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RFI- Venezuela (1 Viewer)

Jeannie

Member
Hi,

I'd like to go birding/ traveling in Venezuela in Dec-Jan, and would appreciate advice from anyone who has been there recently. I speak good Spanish and have traveled and birded extensively in Central America, traveling by public transportation and camping in national parks/ wildlife reserves or staying in modest hotels.

First, if you were planning a trip to S. America, would you choose Venezuela or somewhere else?

Two more questions-- first, is Venezuela relatively safe and stable? I realize that Caracas has the usual problems, but outside of Caracas, hiking in parks and birding along roadsides, is it relatively safe? Second-- is it possible to get to most sites by public transportation? Jurgen Becker's suggestions around Merida were very helpful. How about visiting the Llanos? Any budget suggestions (alternatives to the Hatos?)

thanks!
Jeannie
 

Katy Penland

Well-known member
Hi, Jeannie,

From all of us here on staff at BirdForum, a warm welcome to you!

I'm afraid I can't help you with your questions on birding Venezuela, but someone will be along shortly who can. We have quite a few members from South America and even more who've traveled there.

Look forward to hearing about your birding experiences!
 

Rasmus Boegh

BF member
Hi Jeannie,

Luckily, there are relatively few birding localities in Venezuela that can't be visited via public transportation. Even the Santo Domingo valley and the Escalera presents few problems if using public trasportation - though private transportation obviously always is faster and more efficient. The fact that Spanish presents no problem to you is a big advantage.

Venezuela is relatively safe and stable, though there have been a few prob's in recent weeks due to the recent presidential voting. However, this appears to have been restricted to the weeks before and just after the voting. Obviously, anywhere in South America you need to take care and ask around. Local situations change rapidly, and locals can provide the best updated info on the specific situation in their area. In any case, Venezuela is as safe as anywhere else in South America - perhaps with a few exceptions close to the border with Colombia. In any case I found security to be no big issue (as said, comparable to other countries in South America) and more recently (two months ago) a friend of mine returned and he had no problems either.

In regards of the Llanos, this is one of the few cases where it seems you really get what you pay for. There are several rather cheap possibilities (sold all over to "normal tourists") that are fine for birding; but they are still behind the birding at the few top haciendas (= "Hatos") that are (sadly) downright expensive. I would like to mention that I personally don't consider the Llanos hacienda a "must" if you have birded extensively in the Neotropics. The vast percentage of the birds found there are widespread and you have probably seen them already in Central America. The best arguments for the the expensive lodges in the Llanos are probably Agami Heron (a widespread but very low density species that is seen with some regularity at Hato Cedral & Hato Piñero) and Yellow-knobbed Curassow. The (probably) endemic White-bearded Flycatcher is rather common and can relatively easily (obs; learn the voice) be seen on a cheap trip or just by visiting a few of the localities at the border of the Llanos that are easy to access via busses. The same can be said about Orinocan Saltator, Pale-headed Jacamar, Russet-throated Puffbird and Oriole Blackbird. The famous Scarlet Ibis is relatively easy at several localities along the coast of Venezuela. So, the question is: Do you want to pay all those money to get a few extra species? Only you can answer that.

A big plus for Venezuela is that there is a good fieldguide by Hilty, a good sound-guide (the CD-ROM "Birds of Venezuela" by P. Bosna), and finally a good and (to my knowledge) up-to-date site guide ("Birding in Venezuela" by Mary L. Goodwin; 5th edition). Unless you have already done so, I would seriously advice you to buy all three.

Rasmus
 
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Rasmus Boegh

BF member
Jeannie said:
First, if you were planning a trip to S. America, would you choose Venezuela or somewhere else?

