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First time birding Colombia: Recommendations Wanted! (1 Viewer)

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
Hi Everyone,

Currently looking into planning a 1-2 week trip to a part of Colombia for 2022 (since my plans for 2021 have already fallen through or were changed, and honestly I don't expect any chance of leaving the US before the end of the year).

But going back to the main point, I wanted to get advices what regions to focus on, which were the best local guides (ie: they have a solid name to them and they actually reply to inquiries), and how much should I be looking to make a budget trip that still doesn't limit me from seeing as many good birds as possible.

I know Colombia overall is too expansive to even cover with a month of time and certain regions like Mitu and Inirida just aren't the most easy on the wallet or welcoming to someone who's barely been into the Neotropics.

So far I had the idea of either doing a starting trip around the Antioquia or Southern Colombia region, but not sure where to start. If anyone has any advice, books or sites to check out or even a good itinerary for a newcomer to the region to take, I would be very thankful. And as mentioned earlier, I want to make it a budget trip but I don't think I have the capabilities of birding such a varied country and get the best of out it, so any local guide recommendations would be greatly appreciated.
 

kb57

Well-known member
Europe
I visited Colombia in 2019, my first and only trip to South America. I only had 9 days in the country and only used bird guides for two of them, due partly to cost and the fact I'd arranged the trip at short notice. I'd have seen a lot more if I'd had guides for the rest of the trip as neotropical birds were totally new to me, but I still enjoyed the experience of getting round on my own and discovering my own birds.
The two bird guides I used were both excellent - Oswaldo Cortes from Bogota Birding and Guillermo Nagy from Aramacao Tours. Oswaldo charges more for a day trip, but operates nationally and will organise a package for you. Guillermo is based in Jardin, Antioquia and mostly works in that area, where he has great local contacts, but he did say he could put a multi-day package together including sites such as Las Tangaras.
Others on Bird Forum with far more experience than myself of Colombia will be able to give better advice on itineraries - Antioquia province is a great place to start, especially if you are flying into Medellin. I think you are right to focus on one region, but internal flights are reasonable and bus travel is cheap, so it would be possible to take in more regions / varied habitats in a 2 week trip.
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
I visited Colombia in 2019, my first and only trip to South America. I only had 9 days in the country and only used bird guides for two of them, due partly to cost and the fact I'd arranged the trip at short notice. I'd have seen a lot more if I'd had guides for the rest of the trip as neotropical birds were totally new to me, but I still enjoyed the experience of getting round on my own and discovering my own birds.
The two bird guides I used were both excellent - Oswaldo Cortes from Bogota Birding and Guillermo Nagy from Aramacao Tours. Oswaldo charges more for a day trip, but operates nationally and will organise a package for you. Guillermo is based in Jardin, Antioquia and mostly works in that area, where he has great local contacts, but he did say he could put a multi-day package together including sites such as Las Tangaras.
Others on Bird Forum with far more experience than myself of Colombia will be able to give better advice on itineraries - Antioquia province is a great place to start, especially if you are flying into Medellin. I think you are right to focus on one region, but internal flights are reasonable and bus travel is cheap, so it would be possible to take in more regions / varied habitats in a 2 week trip.
I tried looking into Aramacao Tours but their website is pretty bare bones, how good would you say their rates are and birding capabilities are?

I've heard good things about Bogota Birding but not sure if it's due to being used to working as a group tour but their prices are very high like you mentioned for individual birders/day trips.
 

kb57

Well-known member
Europe
I tried looking into Aramacao Tours but their website is pretty bare bones, how good would you say their rates are and birding capabilities are?

I've heard good things about Bogota Birding but not sure if it's due to being used to working as a group tour but their prices are very high like you mentioned for individual birders/day trips.
I wouldn't be put off by the website - Guillermo does coffee tours and other non-birding activities based in Jardin, but he is an excellent birder. His rates as I recall were about 60% of Bogota Birding's for his standard day trip up the Riosucio road, and included all food and transport, as well as paying the driver and a young guy who feeds antipittas. The best way to contact him is through WhatsApp, he was very quick to reply. If you have any difficulties getting through to the number on the website, I can PM you the phone contact I used - alternatively Gabriel at Fami-Hotel La Posada (via Booking) or Doug Knapp at Finca La Esperanza could both put you in touch with him (they both independently recommended him to me when I was planning the trip).
My trip report is here: https://www.birdforum.net/threads/9-days-in-colombia-march-2019.374715/ - Note the airport code I gave for Olaya Herrera in Medellin is quite drastically wrong... For more comprehensive info on independent travel I'd recommend the Budget Birders blog by Ross Gaillardy, which I gleaned a lot of information from before my trip.

