San Agustín Ancient Civilization & Coffee Area / Cauca Valley Birding

(12 Days / 11 Nights) Starting in Pereira and ending in Popayan.
2019 August 3 – 14 Tour Leader: Miles McMullan.
2020 June 23 – July 4 Tour Leader: Miles McMullan.

USD$ 3.400 Length: 12 days, 11 nights Starting city: Pereira Ending city: Popayán Pace: Moderate Physical difficulty: Moderate- Easy (include some long drives) Focus: Birding, Culture, Landscapes Max Group Size: 8 people in double accommodation (2 persons per room) Single suplement: USD$350 Adressed to: Beginner Birders, Keen Birders & Enthusiastic birders interested in Colombian culture willing to do other activities than birding almost half of the time.

Piculet Birding Tours Colombia San Agustín Ancient Civilization & Coffee Area

This is a comprehensive tour for the central part of Colombia. It will have amazing birding, conducted by Miles Mcmullan (Author of the Fieldguide to the Birds of Colombia), in the following EBAs (Endemic Bird Areas by Birdlife International): Central andes Paramo, Colombian interandean Valleys (Cauca V.) and  Colombian Interandean slopes (Western and central Andes). Some of the specialties in this trip: Endemics like Colombian Chachalaca, Multicolored Tanager, Buffy Heltmetcrest, Brown banded Antpitta, Grayish Piculet, Dusky headed Brushfinch, among others. Also interesting birds like Black billed Mountain Toucan, Chestnut crowned, Tawny, Slate capped and Bicolored Antpittas, Rainbow bearded Thorn bill, Sword billed Hummingbird, Tourmaline Sunangel, Golden headed Quetzal, Masked Trogon, Scarlet bellied Mountain Tanager, Saffron crowned Tanager and many, many more. However having a big list will not be our priority, we will focus also in interesting Cultural activities like visiting El Ocaso (shade grown coffee Farm) and learn about the process and culture of the coffee plantations. We will also pay a visit to places like an awarded and famous Orchid Green House, a IXX century Sugar Cane Hacienda and San Agust Agustín Archeological Park( Declared World’s heritage site by UNESCO). We will enjoy fantastic sceneries like the snow peaks of Nevados National Park, the unique Cocora Valley, outstanding views at Puracé National Park and Magdalena straits.

Bear in Mind

Early starts are necessary on most days since the best birding is in the early morning. Start times will usually be from 6:00am, with one 5:30 and one 4:30am. Meals will be in lodges/hotels or nearby restaurants. Meals consist of a main dish with drink (water/soda/juice/beer). No appetizers, desserts, or bottles of wine are included.

The drives are not too long (2 to 2.5 hours), with 3 longer ones ( about 4-5 hours ) on days 8, 9 and 11. We will use comfortable, air conditioned Van for land transportation.

We will have mild walks, even in the mountains, nearly all the birding will be from roads, where we will be mostly walking downhill. There will be some short hikes on moderately difficult trails where a walking stick could come in handy. You can expect to walk around 5 Km (3 miles) per day on average.  

The highest elevation reached is about 4000 masl. On Nevados National Park but we won’t do any difficult walk at that altitude.

Weather will be warm to hot in places like Ginebra (Orchid green house), Buga, Sonso Lagoon, Sugarcane Hacienda, Cali, San Agustín and Popayan. In places like Rio Blanco, and Salento we will have pleasant temperatures in the day to cool in the nights. And in Nevados and Puracé National Parks it will be cold due to the altitude. The coldest temperature is normally 7°C (44°F) on one or two mornings (Nevados and Puracé), where a couple of layers and a pair of gloves could be nice for an hour or two before it warms up. The tour is run in the dry season, but it is not unusual to get a bit of rain in the mountains, though it is usually not much.

Hotels and Lodges all have private bathrooms, hot water, electricity and most of them wifi.

Day 1

Arrival Pereira and transfer to Manizales-We will pick you up at Pereira’s airport and we will drive to Manizales. Manizales is the main city in the Caldas Province. Nowadays the city is the main center for the production of Colombian coffee. We will stay at Rio Blanco Lodge (15 min. from Manizales)

Day 2

Rio Blanco-Río Blanco Nature Reserve is located in the Central Colombian Andes 15 minutes from the city of Manizales. Its 4932 hectares in extension consist mainly of  montane cloud forest, Subandean Forest, mixed with a few small clearings. The reserve protects the principal water source for the city and is runned by the local water company.  This is one of the most important birding sites in Colombia and has an extensive list of birds.The small guest house, built in an architecture style typical of the Colombian coffee area, provides an excellent base for birders. The feeders at this guest house, as well as flowering plants around the building, attract an interesting variety of hummingbirds  and Tanagers. The best attraction for birders visiting the reserve are the “antpitta” feeding stations that are visited regularly by 4 species: Chestnut crowned, near endemic Bicolored, endemic Brown banded and Slate crowned antpittas.

