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RFI Birding break in Colombia (1 Viewer)

pandachris

Well-known member
Hi folks

My partner has a major birthday in about 18 months time and I'm thinking of taking her to Colombia for her present, if conditions allow it. I'm after a bit of guidance.

1. What's a good time to visit? We're reasonably flexible. February is normally not convenient but I'd quite like it to be early in the year so that it's close to her birthday, which is late December.

2. We will have about 3 weeks, perhaps a bit more. I'd like to visit the El Dorado Lodge for several days. What other locations are recommended? We've not visited South America but have had bird/wildlife holidays to Costa Rica and Cuba. Whilst we would be delighted to see some endemics, we won't be specifically chasing them. We are also keen to see other wildlife. Our budget is probably reasonable. We're not bothered about luxury but hopefully won't be desperate to save every penny. Also how do I book El Dorado Lodge? The ProAves website doesn't seem to offer the option. Do I need to use booking.com or similar?

3. What field guides, apps etc. should we get? My partner's Spanish is pretty good so we're not restricted to English language.

4. Having done a little research I'm thinking I might fancy a few days in Leticia simply to be able to visit Brasil and Peru. Any good birding nearby?

5. We're not averse to hiring guides although we do like to find birds for ourselves. Are there any guides that forum members particularly recommend?

6. What else should I be asking?

I'm keeping this a secret from her for the time being. I don't think she looks at BirdForum very often so hopefully this should be safe. I'll probably reveal the info for her next birthday. I can count it as a present, which is useful because being so close to Xmas means I have to work twice as hard to come up with surprises.
 

cajanuma

Well-known member
4. Having done a little research I'm thinking I might fancy a few days in Leticia simply to be able to visit Brasil and Peru. Any good birding nearby?

Birding in and around Leticia is fantastic, underrated, and inexpensive. In the town itself there is a huge White-winged Parakeet roost that is attended every evening by 1-2 Orange-breasted Falcons, and there are some good river island specialties (including the very rare Pearly-breasted Conebill) that are just a 10 minute walk from downtown.

Leticia is also the access point for the excellent Palmarì Lodge on the Rio Javarì on the Brazil/Peru border, where a huge range of Amazonian species can be found, including Gray Wren (pretty much the only place in the world to see this), tons of antbirds, etc.

About 45 min upstream from Leticia on the Colombian bank of the Amazon is the village of Puerto Narino, which is an excellent base from which to explore forest on both the Colombian and Peruvian banks. One major target here would be Wattled Curassow (which we missed, but normally chances are pretty good) and again fantastic diversity, with more varzea species to counterbalance the mostly terra firme avifauna at Palmarì. There is an excellent local guide for Leticia and Puerto Narino, his name is Otto Valerio Linares.

If general wildlife (as opposed to endemics) is also in your plans, you might want to consider the llanos in the department of Casanare. I know Jaguar is being seen reguarly at Hato La Aurora (I have not been there, and it is not cheap, but it should be wonderful), but there are some other, more inexpensive places closer to Yopal that would give you a good shot at Giant Anteater and some excellent birding with lots of waterbirds and pretty much guaranteed Crestless Curassow.
 

THE_FERN

Well-known member
The santa marta area is good and easy to travel by public transport. Even staying in minca you can get good local guides who are cheap. Time to go definitely northern hemisphere winter, probably best late Nov, early Dec. I think the main attractions of el dorado are now the huge nos of hummingbirds at the feeders and proximity to the summit. But there is other less luxurious if much cheaper accommodation available in the same area, and you can visit feeders in minca. There are lots of very scenic sites along the coast (easy to reach by bus). On the edge of santa marta itself is Tayrona, and the Los flamenco s area near riohacha is a must too. Then there are places in the direction of baranquilla/cartagena. Climate change has meant that some of the endemics can be unpredictable/difficult to find in the el dorado area now
 

pandachris

Well-known member
Thanks also Cajanuma. Giant Anteater would certainly be appealing (Jaguar, too. We didn't get lucky in Costa Rica).
 

bronze sunbird

Well-known member
I agree with THE_FERN: the best time to go is between November and March.