There is also a 'Birdwatching in Colombia' book, which I found quite helpful in choosing where to go, but it is now somewhat out of date (2010) and has been criticised for inaccurate directions. I still enjoy reading it though and fantasising about where I'd like to go next. I have no regrets about the destinations I chose, but if I ever do get the chance to return I'd put the following near the top of my list:
  • Western Andes - Colibri del Sol Pro Aves reserve / Paramo Frontino north of Medellin
  • Central Andes - Rio Blanco / Paramo del Ruiz near Manizales
  • Santa Marta / Minca / El Dorado Pro Aves reserve
 

amears

Well-known member
I was lucky to spend a month out there in 2019. Two canny mates joined me for two weeks and this is what they did. With hindsight, we'd have spent a little less time at Tayrona because your chances of connecting with Blue-billed Curassow are slim. Otherwise, it was good:


Day locations
Rio Blanco
Rio Blanco-Paramo Ruiz & Hotel Termales Area
Finca del Bosque, Paramo Ruiz & Hotel Termales Area-Otun
Otun Quimbaya
Otun-Montezuma
Montezuma
Montezuma
Montezuma
Montezuma-Santa Marta
Minca-El Dorado
El Dorado
El Dorado-Minca
Tayrona NP
Tayrona NP-Camarones/Flamencos
Camarones/Flamencos-Bogota
Paramo de Guasca, Bioandina, Guasca, Observatorio de Colibries
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
I wouldn't be put off by the website - Guillermo does coffee tours and other non-birding activities based in Jardin, but he is an excellent birder. His rates as I recall were about 60% of Bogota Birding's for his standard day trip up the Riosucio road, and included all food and transport, as well as paying the driver and a young guy who feeds antipittas. The best way to contact him is through WhatsApp, he was very quick to reply. If you have any difficulties getting through to the number on the website, I can PM you the phone contact I used - alternatively Gabriel at Fami-Hotel La Posada (via Booking) or Doug Knapp at Finca La Esperanza could both put you in touch with him (they both independently recommended him to me when I was planning the trip).
My trip report is here: https://www.birdforum.net/threads/9-days-in-colombia-march-2019.374715/ - Note the airport code I gave for Olaya Herrera in Medellin is quite drastically wrong... For more comprehensive info on independent travel I'd recommend the Budget Birders blog by Ross Gaillardy, which I gleaned a lot of information from before my trip.

There is also a 'Birdwatching in Colombia' book, which I found quite helpful in choosing where to go, but it is now somewhat out of date (2010) and has been criticised for inaccurate directions. I still enjoy reading it though and fantasising about where I'd like to go next. I have no regrets about the destinations I chose, but if I ever do get the chance to return I'd put the following near the top of my list:
  • Western Andes - Colibri del Sol Pro Aves reserve / Paramo Frontino north of Medellin
  • Central Andes - Rio Blanco / Paramo del Ruiz near Manizales
  • Santa Marta / Minca / El Dorado Pro Aves reserve
Read your report, love the experiences you had, some of the species you had reminded me on my brief weekend in Panama that year, but it also reminds me that even if I'm a decent birder in my state, chances of being as good of one in another place it's just a pipe dream (thinking mostly of the Rio Blanco experience in the trails). Still makes me glad to know that one of the megas of the birding world (Andean Cock-of-the-Rock) is so easily accessible around Jardin, not to mention the dozens of other big name targets in that area.

I'll probably do a trip like yours around Antioquia or Santa Marta, but I'll bite the bullet and go with a good guide to make the most of my limited vacation time.
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
I was lucky to spend a month out there in 2019. Two canny mates joined me for two weeks and this is what they did. With hindsight, we'd have spent a little less time at Tayrona because your chances of connecting with Blue-billed Curassow are slim. Otherwise, it was good:


Day locations
Rio Blanco
Rio Blanco-Paramo Ruiz & Hotel Termales Area
Finca del Bosque, Paramo Ruiz & Hotel Termales Area-Otun
Otun Quimbaya
Otun-Montezuma
Montezuma
Montezuma
Montezuma
Montezuma-Santa Marta
Minca-El Dorado
El Dorado
El Dorado-Minca
Tayrona NP
Tayrona NP-Camarones/Flamencos
Camarones/Flamencos-Bogota
Paramo de Guasca, Bioandina, Guasca, Observatorio de Colibries
Did you employ a local guide in the Santa Marta region or was it all with just you and your mates? If you had a guide, which one did you use the services of?
 