In addition, we may encounter other species, such as Buff breasted Mountain Tanager, the rare Masked Saltator, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Dusky Piha, Grass green Tanager, Blue and Black Tanager, Powerful Woodpecker, the secretive Ocellated, Blackish, and Spillman’s tapaculos, Tourmaline Sunangel, Buff tailed Coronet, Speckled Hummingbird, Bronzy and Collared incas, and White bellied Woodstar. Other uncommon species that we may see here are the Black billed Peppershrike, Plushcap, Flamulated treehunter, and Mountain Cacique, among others. Accommodation at Rio Blanco Lodge.

Day 3

Nevados National Park-We will get up early and go to National Park Los Nevados on the highest part of the Colombian Central Andes. We will reach elevations of up to 4000 masl. and temperatures between 8 and 25 °C .Los Nevados National Park, encompasses 38,000 ha (93,900 ac) and is home to four snow peaks. Birding is done along a lightly traveled road that winds up the mountain through patches of elfin forest that give way to paramo. The scenery is  remarkable, with the emblematic frailejon/ Espeletia plants endemic to Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. A paradise for high elevation species, where we might find adapted birds , such as endemic Buffy Helmetcrest and Rainbow bearded Thornbill. This day we can see the very rare and endangered endemic Rufous fronted Parakeet, Viridian Metaltail, Stout billed Cinclodes, Brown backed Chat Tyrant , Golden crowned Tanager, Plumbeous Sierra Finch, Paramo and Plain colored seedeaters, Glossy Flowerpiercer, Tawny Antpitta, Scarlet bellied Mountain tanager, Black chested Buzzard Eagle, uncommon Purple backed Thornbill, Black thighed Puffleg, the spectacular Sword billed Hummingbird, Great Sapphirewing , Sparkling Violetear, Shining Sunbeam, Andean Tit Spinetail, Sedge Wren, Paramo Tapaculo, Pale naped Brush Finch, and, if we’re lucky, we might even see the Andean Condor soaring the skies, among many other birds. Accommodation at Hotel Termales del Ruiz.

Day 4

Termales del Ruiz Road / Transfer to Salento –We will have our breakfast at the hotel and go birding in the morning at the road from the hotel to Manizales, where we might see amazing birds, such as the Crimson mantled Woodpecker, Golden Plumed Parakeet, endemic Rufous- fronted Parakeet, Paramo Tapaculo, Pearled treerunner, white throated Tyrannulet, Red crested Cotinga, Sedge Wren, Golden fronted redstart, Scarlet bellied Mountain Tanager, Buff Breasted Mountain Tanager, lacrimose Mountain Tanager, Russet crowned warbler, Streaked Tuftedcheek, White banded Tyrannulet and many more. We will have lunch on the road and arrive in the afternoon to Salento. Salento is in Quindio Province, one of the three Colombian provinces that make up the so-called Coffee Area, along with Risaralda and Caldas. Therefore it’s a great place to learn about coffee and the complex processes that go into taking a small red bean and turning it into a steaming hot cup o’ joe. The magical landscape of the Cocora Valley, its diversity of birds, miradores, and the colorful architecture from the Colombian Coffee Region make it a very interesting region. After lunch, we will visit a wonderful, typical coffee farm called “El Ocaso”, where we will learn about the coffee plantations and their production process, as well as the culture and customs around this activity.  We will stay at Hotel Salento Plaza.

Day 5

Cocora Valley and Orchid green house- We will have breakfast early and leave the hotel for a fantastic trek in the Cocora Valley and its surrounding hillsides. The Cocora Valley is home to many wax palms, the national tree and symbol of Colombia. They are some of the tallest palms in the world and a very worthy sight. There we may See Black Billed Mountain Toucan, Collared Trogon, Bronze winged Parrot, Black collared Jay, Sickle winged guan, White tailed Hawk, Masked Trogon, Ringed Kingfisher, Crimson mantled Woodpecker, American Kestrel, Golden Plumed Parakeet, Black banded Woodcreeper, Montane Woodcreeper, Azara’s spinetail, Rufous breasted Flycatcher, Slaty backed chat-Tyrant, Pale edged Flycatcher, Fork tailed Flycatcher, Green Jay, Russet crowned Warbler, Beryl spangled Tanager, Blue capped Tanager and many more.