Somehow I missed that part of the question! Anyway, I have been lucky enough to visit Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil & Venezuela; and I would *anytime* advice birders planning on a "self-guided" first visit to South America to choose either Ecuador or Venezuela. Peru is problematic because of the size and relatively poor infrastructure away from the coast. You either have to limit yourself to a small part of the country or spend several months there. The same problem relates to massive Brazil. A second problem with Brazil is that Brazilian Portuguese is hard to understand for Spanish-speakers. My Spanish is quite good and I still had serious problems communicating (it seemed they understood me when I spooke Spanish, but I hardly understood anything when they replied in Portuguese!). At least until I had been there a few months. It is however fairly easy to read Portuguese if you read Spanish. Yet another problem with Brazil and Peru is that a large percentage of the localities are very hard (if not impossible) to visit without private transportation. Both countries also lack a good fieldguide. "All the Birds of Brazil" by Souza and "Birds of Peru" by Clements & Shany are rather poor, meaning that you are forced to use a combination of plates and info from several other books to have a satisfying experiance. The guides that are currently being written for these countries are likely to be years from publication. Both Ecuador and Venezuela have good fieldguides and CD-ROMS with voices. Yet another reason why I would advice Ecuador or Venezuela is that they comprice a large number of different habitats in an area that is fairly easy to access without spending too much time on the road (obs: We are still talking many hours, but far less than would be needed in Peru or Brazil). Ecuador is obviously smaller than Venezuela, so it does have a small advantage in that matter. Ecuador also has the Galapagos, but these islands are rather expensive to visit with 1.000 US$ for a 6 day trip on a boat being absolutely minimum (and finding it at this price would require quite a bit of time & luck looking around in Quito or Guayaquil). Still, if you have the chance, go for it - those islands are amazing! The cost in the end for a trip to Ecuador or Venezuela of similar lenght would be comparable (though note my comment on the Galapagos). Perhaps you would see a few more species on a trip to Ecuador, but that clearly depends on your capabilities. In the end I would give Ecuador a small lead over Venezuela as a first-time destination in South America for an independant birder. However, they are so close that this would clearly depend on your specific wishes.

Rasmus

NB: ... I almost forget it again: Welcome to BirdForum!
 
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Jeannie

Member
Rasmus,

Thank you for your thoughtful replies! Your second post answered my next question- what about Ecuador? I read the earlier thread on Ecuador and it sounds like that could be an excellent trip as well. I will do a search for trip reports from independent travelers. I'd heard mixed reviews from former Peace Corps volunteers (non-birders) about the amount of habitat destruction there. Are most of the prime sites on private land, or is there good birding in national parks/ reserves?

thanks for the welcome!
Jeannie
 

Pantanal1

Wes Syposz
I would recommend Pantanal in Brazil

Totally agree that Brazil is very large and difficult to grasp with over 1800 species of birds in the country. There is, however, the region that is wonderful for the birdwatchers/birders. It is called Pantanal. It is the the world's largest floodplain and because of its charcteristics it is a great place to observe birds (mostly savannah with few patches of forest). There are approx. 650 species in the 150 thousand square kilometers area. There is quite a infrastucture of lodges and guides, many of the speak English and at least 2 of them are true birders guides who are very knowledgeable and the experts in their field. The best time to visit is probably between June and November (dry season). I would advise to hire a guide, especially for the first time to get the most out of your trip (I speak fluent Portuguese, but still use guides from time to time). Lack of good field guides can be compensated in part by having a good guide, who can help in identifying the birds.
I have a web site with some of the information www.pantanaladventures.com and if anyone is interested in more details, please send me a message.
As for the safety, the region is relatively safe because there are very few people in Pantanal.

