest on the southern fringes of Bogota between 1,600 and 2,600 m.a.s.l. After a short stop at the hummingbird feeders by the entrance – where we should be able to tick of the near-endemic Golden-bellied Starfrontlet – we will take a truck down into the lower reaches of the reserve in search of the star of Chicaque: the endemic Black Inca hummingbird.
The bird regularly visits flowering bushes alongside the reserve lodge, which is also home to a fabulous terrace with canopy views where we can observe a multitude of tanagers, including the breathtaking Flame-faced Tanager. After some time birding the trails around the lodge, where hopefully we will be able to spot the near-endemic Moustached Brush-Finch (along with excellent cloud forest species like Green-and-black Fruiteater, Andean Solitaire, Rufous-breasted Flycatcher, Grass-green Tanager, and Pale-naped Brush-Finch, among many others), we will head back to the van and return to Bogota for dinner and our last night in the capital.
9. Laguna El Tabacal and Jardin Encantado
We will wave goodbye to Bogota and the Eastern Andes after an early breakfast, and head down into the Magdalena Valley for the second stage of our tour. Our first stopover will be at The Enchanted Garden Hummingbird Observatory in San Francisco.
This little garden has over 50 hummingbird feeders and attracts a multitude of interesting hummers. The endemic Indigo-capped Hummingbird will be our first Magdalena Valley tick, as it is locally common at the observatory. Other top species include the Gorgeted and White-bellied Woodstars, the near-endemic Red-billed Emerald, Black-throated Mango, and White-necked Jacobin. The spectacular Ruby Topaz is also a possibility.
We will then depart for the nearby Tabacal Lagoon, a small lake near the town of La Vega with some interesting sub-tropical forest habitat. The shy and retiring Rosy Thrush-Tanager can be heard singing all along the trails, and with some patience we will hopefully be able to observe one of these wonderful birds.
Other possible sightings along the forest trails include Little Cuckoo, the near-endemic Short-tailed Emerald hummingbird, Black-crested Antshrike, Bar-crested Antshrike, Uniform Antshrike, Plain Antvireo, White-throated Spadebill, White-bearded Manakin, and Speckle-breasted Wren. Around the lake we may be lucky enough to observe White-throated Crake, Osprey, Pied-billed Grebe, and Ringed Kingfisher.
We will transfer to the beautiful colonial town of Honda in the late-afternoon, where we will spend the night in a lovingly-restored colonial mansion in the heart of the historic centre.
10. Victoria and Bellavista Forest
The Magdalena Valley endemic hunt truly begins today as we depart Honda early and travel 45 minutes west to the pretty little town of Victoria. From Victoria we will continue another 20 minutes to Bellavista Forest, where we will spend the morning birding in search of some of our main Magdalena Valley targets.
The endemic specialities White-mantled Barbet, Sooty Ant-Tanager, Velvet-fronted Euphonia, and Beautiful Woodpecker are all regularly spotted here, and Magdalena Antbird is also a possibility. Well over 300 species have been recorded on the reserve trails, so we should be able to rack up a nice total over the course of the morning.
We will also keep our eyes peeled for the endangered and endemic White-footed Tamarin monkey, groups of which can often be spotted moving through the lower canopy.
After a full morning of birding in Bellavista Forest, we will transfer to Rio Claro Reserve, stopping along the way for lunch.
11. Rio Claro Reserve
We will spend a full day today birding along the jungle trails winding along the spectacular marble canyon of Rio Claro Reserve. This small fragment of Middle Magdalena Valley jungle is part of only a small remaining pocket of these once widespread forests, and supports some truly unique endemic species, trapped in isolation by the mighty Central and Eastern Andes.
In the early morning we will bird primarily along the Mulata Creek Trail, where our principal targets will be the locally-common Magdalena Antbird, the tricky Antioquia Bristle-Tyrant (Rio Claro is the best site for this tough endemic), Sooty Ant-Tanager, and Beautiful Woodpecker.
