Why Go Birding in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia Uncover Colombia
Birding Colombia


July 8, 2019, 7:35 pm

The highest coastal mountain range on the planet is also one of the top birding spots, not just in Colombia, but around the world. Birders flock to this remarkable ecosystem to enjoy endemic and endangered species, stunning landscapes, and unparalleled biodiversity. So here are seven (pretty darn compelling) reasons why you have to go birding in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia.

1. It’s endemic bird central

Colombia has a total of 73 registered endemic bird species. Of those species, 27 are found only in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. If you want to see birds like the Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Blossomcrown, or Santa Marta Antpitta (the names are a dead giveaway really), then you will have to travel to this isolated coastal mountain range.

2. There’s something for everyone

It really doesn’t matter how into birds you are in this part of Colombia. Whether you’re a hardcore twitcher (obsessive birders who get a bit ‘twitchy’ at the thought of a rare species) or a backyard birder, you will find something to love in the Sierra Nevada. Closer to Minca, you can enjoy spotting toucans and parrots during lunch, while the hardcore birders can head higher up towards El Dorado Lodge for a feast of endemic species (hopefully not literally). And speaking of El Dorado...

3. It’s home to Colombia’s most beautiful ecolodge

Obviously, this is a subjective one, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more stunningly-located lodge than El Dorado Reserve in the high Sierra Nevada. With lovely wood-cabin accommodation, excellent food, jam-packed bird feeders, and a truly breathtaking view over the distant Caribbean and the Cienaga Grande swamps, El Dorado is a nature-lover’s dream come to life.

4. See a bird still new to science!

The Santa Marta screech-owl is recognised as a distinct endemic species by most birding authorities, but it has yet to be officially classified (given a scientific name etc.). It is also only found in the forests surrounding El Dorado Lodge, so you can actually observe a species that is brand new to science while you bird in the Sierra Nevada, which is objectively awesome.

5. The San Lorenzo Ridge

This mountain ridge, even higher up than El Dorado, is essentially “endemic road” – you can easily rack up 10 to 15 endemic species on a good morning there, and the location is second-to-none for pure natural beauty. At the height of the ridge, you can enjoy a unique panorama that encompasses the sparkling blue Caribbean Sea and Colombia’s highest mountains: the snow-capped Pico Colon and Bolivar. There might not be a lovelier birding spot in the whole of Colombia.

6. You can combine birds with so much else

Plenty of really hardcore birders just want to look for new species 24/7, but most do enjoy a little bit of recreational time to enjoy other activities, and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the perfect place for that. You can hike to stunning viewpoints, swim in rivers and waterfalls  in the jungle, take a coffee farm tour, or just lay back and enjoy some of Colombia’s best sunsets. It’s really up to you.

7. The sheer bird diversity

It’s not all about endemic species (although that certainly helps), and the statistics for the Sierra Nevada will blow your mind! With more than 635 species recorded there, these mountains are home to around 35 percent of all of Colombia’s bird species (and don’t forget that Colombia is No. 1 in the world for bird diversity, too) in less than 1.5 percent of the country’s national territory. In short, if you can only choose one spot to go birding in Colombia, it really should be the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Our 14-day Andes and Caribbean Coast Birding Tour takes you to the destinations mentioned above, plus more! Visit the tour page to see a detailed itinerary.

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Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Chris Bell is a British travel journalist who has been exploring Colombia for four years as the editor of the award-winning Colombia Travel Blog. He has visited 30 of Colombia's 32 departments (those last two are just around the corner), and was named by El Espectador newspaper as "the Englishman who teaches you to travel in Colombia." His main passion, aside from exploring Colombia, is birding - his Colombia list is already approaching 800 species. Chris' 2017 goals: 32 departments and 1,000 species! 

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