The Very Best of Colombia, Part II: Southern Andes, Amazonian Foothills and Llanos
The Very Best of Colombia, Part II: Southern Andes, Amazonian Foothills and Llanos
We are proud to introduce to you our fantastic Colombia birdwatching trip The Very Best of Colombia, Part II: Southern Andes, Amazonian Foothills and Llanos. This is our latest (November 2020) addition to the several trips we offer to this amazing country, the planet’s richest country for birds, with almost 2,000 species recorded. If you have enjoyed our classic The Very Best of Colombia: Santa Marta, Andes and Chocó birding tour and/or our Bogotá and Medellín endemics tour, then this third tour is a great choice for another fantastic birding adventure with Birding Ecotours.
The poorly known and incredibly localized Chestnut-bellied Cotinga (photo Danial Orozco).
This trip provides the opportunity to travel across Colombia along a completely different route compared to our classic itinerary above. We’ll start the trip in the city of Cali, and after visiting a new private reserve, where we should get excellent views of two Colombian endemics, Chestnut Wood Quail and Multicolored Tanager as they regularly visit bird feeders here, we’ll then travel south to Nariño and Putumayo states to enjoy further unique birding experiences.
We will look for a family of Chestnut Wood Quails in Reserva La Florida (photo Gilberto Collazos).
One of the highlights of the tour will be visiting the Páramo de Bordoncillo on a quest to find the poorly known and localized Chestnut-bellied Cotinga. This species was only recently rediscovered, and the area we visit for it is one of the few spots on Earth to see this awesome bird. Together with the Peruvian endemics, White-cheeked Cotinga and Bay-vented Cotinga, this species is considered a “Holy Grail bird” among cotinga fans and South American bird lovers; honestly, it’s one you should just not miss! Other interesting species here include Golden-plumed Parakeet, Black-headed Hemispingus, Carunculated Caracara and the majestic Andean Condor, which is relatively easy to photograph near its roosting cliffs. Another highlight of this tour is visiting the Llanos, now inaccessible in Venezuela but actually within reach in Colombia (not everyone knows this!), but more about this below!
Heading south, we will reach the humid montane forest of a fascinating geographical part of the continent: the point where the Andes mountain chain that runs south to north splits into three different cordilleras. This unique geography is perhaps the most important reason why Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. Indeed, Colombia has more bird species than any other country, only seven less than the magical 2,000!
We will drive along the infamous Trampolin Road, which will take us from the cloudforest to the upper tropical Amazon lowlands. In the mountains, we’ll look for the near-endemic and sought-after White-rimmed Brushfinch, another huge target for this trip. While looking for this sought-after bird, we should also be rewarded with massive mixed-species feeding flocks which hold species such as Blue-browed Tanager, Golden Tanager, Bronze-green Euphonia, Orange-eared Tanager and Golden-collared Honeycreeper. Other species in these lush mountains include classics such as Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Black-billed MountainToucan, Dusky Piha, Red-ruffed Fruitcrow and the beautiful White-capped Tanager.
The upper tropical forest where the Andes meets the Amazon will provide a feast of birds such as Coppery-chested Jacamar and other avian jewels including White-eared Jacamar, Brown Jacamar, White-chinned Jacamar, Scarlet-crowned Barbet, Amazonian Umbrellabird, White-chested Puffbird, Western Striolated Puffbird, Black-streaked Puffbird, Scaled Fruiteater, Vermilion Tanager and Golden-collared Toucanet.
The Amazonian foothills provide for another new set of birds (photo Oswaldo Cortez).
The lowlands will provide birds like Horned Screamer, Plum-throated Cotinga, Cream-colored Woodpecker and White-throated Toucan. After ten days exploring the Mocoa and Putumayo lowlands, we will take a domestic flight to Bogotá (Colombia’s capital) where we will stay overnight, followed by a full morning to explore La Florida Park looking for more Colombian endemics such as Bogota Rail, Apolinar’s Wren and Silvery-throated Spinetail. In the afternoon, we will fly to Yopal, the gateway of the Colombian Llanos.
