The La Aurora ranch in the eastern plains of Colombia’s Casanare department might just be the best destination in Colombia for nature lovers: the vast property has seen zero hunting for almost 50 years and protects large populations of capybara (around 50,000 of them!), deer, caimans and birds (including the tiny little burrowing owl), as well as jaguars, anacondas and giant anteaters. Visitors can head out on open-top jeeps or horses on a ‘Colombian safari’ to get remarkably close to the amazing wildlife.
This little lake in the jungle region of Guaviare is probably the best place in Colombia to see Pink River dolphins; the local population is very relaxed around humans and the dolphins swim right up to the tourist boats, even playing with people’s feet when they jump in for a swim. The surrounding forests are also home to four different species of monkeys and rare birds, though it’s really the Damas del Nare’s dolphins who are the star attraction.
The Colombian Pacific coast region is one of the most biodiverse in the country and home to some amazing ecotourism destinations. The best of the lot is El Cantil Ecolodge, located on the stunning Guachalito Beach and 40 minutes south of Nuquí via motorboat. The lodge is immersed in the jungle, making it possible to see beautiful birds, frogs and monkeys while simply walking to breakfast. Whale season is between June and October and turtles visiting the nearby beaches come to lay their eggs in September.
This protected sanctuary on the Caribbean coast is home to Colombia’s largest population of American flamingos and the surreal Guajira coastal desert where the park is located is the perfect backdrop for seeing thousands of these bright pink birds. The scrub forest surrounding the lagoon is a popular destination for more hardcore birders who travel to see regional species like the vermilion cardinal and burrowing owl.
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range was named one of the world’s most irreplaceable protected areas by National Geographic in 2013, and is the world’s highest coastal mountain range. The region is especially populated by endemic bird species and birders will be blown away by the avian variety around the village of Minca or at the ProAves El Dorado Reserve.
This lovely little ecotourism lodge in the Magdalena River valley is a great place for nature lovers who are already visiting Medellín. The jungle has been protected for many years and is home to several monkey species, as well as stunning birds and amphibians. You might even see scorpions that glow under ultraviolet light. The lodge rooms are open and perched above the jungle’s canopy, allowing you to wake up to the sight of monkeys and toucans feeding just outside your room.
Tayrona is probably Colombia’s most famous and popular national park, with most people visiting for its stunning beaches. It is also an amazing place for accessible wildlife watching and has easy-to-spot howler and capuchin monkeys, cotton-top tamarins, poison dart frogs, caimans, toucans and even jaguars.
Gorgona Island has a dark history and has evolved from being one of Colombia’s worst prisons to becoming a top ecotourism destination in recent years. The waters surrounding this Pacific island are full of sharks, turtles and whales between June and October, while its dense jungles are home to monkeys, snakes and endemic lizards. For people who love experiencing underwater wildlife, Gorgona is one of the best destinations in Colombia.
Malpelo is another Pacific island; unlike the lush jungles of Gorgona, Malpelo is basically just a rocky outcrop in the middle of the ocean 500 kilometres (311 miles) west of the Colombian mainland. For nature lovers who happen to be expert divers, Malpelo is a paradise: its waters are home to tens of thousands of sharks and you can often dive with schools of hammerheads numbering in the hundreds or even thousands. Only expert divers can visit Malpelo, so if that’s you, make sure to check it out.
The road leading west toward the Pacific coast and away from Pasto in southern Colombia is home to some truly spectacular natural reserves. However, none is more wonderful than the Río Nambi Natural Reserve, a gorgeous, off-the-beaten-path spot in the Pacific cloud forest that is home to more species of hummingbirds than any other reserve in Colombia. Also found there, among hundreds of other bird species, is the rare long-wattled umbrellabird, poison dart frogs and surreal bioluminescent fungi that glow in the dark.
Puerto Nariño is a small village in the southern Colombian region of the Amazon (just 75 kilometres, or 47 miles, upriver from the regional capital of Leticia) and is a great starting point for exploring Colombia’s Amazonian wildlife. It’s close to the Amacayacu National Park and just downriver from the beautiful Tarapoto Lake where Pink River dolphins are common and you can fish for piranhas. Sloths and monkeys are quite common and there are many beautiful birds to see, including toucans and parrots.