Colombia is a very attractive country for birdwatchers. It has the largest number of species in the world with over 1900, in large part owing to the complexity of its diverse geography. We travel to Northern Colombia where the Andes splits into three distinct ranges with valleys lying between. We will visit Caribbean Colombia and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta with its incredible abundance of endemic species. We include Guajira peninsula (driest area of Colombia) with a high number of threatened species, and Tayrona Park a lush rain forest with beautiful white sand beaches. An extension to include Cali and Araucana Lodge complements the trip.
Why book with Tours of Exploration?
- We specialize in customized, personalized tours that can suit your needs, interests, and hobbies. Want an active adventure? We can cater to your preferences. Love photography? We can make sure we slow down and have ample time at each location for photo-taking.
- We choose to work with local partners, not only to guarantee an immersive, culturally and naturally authentic experience; but also to economically support the area's local population. We carefully choose those we work with, to ensure that local wildlife conservation efforts are being valued.
- Book with confidence as deposits are risk-free and refundable.
- We know our products and services from recent visits to the areas.
2023 Departure dates & costs
February 26 - March 6, 2023 - Special group departure with James Kamstra
April 4 - 12, 2024 - Special group with Catherine Evans
Pricing: $ 2,450 USD per person based on twin share at original lodge rooms (12 mins walk to restaurant).
$2,630 per person based on newly upgrade Kogihabs (above or below the restaurant).
Single travelers can be matched or ask for private room: Supplement $ 550 - $ 730 USD
Araucana Lodge pre-tour pricing: $ 1,650 per person based on twin share.
Single travelers can be matched or ask for private room: Supplement $ 375 USD
Tour Cost is from Barranquilla. Domestic flights from Bogata can be added
Includes birding in Salamaca National Park, Tayrona Nature Reserve, Flamingos National Park, Minca & Santa Marta Mountain, El Dorado Nature Reserve.
Itinerary in brief
Day 1: Arrival at Barranquilla (D)
Day 2: Salamanca National Park (Mangroves) (B,L,D)
Day 3: Guajira (Desert) (B,L,D)
Day 4: Flamingos National Park (Dry forest) (B,L,D)
Day 5: Tayrona Natural Reserve (Rain forest) (B,L,D)
Day 6: Minca (Foothills of Santa Marta Mountain) (B,L,D)
Day 7: El Dorado Natural Reserve (Cloud forest) (B,L,D)
Day 8: El Dorado Nature Reserve (San Lorenzo Ridge) (B,L,D)
Day 9: Departure from Santa Marta (B)
Extensions to Bogata, Medillin, Cartagena, Coffee culture region, or the Colombian Amazon can compliment this trip. Ask for details.
The northeastern corner of Colombia contains the magnificent Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, the highest coastal mountain in the world, separated from the Andes mountains by a low plain. An astounding 28 bird species are endemic to this mountain, meaning they occur nowhere else in the world. A myriad of other life forms including reptiles, frogs, insects, and plants are also unique. Among these the birds are critically endangered species such as Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Warbler, Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant, and Blossumcrown Hummingbird. Much of mountain massif lies within Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta National Park. The park contains a substantial population of Indigenous inhabitants living traditional lifestyles and access for the public is very limited. The most easily accessible and visited portion of the Sierra is on western side near Minca. El Dorado Lodge within the private El Dorado Reserve provides an opportunity to experience the untouched higher elevation environments. In contrast to the verdant mountain, this tour takes us to the stark deserts of Guajira, a land of intriguing rock formations, cactus woodlands and a totally different suite of adapted animals.
Day 1: Arrival at Barranquilla (D).
On arrival in the Caribbean Coastal city transfer to the Hotel El Prado https://www.hotelelpradobarranquilla.com/
Assistance with domestic flights can be provided. Dinner and orientation in the evening.