amears

Well-known member
Did you employ a local guide in the Santa Marta region or was it all with just you and your mates? If you had a guide, which one did you use the services of?
We did. One worked out of El Dorado lodge. Also a local guide at Tayrona and one at Flamencos. Otherwise, we just had a driver. Multi colour birding set up the trip for us. Sorry I don’t have guide names or contact details but they were all good.
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
We did. One worked out of El Dorado lodge. Also a local guide at Tayrona and one at Flamencos. Otherwise, we just had a driver. Multi colour birding set up the trip for us. Sorry I don’t have guide names or contact details but they were all good.
I've heard a lot of Multicolor birding as a good budget company, how would you recommend them?
 

THE_FERN

Well-known member
It's easy to get a cheap guide at Minca. You basically just have to ask. I don't know if those at El Dorado are more expensive but I'd expect so...

Same's true at Los flamencos. I decided not to pay for a package when I went to Santa Marta area. I used public transport and saw quite a bit. If you're confident, you can just use local taxis / motor cycles to get around.

When I was there in 2017, quite a few things had become difficult through climate change and because of habitat damage. Even so it was a good trip...
 

amears

Well-known member
I've heard a lot of Multicolor birding as a good budget company, how would you recommend them?
Pablo did us a favour and set up a trip as ground agent only, not his usual mode of operation. There’s no doubt he knows the birds and sites superbly. He worked hard to make it work but the trip suffered a bit because he wasn't actually with us. I know others who’ve done more standard trips with MCB who rated them very highly. Our trip is probably not a good one for such a judgement.

I think this itinerary covers a core of landmark Colombian sites with maximum endemics, and it could be hard to beat in two weeks. If you wanted to miss the flight north to Santa Marta, there’s plenty more to tack on further south, e.g. uplands close to Bogotá or Jardin.
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
Pablo did us a favour and set up a trip as ground agent only, not his usual mode of operation. There’s no doubt he knows the birds and sites superbly. He worked hard to make it work but the trip suffered a bit because he wasn't actually with us. I know others who’ve done more standard trips with MCB who rated them very highly. Our trip is probably not a good one for such a judgement.

I think this itinerary covers a core of landmark Colombian sites with maximum endemics, and it could be hard to beat in two weeks. If you wanted to miss the flight north to Santa Marta, there’s plenty more to tack on further south, e.g. uplands close to Bogotá or Jardin.
Good to know, I'll probably reach out to Pablo and see what he recommends. In the end, I'm going for the first time to the country and only the second time to the Neotropics, so almost any species not easily found in Florida or the Canal Zone of Panama will be a lifer for me.
 

Rob Hunt

Well-known member
I would certainly recommend Montezuma lodge. It’s a family run operation with one of the owners being an excellent guide. Their website is montezumarainforest.com. I visited there on an organised tour, so have no idea as to their rates.
 

amears

Well-known member
Without wishing to divert from the main thread too much, here’s a Facebook post I made in 2019 (without the mentioned video though):

Our last 2 weeks took in some of Colombia’s flagship birding sites. Places like Rio Blanco, Montezuma and Santa Marta will have loomed large on many a birder’s itinerary since the country opened up to tourism - and they did on ours. Dave and I were joined by Chris Wilkinson and Gavin Maclean for this section. We put our heads together and came up with these rock star highlights, in no particular order (ha ha, believe that and you’ll believe anything):
# Hooded Antpitta seen beautifully in heavy rain - could be a new tactic for seeing this bird, ‘hope for appalling weather‘.
# Crescent-faced Antpitta, a ‘must see’ and our 3 or 4 second views at a feeder are for ever etched in our memories.
# Santa Marta Antpitta, both understated and gorgeous, we were mesmerised by a fed bird that had the decency to come in twice and hang around a bit.
# Oscillated Tapaculo, easy at Jardin for D and me (where hand fed Chestnut-naped Antpitta and great views of Chestnut-Crested Cotinga were other highlights), and an exciting catch up for G and C at Montezuma.
# Solitary Eagle, brief but good views of one on the wing between El Dorado and Minca. Everybody ran for that one.
# Beautiful Jay, very tricky, we were lucky to have views of one.
# Buffy Helmetcrest, an alien-like hummingbird up at 4000m in the paramo, awesome.
# White-capped Tanager, a couple of boisterous gangs of these were bursting with charisma.
# Santa Marta Screech-owl, a rare nightbirding success on this leg.
# Barred Fruiteater, voted the best of 4 fruiteater species seen.
# Lanceolated Monklet, missing from plenty of world birders’ lists despite being widespread.
# Rusty-breasted Antpitta, a surprise find, cute and a tick for all.
(Ps. Antpitta feeders - a new kind of jeopardy for me. Has the feeding been kept up and how big will the crowd be? If it comes in, will I have the angle before it grabs a worm and dashes for cover? And if it doesn’t come in, do we have time to try again tomorrow...? Discuss.)