We will transfer at noon to Ginebra, a small town in the Cauca river Valley, where we will visit one of the biggest and most awarded Orchid greenhouses in Colombia. Orquideas del Valle is one of the largest exporters and researchers of Orchids. In their warm nursery in Ginebra we may see a good selection of Cattleyas, Encyclias, Pescatorea, Cochleanthes, Chondrorhyncha, Galeottia, Kefersteinia, Miltoniopsis, Oncidium, Pleurothallis, Stanhopea, Gongora, Catasetum, Cycnoches and many other Orchid species. From there we will drive to Buga, a quiet village in the Cauca Valley province. Locals find pride in the Basílica del Señor de los Milagros, where the sacred image of Christ was believed to work miracles. We will stay at the nice hotel Guadalajara.

Day 6

Sonso lagoon and IXX century Sugar Cane Hacienda-In the morning, we will go birding to Sonso Lagoon, a wetland ecosystem with a fantastic Tropical dry forest that is home to hundreds of species of resident and migratory birds. There we may spot different species, such as endemic Grayish Piculet, endemic Apical Flycatcher, Amazon Kingfisher, Anhinga, Great Antshrike, Bar Crested Antshrike, Jet Antbird, Cocoi Heron, Bare Faced Ibis, Neotropical Cormorant, Glossy Ibis, Buff necked Ibis, Snail Kite, Roadside Hawk, Purple Gallinule, Blackish Rail,  Limpkin, Southern Lapwing, Spotted Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Pale vented Pigeon, Eared Dove, Greater Ani, Striped Cuckoo, Common Potoo, Lineated Woodpecker, Cocoi Heron, Striated Heron, Yellow Headed Caracara, Crested Caracara, Purple Gallinule, Spectacled Parrotlet, Wattled Jacana , Striped Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Dark billed Cuckoo, Dwarf Cuckoo, Red breasted Meadowlark, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Streak- headed Woodcreeper, Pale breasted Spinetail, Yellow crowned Tyrannulet, Yellow bellied Elaenia, Slate headed Tody Flycatcher, Yellow olive Flycatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, Pied water Tyrant, Great Kiskadee, Rusty Margined Flycatcher, Streaked Flycatcher, Cinereous Becard, Fork Tailed Flycatcher, Oriole Blackbird, Yellow Oriole, Red Capped Cardinal among others.

Sugarcane fields are a part of the Valle del Cauca landscape. In the afternoon we will visit Hacienda Piedechinche, also known as  the Sugarcane Museum. There we will learn about the origins of the Valle del Cauca main economic activity: sugarcane production. At the Hacienda we will enjoy the fantastic gardens, learn a little about the sugarcane mills history and visit the ancient house of the 1800s. We will drive to Cali  around 5 pm. Cali is considered the salsa capital of the world, but also the city of Birds, surrounded with fantastic birding sites. We will stay at Hampton Hotel in Cali.

Day 7

Finca Alejandría / San Antonio Forest- We will spend the morning birding at the trails and feeders of Finca Alejandría at enigmatic cloud Forest by the 18 Km  in the Mountains of the Western Andes, close to Cali. Currently up to 17 species of hummingbirds and up to 30 species of colorful tanagers and allies (including of course, the endemic Multicolored tanager, flower piercers, and honeycreepers) can be observed and easily photographed at the feeders. From the house you can also enjoy the view to the surrounding forest where you can find Quetzals and Toucanets. There we will have the opportunity to watch birds like endemic Colombian Chachalaca ,Saffron crowned Tanager, Golden naped Tanager, Acorn Woodpecker, Golden Olive Woodpecker, Long Tailed Sylph, Brown violetear,  Booted Raquettail, Western and Andean Emerald, Bronzy Inca, Green Honeycreeper, White naped Brush Finch, Bananaquit, Barred Becard, Uniform Antshrike, Slaty Antwren, Crested and Golden headed Quetzal, Scarlet fronted Parakeet, Flame rumped Tanager, Slate throated Redstart, Azara’s spinetail, lineated Foliage Gleaner, Golden crowned Flycatcher, Green and black Fruiteater, Black billed Thrush among many other. In The afternoon we will go to the San Antonio Cloud Forest where we may see Endemic Chestnut Woodquail, Rufous tailed Tyrant, Blue naped and Chestnut breasted Chlorophonias, Streaked capped Treehunter, Rufous crested Tanager,  and many more. We will come back to Cali and stay at HamptonHotel.