Santa Marta is a major attraction, but if you have an extra day or two you could also try visiting the Guaijira peninsula. It's just to the east of the Santa Marta mountains and has its own set of endemic birds.

There are several really good lodges lodges in other key birding areas. The Rio Blanco lodge near Manizales is excellent, as are the Otún Quimbaya Flora and Fauna Sanctuary near Pereira and the ProAves Las Tangaras reserve in the Choco.

One of the best areas for birding is the eastern slope of the eastern Andes, but to do it effectively you really need to be with someone who knows where the birds are and can organize logistics - as you will end up staying in basic small hotels in non-touristed areas.

One thing to know about Colombia is that it's a big country and you can eat up a lot of your time moving between sites. On top of that the end of the civil war has led to a lot of new investment in infrastructure, and that means construction delays. On my last trip (Jan-Feb 2020) it took us over over ten hours to cover 360km on one major highway.

If you decide to go for a guided tour, I highly recommend Daniel Uribe Restrepo of Birding Tours Colombia. (https://birdingtourscolombia.com/).

He is an outstanding guide and a good person.

Good luck!
 

pandachris

Well-known member
Thanks bronze sunbird.

My research is cementing the idea that 3 weeks won't be enough but we'll be limited by various work expectations etc. I'm thinking December or January 2021/22 or possibly 2022/23 at present.

The birdingtourscolombia trips look good. A couple of them cover some sites that I've already decided I want to see. We wouldn't normally consider 10+ days with one company but it might make sense this time.

What's driving like in Colombia? I don't mean in places that need a very high wheelbase 4x4. I've driven in 30-40 countries including San Jose (CR) at rush hour, Marrakech at rush hour (won't be doing that again!) and several times in Italy.

@cajanuma - which lodge/reserve were you talking about in Hato la Aurora? I might be prepared to push the boat out for a few night somewhere special. It is her birthday, after all - and if we don't go until late 2022 I've got plenty of time to save up :)
 

bronze sunbird

Well-known member
Driving is OK most of the time. But absolutely avoid driving in Bogotá during anything close to rush hour. In fact avoid driving in Bogotá completely if you can. It's very busy to begin with and there are hordes of motorcyclists that will shoot through any gap to get ahead. I wonder how some of them survive!

BTW three weeks in Colombia is a good start. I have done nine weeks of hard-core birding there and still haven't gotten to all the good areas. It is truly a birders paradise. You will love it!
 

THE_FERN

Well-known member
Driving is OK most of the time. But absolutely avoid driving in Bogotá during anything close to rush hour. In fact avoid driving in Bogotá completely if you can. It's very busy to begin with and there are hordes of motorcyclists that will shoot through any gap to get ahead. I wonder how some of them survive!

BTW three weeks in Colombia is a good start. I have done nine weeks of hard-core birding there and still haven't gotten to all the good areas. It is truly a birders paradise. You will love it!

If you've driven in those other places I doubt you'll have problems in Colombia including Bogota. I don't normally drive in UK but survived OK there including rush hour. In the capital you should pay particular attention to the numberplate scheme: to reduce pollution, cars with particular plates aren't allowed in the city at certain times. Judging where the city "ends" from this point of view can be difficult.

On main roads beware that truck drivers relish putting cars in jeopardy and will not allow you to pass even if it makes no difference to them. This situation is most often encountered when you're in a big tailback on one of the main (e.g. east-west) routes. Speeding is, of course, obligatory.
 

pandachris

Well-known member
Thanks both. I might well consider a vehicle for some of the holiday. I'll probably try to avoid driving in Bogotá altogether. Looking at a map, the airport is close to the city centre but presumably it's not too difficult to head into the opposite direction. I've dealt with 'interesting' truck driver behaviour in Turkey and aggressive moto/motorcycle drivers in any number of places. I try to maintain a sense of humour and not panic too much. I remember trying to get around a roundabout in San Jose when the traffic was just astonishing and nobody was allowing anyone to change lanes. We needed to take the exit 4th on the left and to do so had to take both the 1st and 2nd exits, drive a short distance then U-turn or equivalent. Somehow we managed to get past the 3rd exit without an additional diversion. We mainly just laughed at my lack of aggression :)
 