Los Llanos are vast tropical grassland plains nourished by the waters of the Orinoco River. This habitat represents an amazing bird and wildlife refuge in northwestern South America. It is reminiscent of the Pantanal in Brazil, due to its high density of aquatic bird species. It was a popular destination among birdwatchers and nature lovers visiting Venezuela in previous decades, but due to the current political and social situation in the country, Venezuela is less popular to visit. The good news, however, is that you can actually still visit Los Llanos and not miss this incredible habitat, shared by only Colombia and Venezuela.
We will find large congregations of waterbirds while in Los Llanos (photo Alejandro Grajales).
While in Los Llanos we will use the famous Juan Solito Lodge as a base where we will spend three days looking for the localized Pale-headed Jacamar, Two-banded Puffbird and White-bearded Flycatcher, as priorities,but of course,we also expect to be able to feast our eyes on a lot more than just these three species. This area provides a fantastic wildlife spectacle created by the congregation of hundreds of aquatic birds including Wood Stork, Jabiru, Scarlet Ibis, Sharp-tailed Ibis, the Near Threatened (IUCN) Orinoco Goose and the amazingly beautiful Roseate Spoonbill. Sungrebe, Sunbittern, Double-striped Thick-knee and Crestless Curassow should also be among the highlights for this section of the tour. After twelve days of intense birding in the Andes and the lush tropical forest, our stay in Los Llanos will be more relaxed, allowing participants to enjoy birds, wildlife and personal photography in this beautiful landscape. Los Llanos also provides great opportunities to spot wildlife such as Capybara and Orinoco Crocodile and, with luck, elusive species such as Giant Anteater, Jaguar and Anaconda.
Come and join us on this epic Colombian adventure that will take you from the heights of the Andes to the lowlands of the Llanos, targeting a number of unique and endangered species while in the company of your friendly and experienced Birding Ecotours tour leaders.
Itinerary (17 days/16 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in Cali
You will arrive at Cali international Airport and be transferred to our comfortable hotel where we will have our first dinner together and discuss the exciting prospect of the next 17 days of birding in Colombia.
Overnight: Hampton by Hilton, Cali
Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, one of the many tanagers to be seen at Reserva La Florida.
Day 2. Birding Reserva La Florida and transfer to Popayan
We shall have an early start to visit Reserva La Florida where we will have the chance to see a family of the endemic Chestnut Wood Quail coming to a feeder. Other classic bird species include Golden-naped Tanager, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Golden Tanager, Andean Motmot, Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, the endemic and striking Multicolored Tanager and the endemic Colombian Chachalaca. After lunch we will drive south to the colonial town of Popayan.
Overnight: Hotel Hacienda, Versalles, Popayan
Day 3. Birding Paramo de Purace
After a 1.5-hour drive, we shall reach the Paramo de Purace where, with a bit of luck, we will be able to see the majestic Andean Condor, Colombia’s national bird. Here the local communities feed the Andean Condor with animal carcasses, which offer good opportunities for photography. In addition to the condor, we can see Carunculated Caracara and Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle soaring above the paramo. Other species include Golden-plumed Parakeet, Grass-green Tanager, Buff-breasted MountainTanager, Golden-crowned Tanager, Black-backed BushTanager, Black-capped Hemispingus and hummingbird species such as Shining Sunbeam, Black-thighed Puffleg and the impressive Sword-billed Hummingbird. After lunch we will return to Popayan, looking for birds on the way to the hotel.
Overnight: Hotel Hacienda, Versalles, Popayan
The ridiculous-looking Sword-billed Hummingbird.