Day 8:

Páramo Puracé- The Puracé National Park is located in the Central Andean Region of Colombia (3000 –  4500 masl.), southeast of the city of Popayán. We’ll leave the hotel in Cali at 4:30 am and  arrive to Puracé at 8:00am where we will have breakfast. Then we’ll visit the Condor rock to feed and see the magnificent Condor (there’s a 70% chance we’ll get to see it). Watching this majestic bird soaring the sky above the spectacular cliffs of the Colombian central Andes is an experience that will leave you amazed. After that, we will enjoy the beautiful scenery of  the magical Puracé Paramo, with it’s mystical mist above the San Rafael lagoon and San Juan hot-springs. We’ll go birding around the trails, where we may find Scarlet bellied Mountain Tanager, Black chested Mountain Tanager, Orange billed nightingale Thrush, Collared Inca, Masked Trogon, Carunculated Caracara, Black capped Tyrannulet, Streak throated Bush Tyrant, Crowned Chat Tyrant, Rufous breasted Chat Tyrant, Brown backed Chat Tyrant, Golden fronted Redstart,  Scarlet bellied Mountain Tanager, Black Flowerpiercer, Slaty Brush Finch, Blue backed Conebill, Pale naped Brush Finch, Golden crowned Tanager, Superciliared Hemispingus and many other species. In the afternoon we will go to the hotel Pensión Coconuco at the quiet Village of Coconuco in the Cauca Province.

Day 9

Transfer to San Agustín / Archaeological Museum-We will drive in the Morning to the small town of San Agustín in the Huila Province, doing some stops in the way for birding. We will arrive around noon and go visit the Archaeological park Museum in the afternoon. San Agustín Archaeological Park is one of Colombia’s most important archaeological sites, It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains the largest collection of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in Latin America. To understand better some details of the civilization that produced the statues in the park, we will visit the Archaeological Museum at the entrance of the Park in the afternoon, where an overview of the Augustinian culture is exhibited. There are displays of stone tools, funeral urns and gold objects related to the different societies that inhabited the region. Accommodation at Hotel Huaka-yo.

Day 10

San Agustín Archaeological Park-The main park itself easily has enough to see and do to fill a full day. We will walk through the ‘Forest of Statues’, a pretty trail through a  forest where a number of the iconic San Agustín statues have been placed along the route. From the forest we will head off to the main park: the sites are all clustered within a reasonable walking distance of each other and include the sites known as Mesita A, Mesita B, Mesita C, La Estación, Alto de Lavapatas, and Fuente de Lavapatas. All of these different sites consist of a variety of ancient statues, tombs, and stunning carvings into riverbeds (the unique and magical Fuente de Lavapatas site).  We will do some birding inside the park where we will looking for endemic Dusky headed Brush Finch, Yellow backed Oriole, Streaked Saltator, Yellow faced Grassquit, Blue necked Tanager, Scrub Tanager, Crimson backed Tanager, Green Jay, Rufous naped Greenlet, Boat billed Flycatcher, Golden faced Tyrannulet, Slaty Spinetail, White backed Fire-eye, Bar crested Antshrike, Scarlet fronted Parakeet, Olivaceous Piculet, White vented Plumeleteer, Squirrel Cuckoo, and endemic Colombian Chachalaca.

Day 11

Magdalena Strait / Alto de los ídolos / Transfer to Popayan-The source of the Magdalena River is located not far south of San Agustin, and the Magdalena Strait – Estrecho del Magdalena – is known as the narrowest point of Colombia’s mightiest river.  We will go in the morning to this beautiful site , where the nascent river is squeezed through a narrow canyon just under 3m (9.84 ft) in width. We will visit also El Alto de los Idolos, another Archaeological site with more detailed  statues that show an interesting variation from those the main archaeological park. Some of them even preserve their natural colored paintings. In the afternoon we will transfer to Popayan. Popayan is a colonial city famous for its chalk-white facades (its nickname is La Ciudad Blanca, or ‘the White City’), Popayán is second only to Cartagena as Colombia’s most impressive colonial settlement. We will stay at Hotel Camino Real.

Day 12

Departure-After breakfast we will say goodbye to those who need to fly in the first flight to Bogotá to catch their connection. With those participants that can leave after noon, we will visit Popayan Museum of Religious Art. The Museum houses an impressive collection of religious works and has been an integral part of the city’s cultural heritage and famous Holy Week celebrations since its opening in 1979. Situated in an 18th century colonial building, two blocks from Popayan central square, the museum brings together more than 500 religious artworks from the 16th to 20th century. There we will see paintings, jewelry, furniture, silverware, ornaments from the renowned school of Quito in the colonial period. We will drop you at the airport and say goodbye hoping to see you again visiting with us different  places in our beloved Country.