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Old Wednesday 14th February 2018, 15:32   #1
YuShan
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Talking Backpack birding Colombia?

Hi birders!

Let me explain first. Almost all my birding is low budget "backpack birding", i.e. only using cheap public transport and/or walking (no vehicle or other forms of private transportation).

I also never stay at expensive ecolodges (except when they let me camp there for a few dollars), just the cheapest guesthouses and/or camping where possible and I never use guides.

So, typically I would stay in a town in or near a good birding area and jump on a public bus in the early morning or just walk if it is less than ~10km. Or even better, camp in the area itself.

I've successfully birded countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Suriname this way. Of course some areas will be off limits then, but there is still plenty of wonderful birding to be had.

End of this year I'm planning a trip to Colombia and I'm trying to figure out which good birding area's in Colombia are feasible to visit this way.

Are there any backpack birders here who visited Colombia recently?

I would really like to hear about great birding locations in Colombia that are easy to reach.
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Old Wednesday 14th February 2018, 15:41   #2
Andrew Whitehouse
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Would suspect Ross Gallardy's report from Colombia would be helpful:
https://budgetbirders.com/category/t...ures/colombia/
https://budgetbirders.files.wordpres...port_final.pdf
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Old Wednesday 14th February 2018, 16:22   #3
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I'll be following replies with interest, since I'm also planning a trip to Colombia, tentatively for November this year, and also trying to keep costs down. I'm planning on visiting the Santa Marta mountains and nearby Guajira Peninsula, with a possible extension to the mid-Magdalena valley. I'll need to dig through the reports again to find the most relevant ones, but I've found several reports on cloudbirders.com to be helpful for independent travelers. In general from what I've read it's quite easy to get around to most sites via public transport, and most sites have nearby cheap housing/camping options as alternatives to the pricey ecolodges. Many if not all of the ProAves lodges do charge a day use fee though for use of the trails or feeder viewing.

I'll try to revisit my plans soon and share what I've learned so far, but in the meantime I'm sure others will chime in with first-hand experience.
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Old Wednesday 14th February 2018, 16:28   #4
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I went for two and half months in the latter half of last year, visiting most major sites in eastern and central andes, as well as santa martas and guajira. Indeed, Gallardy's report is very useful, but let me know if you need to know something specific.
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Old Wednesday 14th February 2018, 20:37   #5
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Colombia has been one of my favorite countries visited so far, especially because of the ease of transport and cheap options near almost all birding spots. As stated above, check out my trip report for details, but depending on how much time you have, the Santa Marta and surrounding areas are all easily done by public transport and you should be able to stay in cheap hotels or even camp on the upper ends of the road. After getting to Minca you will have to utilize some motorbikes, but costs are still relatively low.

Let me know if you have any specific questions about different regions of the country.

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Old Thursday 15th February 2018, 07:38   #6
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Regarding Santa Marta, when I was there in September/October, roads were too bad for bikes, no one were willing to take us up to Cerro Kennedy. We got to La Ye by hitching and hiked from there. By all means, stay at the research station ABOVE El Dorado! It is cheap, i think 35,000 COP per night, and they have Antpittas running around the garden.
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Old Thursday 15th February 2018, 18:15   #7
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Originally Posted by nikothomsen View Post
Regarding Santa Marta, when I was there in September/October, roads were too bad for bikes, no one were willing to take us up to Cerro Kennedy. We got to La Ye by hitching and hiked from there. By all means, stay at the research station ABOVE El Dorado! It is cheap, i think 35,000 COP per night, and they have Antpittas running around the garden.
Excellent, do you have any contact or location information for the research station? I'd heard reference to it in other reports but haven't found anything out online. For my part I was considering renting a 4x4 for a few days out of Santa Marta for that section of the trip, but if it's reasonably doable by hitching rides then we might consider that.
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Old Thursday 15th February 2018, 19:16   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nikothomsen View Post
Regarding Santa Marta, when I was there in September/October, roads were too bad for bikes, no one were willing to take us up to Cerro Kennedy. We got to La Ye by hitching and hiked from there. By all means, stay at the research station ABOVE El Dorado! It is cheap, i think 35,000 COP per night, and they have Antpittas running around the garden.
I'd be very interested in that too! I was at El Dorado for the day a couple of years ago (couldn't stay, it was full) and while the garden was full of great birds, there was nary an antpitta in sight! An alternative location of the same ridge would be an excellent thing to know about.