Day 4. Birding around the hotel and transfer to Pasto
The hotel surroundings offer great opportunities for species like Crested Bobwhite, the elusive Dwarf Cuckoo, Bar-crested Antshrike, Cocoa Thrush, Greenish Elaenia, Red-breasted Blackbird, White-lined Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Pearl Kite and two endemics: Greyish Piculet and Apical Flycatcher. By 10am we will start the long drive (5.5hours) to Pasto and be transferred to our hotel.
Overnight: Chalet Guamuez, Pasto
Day 5. Birding the Paramo de Bordoncillo
Today we will explore the Paramo de Bordoncillo, a place that has only recently been put on the map for birdwatchers when the poorly-known Chestnut-bellied Cotinga was rediscovered in this remote part of Colombia. For Cotinga-lovers this is probably one of the main targets of the trip and one of the rarest and hardest to find anywhere in the world. We will focus most of our efforts on finding this mega rare species.
However, the paramo also includes other impressive species such as Masked Mountain Tanager, Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, Carunculated Caracara, Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Paramo Tapaculo, White-browed Spinetail, Black-backed BushTanager and Spectacled Whitestart. After lunch we shall visit Laguna La Cocha to look for species such as Noble Snipe, Andean Duck, Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean Gull and Black-backed Grosbeak.
Overnight: Chalet Guamez, Pasto
Days 6-7. Birding Trampolin Road (upper and lower sections)
The famous Trampolin Road, which joins the city of Pasto with Mocoa, is one of the most dramatic roads in Colombia, passing through different forest types from 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) to 1,900 feet (600 meters) above sea level, as it descends into the tropical upper Amazonia. Along the road, we will look for one of the main targets of the trip, the sought-after White-rimmed Brushfinch. Other birds to look out for along the road include Blue-browed Tanager, Bronze-green Euphonia, Black-billed Mountain Toucan, Golden-eared Tanager, Lined Antshrike, Western Fire-eye, Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer, Grey-mantled Wren, Orange-eared Tanager, Black-collared Jay, Dusky Piha, Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, Rufous-rumped Antwren, White-capped Tanager, Rufous-crested Tanager, Golden-collared Honeycreeper, Maroon-tailed Parakeet and hummingbirds such as Violet-fronted Brilliant and Chestnut-breasted Coronet.
Overnight: Hotel Suma Wasi,Mocoa
We’ll look for the rare White-rimmed Brushfinch along the Trampolin Road (photo Danial Orozco).
Day 8. Birding Campucana
Today we shall focus on the tropical forest known as the Campucana. Here we will look for the prized Coppery-chested Jacamar and also other delights such as Black-streaked Puffbird, Speckled Tanager, White-streaked Antvireo, Spot-winged Antbird, Southern Nightingale-Wren, Musician Wren, Orange-billed Sparrow, Rufous-naped Greenlet, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Foothill Stipplethroat, Yellow-breasted Antwren, White-crowned Manakin, Blue-rumped Manakin, Black-billed Treehunter, Short-tailed Antthrush and hummingbird species such as Blue-fronted Lancebill and Wire-crested Thorntail.
Overnight: Hotel Suma Wasi, Mocoa
Day 9. Birding El Escondite
Today we shall focus our birding efforts on a lower-elevation tropical forest where we hope to find species like White-eared Jacamar, Brown Jacamar, White-chinned Jacamar, Green-backed Trogon, Scarlet-crowned Barbet, Golden-collared Toucanet, Point-tailed Palmcreeper, White-chested Puffbird, Amazonian Trogon, Amazonian Motmot, Western Striolated Puffbird, Black-streaked Puffbird, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Riparian Antbird, Gilded Barbet, Scaled Fruiteater, Vermilion Tanager, Green-and-gold Tanager, Speckled Chachalaca and Long-billed Woodcreeper.
Overnight: Hotel Pakarii, Puerto Asis
Day 10. Birding Playa Rica
Playa Rica offers forest and wetland areas which provide perfect habitat for a number of species including the likes of Horned Screamer, Capped Heron, Limpkin, White-throated Toucan, Plum-throated Cotinga, Orange-fronted Plushcrown, Ivory-billed Aracari, Lafresnaye’s Piculet, Chestnut Woodpecker, Cream-colored Woodpecker and Yellow-tufted Woodpecker. We should also find other more common species such as Black Caracara, Silver-beaked Tanager, Turquoise Tanager, Red-capped Cardinal, Blue-headed Parrot and Lettered Aracari.