Aside from these top targets, we will be able to observe a host of interesting and rare species including Dusky-faced Tanager, Bare-crowned Antbird, Blue Cotinga (rare), Saffron-crowned Parrot (very rare), Rufous and Broad-billed Motmots, Pied, Barred, and White-whiskered Puffbirds, Purple-crowned Fairy, Tawny-crested Tanager, Pacific Antwren, Black-faced Dacnis, and Blue-crowned Manakin.
After lunch at the Rio Claro Lodge, we will head further up into the canyon towards the Condor Cave. While birding along the riverside trail we will hopefully encounter Bare-throated Tiger-Heron and Citron-throated Toucan in the canopy. At dusk a colony of Oilbirds floods out of the cave mouth for a night of feeding, so we will be in position to enjoy this spectacle, before returning to the lodge for dinner.
Early this morning there will be time to bird the Godoy Trail, where a host of interesting species can be seen, including Barred Puffbird, Gray-cheeked Nunlet, Rufous Piha, Black-bellied Wren, Southern Bentbill, and Chestnut-backed Antbird. After a morning of birding we will travel to Medellin for our flight back to Bogota, where the tour ends.
12. Hato La Aurora
Hato La Aurora is one of the most important natural reserves in the vast Eastern Plains of the Colombian llanos. A visit to this magical reserve is a wonderful opportunity not only to get to know the diverse birdlife and wildlife of the plains, but also a chance to experience a unique way of life in a truly off-the-beaten-track corner of Colombia.
We will take an early morning flight from Bogota to Yopal, the capital city of Casanare department, where we will be met by our private vehicle for the transfer to Hato La Aurora. The drive is a long one, but we will take the chance to stop along the route for some birding: once we turn off the main highway we will be driving through the heart of the plains, and will likely pass plenty of wetland areas sheltering herons, ibis, ducks, and egrets. And, of course, there are always raptors perched on telephone poles and treetops, scanning the wide-open spaces for prey.
We will arrive at Juan Solito Ecolodge on the banks of the Ariporo River around lunchtime. After checking in we will enjoy a hearty traditional llanos lunch overlooking the river, before heading out on a walk around the gallery forest bordering the lodge for some afternoon birding. Species often seen on the trails around the reserve include the near-endemic Llanos specialities Pale-headed Jacamar and White-bearded Flycatcher, as well as Horned Screamer, Sunbittern, and a variety of parrots, raptors, antbirds, and waterbirds.
A pair of Great-horned Owls live in the palm trees alongside the lodge, so we will have a look for them too. Large herds of Capybaras laze around on the lodge lawn, and there are always White-tailed Deer and Howler Monkeys to be seen as well.
In the evening we will enjoy some live traditional Colombian cowboy music and a welcome talk from one of the reserve’s owners.
Over the next three days we will explore the incredible variety and biodiversity of Hato La Aurora. We will bird at dawn in the gallery forest, where we will hope to encounter interesting plains species such as the enigmatic Crestless Curassow, the sparkly little Wire-tailed Manakin, Cinnamon Attila, as well as Little, Cinereous, and Grey-legged Tinamou.
During the day we will take jeeps out onto the plains, spending time visiting the wetlands and lakes dotted throughout the reserve. Aquatic species we are likely to spot include Orinoco Goose, Jabiru, Maguiri Stork, Scarlet, White, Green, Glossy, Buff-necked, Bare-faced and Sharp-tailed Ibis, Pied Lapwing, White-faced and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Azure Gallinule, Roseate Spoonbill, Brazilian Teal, and Capped, Yellow-crowned, Black-crowned, Striated, Cattle, Whistling, Cocoi and Little Blue Herons.
On the plains themselves we will spend time observing the cute little Burrowing Owls, as well as species like Double-striped Thick-Knee, King Vulture, Savannah Hawk, Nacunda Nighthawk, South American Snipe, Aplomado Falcon, and many more. The birds here are remarkably relaxed around humans and it’s possible to get extremely close to many species and capture some great photographs.
Naturally, being out on the plains for all this time, we will also encounter some other amazing wildlife. The ubiquitous capybaras are everywhere, and we will also certainly encounter caiman, white-tailed deer, and even wild pigs. Other species which we stand a good chance of observing are Giant Anteater, Anaconda, Southern Tamandua, and Gray Fox. If we’re extremely lucky we may even come across a wild Puma!
