Colombia: Santa Marta Mountains Extension: Feb 28—Mar 06, 2016

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Departs: Bogota
Ends: Santa Marta or Barranquilla
Tour Limit: 8
Operations Manager: Margaret Anderson
Download Itinerary: PDF (230.5 KB)

Route Map


Tour Leaders


Steve Hilty

Steve Hilty is the senior author of A Guide to the Birds of Colombia, and author of Birds of...

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White-whiskered Spinetail

White-whiskered Spinetail— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

VENT leader Steve Hilty is featured in an article about birding in Colombia which appeared in the June 25, 2009 edition of the Wall Street Journal, and also in an article in the Spring 2011 issue of Living Bird, the quarterly magazine of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

This short trip can be taken with only a week away from work—an excellent introduction to the birds of northern Colombia. The Santa Marta Mountains can be reached in a single direct flight from Miami or in two flights via Bogotá. An endemic-rich, weeklong adventure from the seacoast to 8,500 feet; flamingos, flycatchers, hummingbirds, colorful tanagers, and some antpittas that we may actually see.

For years birders and naturalists have looked longingly at Colombia’s enormous list of birds, the longest in the world—and its enticing endemics—some 70 species found only within its borders. One of the most endemic-rich sites of all is, ironically, one of the closest for travelers—the Santa Marta Mountains. These lofty, pyramid-shaped mountains spring up from the shores of the Caribbean to nearly 20,000 feet, and they’re a birder’s dream. Here there are almost 20 species of endemics, as well as gorgeous scenery including snow-capped peaks on clear mornings, and a new and comfortable mountain lodge located in a perfect climate zone. This is an ideal one-week getaway and, to top it off, a completely different set of birds can be found in the foothills and another just a few hours away in the nearby Guajira Desert.

White-tailed Starfrontlet

White-tailed Starfrontlet— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

Most of Santa Marta’s endemics are, logically enough, preceded by the name Santa Marta, so there’s a Santa Marta Parakeet, a screech-owl, a foliage-gleaner, an antpitta, a bush-tyrant, a wren, a brush-finch, a warbler, a tapaculo and so on. Even better, some are actually easy to see, although a few require patience (and maybe a bit of luck). Besides the endemics there are many other interesting species ranging from Sickle-winged Guans and White-tipped Quetzals to Black-fronted Wood-Quail, near the lodge. We also will spend a little time in coastal and desert habitats and in the Santa Marta foothills; each area has its own subset of distinctive birds—flamingos on the coast, Vermilion Cardinals and White-whiskered Spinetails in the desert, and Keel-billed Toucans, Golden-winged Sparrows, and Black-backed Antshrikes in the foothills.

If you’re curious about Colombia–and who isn’t—this is the perfect first trip for those with limited time. We think you will be pleasantly surprised by the birds, the beauty of the country, and the friendliness of the people. The only risk really, is wanting to stay.

Lowland hotels (two nights) good at both sites; three nights in a pleasant mountain lodge (singles may not be available); good food; moderate pace with no strenuous walking; some midday breaks; mostly walking on roads or short trails close to a lodge; warm to hot in lowlands, cool in mountains; sea level to ca. 8,500 feet; rain unlikely in lowlands, a possibility in highlands.