Cheers,
Wes

Rasmus Boegh said:
Somehow I missed that part of the question! Anyway, I have been lucky enough to visit Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil & Venezuela; and I would *anytime* advice birders planning on a "self-guided" first visit to South America to choose either Ecuador or Venezuela. Peru is problematic because of the size and relatively poor infrastructure away from the coast. You either have to limit yourself to a small part of the country or spend several months there. The same problem relates to massive Brazil. A second problem with Brazil is that Brazilian Portuguese is hard to understand for Spanish-speakers. My Spanish is quite good and I still had serious problems communicating (it seemed they understood me when I spooke Spanish, but I hardly understood anything when they replied in Portuguese!). At least until I had been there a few months. It is however fairly easy to read Portuguese if you read Spanish. Yet another problem with Brazil and Peru is that a large percentage of the localities are very hard (if not impossible) to visit without private transportation. Both countries also lack a good fieldguide. "All the Birds of Brazil" by Souza and "Birds of Peru" by Clements & Shany are rather poor, meaning that you are forced to use a combination of plates and info from several other books to have a satisfying experiance. The guides that are currently being written for these countries are likely to be years from publication. Both Ecuador and Venezuela have good fieldguides and CD-ROMS with voices. Yet another reason why I would advice Ecuador or Venezuela is that they comprice a large number of different habitats in an area that is fairly easy to access without spending too much time on the road (obs: We are still talking many hours, but far less than would be needed in Peru or Brazil). Ecuador is obviously smaller than Venezuela, so it does have a small advantage in that matter. Ecuador also has the Galapagos, but these islands are rather expensive to visit with 1.000 US$ for a 6 day trip on a boat being absolutely minimum (and finding it at this price would require quite a bit of time & luck looking around in Quito or Guayaquil). Still, if you have the chance, go for it - those islands are amazing! The cost in the end for a trip to Ecuador or Venezuela of similar lenght would be comparable (though note my comment on the Galapagos). Perhaps you would see a few more species on a trip to Ecuador, but that clearly depends on your capabilities. In the end I would give Ecuador a small lead over Venezuela as a first-time destination in South America for an independant birder. However, they are so close that this would clearly depend on your specific wishes.

Rasmus

NB: ... I almost forget it again: Welcome to BirdForum!
 

Rasmus Boegh

BF member
Jeannie said:
Thank you for your thoughtful replies! Your second post answered my next question- what about Ecuador? I read the earlier thread on Ecuador and it sounds like that could be an excellent trip as well. I will do a search for trip reports from independent travelers. I'd heard mixed reviews from former Peace Corps volunteers (non-birders) about the amount of habitat destruction there. Are most of the prime sites on private land, or is there good birding in national parks/ reserves?

To add a bit on the info in the previous post;

The Pantanal is rather like a Brazilian version of the Venezuelan Llanos. The birding is quite similar and in both cases, may I add, world-class & great. Still, for a first-time & "self-guided" visit to South America I would repeat my recommendations for Ecuador & Venezuela. By shere coincidense I wrote a post on the Pantanal (in Brazil) a few days ago. Here it is in case you're interested:
http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=16102
- post #6

I'd also like to add a final comment on security in Brazil. Brazil is way safer than the media claims. Don't misunderstand me, there certainly are places where you should NOT go, especially after dark. But, as long as you use common sense and ask around, I consider Brazil as safe as LA or NY in the USA. The same can be said about Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela... and so on. - It should be mentioned that my hair is blond as blond gets, so I am easy to pick out as being a "gringo" ;)

Regarding habitat destruction in Ecuador. Yes, it is bad, but no worse than in any other country in South America; be that Venezuela, Peru or Bolivia. Luckily, a few individuals have been (and still is) doing a massive task in recent years and the effect is slowly starting to appear. Also, a few lodges have started to become "good business", thereby removing the immediate threat to these areas. Still, the situation is far from resolved, but there are clear indications that most important areas can be saved - at least to some extent. So, in this context, the situation in Venezuela and Ecuador are quite similar. My knowledge on the various programs by the Peace Corps projects in South America is rather limited. I am aware that a few programs for volunteers have become money-making machines. Note that I am not aware of the exact companies behind these, this is not in relation to the Peace Corps projects. An example of what I would consider cheating is a (apparently) British company that charged a rather hefty sum, so people could become volunteers at some of the Jatun Sacha reserves (in Ecuador). The company claimed that they passed on the money to the Jatun Sacha foundation and their conservation efforts. Later I was told by officials in the Jatun Sacha organisation that they never received a single $. It should be mentioned that the Jatun Sacha foundation has - without doubt - proven to be one of the most efficient conservation organisations in Ecuador. They got caught in this mess by accident, and were not in any way involved in the cheating. If someone should wish to become a volunteer at one of their reserves they should contact them directly, not via another company:

http://www.jatunsacha.org/

It is possible to volunteer for several of their projects. They do take a small fee for this experiance, but way less than the cheating company mentioned earlier (that apparently took several thousand US$ per month). Also, if you pay the foundation directly, all the money go to conservation. If I remember correctly, you have to volunteer for a one month period minimum. I visited several of their stations and several of them were quite amazing experiances. It should be mentioned that I didn't volunteer due to a the time I had available. They can also be contacted (via the above URL) and then visited for a shorter period w/o the work. This is cheap, but obviously still more expensive than volunteering. If I remember correctly I paid 25 US$ per day (incl. three meals & unlimited purified water for drinking) for a visit to Bilsa. As said, I visited several of their reserves but Bilsa will forever stand back as something unique. Access alone is an experiance. First part is relatively easy and includes getting on a truck with a bunch of locals for transportation to a small village. You spend a night there, and the following day the fun begins: 5+ hours on a horse. Not just any trip, but along what may be the most muddy trail you will ever see! I have seen a lot of mud. But never anything remotely similar to this! There were several places where the mud was a meter (3 feet) thick! I remember reading a trip-report that stated "Bilsa aka Muds Revenge". - And that is a fitting name! It should be mentioned that this is rather seasonal. This is one of the localities in the world that gets the largest amount of rain. Still, even in the dry season it is apparently rather muddy. Well, some may call me crazy, but I actually found it rather fun! I assume you wouldn't visit this locality for this reason, though. However, the birding is amazing. I still remember standing below booming male Long-wattled Umbrellabird on the early mornings! They have several leeks here and this is probably the only place in the world where this species can be virtually guaranteed (or even expected). Their list is filled with amazing species. Just to mention a few of my highlights I saw Plumbeous Forest-falcon, Rose-faced Parrot, Tooth-billed Hummingbird, Lita Woodpecker, Black-striped Woodcreeper, Black-tipped Cotinga, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis... and much, much more! If you're very lucky you may even see the Banded Ground-cuckoo. This is one of the very few localities where it has been seen in recent years. They have also have two towers. It should mentioned that these towers are safe (you put on a harness before climbing the ladder), but certainly not for people who are affright of heights! Anyway, as said, without doubt one of the most amazing birding experiances I have ever had! Getting there is quite an experiance, but they arrange everything (horses etc.) and it really isn't too hard. Just remember that this isn't a lodge. It's primarily a fieldstation so they can show you where the trails start and give hints, but they are not going to act as guides. The other fieldstations they have are nice aswell, though much easier to access. They are found in various habitats with Bilsa being in the Choco, Jatuna Sacha (the station they started with) in the Amazon, Congal being in the dry forest/mangroves region etc. etc. (check their website for full info on the various localities). Do note that volunteers are expected to work. It is not a holiday but rather a full-time job. It can be hard to work in the jungle and sometimes rather frustrating - certainly not for everybody. You should expect to work monday to friday from 8 AM to 3-4 PM, meaning that birding can be relatively limited and mostly done in weekends. Also note that several of these localities are away from shops etc. Everything you need you bring along yourself. Food is there and so is drinking water. But if you like chocolate or similar, bring it along yourself! I am not aware of other programs for volunteers in regards of the nature even though I am sure there are others. There are always plenty of people wanted for projects to help in poor regions or help teach English. I don't have the details available, though.

Anyway, back to the initial question; yes, many of the protected areas are private. However, most of them allow visitors for a small fee. There are also several areas that are protected by the Ecuadorian Government and they also require (very fairly may I add!) an entrance fee. Here are two posts I wrote recently, both being on various localities in southern Ecuador:

http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?p=162568#post162568
- post #6 & 11

For "self-guided" birding in Ecuador this report is comprehensive and very good:
http://www.surfbirds.com/mb/trips/ecuador-fr-0501.html

Sadly, I have not been able to locate any significant reports on birding on your own in Venezuela (perhaps I'll end up writing one). However, as mentioned earlier, birding in Venezuela is generally fairly easy and shouldn't present a problem. Just get the guide by Mary L. Goodwin mentioned in post #3.