THE_FERN

Well-known member
As I noted, a car isn't needed for the Santa Marta* area although I'm sure driving's fine there. If time is limited SM gives a really nice mix of habitats, endemics, views, history etc and you can fly there from Bogota. I think that'd be top of my list for a time-limited introductory visit. But as others have said everywhere's good.

*The national park has been described as the single most important protected area on the planet. Some of the other areas offer things like cock of the rock and similarly spectacular species but in SM (area) you have flamingos, scarlet and white Ibis, a chance of military macaws. In Bogota you can reach some places like parque Florida and the hummingbird garden by public transport/taxis (although latter may be expensive)

[Edit] Should have said: to a first approximation Bogota is super-ugly in comparison with some other South American cities. The historic bit is really restricted, and they've been careful to intersperse the attractive buildings among ruins and run down areas. Having done so, I'm not sure if spend a lot of time there looking at the "sights". I'd concentrate on getting out of the city as soon as...
 
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bronze sunbird

Well-known member
Cajanuma mentioned Hato la Aurora in the Llanos. It's a bit our of the way but the birding is fantastic. We visited there in February 2020, staying at Ecolodge Juan Solito. This is a full-service lodge, including accommodation, meals, local guides and vehicles.

It's a long drive to get there. We launched from Paz de Ariporo and it took most of a day to get to the lodge - though part of the problem was that we had to stop regularly to ogle the birds in the myriad of ponds and wetlands enroute.

I wrote up a short trip report which will give you the feel of the place - it's on my blog at https://anthonykaduck.ca/birding-colombias-llanos-hato-la-aurora/
 

pandachris

Well-known member
Thanks both again. Duly noted re Santa Marta and it's definitely in our plans.

Ecolodge Juan Solito is one I've been looking at. I was thinking to fly to Yopal and rent a vehicle from there but that might be naïve, so perhaps we could rely on a pick-up from the lodge which would limit our flexibility but mean we wouldn't have a rental car sitting idle for several days.

I've upped my savings target for this holiday :) Nice blog and photos, bronze sunbird.
 

pandachris

Well-known member
Her birthday has gotten closer since my last post and I'm coming around to the idea that even December 2021 might be too ambitious at the moment. On that basis, December 2022 or January 2023 might be dates to aim for. On the plus side I will have time to save more money :)

I probably asked too many questions in my original post, so I'll repeat one here, because it might help solve the problem of birthday presents this year (always a bit trickier when the birthday is 4 days before Xmas!):

What field guides, apps etc. should we get? My partner's Spanish is pretty good so we're not restricted to English language.
 

bronze sunbird

Well-known member
Lynx Publications will be issuing a new and updated version of the classic Birds of Colombia by Steven Hilty. I'm looking forward to it.
 

pandachris

Well-known member
Thanks Anthony. I'll look out for that. With a bit of luck I might get it delivered in time for her birthday.

Her first Xmas presents arrived today - a moth trap and protective glasses - nothing like a bit of romance. I think I bought her some boots before lockdown which I'll have to track down and I'll probably get her some antique jewellery as well, so it's not all practical stuff that is half for me :)
 

pandachris

Well-known member
Aye. Well. Hmm. :)

Incidentally, I've just spotted that your life list is within 4 of mine (I think hers might be a bit bigger than mine because of business trips to New England when she got a few nice ones to balance a few of my twitched or range-restricted species from the 1990s). If we make it to Colombia I anticipate quite a boost, though. No lifers so far in 2020 but we have a week planned in Norfolk (UK) next month which might boost our chances.
 

bronze sunbird

Well-known member
Oh you'll certainly add a bunch of birds in the birders' paradise that is Colombia. 884 birds on my life list come from three trips there. :eat:
 

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