Colombia's Best Wildlife Tours

Lucky divers in Gorgona might even see Humpback Whales
Lucky divers in Gorgona might even see Humpback Whales | © Sylke Rohrlach/Flickr
Chris Bell

Colombia is the most biodiverse country on earth per square mile. It’s home to more species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects than any other country on the planet, with some amazing places to visit to experience the true wonder of its jaw-dropping diversity. Here are the best wildlife tours for nature-lovers in Colombia.

A llanos safari in Casanare

The vast eastern plains of Colombia, while not well-known among tourists, shelter some of Colombia’s best wildlife watching and natural diversity in their vast expanses. A wildlife-watching trip to the llanos is essentially the Colombian equivalent of going on safari, as guests travel in open jeeps or on horseback through the plains in search of vast groups of Capybaras, deer, anacondas and myriad bird species. The best place to enjoy a Colombian safari is Juan Solito Ecolodge at La Aurora reserve, where truly lucky naturalists might even spot an elusive jaguar.

The truly lucky might spot an elusive Jaguar

Whale watching in El Chocó

Pink River Dolphins in Guaviare

It’s possible to spot Pink River Dolphins throughout the Colombian Amazon, but perhaps the most magical and hidden place to enjoy a close-up encounter with these surreal Amazonian cetaceans is on a trip to Damas del Nare lake in the jungles of Guaviare department, where a local family have started a simple ecolodge. This isolated oxbow lake in the jungle is surrounded by richly biodiverse jungles, crammed with rare birds and up to four different species of monkey. The highlight though is the dolphins, which are remarkably relaxed around people, even engaging in playful tug-of-war battles with the rope of the canoe.

Pink River Dolphins in the Amazon

Birding in Minca with ‘Jungle Joe’

Colombia’s best birdwatching tour for absolute beginners, Jungle Joe is the man to see if you don’t know your toucans from your tanagers and want to enjoy a crash-course in Colombia’s enviable avian diversity. He offers two-hour introductory tours every morning around Minca, in the foothills of the incredibly biodiverse Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. He provides the binoculars and gently guides novice birders through identifying species around the village. It’s common to see woodpeckers, owls, toucans and parrots, and Joe is a patient and knowledgeable guide.

Keel-billed Toucans are common around Minca

Chicaque Park with Andes EcoTours

This lovely cloud forest natural reserve lies just a couple of hours south of Bogotá, offering a natural diversity entirely at odds with the sprawling Colombian capital. Set against a dramatic backdrop of giant cliffs and dense jungle, Chicaque is a paradise for nature lovers, especially birders. Lucky visitors might even manage to spot a sloth feeding in the trees overhead. Andes EcoTours is a Bogotá-based nature tours agency, and they specialize in birding tours around the city. A visit to Chicaque with them will yield sightings of endemic hummingbirds, gorgeous toucans and colorful tanagers in abundance.

A sleepy sloth in Chicaque park

Sea turtles in the Chocó

The same Chocó region where the whales arrive every year is also a preferred spot for sea turtles to lay their eggs. The Pacific Coast of the Chocó is favored by Green and Hawksbill turtles, while the Caribbean Chocó hosts the annual arrival of the largest species of sea turtle on earth: the majestic Leatherback. Tours from the small Caribbean village of Capurgana can be arranged to visit nearby Acandi in the dead of night to observe these two-meter beasts drag themselves onto the beach to lay their eggs. It’s a truly once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.

A nesting Leatherback sea turtle

Exploring the Amazon rainforest

The Amazon is just about the most biodiverse place on the planet, and any wildlife-lover worth their salt wants to get the chance to explore its vast and mysterious forests. Around one-third of Colombia’s national territory is made of Amazonian regions, but the bulk of the eco-tourism is clustered around the port city of Leticia, on the triple-border of Colombia, Brazil and Peru. Here it is easy to arrange a multi-day Amazonian expedition, where guests are likely to encounter monkeys, snakes, dolphins, birds and much more in a short space of time.

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