As always, check Eurobirding for reports (they have plenty for both Ecuador & Venezuela):
http://www.eurobirding.com/
 
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Rasmus Boegh

BF member
Jeannie said:
I found an excellent website with information on birding independently in Venezuela. Jurgen Beckers focuses on areas around Merida, but also has tips on visiting the Llanos. There are some great links at the bottom of the page for additional trip reports and info on Venezuela.

http://home.tiscali.be/fr018787/birding/merida.htm

Thanks, yes I know it. He's got a very good page on Colombia aswell. The problem with the Venezuela-part is that he only deals with a small number of localities in a limited part of Venezuela (mostly around Merida). There is so much more in Venezuela. One of many examples of localities not mentioned is the famous and highly recommendable Escalera with all the endemics from the Guianan region (incl. the Tepuis). The same can be said about the amazing Henri Pittier National Park (with its many endemics) near Caracas. Having said that, the info he gives on the sites around Merida certainly is very good. As mentioned in a previous post I would recommend you looking at eurobirding for reports. This is without doubt the largest collection (they don't host the reports, but rather link to them) on the net:

For Venezuela (42 reports):
http://www.eurobirding.com/triprepo...on&se=on&no=on&dk=on&fi=on&nl=on&it=on&page=1

For Ecuador (124 reports):
http://www.eurobirding.com/triprepo...on&se=on&no=on&dk=on&fi=on&nl=on&it=on&page=1
 
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Jeannie

Member
Rasmus,
Thanks again for the links- and for the additional information on Ecuador and Venezuela. I will check back with more questions after taking some time to read through these trip reports. As far as my comment about Peace Corps volunteers in Ecuador- just to correct any misunderstanding, I wasn't associating these folks in any way with activities causing habitat destruction in Ecuador! My comment was that I've heard from former volunteers that Ecuador has less remaining forest than other Andean countries/ fewer protected areas.
 

Steve Elliott

Active member
Venezuela birding

Jeannie said:
Hi,

I'd like to go birding/ traveling in Venezuela in Dec-Jan, and would appreciate advice from anyone who has been there recently. I speak good Spanish and have traveled and birded extensively in Central America, traveling by public transportation and camping in national parks/ wildlife reserves or staying in modest hotels.

First, if you were planning a trip to S. America, would you choose Venezuela or somewhere else?

Two more questions-- first, is Venezuela relatively safe and stable? I realize that Caracas has the usual problems, but outside of Caracas, hiking in parks and birding along roadsides, is it relatively safe? Second-- is it possible to get to most sites by public transportation? Jurgen Becker's suggestions around Merida were very helpful. How about visiting the Llanos? Any budget suggestions (alternatives to the Hatos?)

thanks!
Jeannie

Hi jeanie
I am running a trip to Venezuela in the middle 2 weeks of January and can assure you that it is a great place to go birding and safe as well. I suggest you look at the web site of Chris Sharpe called Birding Venezuela (sorry not got the url to hand) for more and detailed info Email me on steve_elliott2000AThotmail.com if you wish
Regards
Steve Elliott
 

howard pernia

New member
Steve Elliott said:
Hi jeanie
I am running a trip to Venezuela in the middle 2 weeks of January and can assure you that it is a great place to go birding and safe as well. I suggest you look at the web site of Chris Sharpe called Birding Venezuela (sorry not got the url to hand) for more and detailed info Email me on steve_elliott2000AThotmail.com if you wish
Regards
Steve Elliott

hi i saw your conversation about venezuela. my name is howard pernia, i'm a tourism guide and a birdwatchers guide, i live in merida, venezuela and i always visit this site, if you want any information about venezuela you can e-mail me any time, i know about birding and im specialized in los llanos. and if you want i'm able to give you any information about travel agencies, hotels and flight tikets. i work as a freeland guide with 7 diferent agencies, so i can find you a very good deal. my e-mail is [email protected]
cheers.
howard
 

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