Colombia: Eastern & Western Andean Endemics
July 17-26, 2020
Leaders: Jan Hansen & Christian Daza
$3495 from Bogota
For many years, traveling in Colombia was considered a risky affair due to the 30-year civil conflict that put much of the country off limits to even the most intrepid travelers. Thankfully this is no longer the case, and the unfortunate political situation that tore this country apart for so long is on the mend. Words like “heal” and “rebuild” are now more a part of the country’s political lexicon than “conflict” and “hostility.” Indeed Colombia is on the rebound and that has opened one of the world’s richest and most fertile avian playgrounds to birders from around the world.
Colombia has the highest bird list of any country in the world. Over 1900 species have been recorded including over 70 endemics. Colombia’s rich bird diversity can be attributed to the magic of geography. The country is large (about the size of Texas) and is transected by three north-south running Andean spines. These cordillera are separated by two deep river valleys through which flow the Rio Magdalena and the Rio Cauca. These three mountain ranges are increasingly wet, east to west, and the differences in moisture, climate and elevation account for an evolutionary miracle that has paved the way for an almost unimaginable number of species to exist.
In addition to the improving military and political situation in Colombia, there have also been giants leaps forward by Colombian ornithological and conservation organizations. The country now has a plethora of private and public reserves that have been created to protect the country’s treasure trove of diversity and to encourage visitors to come and experience it. That said, Colombia has a long way to go to match the tourism infrastructure of Ecuador, Costa Rica and other such countries that got into the business of ecotourism many years ago. A trip to Colombia is not without difficulty as it involves long drives between birding venues, traversing rough roads and without the cushy ecolodges found in some of the neighboring countries. But then again, this is part of the adventure and for those willing to endure a bit of hardship along the way and without expectations that things will be as they are at home, Colombia is a fun and exciting place to go birding.
This tour will begin and end in Bogota, Colombia’s bustling capital city located in the eastern Andean spine at an elevation of over 8600 feet. We will spend several days birding in and around Bogota including visits to two locations in the high Andes and another to a large wetland outside of the city. From there we will drop down into the Magdalena Valley and spend time in and around the city of Ibague. They final leg of the tour will take us to the western Andes to Otun-Quimbaya and Tatamá National Park, two of Colombia’s most productive birding sites.
The tour is designed for us to focus largely on range restricted endemic species rather than to accumulate a lengthy bird list, although the latter is almost a given on any tour to this amazing country.
Although Colombia’s infrastructure is not as advanced as some its neighbors, it is not primitive either and is rapidly improving as time passes. Even so, this is a tour where at times we will be driving on bumpy mountain roads (sometimes in 4x4’s) to reach the best birding sites. Longer drives between venues can sometimes be inordinately long because even the best highways are 2-lane affairs and large, overloaded trucks slow progress considerably. However, this is what traveling in Colombia entails and in order to arrive at the premier sites a bit of patience and endurance is sometimes required. On long drives we will be traveling in a comfortable, air-conditioned bus with plenty of legroom and luggage space and there will always be snacks and fresh potable water available. The lodges and hotels we use will range from a modern Hilton Garden Inn in Bogota to quaint eco-lodges at several of the reserves. On past tours to Colombia clients have been exceptionally satisfied with the quality of the hotels we use.
Food is generally plentiful and quite good, although the Colombian diet tends to be heavily focused on meat and fresh vegetables are sometimes in short supply. However there are vegetarian options always available though limited in scope. Colombian food is not spicy though there is usually a “salsa picante” available on the table for participants with more adventurous taste buds. The food is generally safe however it is recommended to avoid salads especially in more remote areas. Tap water in Colombia is not potable but there will always be bottled water in the bus and available at meals.
In late July Colombia is entering the beginning of the dry season and heavy all day rains are not expected. That said, this is the tropics and parts of Colombia are considered some of the wettest places on earth, so when birding here one should always be prepared for the possibility of precipitation.
Participants should be in reasonably good physical condition for this trip as we will spend a lot of time on our feet at elevations ranging from less than 1000 feet to nearly 12,000 feet in the high Andes. When we do visit the very high elevation sites it will be only for periods of a couple of hours, so anyone prone to altitude sickness should not have too much difficulty. Most of the birding we do will be on roadsides or fairly well-developed trail systems that are not terribly difficult to navigate on foot. When birding along roadsides the bus will always be close by in the event someone needs a break. Probably the most difficult part of the trip will be simply the amount of time spent on our feet rather than the difficulty of the actual walking. On some days we will break at lunchtime and eat in a restaurant and on other days we will have picnic lunches in the field. Obviously we will have very early starts to take advantage of the best birding times, but that is standard procedure on most any birding tour and shouldn’t come a s a surprise or be considered a hardship.
Finally, this is a tour that will focus on Colombia’s endemic and near-endemic species and anyone signing on should understand that our final list may not be as long as trip lists to Colombia. That is to easy that we will be looking for quality rather than quantity during the tour. You should also understand that many of these range-restricted endemics are uncommon and difficult too find, so you shouldn’t expect to see every single possibility. However what we can promise is that we will certainly attempt to do so, and that along the way you will experience the sense of adventure that comes with such a search, and see some of the most breathtaking scenery that the Colombian Andes have to offer.