Birdwatching in Colombia: Everything You Need to Know

A hummingbird in flight preparing to land.

Beyond being a wonderful way to spend time outdoors and interact with nature, birdwatching has the added benefit of inspiring people to travel across the world. Latin America hosts thousands of bird species, and birdwatchers with their eye on Colombia may wonder what they need to know before planning their big trip. 

Before planning a birdwatching trip to Colombia, it is essential to know where you should visit and what kinds of birds you can expect to see. You should also consider whether you want to take a tour or plan your own travels. Additionally, Colombia is a country with a lot of climatic diversity, so planning a trip per season is a must.

Colombia is one of the best places in the world to see birds. Novice and experienced birdwatchers alike will surely find something to enjoy about the avian life in this country. Although the planning may seem daunting, rest assured that it is possible. Keep reading for a comprehensive guide on planning your birdwatching adventure.

Why Should You Go Birdwatching in Colombia?

Colombia has more species of birds than any other country in the world. Its nearly 1,900 avian species make it a haven for those looking to add some new birds to their list.  The country’s diverse ecosystems allow birds and wildlife to thrive. 

Those looking to birdwatch in Colombia can expect to find birds in the following ecosystems:

  • Coastal forests
  • Mountainous environments
  • Rainforests and cloud forests
  • The Amazon jungle
  • Caribbean tropical

With so many possibilities for birdwatching before you, the question is not whether to do it, but where to start! Each unique ecosystem has different draws, and sometimes the best way to start planning your Colombian bird watching adventure is by determining where you should go.

Where Should You Go Birdwatching in Colombia?

Before booking a flight, take some time to think about what you would like to see. Colombia’s distinctive ecological zones cause different types of birds to live in different areas. The following sections will outline the most popular areas to go birdwatching and what species you can expect to find in each location.

The Amazon 

Reflection of a sunset by a lagoon inside the Amazon Rainforest Basin
Reflection of a sunset by a lagoon inside the Amazon Rainforest Basin. The Amazon river basin comprises the countries of Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname, Peru and Venezuela.

As one of the vastest jungles on the planet, the Amazon’s wealth of wildlife makes it a natural draw for those looking to see birds unlike any others on earth. The Amazon is home to several national parks that are ideal locations to see different species, and if you are looking for an entry point into the jungle, these parks will provide you with a distinctly outlined territory where you can safely look for birds.

Some of the most famous bird species in the Amazon include:

  • Macaws
  • Toucans
  • Hoatzins
  • The Amazonian Umbrellabird

If you are hoping to see some of the most iconic and sought-after bird species on the planet, starting your adventure in the Amazon could be the right choice for you. Consider visiting the Amacayacu National Park or Puerto Nariño for some of the best chances to see wildlife.

Santa Marta

Although perhaps not as widely known to the world as the Amazon, the coastal and mountainous forests of the Santa Marta region are a hotspot for avid birdwatchers. These mountains are the foremost place in the world for biodiversity, and birdwatchers visiting this region can expect to see species beyond their wildest dreams.

Some of the most commonly sought-after birds in Santa Marta include the Andean condor and numerous species of brilliantly-colored hummingbirds. Additionally, the Santa Marta region is so popular with birdwatchers that you can easily expect to find a guide there who can show you where the best birdwatching spots are.

Beyond just incredible birds, you will also have spectacular mountain views as the backdrop for your adventure.

The Cloud Forests at the Río Blanco Nature Reserve

If you are hoping to see some high-altitude species, nothing can compare to those found in the cloud forests that are most easily accessed through the Río Blanco Nature Reserve. This reserve boasts more than 4,000 hectares of pristine wildlife, and in the cloud forests you will be surrounded by birds that are specially adapted to the high altitudes.

Birdwatchers typically go to this area hoping to see the following species:

  • Antpitta birds
  • The incredibly rare Fuertes’s Parrot
  • The Rainbow-bearded Thornbill

As a source of lush natural beauty, the cloud forests are a top destination for birdwatchers. However, they are very remote and may prove a challenge to access if you are limited on time and resources.

The Northern Caribbean Birding Trail

Bordering the Caribbean Sea, the northern coast of Colombia has much to offer birdwatchers. Beyond the Santa Marta mountains, birdwatchers can also find a variety of tropical bird species in various natural parks and preserves.

Some of the most popular areas to watch birds in this region includes:

  • Los Flamencos Flora and Fauna Sanctuary
  • Tayrona National Natural Park
  • Los Besotes Ecopark

If you are hoping for a birdwatching vacation that combines the appeal of the mountains, jungle, and sea, focusing on the Caribbean coast may be your most appealing option.

When Should You Go Birdwatching in Colombia?

Although Colombia is extremely diverse ecologically, there are some general trends you can follow when planning your birdwatching trip. 

If you are hoping to visit the mountainous areas, avoid the rainy seasons of April-May and October-November. Although Colombia is very temperate overall, if you are planning a high-altitude trip you should check the weather charts to make sure you are prepared for the elements.

Additionally, while many birds stay in Colombia year-round, certain species do migrate. If you have your heart set on seeing a certain species of bird, you should make sure that you research its migratory patterns to verify that it will be in the area during the time you hope to visit. 