Here’s a short 360* video of the beach and homestay in the Flamencos National Park on the northeast coast. This was a couple of days ago, note the bonus Turkey Vulture and I think there’s a Crested Caracara in there too. The previous day we’d been at Tayrona National Park not seeing Blue-billed Curassow (will need to visit El Paujil for that if I’m ever lucky enough to come back). Tayrona was full of backpackers, largely ‘young women from Argentina’ we were told. Well they hadn’t discovered Flamencos it seems, just a couple of hours along the Guajira Peninsula, which proved a great place to kick back for 24 hours.

The dry thorn forest behind the beach held a diverse set of birds, several of which sported plumages of blacks, whites and various shades of warm brown. These are wonderful colour combinations and seem so unlikely in the drab greys and greens of the acacias and cacti here. Look up Caribbean Hornero, Black-crested Antshrike, Russet-throated Puffbird, Northern White-fringed Antwren and White-whiskered Spinetail if you have a moment (where’s Chris Craig when you need him?). And just to buck the trend, every now and then something outrageously red would ping into view - Scarlet Ibis (on the adjacent tidal wetlands), Vermilion Cardinal and Vermilion Flycatcher.
 

mjh73

Well-known member
This is our -somewhat shortened and adapted a little on the fly in the last few days - trip March 2020.
Colombia 2020
If I had my time again (and hopefully will!) I'd have spent an extra day in the Anchicaya valley and an extra day or two at San Cipriano.
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
Without wishing to divert from the main thread too much, here’s a Facebook post I made in 2019 (without the mentioned video though):

Our last 2 weeks took in some of Colombia’s flagship birding sites. Places like Rio Blanco, Montezuma and Santa Marta will have loomed large on many a birder’s itinerary since the country opened up to tourism - and they did on ours. Dave and I were joined by Chris Wilkinson and Gavin Maclean for this section. We put our heads together and came up with these rock star highlights, in no particular order (ha ha, believe that and you’ll believe anything):
# Hooded Antpitta seen beautifully in heavy rain - could be a new tactic for seeing this bird, ‘hope for appalling weather‘.
# Crescent-faced Antpitta, a ‘must see’ and our 3 or 4 second views at a feeder are for ever etched in our memories.
# Santa Marta Antpitta, both understated and gorgeous, we were mesmerised by a fed bird that had the decency to come in twice and hang around a bit.
# Oscillated Tapaculo, easy at Jardin for D and me (where hand fed Chestnut-naped Antpitta and great views of Chestnut-Crested Cotinga were other highlights), and an exciting catch up for G and C at Montezuma.
# Solitary Eagle, brief but good views of one on the wing between El Dorado and Minca. Everybody ran for that one.
# Beautiful Jay, very tricky, we were lucky to have views of one.
# Buffy Helmetcrest, an alien-like hummingbird up at 4000m in the paramo, awesome.
# White-capped Tanager, a couple of boisterous gangs of these were bursting with charisma.
# Santa Marta Screech-owl, a rare nightbirding success on this leg.
# Barred Fruiteater, voted the best of 4 fruiteater species seen.
# Lanceolated Monklet, missing from plenty of world birders’ lists despite being widespread.
# Rusty-breasted Antpitta, a surprise find, cute and a tick for all.
(Ps. Antpitta feeders - a new kind of jeopardy for me. Has the feeding been kept up and how big will the crowd be? If it comes in, will I have the angle before it grabs a worm and dashes for cover? And if it doesn’t come in, do we have time to try again tomorrow...? Discuss.)

Here’s a short 360* video of the beach and homestay in the Flamencos National Park on the northeast coast. This was a couple of days ago, note the bonus Turkey Vulture and I think there’s a Crested Caracara in there too. The previous day we’d been at Tayrona National Park not seeing Blue-billed Curassow (will need to visit El Paujil for that if I’m ever lucky enough to come back). Tayrona was full of backpackers, largely ‘young women from Argentina’ we were told. Well they hadn’t discovered Flamencos it seems, just a couple of hours along the Guajira Peninsula, which proved a great place to kick back for 24 hours.