There will also be some trips down the Ariporo River on small boats, where we will explore narrow side creeks and have the chance to spot many species of kingfisher, heron, and other aquatic birds, including the rare and elusive Agami Heron, Sunbittern, Hoatzin, and Muscovy Duck. We may even come across a group of noisy Giant Otters sunning themselves on the river bank.
On our final morning at Hato La Aurora, we will have time for one last walk around the forests alongside Juan Solito Lodge before packing up and heading back on the road to Yopal, where we will spend one night at a comfortable city hotel before flying back to Bogota the following morning.
13. Serrania del Perija
The Perija Mountains, straddling the Colombia-Venezuela border, are Colombia’s newest birding hotspot, home to wealth of rare endemic species and many other subspecies which are likely to be split in the future.
Although the birding in Perija is excellent, the region remains relatively unexplored adding to the sense of the adventure and ornithological possibility. Perija was practically off-limits for years due to the Colombian conflict, but it is now safe to visit and a comfortable ProAves birding lodge – the Chamicero del Perijá Reserve, where we will be staying – has been receiving visitors since 2015.
We will start birding the scrubby forest at dawn in search of our principal targets, which include Vermillion Cardinal, Chestnut Piculet, White-whiskered Spinetail, Slender-billed Tyrannulet, Glaucous Tanager, Tocuyo Sparrow, Buffy Hummingbird, Orinocan Saltator, Bare-eyed Pigeon, Red-billed Emerald, Russet-throated Puffbird, Caribbean Hornero, Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, Venezuelan Flycatcher, and Blue-crowned Parakeet, among a number of other interesting regional endemics and range-restricted specialities.
We will arrive from Valledupar to the reserve in the afternoon, and spend some time birding the montane forest around the reserve.
14. Los Flamencos Flora & Fauna Sanctuary
The Los Flamencos Flora & Fauna Sanctuary protects an important population of American Flamingos, but there’s so much more to this wonderful Caribbean birding site than just those surreal pink birds – our main focus during this section of the trip will be to observe a variety of Guajira near-endemics in the excellent dry forest and desert habitat surrounding the lagoons.
In the afternoon, we will bird along the fringes of the coastal brackish lagoons, and add interesting species such as Scarlet Ibis, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Reddish Egret, Black Skimmer, Wood Stork, and a mix of shorebirds and waders to our trip list. In the migration season it is always possible that an interesting record for Colombia will show up on these lagoons, so we will be careful to double-check every gull, tern, and wader for interesting records.
We will then head out onto the lagoon on a traditional local boat, using only the power of the wind so as not to disturb the birds, in order to observe the flamingos at close quarters.
15. Tayrona National Park
Although more well-known for its picture-postcard Caribbean beaches than its birding, Tayrona National Park is home to some wonderfully preserved dry scrub and humid forest habitats and actually boasts an impressive bird list of around 280 species, including some real treats!
We will spend a full morning birding the forest trails in Tayrona, with our principal target being the critically endangered and endemic Blue-billed Curassow. This stunning bird is extremely rare and shy and our chances of spotting one are relatively slim, but we will certainly try, as this species would represent perhaps the best lifer of the entire Northern Colombia Birding Trail!
Our other top target is a tad simpler: the delightful Lance-tailed Manakin, a handsome little black manakin with an electric-blue black and smart red cap which, although tricky elsewhere, is abundant in Tayrona. Other species we will be on the lookout for include White-bearded Manakin, White-necked Puffbird, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, White-chinned Sapphire, Keel-billed Toucan, Grey-headed Tanager, Lineated Woodpecker, Buff-breasted and Bicolored Wrens, Barred Antshrike, and White-bellied Antbird.
And there are more than birds to be spotted during a morning excursion in Tayrona: we will also keep our eyes peeled for the rare and endemic Cotton-top Tamarin, as well as other primates like Red Howler Monkey and White-fronted Capuchin. The park also holds an interesting mix of reptiles and amphibians including species of caiman, iguana, Basilisk lizard and even poison dart frogs.