Overnight: Hotel Pakarii, Puerto Asis
We hope to find Cream-colored Woodpecker in Playa Rica.
Day 11. Transfer to Puerto Asis and flight to Bogotá
We will continue our adventure by taking a domestic flight from Puerto Asis to Bogotá, from where we will transfer to the comfortable Hotel Habitel.
Overnight: Hotel Habitel, Bogotá
Day 12. Birding La Florida Regional Park and flight to Yopal
We shall spend the morning birding La Florida Regional Park close to the airport before our domestic flight to Yopal. La Florida is a good spot for the endemic Bogota Rail, and other birds such as Subtropical Doradito, the endemic Apolinar’s Wren, the endemic Silvery-throated Spinetail, American Coot, Spot-flanked Gallinule, Common Gallinule, Bare-faced Ibis, Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Andean Duck, Southern Lapwing and Mountain Elaenia. We will have lunch at the airport and then take our domestic flight to Yopal,in the Casanare state, the entrance to the Colombian Llanos.
Overnight: Hilton, Yopal
Day 13. Yopal to Hato La Aurora and onwards to Juan Solito Lodge
After breakfast we will leave our hotel and head to Hato de La Aurora, birding the savannas and the seasonally flooded plains looking for species such as Double-striped Thick-knee, Maguari Stork, Jabiru, Wood Stork, Whistling Heron, American White Ibis, Scarlet Ibis, Sharp-tailed Ibis, King Vulture, Savanna Hawk, American Kestrel, Oriole Blackbird, Grassland Sparrow, Yellowish Pipit, Eastern Meadowlark and Burrowing Owl. We will arrive at Juan Solito Lodge for lunch and will spend the afternoon birding around the lodge. Juan Solito Lodge is located in the north-eastern corner of the Hato La Aurora ranch, right on the banks of the Ariporo River and acts as a perfect base from which to explore the vast and impressive Los Llanos.
Overnight: Juan Solito Lodge
Jabiru and hordes of other waterbirds can be seen near Juan Solito Lodge (photo Alejandro Grajales).
Day 14. Birding Juan Solito, Hato La Aurora
We shall start our adventure by exploring Los Llanos in safari-style 4×4 vehicles while scanning the vast savannas and wetlands for wildlife such as Capybara, Giant Anteater and even the mighty Anaconda. Los Llanos is probably one of the easiest places in the world to see this giant snake! However, our target species are, without doubt, the localized Pale-headed Jacamar and White-bearded Flycatcher, both restricted to the Llanos habitat. Other species include Festive Amazon, Scaled Piculet, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Violaceous Jay, Bicolored Wren, Purple-throated Euphonia, Masked Cardinal and vast numbers of aquatic species. At night, we will do another safari-style drive looking for nocturnal wildlife and birds and, with some luck we’ll see Jaguar or Lowland (Brazilian) Tapir.
Overnight: Juan Solito Lodge
We will look for the range-restricted White-bearded Flycatcher in the Llanos habitat (photo Alejandro Grajales).
Day 15. Birding Juan Solito, Hato La Aurora
Today we will explore river channels by boat looking for species such as Orinoco Goose, Brazilian Teal, Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Crestless Curassow, Hoatzin, Sunbittern, Sungrebe, Boat-billed Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, Brown Jacamar, Barred Antshrike, Northern Slaty Antshrike, Amazonian Black Tyrant, Orange-crowned Oriole, Chestnut-vented Conebill, Rosy Thrush-tanager and Orange-fronted Yellow Finch.
