With nearly 2000 avian species and 80 endemics, Colombia is the most bird-rich country on Earth. This megadiversity is due to Colombia’s tropical location, its two ocean coasts, and extreme elevation changes wrought by the three spurs of the Andes, with many rain-shadow valleys between the mountains. So many habitats, so many birds!
In the Central Andes, birding is becoming an active driver of economic development.
The Central Andes Birding Trail was developed in partnership with Audubon’s Birdlife International partner Asociación Calidris, with support from the Ministry of Commerce and Tourism and FONTUR, Colombia’s Tourism Fund. The trail is network of Audubon-trained professional birding guides and operators, sites such as national parks and private reserves, and small businesses and support services. Bird-focused tourism benefits local communities and organizations such as the Yarumo Blanco Community Association, which works directly on local conservation issues and community development in and around the Otún Quimbaya Sanctuary.
This trip—available in either 11-day or 17-day itineraries—ventures into the center of all this diversity, while offering comfortable travel conditions and accommodations. The birding adventures are set within Colombia’s Coffee Triangle (Eje Cafetero), an accessible tourism zone with charming colonial villages nestled in deep valleys, and plenty of opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, and enjoying nature.
(Click to zoom in on the map and launch StoryMaps for each of the individual Central Andes department trails.)
We will visit two of Colombia’s three Andean ranges, and as well as the Magdalena Valley Endemic Bird Area. In the Bellavista Reserve, premier specialties include the White-mantled Barbet, Sooty Ant Tanager, and Beautiful Woodpecker. At sites nearby, all three of the world’s Ani species can be found, as well as nine species of Antpitta—most of which are relatively easy to see.
The Choco ecozone, which some scientists consider the wettest region on Earth, is also one of the most biodiverse, with a fantastic array of unique avifauna. Rock stars of the Choco region include 28 tanager species, in particular the little-known members of the genus Bangsia. Other attention-getters include the Andean Cock-of-the Rock, Scaled Fruiteater, Golden-headed Quetzal, and Toucan Barbet. We will have access to prime Choco forest and a wide elevation range, giving us a chance to see a huge variety of sought-after and rare birds.
We will also travel above the tree line into the Páramo, a high-elevation habitat of grass, cushion plants, and oddly shaped vegetation. Birds include high-altitude specialties such as the endemic and charismatic Buffy Helmetcrest hummingbird. We will spend time in Los Nevados National Park and in adjacent montane forests at slightly lower elevations. If we are extremely lucky we may even see a spectacled bear foraging among the frailejon plants—large, hairy-leaved plants in the sunflower family that are found only in well-preserved páramo habitats.
Guide Spotlight: Arnulfo Sanchez
During the conflict, there was one hotel in my hometown, Mistrató, and it was always empty. People were afraid of both the army and the guerrillas, and we lost many friends.
When peace finally came, I started venturing farther into the forest to look for birds. People saw my Facebook posts and soon were asking me help them see a Gold-ringed Tanager or other elusive birds. Now the word has spread that Mistrató is a birders’ paradise.
In the past six years, the list of known bird species around Mistrató has risen from 237 to 445. Now we have four hotels, and many people are working in tourism. For our family, guiding has provided money for improving our coffee farm. I’ve planted 55 species of trees, which help to shade the coffee and attract birds. Now some of our neighbors are getting involved in conservation. Once they see what we are doing and understand what they have, they want to protect it.