RE: Ovenbird's query: I just don't believe it is possible to go high up for the Santa Marta endemics on the cheap - at least when I was there. There were motorcycle "taxis" that offered a ride much cheaper than a 4 X 4, but you'd have to be packing very lightly to make use of that mode (and I don't think it would be remotely safe).

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Old Thursday 15th February 2018, 19:53   #9
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Originally Posted by Peter C. View Post
I'd be very interested in that too! I was at El Dorado for the day a couple of years ago (couldn't stay, it was full) and while the garden was full of great birds, there was nary an antpitta in sight! An alternative location of the same ridge would be an excellent thing to know about.

RE: Ovenbird's query: I just don't believe it is possible to go high up for the Santa Marta endemics on the cheap - at least when I was there. There were motorcycle "taxis" that offered a ride much cheaper than a 4 X 4, but you'd have to be packing very lightly to make use of that mode (and I don't think it would be remotely safe).

Peter
Were they 3-wheeled mototaxis/rickshaws, like I've seen in Peru? Or just regular motorcycles? That would be tough for transporting two people I'd think. I've found some 4x4 rentals in Santa Marta for a reasonable price, might be worth it for a few days especially if we save money by lodging for cheap or camping.
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Old Thursday 15th February 2018, 20:50   #10
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Thumbs up

@Ross
I've read your report today. Very useful information, thanks!
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Old Friday 16th February 2018, 08:39   #11
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Originally Posted by ovenbird43 View Post
Excellent, do you have any contact or location information for the research station? I'd heard reference to it in other reports but haven't found anything out online. For my part I was considering renting a 4x4 for a few days out of Santa Marta for that section of the trip, but if it's reasonably doable by hitching rides then we might consider that.
I have no contact information, I was just tipped of by a fellow birder. We just showed up, and the couple in charge of the station were very happy to accommodate us. There's a dormitory with loads of blankets, as it gets cold. They mostly get tours from El Dorado visiting for the Antpitta, but those tour never stay more than an hour or two tops, so they were very keen on some company. The husband whistles in the Antpitta for COP 10,000, but I managed to find one myself before that. Note that they do not speak English, but is used to communicate with people who only have basic Spanish.

The hummers however, are nothing like El Dorado. Further, El Dorado is run like a fortress. It is screened off by a huge wall. There is no hospitality or friendliness if you do not have a reservation (and good luck doing that on a budget). They won't let you buy a coffee or a lunch in exchange for feeder access. We spent a night further downhill at La Tienda de los Rosas (I believe the name was, but i'm not 100 %). This is the last shop on the way up and the lady there makes lovely home-brewed orange and mora liqour. Accommodation is VERY basic here, more so than at research station.

There is also a very basic campsite further up at the ridge, but we were told the owner there was rarely home and there's no food to purchase. The research stations has meals for 10,000 COP/person if my memory is correct.

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Old Friday 16th February 2018, 08:46   #12
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Were they 3-wheeled mototaxis/rickshaws, like I've seen in Peru? Or just regular motorcycles? That would be tough for transporting two people I'd think. I've found some 4x4 rentals in Santa Marta for a reasonable price, might be worth it for a few days especially if we save money by lodging for cheap or camping.
No rickshaws, just bikes. I did not rent cars at any point in Colombia as I was warned off doing so due to scams and stuff. The thing is, once you leave Minca till you reach the ridge there are birds almost all the way, with the exception of a few plantations before La Ye. I just can't help but feeling you will miss something by driving, unless you know the right spots to stop at.
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Old Friday 16th February 2018, 14:44   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ovenbird43 View Post
Were they 3-wheeled mototaxis/rickshaws, like I've seen in Peru? Or just regular motorcycles? That would be tough for transporting two people I'd think. I've found some 4x4 rentals in Santa Marta for a reasonable price, might be worth it for a few days especially if we save money by lodging for cheap or camping.
No, as nikothomsen mentioned, just "bikes" (what I would call "motorbikes") and small ones at that. I really can't imagine taking much gear on the back of one of those, and there was the security issue - in Colombia, no way were the SO and I going to take the risk of being separated, at any time.