Overnight: Juan Solito Lodge
Day 16. Juan Solito and transfer back to Yopal
After a last great morning enjoying the lodge surroundings, we will drive back to Yopal for our final night of the trip.
Overnight: Hilton, Yopal
Orinoco Goose is another one of our targets while in Los Llanos (photo Alejandro Grajales).
Day 17. Domestic flight to Bogotá and flight out
We will be transferred to the airport and catch our domestic flight to Bogotá. We will say farewell at Bogotá Airport after an amazing 17-day long birding and wildlife adventure.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.Download Itinerary
THE VERY BEST OF COLOMBIA, PART II: SOUTHERN ANDES, AMAZONIAN FOOTHILLS AND LLANOS TOUR-SPECIFIC INFORMATION
This itinerary has been designed to provide you with another incredible birding adventure which is complementary to our Very Best of Colombia: Santa Marta, Andes and Chocó birding tour. As Colombia is a large country, the fourth largest in South America, it is virtually impossible to see all of its highlights and enjoy all of its avian treasures in a standard 15- or 21-day trip. For this reason, we have decided to divide our ‘Very Best of Colombia’ tour into two different tours. The Very Best of Colombia, Part II will give you the chance to see other areas of this fabulous country. This trip will take you to the southern Andes in search of some incredible, range-restricted species such as the Chestnut-bellied Cotinga and White-rimmed Brushfinch. In addition, we will search for some classic and most-wanted Andean species such Andean Condor, White-capped Tanager and Golden-plumed Parakeet. We shall explore the Amazonian foothills where we will enjoy a plethora of colorful birds such Coppery-chested, White-chinned, White-eared and Brown Jacamars, Plum-throated Cotinga, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Vermilion Tanager, White-throated Toucan and Golden-collared Toucanet. We will end our trip in Los Llanos where we can enjoy great birds such as the localized Pale-headed Jacamar and Orinoco Goose and if we are lucky wildlife such Anaconda, or even the mighty Jaguar.
Our tour will start in Cali’s Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport (CLO) which can be reached by direct flights from all over Colombia, from some US international airports and from Panama City (Panama). Cali can be reached from Europe with a stop in Bogota. Please consult your travel agent to book your most convenient flight. Your tour leader will be waiting for you at Cali airport with a small board with the Birding Ecotours logo and we will then transfer you to your hotel. Please remember to keep your luggage tags, as they are required to exit the terminal at the Barranquilla airport. Please be aware that most international flights arrive in Cali in the afternoon, so we don’t have any birding activities planned for the first day. In case you arrive on an early flight, you will be transferred to the hotel but may have to wait until check-in is available. For an early check-in you might be charged extra by the hotel; this cost is not included in the Birding Ecotours tour price.
When filling out the customs declaration form, please use this address for the hotel:
Hotel Hampton by Hilton Cali, Avenida Colombia #1A Oeste-35, Calí, Colombia
Phone: +57 (2) 4896000
Our tour will end in Bogota after a wonderful 17 days in Colombia. After a final morning’s birding we will transfer you to the Bogota El Dorado International Airport (BOG), from where you can catch international connections and flights back home.
DOMESTIC FLIGHT INFORMATION
There are three domestic flights on this trip, covering the Puerto Asis-Bogota and Bogota-Yopal-Bogota legs. These flights are not included in the Birding Ecotours tour price, but we will book them for you. To reach Bogota from both Puerto Asis and Yopal we will fly in small aircrafts where the luggage is limited to 15 kg (33 Ib) as checked luggage and 5 kg (11 Ib) as hand luggage.
Any excess baggage fees are not included in the tour price and will cost about US$ 2 per kg (4.40 Ib). We will fly with EasyFly (www.easyfly.com.co) for the Puerto Asis-Bogota and Bogota-Yopal-Bogota routes, which we find to be the easiest airline covering these routes. We ask you to not book any flights before you confirm with Birding Ecotours.
PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS AND PACE
We grade this trip as moderate. Most of the birding consists of walking along roads and birding near the vehicle but some of the walks lead slightly up and down hills in the paramos. There are two areas, in the lowlands of Los Llanos and Putumayo, where the vehicles cannot access and thus require full mornings of walking with high humidity and heat but all along flat gradients.
We need predawn starts on each day of the tour so you will have to be physically and mentally prepared for this. We normally spend the whole morning birding in the field, return to the lodge for lunch (followed by a little rest), before continuing our birding in the afternoon.
We have customized our tour so that we will be spending two or three nights at a few destinations, which minimizes the stress of packing and re-packing every day, however Colombia is a big country, and the tour includes some lengthy drives between destinations. These lengthy drives are however certainly not bland and they will allow us to enjoy the interesting countryside and maximize our chances for unexpected birds along the way. There will be long drives through the southern Andes along our way to Putumayo
We will stay at the best accommodations available, however not all lodges provide the full suite of facilities such as air conditioning or heating.
We think this trip might be difficult for people with back, walking, and balance problems or for those who are not used to a birding trip with the many early starts involved.
ATM machines are available in Cali, Popayan, Bogota, Pasto and Yopal but not in Putumayo. You can pay with credit card at Hotel Hampton Cali, Hotel Sumawasi, Hotel Habitel Bogota, and Hotel Hampton Yopal. Please be aware that credit cards are not accepted everywhere, especially in remote locations.
We ask you to be ready for all kinds of weather during this trip.
Putumayo, Pasto, Puerto Asis and Hato La Aurora in los Llanos are hot with temperatures reaching 30 – 37 °C (86 – 98 °F). Please pack clothes in which you feel most comfortable for this kind of weather. We highly recommend using sunscreen and a light-colored hat or cap. Please check here on what we recommend to pack for our birding tours.
Even when it is sunny in the mornings, the temperatures can be cool at night in Popayan. Similarly, the southern Andes can be warm in the mornings with temperatures often dropping to a chilly 16 °C (60 °F) at night. We can also expect some rain in this part of the Andes however certain flocks of birds are more active on rainy and overcast days.
Up in Paramo de Bordoncillo in the southern Andes, windy days may produce even colder temperatures, sometimes dropping to 5 °C (41 °F) in the night and early morning.
In Calí, high humidity and some rainy mornings should be expected with minimum night-time temperatures in Bogotá at around 10 °C (50 °F).
Insects and chiggers are expected in Los Llanos and the Amazonian foothills however we recommend that you bring insect repellent, wear loose-fitting long pants and long-sleeved shirts and keep insect repellent handy. Spraying your feet, socks, shoes, and the lower portion of your pants with insect repellent will help reduce chigger bites.
Note on showers: Hotel Pakari (Mocoa x 2 nights) and Juan Solito (Llanos x 3 nights) do not provide hot showers however the weather is generally hot and humid.
We will have a private van for the whole tour with plenty of room for everybody. However, we might have to divide the group in two for the transfer from Yopal to Juan Solito Lodge. We will use open safari-style jeeps for our drives around Los Llanos which offer better views and photography chances.
‘We were very impressed by the sheer number of birds we saw and the range of interesting and beautiful habitats on our 2020 Best of Colombia birding tour. We really did think we were seeing the best of Colombia from a birding perspective. Giancarlo was an excellent guide and a very nice person to be with for 3 weeks. It was also very nice that there were just the three of us and we weren’t in a large group.’
John and Maggie
‘Our Colombia tour was so wonderful. I can’t say enough about how great it was. Eduardo is a fantastic as a guide and leader. The itinerary was also great, and he has a warm relationship with local guides and lodging hosts. I have zero complaints! An added bonus was having Giancarlo Ventolini as a driver and extra guide for much of the trip. That young man was a sweetheart, a super driver as well as a really good and knowledgeable birder.
And the birds, over 450 species! You do have a treasure in Eduardo as your employee. He made the tour perfect for me. I hope to do another trip with him in the future.’