Colombia | Birding the Santa Marta Highlands and Caribbean Coast: A Flyway Expedition

Colombia | Birding the Santa Marta Highlands and Caribbean Coast: A Flyway Expedition

About this trip

With over 1,900 avian species — more than any other country in the world — Colombia is a birder’s paradise waiting to be discovered. Join Alight Tours on this 9-day birding adventure to experience the country’s northern highlights, including the Caribbean region and the Santa Marta Mountains, famed for their high level of endemic species. Explore high elevation mountains, dry forest, and coastal habitats in search of an array of tropical avifauna, including flycatchers, hummingbirds, tanagers, toucans, and more. Throughout your journey, meet members of the local community and learn about conservation efforts to use birding as a sustainable development resource.

Highlights

  • Be one of the few outsiders to explore birding-rich, remote regions of Northern Colombia led by expert local guides.
  • Bird the coastal wetland and mangrove habitats of Salamanca National Park and Los Flamencos Sanctuary along Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
  • Explore the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest coastal mountain range in the world and home to more than a quarter of the country’s endemic species.
  • Enjoy several days of birding at El Dorado Lodge, the ProAves Foundation’s flagship lodge.
  • Meet the indigenous Wayúu people in Riohacha and learn about their culture, represented in their weaving, ceramics, vegetation, and gastronomy.

Meet your leader

Toby Ross

Toby Ross is a conservation biologist with 25 years of experience in the field of research and conservation. Toby was previously the Science Manager at Seattle Audubon, where he managed three citizen science projects engaging over 500 volunteers annually. Prior to joining Seattle Audubon, Toby lived and worked in Papua New Guinea ultimately creating the first Conservation Area in the country and was also responsible for managing research projects on tree kangaroos and other native fauna. Toby has also worked extensively on islands in the West Indies and Mascarenes to conserve reptiles and birds through research and invasive species removal. Regretfully, he found birding later in life, but is now trying to make up for lost opportunities whenever possible.

About Flyway Expeditions

Holbrook Travel is a supporting partner in Audubon and its partners’ conservation work in Latin America and in the Caribbean. Participants on these tours have a direct economic impact on local people and communities, help preserve IBAs, and nurture an emerging ecotourism industry.
Learn more about Flyway Expeditions.

Barranquilla

Mar 9, 2023

Upon arrival in Barranquilla, after clearing customs and collecting your luggage, you'll be met and taken to your hotel. This evening meet your group and guide at the hotel restaurant for a Welcome Dinner and program orientation. Check-in starts at 3 pm.

Dinner included
Overnight at Estelar en Alto Prado

Riohacha

Mar 10, 2023

After an early breakfast and program orientation, head to the Universidad del Norte on the outskirts of the city for a good chance at seeing the endemic Chestnut-winged Chachalaca. From there, continue to the area known as KM 4 to begin the day's birding in the mangrove habitat of Salamanca National Park. The wetlands of this area provide habitat for numerous species of shorebirds. Target species will include Bicolored Conebill, Pied and Russet-throated Puffbirds, Stripe-backed Wren, Pale-legged (Caribbean) Hornero, Turquoise-winged Parrotlet, Glossy, White, and Green Ibises, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Large-billed Tern, Sapphire-bellied and Sapphire-throated Hummingbirds, and more. Have lunch at a local restaurant before continuing the drive to Riohacha. Check in at the Taroa Lifestyle Hotel, the first "Wayúu Lifestyle Hotel" in Colombia; the hotel is staffed by Indigenous Wayúu people, and every space in the hotel is inspired by Wayúu culture, which is represented in their weaving, ceramics, vegetation, and gastronomy. Elevation: sea level / Mobility: Easy, rural unpaved road / Temperature: 75-90°F

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Taroa Hotel

Riohacha

Mar 11, 2023

Today, visit Los Flamencos Sanctuary and focus on the wetlands and shorebirds. Los Flamencos Sanctuary is an important coastal wetland and dry forest reserve created to protect a large population of the American Flamingo. This 17,000-acre reserve of marshes, lagoons, and dry forest also provides habitat for 185 other bird species, 80% of which are migrants. Spend some time birding the dry scrubland for specialties such as the Tocuyo Sparrow, Vermilion Cardinal, Chestnut Piculet, White-whiskered Spinetail, Red-billed Emerald and Buffy Hummingbird, all of which are near endemics -species only found in Colombia and a neighboring country. We'll also search out Pearl Kite, Aplomado Falcon, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Burrowing Owl, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Brown-throated and Blue-crowned Parakeets, among others. Afterward, visit the village of Camarones, where we will learn about the Wayúu Indigenous people. We will have a chance to meet with our local guide's family, visit their home and learn about their arts and crafts, especially the handmade, colorful bags known as mochilas. Have lunch at a local restaurant at Camarones Beach then search for some key species like the Orinocan Saltator, Bare-eyed Pigeon, Glaucous Tanager, Pileated Finch, and Rufous-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant. Elevation: sea level / Mobility: Easy, rural unpaved road / Temperature: 75-90°F

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Taroa Hotel

Santa Marta

Mar 12, 2023

After breakfast at the hotel, check out and travel to Santa Marta with birding en route at Gaviotas Forest and Tayrona National Park. Gaviotas Forest is located on the Caribbean, along the road from Riohacha to Santa Marta. It consists of humid tropical forest with many interesting bird species that include Gray-capped Cuckoo and Lance-tailed Manakin. At Tayrona NP we will be hoping to find Rufous-vented Chachalaca, Ruby Topaz Hummingbird, White-chinned Sapphire, Whooping Motmot, White-necked Puffbird, Chestnut Piculet, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Military Macaw, Black-crested Antshrike, Sepia- capped Flycatcher, Brown-capped Tyrannulet , Golden-fronted Greenlet, Bicolored Wren, and Trinidad Euphonia . Enjoy lunch in a local restaurant on the way to Santa Marta . Check in at the beachfront hotel and bird in the surrounding area. With the beach close by, this is a great place for those who'd like to take a little respite from birding. Elevation: Sea level / Accessibility: Rural, unpaved road / Temperatures: 82-97 °F.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at GHL Costa Azul