16. Minca and surroundings
The little village of Minca is located in the northern foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta at around 1970 ft (600m) above sea level, and is surrounded by an interesting mix of coffee plantations, dry forest, and montane and premontane forest. We will begin our day birding around Minca and bird our way up the mountain road to our final destination of El Dorado Reserve.
Possible species in and around Minca include the near-endemic Golden-winged Sparrow, Military Macaw, Royal Flycatcher, Swallow Tanager, Keel-billed Toucan, Rosy-thrush Tanager, and many more species of hummingbird, trogon, flycatcher and tanager, as well as a wealth of migratory species between October and April.
After a morning of birding around Minca we will continue up the mountain, stopping along the way to bird interesting sections of forest, before arriving at El Dorado Lodge, our base for the next few nights. If we have time upon arrival, we will be able to observe some speciality birds at the El Dorado feeders, including hummingbirds such as White-tailed Starfrontlet and Santa Marta Woodstar.
Black-fronted Wood Quails also often visit the feeders in the late afternoon, while the endemic Santa Marta Brush-Finch is common in the gardens.
Once night falls, assuming we still have the energy, we will go owling in search of one of Colombia’s newest species, the endemic Santa Marta Screech-Owl, which is often seen in the lodge gardens.
17. El Dorado
On our final day in the majestic Santa Marta Mountains our itinerary will be based on our success the day before – should we still have targets from the San Lorenzo Ridge, we will depart early and bird those higher slopes again.
If yesterday was a success, then we will focus our birding on the lower altitude trails closer to the reserve. Our top targets today – some of which will also have been possible yesterday – are White-tipped Quetzal, Santa Marta Tapaculo, Santa Marta Wood-Wren, Santa Marta Antpitta, Emerald Toucanet (Santa Marta subspecies and likely future split), and Golden-breasted Fruiteater.
In the later-afternoon we will head back down the slopes of the Sierra Nevada to the coastal city of Santa Marta, where we will spend the night.
18. San Lorenzo Ridge
Today is all about Santa Marta endemics as we head up to the higher western slopes of the mountains to the San Lorenzo Ridge, one of Colombia’s top birding sites for rare and endemic species. Our departure will be before dawn and we’ll have breakfast in the field to maximise our time searching for these unique species.
Most of the Santa Marta endemics are found at higher altitudes, so today will be our best chance to add the bulk of these species to our trip list. Our main targets today will be Santa Marta Parakeet, Rusty-headed Spinetail, Santa Marta Antpitta, Brown-rumped Tapaculo, Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant, Santa Marta Mountain Tanager, Yellow-crowned Whitestart, Sierra Nevada Brush-Finch, Santa Marta Foliage-Gleaner and Santa Marta Warbler.
Other trickier species such as Black-backed Thornbill (which ranges seasonally from much higher altitudes down to the lower slopes) and Santa Marta Blossomcrown are also possible, but much less likely. With any luck we will be able to spot at least 10 of the region’s endemic species today.
In the afternoon we will return to El Dorado to search for raptors and spend some time observing the feeders before dinner. We can also try again for the Screech Owl this evening.
19. Isla Salamanca
On our final morning we will depart early from Santa Marta to travel to Barranquilla for our afternoon flights. However, the birding isn’t quite finished yet, as we will stop along the way at Isla Salamanca National Park, a protected area of dry forest, mangroves, and swamps surrounding the coastal highway connecting the two cities.
We will spend the morning birding the boardwalks through the park, where our top targets will include the endemic Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird, as well as the similar Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Bicolored Conebill, Russet-throated Puffbird, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Bronzed Cowbird (a potential split according to several authorities), and Northern Screamer.
After a morning of birding at Isla Salamanca we will continue on to Barranquilla for our flights to Bogota, from where you will board your connecting flight home. Unless, of course, you’re not done birding and wish to combine your Northern Colombia Birding Trail adventure with one of our Andean endemic tours.
~ From the Travel Journal of Chris Bell