Day 2: Salamanca National Park (Mangroves) (B,L,D)
Isla de Salamanca National Park on the outskirts of Barranquilla is part of a huge wetland complex at the mouth of the Magdalena River. It is a RAMSAR site and sanctuary of palm-shaded beaches, extensive mudflats and mangroves that support a huge number of overwintering shorebirds. We will tour the mangroves searching for the highly localized Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird and Bicolored Conebill. Many waders and waterbirds can also be seen including Northern Screamer, Agami Heron, Bare-faced Ibis, various terns, waterfowl, and numerous sandpipers. From Salamanca we will travel along the Caribbean coast to the city of Riohacha (approx. 4 1/2 hours) where the Ranchería River meets the Caribbean Sea. 2 nights Taroa Hotel. https://hoteltaroariohacha.com-hotel.com/es/
Day 3: Cabo de la Vela full day tour (B,L,D)
Departure will be at 5:30 am on our day trip to Cabo de la Vela through the desert landscape of the Guajira peninsula. Several stops for early birding while the day is still relatively cool. We will be in 4x4 vehicles as much of route is off a main road. Stops will include Manaure village, the Manaure salt flats, the Salt Mountains, and Uribia, which is considered the indigenous capital of Colombia. We will contemplate the characteristic elements of La Guajira such as the expansive mesquite and cactus forests, and how the lonely ranches eke out a living in this arid landscape. The Guajira Peninsula at the far northern tip of South America, supports a variety of bird species with restricted distribution to northeastern Colombia and adjacent Venezuela. Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Buffy Hummingbird, Russet-throated Puffbird, Chestnut Piculet, White-whiskered Spinetail, Orinocan Saltator, and the splendid Vermillion Cardinal with its unusual arching crest are species we hope to see. At the Pilón de Azúcar we can swim in the refreshing waters of Playa Dorada, as well as take in the various stark landscapes around Cabo de la Vela. After a sumptuous lunch return to Riohacha.
Day 4: Flamingo Sanctuary / Caribbean Coast (B,L,D)
Your trip will start between 6 and 7 in the morning, with a transfer to the Sanctuary of Flora and Fauna (SFF) Los Flamencos located 20 minutes from the city of Riohacha. Hand in hand with the Tocoromana community, you will walk the "Mainshirutshi" trail, learning about the use medicinal plants of the area. You will take a tour of the Navío Quebrado lagoon, to make interpretive sighting of flamingos and other birds that inhabit the SFF. In coastal lagoons can be seen American Flamingo, Scarlet Ibis, migratory waders and a lot of other waterfowl.You will share a traditional lunch with the local indigenous community. Later you will drive to Villa Maria Hotel with either a rest time on the beach or a hike along a trail on the property. 2 nights. https://kalihotels.com/villa-maria-tayrona/
Day 5: Tayrona National Park (B,L,D)
Early in the morning we will leave the city of Santa Marta to the Tayrona Park, entrance to the Zaino, where after identifying ourselves we will enter the Cañaveral parking lot. Tayrona is a magical place in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta. We will start an ecological walk of approximately three hours passing through different sectors of the Tayrona Park and that will allow us to see birding specialties here. This includes a trail along the river Don Diego with a lush forest where there are attractive birds like the Lance-tailed Manakin, White-bellied Antbird, Southern Bentbill, Black-crowned Antshrike, Cocoa Woodcreeper, and others. In a nearby restaurant we can have lunch.
Day 6: Minca full day tour (B,L,D)
Early departure for the village of Minca in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta is the highest coastal mountain in the world, this is isolated from the Andes mountains with 28 birds endemic, among these the birds are critically endangered by its restricted range and habitat destruction Santa Marta Parakeet, Yellow-crowned Whitestart, Santa Marta Warbler, Santa MartaBush-Tyrant, Brown-rumped Tapaculo, Rusty-headed Spinetail, and a race that may be divided Rufous Antpitta.Some stops will be made along the way to bird in mid elevation transition forest where we may observe Golden-winged Sparrow, Rosy Thrush- Tanager, Swallow Tanager, Scaled Piculet, Whooping Motmot and others. Then a visit to La Victoria organic coffee farm which has operated for over a century and still operates with the original machinery. Many of the coffee growers near Minca retain patches of forest that conserve a great diversity of plants and animals. We will work our way up from there to the iconic El Dorado Reserve situated among pristine cloud forest at 2000 metres. The view from the cabins is nothing short of spectacular, with the verdant mountains sloping down to the Santa Marta and Caribbean Sea in the distance. 3 nights at El Dorado Reserve.https://conservation.co/reserva-natural-el-dorado/
Day 7: El Dorado Natural Reserve (B,L,D).
