|"Colombia is famous for being
the most bird-rich country on Earth. While that's
impressive, so too is its overall biodiversity which is
eclipsed only by that of Brazil ... which has the
advantage of being seven times larger. The unique
topography of the country - Pacific and Caribbean coasts,
three Andean ranges, Amazonian forest, and llanos -
supports a great number of bird species, including almost
80 endemics and 109 near endemics." -- Mark Pretti
In June 2013 we rejoined nature tour guide Mark Pretti on his inaugural tour of northern Colombia. We had been thinking of Colombia for years, dating back to our 1993 trip to Venezuela with Steve Hilty of VENT, who wrote the "Birds of Columbia" book - but our thoughts were always "gee, too bad we can't go". You know, drug cartels, nasty business, State Dept advisories, etc. Well, wait long enough and things change! So despite some consternation on the part of Liza's work security personnel, we were off. While we would have loved to have had a day or two in Bogotá, not to mention Cartagena, this trip focused on the Santa Marta region and Guajira Peninsula on the northern coast.
After a comfortable overnight stop in Panama City at the excellent Riande Aeropuerto hotel, we made the short (~1 hr) flight the next morning to Barranquilla. It was a crazy slow drive from the airport to the Hotel American Golf which turned out to be due to a protest by bus drivers that blocked the main roads. Still, LA could be a lot worse, so we weren't complaining. Also, Colombia was playing Peru that afternoon *in Barranquilla* in a world cup qualifying match - so nearly everyone we saw was wearing a yellow national futbol jersey. Win or lose, we figured it could be a wild evening - but Colombia won and there were no problems. It was pretty obvious when the game was on though - the streets were empty!
We met up with Mark's group for dinner that night, and the next morning the birding started in earnest as we left Barranquilla. We first birded in a coastal lowland area with freshwater wetlands, mangroves and scrub; pretty steamy there, probably the most uncomfortable day of the whole trip. If your clothes look like you either wet yourself or jumped into a pool, you know it is humid. We happily went up to the small town of Minca in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, staying at the very nice Hotel Minca. The more-or-less pet red-and-green macaw greeted us - or kept an eye on us - or both, and the resident puppy was pretty entertaining too...but the hummingbird feeders are what kept us occupied while there. (As for the town of Minca - blink and you miss it - but overall it was a really nice place to stay.)
After Minca we continued up a pretty darn bumpy "road" (more like a creek bed) in big 4WD Toyota Land Cruisers into the cloud forest, staying at the El Dorado Lodge. The Lodge is at 6500 ft elevation and also had some great hummers and endemics - including the Santa Marta Parakeet, and Santa Marta Woodstar. It was also our jumping off point for our one higher day, up to about 8200 ft, along that same crazy road. But well worth it for the views not only of scenery but some Santa Marta endemic birds as well.
Our last lodge before returning to Barranquilla was Playa La Roca, a beachfront lodge with comfortable cabanas, crashing surf, and (for us at least) a marine toad hanging around outside the door. No hot water at Playa La Roca, but we didn't need it - the temperatures and humidity were such that a coolish shower was just what we needed at the end of the day. We spent a day out in the dry scrub of the Guajira Peninsula, saw flamingos (of the not-plastic variety), took a look at the town of Camarones and thanked Mark for not having us stay there.
At the trip's conclusion back in Barranquilla - at the very very nice Hotel Barranquilla Plaza (was booked at the front end of the trip or we would have been there instead of Hotel American Golf) - Mark said we were the best group he's taken to Colombia. Ok, we were the first group, but we'll take the compliment. :-)
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