One of Colombia’s best birding spots is the popular backpacker village of Minca, located at about 600 metres (1,968.5 feet) above sea level in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. Truly hardcore twitchers can head a few hours further up into the mountains to El Dorado ProAves reserve and the San Lorenzo Ridge – one of the best places on earth to spot endemic birds species – but Minca will satisfy any bird lover’s appetite easily. Simply hiking around the local village trails will yield sightings of keel-billed toucans, a variety of hummingbird species, and many others. Early morning birdwatching tours for beginners with ‘Jungle Joe’ are a great way to discover the magic of Colombian birding.
Los Flamencos, Guajira
This protected area in the Caribbean region is home to a large population of American flamingos and is also one of the best places in the country to rack up large numbers of endemic and semi-endemic species in just a day or two of birding. The highlight is sailing out onto the brackish coastal lagoons in a wooden canoe to enjoy close-up views of the photogenic flamingos, as well as roseate spoonbills, scarlet ibises, and wood storks. However, those who really fancy making their birder friends jealous will spend a morning birding the dry scrub forest in search of the vermilion cardinal, Tocuyo sparrow, and buffy hummingbird.
Los Flamencos Nature Sanctuary, Riohacha, La Guajira, Colombia, +57 310 2771745
El Jardín Encantado
Probably the best armchair-birding spot in the country, The Enchanted Garden is actually the backyard of a lovely old lady in the small town of San Francisco, just a couple of hours from Bogotá. She has been feeding hummingbirds for years, and now counts well over 50 hummingbird feeders, providing sweet nectar to at least 10 different species of the colourful little birds. Guests can simply sit back and enjoy close-up views of some of Colombia’s most beautiful species; the tiny gorgeted woodstar and impossibly bright ruby-topaz hummingbirds are particular highlights.
El Jardín Encantado, San Francisco, Cundinamarca, Colombia, +57 310 8755507
As one of Colombia’s most beautiful small towns, Jardin is also one of the best places in the country for birdwatching and caters to all levels of birding enthusiasm. On the edge of town is a display site of the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, one of the most iconic and brightly coloured species in South America, and as easy to see here as anywhere else on the continent. A natural reserve on a stunning road just above the town is also home to a strong population of yellow-eared parrots, which were formerly thought to be extinct; they remain one of the rarest birds in the world.
This small eco-lodge in the heart of the Western Andes range has emerged as one of the most important birding destinations in South America in recent years. Complete with a wealth of endemic and semi-endemic species, Montezuma is something of a Holy Grail for Neotropical birders. The real highlight is the extremely rare and range-limited gold-ringed tanager, which bird lovers can gratifyingly see with relative ease simply by taking a stroll down the road. Cerro Montezuma is definitely a place for hardcore birdwatchers, but its beautiful location means anyone with a passion for nature can enjoy it.
The Llanos Orientales
Colombia’s vast Eastern Plains are one of the least explored regions in the entire country, but they are one of the best places for ecotourism in Colombia. These huge plains flood seasonally, and the populations of aquatic bird species are quite remarkable, particularly in the dry months between December and March when the waters recede and wildlife gathers en-masse around the few remaining water sources. Jabiru storks, scarlet ibises, macaws and toucans are the highlights, as is the beautiful and rare Orinoco goose. Once again, the llanos are also perfect for non-birders, who can spot capybaras, anacondas and, if they’re extremely lucky, jaguars! Find a map here.
Otún Quimbaya Flora and Fauna Sanctuary
A lovely eco-lodge in the cloud forest of the Central Colombian Andes, Otún Quimbaya is the last stronghold of one of Colombia’s rarest endemic birds, the Cauca guan. This tree-dwelling, chicken-like bird was once thought to be extinct, and they are still extremely rare (although they are commonly seen here). Other birding highlights include toucans, parrots, torrent ducks, and more flycatcher species than you can shake a stick at. Non-birders will love the wonderful views of red howler monkeys, which are extremely common at Otún Quimbaya.