The dry thorn forest behind the beach held a diverse set of birds, several of which sported plumages of blacks, whites and various shades of warm brown. These are wonderful colour combinations and seem so unlikely in the drab greys and greens of the acacias and cacti here. Look up Caribbean Hornero, Black-crested Antshrike, Russet-throated Puffbird, Northern White-fringed Antwren and White-whiskered Spinetail if you have a moment (where’s Chris Craig when you need him?). And just to buck the trend, every now and then something outrageously red would ping into view - Scarlet Ibis (on the adjacent tidal wetlands), Vermilion Cardinal and Vermilion Flycatcher.
I see lots of love for the Antpittas, have you already made trip to Paz de las Aves and the Jocotoco Antpitta Reserve in Ecuador to try you jeopardy luck there?
 

amears

Well-known member
I see lots of love for the Antpittas, have you already made trip to Paz de las Aves and the Jocotoco Antpitta Reserve in Ecuador to try you jeopardy luck there?
No, not yet but would love to of course. I’m an antpitta newbie really. I have spent a stupid amount of time focussing on pitta-pittas and I think the modern feeding of all these birds has taken away something magical from the chase, personally. Here’s another thought: it may also have made local guides much less interested in developing their in-field skills for seeing antpittas. I’ve been disappointed by their casual approach on my few SA trips to date even though I can understand it. This played out for me at Otun with Moustached so I feel mjh73’s pain on that one!
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
No, not yet but would love to of course. I’m an antpitta newbie really. I have spent a stupid amount of time focussing on pitta-pittas and I think the modern feeding of all these birds has taken away something magical from the chase, personally. Here’s another thought: it may also have made local guides much less interested in developing their in-field skills for seeing antpittas. I’ve been disappointed by their casual approach on my few SA trips to date even though I can understand it. This played out for me at Otun with Moustached so I feel mjh73’s pain on that one!
I can understand the frustration from the "lack of a chase" and normally I'd say birds using feeders is not a bad way to get a lifer, but it does take away from the experience (especially if its hand fed). But at the same time, I can't imagine many of us having the time or money to go to some of the more difficult places to find them like it was done in the past and if these half tame birds end up saving the patch of forest they live on and supporting the local community, I think it's not bad to swallow the bitter pill of a freebie lifer.
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
This is our -somewhat shortened and adapted a little on the fly in the last few days - trip March 2020.
Colombia 2020
If I had my time again (and hopefully will!) I'd have spent an extra day in the Anchicaya valley and an extra day or two at San Cipriano.
I read your report and it just gave me more love and excitement for the country but it also reminded me firsthand how badly Covid had screwed so many birders since March of last year. Hopefully you get back to Colombia soon enough, if you need a birding buddy by then, I'll gladly sign up!
 

kb57

Well-known member
Europe
I can understand the frustration from the "lack of a chase" and normally I'd say birds using feeders is not a bad way to get a lifer, but it does take away from the experience (especially if its hand fed). But at the same time, I can't imagine many of us having the time or money to go to some of the more difficult places to find them like it was done in the past and if these half tame birds end up saving the patch of forest they live on and supporting the local community, I think it's not bad to swallow the bitter pill of a freebie lifer.
I have to say the Chestnut-naped Antpittas I saw weren't easy, even though they were habituated to coming to worms - when we first arrived at the feeding spot Guillermo heard an Ocellated Tapaculo calling, and spent a long time coaxing it in - saying, incidentally, that he didn't think the antpittas would appear when the tapaculo was around. And it did indeed take quite a while longer after the tapaculo left before the antpittas appeared. I think he really earned his pay bringing both of those species to me, there was nothing straightforward about it. And actually having an antpitta perched on my hand taking a worm enhanced the experience for me! Totally understand @amears putting antpittas top of the list, they quickly became my new favourite bird.
The thing about wet weather is interesting too - after birding in poor weather in the eastern Andes, I was excited to be heading out above Jardin on a beautiful sunny morning, but I was warned the forest would be quieter unless it rained. Sure enough, after a heavy shower in the afternoon we did have a lot more bird activity. While this may be obvious to those who have done a lot of cloud forest birding (and makes sense due to elevated insect activity after rain), it wasn't something I'd appreciated before then.
 

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