Skulking birds are seen along the trails near the El Dorado lodge, but the best birding is along the sparsely traveled forest road. The hummingbird feeders are a constant flurry of activity with eye-popping Crowned Woodnymphs battling for space with Sparkling Violetears, and even the occasional White-tailed Star frontlet. Tiny frogs sing loudly from water pockets contained within the bromelias that line the path. Some of the endemic birds such as Santa Marta Mountain Tanager, Yellow-crowned Whitestart and Santa Marta Brush-finch occur near the lodge, while others such as Brown-rumped Tapaculo, Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant, and White-lored Warbler are found at slightly higher elevations. The snowy peaks of the Sierra – the highest in Colombia- are often visible in the early morning before the clouds enshroud them. Scaly-naped Parrots and several raptors such as Black-and-chestnut Eagle and Semi-collared Hawk occasionally soar overhead. We might even glimpse an Andean Condor. Meanwhile, different species are to be found at slightly lower elevations. Blossomcrown, Groove-billed Toucanet, Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner and Black-headed Tanager are only some examples. We will bird at a range of elevations since many species are confined to well defined limits. But there is more to see in the pristine cloud forests than just birds. We also will keep our eyes open for the many other life forms that live here including frogs, butterflies, tree ferns and orchids.
Many of the endemics are found primarily at higher elevations above the lodge, including Santa Marta Parakeet, White-tailed Starfrontlet, Rusty-headed Spinetail, the distinctive endemic subspecies of the Rufous Antpitta, Brown-rumped Tapaculo, Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant, Santa Marta Mountain Tanager, Yellow-crowned Whitestart and Santa Marta Warbler. The peaks of the Sierra – the highest in Colombia- are usually visible in the early morning. Don’t forget to watch the skies for Scaly-naped Parrots and several raptors: Andean Condor, Black-and-chestnut Eagle, and Semicollared Hawk. There are also fantastic birds to be found along the road below the lodge. The forest here is largely excellent; search for Blossomcrown, Keel-billed Toucan, an endemic foliage-gleaner that awaits formal scientific description (formerly considered a subspecies of Ruddy Foliage-gleaner), Gray-throated Leaftosser, Scaled and Rusty-breasted Antpittas, Santa Marta Tapaculo, Venezuelan Tyrannulet, Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush, Rufous-breasted Wren, Black-headed Tanager. We will bird on the slopes up and down the Sierra Nevada mountain slopes.
Day 8: El Dorado Natural Reserve (San Lorenzo Ridge) (B,L,D)
Another full day of birdwatching in the El Dorado Reserve with a special visit to San Lorenzo Ridge at 2800 metres a.s.l. The vista is there is breath taking: scraggly elfin forest and montane palms grow along the ridge crest. Some of the higher elevation bird species are to be seen here, the much sought-after Santa Marta Parakeet, as well as Santa Marta Antpitta, Rusty-headed Spinetail, Santa Marta Tapaculo and Santa Marta Warbler.
Day 9: El Dorado Natural Reserve / Minca / Santa Marta (B,L)
The final early morning birding at the reserve and then a stop down slope in Minca before being transferred to the city of Santa Marta for the flight home or your extension.
Extensions area available.
Araucana Lodge Birding Pre-tour
This pre-tour celebrates the opening of Colombia’s newest birding lodge, allowing one to bird in very comfortable accommodations in some of the best birding sites in Colombia, without having to spend much time in a vehicle. The Araucana Lodge opened January 2019 and was designed specifically for birders and nature lovers, with spacious rooms.