We got a round trip ride (from Minca) in a 4WD jeep taxi, a very long and rough ride, and ludicrously expensive (can't recall just how expensive, at the mo'), but there really didn't seem to be any other way to do it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nikothomsen View Post
I have no contact information, I was just tipped of by a fellow birder. We just showed up, and the couple in charge of the station were very happy to accommodate us. There's a dormitory with loads of blankets, as it gets cold.
Sounds like a fine place! But if it's a research station, why the secrecy? What are they researching?

I had nothing like your experience at El Dorado, I wonder what has changed - or perhaps it is nothing, just who was at the front door that particular day. Hummingbird feeders were fantastic, trails good to middling, great views of a couple of endemic spinetails.

That wall, though, is a real thing - and a bit off-putting, I suppose. The truth about El Dorado is that it truly embodies the old adage, "money talks." Once we'd paid $50 USD to get in (each!!!) they were very friendly, indeed! I found that price a bit outrageous, but hey, it's what the market will bear. And we did get a truly excellent lunch as part of the package (there's this really good chicken soup they make, with big pieces of something a bit like lovage cooked into it, I sure wish I could remember what it was called... )

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Old Friday 16th February 2018, 14:47   #14
Peter C.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nikothomsen View Post
Regarding Santa Marta, when I was there in September/October, roads were too bad for bikes, no one were willing to take us up to Cerro Kennedy. We got to La Ye by hitching and hiked from there. By all means, stay at the research station ABOVE El Dorado! It is cheap, i think 35,000 COP per night, and they have Antpittas running around the garden.
So you hiked up to the ridge and back? You're a better man than I, Gunga Din! How long did that take? (I confess the name La Ye means nothing to me - where is that?)

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Old Friday 16th February 2018, 15:07   #15
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a truly excellent lunch as part of the package (there's this really good chicken soup they make, with big pieces of something a bit like lovage cooked into it, I sure wish I could remember what it was called... )

Peter C.
Ajiaco maybe? Chicken and potatos along with avocado, small piece of corn on the cob, guascas (herb) and other ingredients. One of my favorites and a Colombian specialty.
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Old Friday 16th February 2018, 15:16   #16
Peter C.
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Ajiaco maybe? Chicken and potatos along with avocado, small piece of corn on the cob, guascas (herb) and other ingredients. One of my favorites and a Colombian specialty.
YES! Thanks, Dave, that is it! (Although I think we got a version without the ear of maize in it - perhaps they just were out of it that day).

The herb, according to Chef 'google', is called guascas; I suspect, regretfullly, that I will be unable to find a tienda that stocks it, here in Canada. Oh, well, all the more reason to make a return trip...


... not that I really need another reason.
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Old Yesterday, 18:39   #17
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Depending on the current road conditions, even renting your own 4wd could be a bit tricky. Apparently if motorbikes aren't even taking people up, then the roads are probably in very bad shape. They were really rough when I went, but still better than walking up. The issue is that they are building a road somewhere on the other side and large construction trucks have ripped up the road and routinely get stuck. That's another reason to shy away from a 4wd. If you get stuck behind a stuck truck, you're not going anywhere for a long time. Using a motorbike you'll at least be able to get around. If you're worried about luggage, either trim down some, or rent a cheap place in Minca and store the majority of the gear while you go up and spend a night or two at the research station. I just commuted daily from Minca, but of course motorbikes could still make it up (although very slowly due to mud).

I dont have exact GPS for the research station, but it's up past El Dorado. You can't miss it. I'd highly recommend staying away from El Dorado. $50 per person just to visit is ridiculous and ProAves in general has done a terrible job with capturing what actual prices should be. All the birds are easily found along the road, no real reason to visit the lodge grounds. The only birds that can be a bit trickier is the Thornbill and Bloosomcrown, but even they are absent from El Dorado for weeks on end.

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