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.
Colombia’s isolated and jungle-clad Pacific Coast isn’t first on the list of many travelers, but for wildlife enthusiasts a trip to the Chocó is a must, particularly between June and October, when thousands of humpback whales arrive in the warm Pacific waters to give birth. Seeing these mighty creatures leaping from the water with nothing but the wild backdrop of the Chocó jungles is perhaps Colombia’s most emotive natural spectacle. El Almejal Ecolodge in El Valle is the best base for excellent eco-tourism – they also have a sea turtle breeding programme and a natural trail in the jungle where guests can encounter Poison Arrow Frogs. El Cantil Ecolodge in Nuqui is another excellent option.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.