Feb. 22: Arrive at Araucana Lodge (D)
Arrival transfer from the Cali airport to the lodge (90 mins). Domestic flights are available from Bogota and other cities in Colombia. 4 nights Araucana Lodge. https://www.araucanalodge.com/
The lodge is located in the Western Andes at 1600 meters above sea level. It is a combined ‘finca’ farm and ten room accommodation that is nestled in a bamboo and palm grove with mature vegetable and fruit orchards encompassing 20 acres. It is an ideal place to birdwatch, and eat delicious meals from the organic bounty of the farm and surrounding fertile lands. Araucana will serve as our base for exploring the avifauna and wildlife of the areas.
Feb. 23: Araucana lodge – birding (B,L,D)
The day will be spent at the Araucana Lodge in search of some of the targets at the lodge that include species such as Parker’s Antbird, Grayish Piculet, Apical Flycatcher, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Bar-crested Antshrike, Spectacled Parrotlet, Scaled Antpitta, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Colombian Chachalaca and Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant. We will also have a chance to explore the trails that wind through the pre-montane forest that is protected by the owners of the lodge and a stroll around the organic vegetable gardens is also a treat!
After lunch the group takes a 2-hour drive to an Andean Cock-of-the-rock Lek.
Feb 24: San Antonio Cloud Forest – Hummingbird Paradise (B,L,D)
Today we spend the morning around the famous KM 18, located on an 1800-meter (5,900-foot) pass 18 kilometers (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-spangled, 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, and Nariño Tapaculo.
We will have a delicious traditional lunch at a local restaurant.In the afternoon you can explore the Dolmetsch Arboretum. The Dolmetsch Arboretum is home to more than 2,200 plants from around the world, and is known worldwide for its collection of cycads, which contains more than 60 species. This place provides an incredible diversity of plants and impeccable gardens. The high number of plant species attract high bird diversity.
Feb. 25: San Cipriano Nature Reserve – Pacific Lowlands (B,L,D)
The day starts with a 1.5 hour drive to Zaragosa, our entry point into the humid forests of the San Cipriano Reserve. There are no roads into the reserve, so access is via a pleasant ride on “brujitas,” which are motorcycle-powered wooden carts on rails that have been ingenuously engineered by the locals. In the heart of the Choco Bioregion, the area is known for being one of the most biodiverse on the planet, but also the wettest. 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 and Purple-throated Fruitcrow and Tawny-crested Tanager.
The area is teeming with Antbirds, with chances to see Ocellated, Jet, Stub-tailed and Bicolored Antbirds. With the high humidity and heat, it is best to have bagged species such as Pacific and Checker-throated Antwrens, Pacific Flatbill, Cinnamon Becard, Thicket Antpitta, Black-chested Puffbird, White-ringed Flycatcher, Blue-black Grosbeak, and Blue-crowned and Golden-collared Manakin. Lunch. The afternoon will be based on movement of wildlife and current conditions in addition to the Afro-Caribbean community in San Cipriano.
Feb. 26: Cali City Tour and Departure (B)
We will have a few hours to bird around Araucana Lodge before a half-day city tour of Cali. Founded in 1536, Cali is known as the Sucursal del Cielo, which loosely translates to “the branch office of heaven.” A half day in this warm and friendly city nestled at the base of the western Andes, will surely provide great photo opportunities. We first visit the historic center of town and many of the churches and colonial buildings along the Cali River. The boulevard along the river is only open to pedestrians and is quite enjoyable, with wide open spaces, large trees and locals enjoying the outdoors. The rest of the morning will be spent at the Galeria Alameda, a bustling market where the harvests from nearby farmlands and the Pacific Ocean are displayed. Transfer to the airport for the flight to join up with the main tour.
Cristian de la Sierra: Was born in Santa Marta Colombia with both Tayrona and Sierra Nevada as his neighbourhood parks. He is a bilingual naturalist, conservationist, birdwatcher, and ethnological guide and has been guiding in hospitality and tourism for eleven years. Cristian is also an avid photographer who enjoys sharing the physical, and biological processes of nature at work with visitors.
Included in the price
~ Accommodation (double occupancy) ~ Meals as indicated ~ Local transport ~ Entrance fees ~ Hotel taxes ~ Bird list