El Dorado Reserve

Mar 13, 2023

Depart early for El Dorado, with birding along the way in the humid tropical forest around the town of Minca. Minca sits in the low-elevation foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, where a dry forest ecosystem predominates across the ridges. Above the village, the premontane forest mixes with coffee crops to create habitat for many local and migratory bird species, including the Golden-winged Sparrow and Black-backed Antshrike, which tend to be difficult to find in other regions of the country. We'll have lunch in Minca while watching hundreds of hummingbirds at the nearby feeders. After lunch, board several 4x4s and journey higher into the mountains to the beautiful El Dorado Lodge, the ProAves Foundation's flagship lodge. Situated in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, this area is home to a vast array of species, including the endemic Santa Marta Blossomcrown, Santa Marta Sabrewing, and Streak-capped Spinetail, along with other more widely distributed species, Scarlet-fronted and Orange-chinned Parakeets, Blue-fronted Lancebill, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Lineated and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Cinnamon and White-winged Becards, Black-chested Jay, Rusty Flowerpiercer, Streaked and Olivaceous Saltators, Crested Oropendola, Thick-billed Euphonia, and many others. During our stay, we may have the opportunity to speak with someone from ProAves (based on availability). Elevation: 2,620-7,550 feet / Accessibility: Easy, rural unpaved road / Temperatures: 59-86 °F.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at El Dorado Lodge

El Dorado Reserve

Mar 14, 2023

Spend today exploring the San Lorenzo Ridge. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest coastal mountain range in the world, is home to an incredible 20 endemic species, which account for 27 percent of the endemics in the entire country. Search for as many of these species as you can find along the altitudinal gradient of the San Lorenzo Ridge. Some of the species that you may hope to find in the Santa Marta Mountains include the Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Screech-Owl, White-tailed Starfrontlet, Santa Marta Woodstar, Rusty-headed Spinetail, Santa Marta and Sierra Nevada Antpittas, Brown-rumped Tapaculo, Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant, Yellow-crowned Redstart, White-lored Warbler, Santa Marta Warbler, Santa Marta (Black-cheeked) Mountain-Tanager, Black-backed Thornbill, Sierra Nevada Brush-Finch, and Hermit Wood-wren, all of which are endemic to the Santa Marta mountains. We'll also have good chances to see Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Black-fronted Wood-Quail, White-tipped Quetzal, White-rumped Hawk, Band-tailed Guan, Sickle-winged Guan, Red-billed Parrot, Masked Trogon, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Groove-billed Toucanet and Southern Emerald-Toucanet, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Spotted Barbtail, Streaked Xenops, Gray-throated Leaftosser, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Rusty-breasted Antpitta, Mountain Elaenia, Black-capped and White-throated Tyrannulets, Olive-striped Flycatcher, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, Golden-breasted Fruiteater, Orange-billed and Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrushes, Great Thrush, Black-hooded Thrush, Slate-throated Redstart, Three-striped Warbler, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, and many others. Elevation: 5,900 feet / Accessibility: Easy to medium; rural, unpaved road; hiking trails along the reserve / Temperatures: 60-75 °F

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at El Dorado Lodge

El Dorado Reserve

Mar 15, 2023

Spend today birding in the El Dorado Natural Reserve, located on the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, inside a matrix of cloud forests. The reserve sits in a transitional zone between lower mountain forests and higher cloud forests, creating a confluence of species from both areas. It is the perfect place for hiking and searching for endemic species over the mountains or to simply sit and enjoy the birds that visit the feeders overlooking the Caribbean Sea on the foothills of the range. The reserve is known for its incredible feeders for hummingbirds (some of which are endemic), tanagers, guans, and wood-quails. Targets today include the Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner, Santa Marta Antbird, Santa Marta Wren, Coppery Emerald, Black Hawk-Eagle, Lined Quail-Dove, Blue-fronted Lancebill, Brown Violetear, Keel-billed Toucan, Greenish and Forest Elaenias, Social and Piratic Flycatchers, Rufous-breasted and Rufous-and-white Wrens, Brown-capped Vireo, Grayish Saltator, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, and more. During the northern winter months, these foothills harbor a good number of North American breeding migrants, including Swainson's Thrush, Yellow-throated Vireo, Tennessee, Golden-winged, Cerulean, Blackburnian, and Black-throated Green Warblers, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Summer Tanager. Elevation: 5,900 feet / Accessibility: Easy to medium; rural, unpaved road; hiking trails along the reserve / Temperatures: 60-75 °F.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at El Dorado Lodge

Barranquilla

Mar 16, 2023

Spend a final morning birding around El Dorado Reserve before starting the descent toward Santa Marta, with birding en route. We'll use the 4x4 Jeeps until we reach Minca, where we'll have lunch and then continue in our bus to Barranquilla, with more birding en route. Enjoy a farewell dinner tonight. Elevation: 5,900 feet / Accessibility: Easy to medium; rural, unpaved road; hiking trails along the reserve / Temperatures: 60-75 °F.

Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner included
Overnight at Estelar en Alto Prado

Depart

Mar 17, 2023

This morning, check out and head to the airport in Barranquilla for early afternoon flights back to the U.S. Check out is at 1 pm.

Breakfast- included