Alone or With a Guide?: The Best Way to Birdwatch in Colombia

If you have started planning your trip, you probably have seen the countless websites and organizations that offer guided bird watching excursions. Some of these range from a few-hours long journey to companies that will plan the majority of your trip for you.

Not everyone agrees if guides are the best way to enjoy a vacation. When considering whether to join a guided journey or travel solo, you may wish to think through the following factors:

  • Experience: Have you organized big trips before? Have you traveled internationally in remote areas? If you are an experienced birdwatching voyager, you may have the skills where you do not need a guide. If you are a novice to international travel or Latin America, it may be well worth it to have an expert’s assistance.
  • Location: If you are hoping to visit an extremely remote corner of Colombia, you will almost certainly want to have a guide. Guides will be authorized to transport you to wherever you need to go. Additionally, they will be extremely knowledgeable about the area and can keep you traveling in a safe and enjoyable environment.
  • Language abilities: The national language of Colombia is Spanish, and you will find this widely spoken in most areas. If you are not comfortable using Spanish to communicate and navigate, consider hiring a guide as they can help you surpass language barriers.

In general, unless you are an extremely organized and experienced person, it can be helpful to have a guide with you. They can take care of some of the logistical details while you focus on what you went there to see: the birds!

Choosing a Tour Group

Not all tours are created equal. You can find a birdwatching guided tour that meets all of your expectations by answering the following questions:

  • How long are you going? Birdwatching tours range from a partial day excursion to days or weeks of exploring. Have a firm idea in mind of how long you would like to be in the country.
  • What is your budget? All-inclusive guided tours can be costly. Know what you are willing to spend and adjust the length of the tour as needed to avoid breaking your budget.
  • What size group? Some guided birdwatching tours are private, and others will include numerous other bird enthusiasts. Be sure to read the parameters of the tour so you know how many people will be out on the trail with you.

As with any other travel-related activity, the importance of reputation cannot be overstated. If you are considering booking a tour, make sure you check reviews to ensure that the tour is high-quality and ethical.

What Should You Bring While Birdwatching in Colombia?

Packing can be one of the most challenging aspects of preparing for a trip, and if you are going to be birdwatching in a remote region, the difficulties can increase even further. Keep in mind that there is no universal packing list, and everyone should individually analyze what they need based on their location and the duration of their trip.

However, there are a few things that can certainly come in handy while birdwatching in Colombia.

  • Binoculars: Avid birders know how essential it is to have a good pair of binoculars on any bird watching adventure. If you are traveling all the way to South America, you should be sure to have your best pair of binoculars. Just make sure you keep an eye on them so they do not get lost, stolen, or broken.
  • A book: In areas without a cellphone signal, a birding book can be your best friend. Look for one that is specifically catered to the region you are exploring. This will help you identify birds as you see them, especially if you are traveling without a guide.
  • Rain gear: Even in the dry seasons, rain can still happen. Bring a rain jacket and a dry change of clothes. When you are in a remote area, getting wet is not fun and can detract from the enjoyment of your experience.
  • A Spanish dictionary: In Colombia, you may need to know some Spanish to get by. Bring a small Spanish dictionary that can help you decipher signs or communicate with people as you need. Even if you are traveling with a guide, navigating the airports and cities may require you to know some basic Spanish.
  • A camera: You will be seeing some unforgettable wildlife, and taking a photo can make the memory last even longer. Bring a camera and the necessary supplies to charge it.
  • Comfortable shoes: Regardless of where you go in Colombia, you will be doing lots of moving in an outdoor space. Bring comfortable, waterproof shoes that will keep your feet dry and prevent blisters or other forms of discomfort. Your feet will thank you!
  • Basic first aid gear: When traveling, it is a good idea to have painkillers, bandages, sunscreen, and other necessary equipment. Although you can probably buy these things upon arrival in Colombia, make sure you have them before setting out on your birdwatching trip.

Additionally, depending on where you are from and how long you are staying, you may need special documents that authorize your trip. Make sure you are well-informed on all of the logistical things you need to arrive in Colombia. If you are unsure, it may be best to speak with an expert or travel guide who will know what to do.

Conclusion

Birdwatching is a pastime for all ages, and with all of the avian life that exists around the world, it does not have to be limited to your backyard or neighborhood park. Birdwatching trips across the globe are becoming increasingly popular, and Colombia is one such place where people go to see some incredible birds.

Due to its plethora of bird species and marvelous natural landscapes, Colombia is at the forefront of bird watching destinations. If you are considering going to Colombia, you can rest assured in the knowledge that you will have the opportunity to see a wide range of rare and beautiful bird species.

While planning your trip to Colombia, make sure you know where you want to go and how long you would like to go. With some time and research, you will soon be embarking on the birdwatching trip of your dreams.

Sources:
https://www.birdingecotours.com/what-to-bring/
https://colombia.travel/en/blog/five-unbeatable-reasons-go-birdwatching-colombia
https://www.sula.com.co/blog/northern-caribbean-birding-trail-colombia/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_birds_of_Colombia
https://www.audubon.org/conservation/americas/ecotourism/colombia
https://www.kimkim.com/c/colombia-s-top-5-bird-watching-destinations



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