Birding Bogotá & Colombia

Santa Marta Mountains

Key species

Endemics: Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Screech-Owl, Blossomcrown, Black-backed Thornbill (seasonal), White-tailed Starfrontlet, Santa Marta Woodstar, Santa Marta Sabrewing (rare), Rusty-headed Spinetail, Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner, Santa Marta Antpitta, Santa Marta and Brown-rumped tapaculos, Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant, Santa Marta Mountain-Tanager, Santa Marta Brush-Finch, Colombian Brush-Finch, Yellow-crowned  Redstart,  White-lored Warbler and Santa Marta Warbler.

Near endemics: Black-fronted Wood-Quail, Copper-rumped Emerald, White-tipped Quetzal and Streak-capped Spinetail.

Approximate number of bird species: 364 in areas accessible to birders.


Height above sea level: ca. 600-2600m (3120-8530 ft)


Nestled on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (or Santa Marta Mountains) is the only place on the planet where it is possible to snorkel on a coral reef and see snow-capped mountains at the same time. No other permanently snow-capped mountains are so close to the ocean.. This area also is the crown jewel of birding in Colombia and one of the most important in the world due to the approximately 20 endemic bird species and numerous near-endemics here.

Although the road ascending into the northwestern  slope of the Santa Marta Mountains is in very poor condition and the upper portion of this road can be reached only by 4×4 vehicle there is an excellent lodge located at about 2000 m elevation where temperatures are cool and provide pleasant relief from the dry and hot lowlands around Santa Marta.  This lodge is located within the El Dorado Nature Reserve, which belongs to ProAves Foundation and protects more than 1,800 acres of subtropical and montane forest. This reserve  is situated on  the “Cuchilla de San Lorenzo” (a long knife ridge), in the western sector of the northern slope of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and about two and a half hours  above  the city of Santa Marta. In the reserve or at elevations somewhat higher or lower it is possible to find almost all of the endemic and near-endemic birds of the region.

The reserve also has many species of endemic amphibians including fourteen endemic frogs, as well as night-monkeys The El Dorado lodge is a striking two-story lodge that includes a dining area on the main floor and a stairs leading to an observation deck and combination bar and study room on the upper level. Private rooms are located nearby in three separate buildings. The lodge and reserve are usually visited in combination with birding visits to one or more sites at lower elevation including the town of Minca in the foothills, lowland areas in the vicinity of the city of Santa Marta, and especially eastward into the desert regions in the vicinity of the town of Riohacha on the Guajira Peninsula. For visitors interested in water birds and scrub species the coastal lagoons, mangroves and estuaries of Salamanca National Park lie not far to the west along the road to the large port city of Barranquilla. Visitors interested in a morning in moderately humid rainforest will also find good birding along the entrance road to Tayrona national Park although the most accessible portions of the park are now quite built-up with hotels and tourist facilities.

Model four-day birding itinerary to the El Dorado Reserve and the town of Minca

First day. We will begin birding with a relatively short drive from Santa Marta (or the airport near the town of Rodadero) to the small town of Minca, which is located at about 650 m elevation. The Hotel Minca, at the edge of the small town of Minca, provides a comfortable base for a one-night stay here. The hotel maintains a number of hummingbird feeders which usually attract five or six species (sometimes more) as well as orioles, Bicolored Wrens, saltators, thrushes and tanagers. Commoner hummingbirds here include Rufous-breasted Hermit, White-vented Plumleteer, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Black-throated Mango, and White-necked Jacobin.

Visits to several nearby sites on foot, and perhaps also by vehicle, will usually turn up quite a good list of birds in dry forests and borders here.Examples of species in and around Minca include Ferruginous Pygmy-owl, Keel-billed Toucan, Collared Aracari, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Red-crowned Woodpecker,  Blue-headed Parrot, Orange-chinned Parakeet, and a long list of flycatchers includingYellow-bellied Elaenia, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, and Venezuelan and Brown-crested flycatchers. Other commoner species include Golden-fronted Greenlet, Pale-breasted Thrush, Rufous-capped Warbler, Orange-crowned and Yellow oriole, and Thick-billed Euphonia. Harder to find are such prize species as Golden-winged Sparrow and Black-backed Antshrike From Minca it is an approximately two hour trip by 4×4 vehicle to the El Dorado Reserve where we will have three days  to explore a variety of habits in search of the many endemic species here.

Second day. We will journey by 4×4 to the top of the “Cuchilla (knife ridge)” de San Lorenzo to search for several endemics found only at elevations higher than the lodge. These include the endangered Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Warbler, Yellow-crowned Whitestart, Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant, Brown-rumped Tapaculo, and the Santa Marta race of the Rufous Antpitta as well as Santa Marta Antpitta. Rusty-headed Spinetail, and Streak-capped Spinetail also are generally easier to find in these bamboo-filled high-elevation forests than lower down.

Third and fourth days. We will spend some time relaxing and watching the hummingbird feeders around the lodge where an interesting variety of species can usually be seen. We’ll also watch the compost pit for Black-throated Wood-Quail, and Colombian Brush-Finch and sometimes other species, and in high trees beside the lodge at dusk it is often possible to spot both Band-tailed Guans and Sickle-winged Guans. Along a forest trail and morning or afternoon walks down the road from the lodge are also productive and we’ll likely stop at least once or twice at the small store about thirty minutes below the lodge where  we may find a number of middle-elevation species that do not occur higher up.

Walking along the road below the lodge can be quite productive at times with such species as, Black-hooded and Yellow-legged thrushes (both are seasonal in occurrence), Blue-capped Tanager, Emerald Toucanet, Masked Trogon and White-tipped Quetzal. This area and also somewhat lower  where there is relatively tall and humid to moist forest species such as White-lored Warbler, Santa Marta Tapaculo, Santa Marta Woodstar and Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner also occur, as well as Blossomcrown, Golden-breasted Fruiteater and Rusty-breasted Antpitta. At night we’ll look for the Santa Marta Screech-Owl, a species that has not yet been officially described for science (this name is, at present, only provisional). Although sometimes the owl can be found roosting near the lodge it usually requires one or more night excursions and finding it often requires patience and some luck.

Many times we combine the visit to the Santa Marta Mountains with a trip to the Riohacha city area for birds of the dry forest and to the Los Flamencos (flamingos) Sanctuary of Flora and Fauna for coastal birds and bird of the dry forest as well.

For visiting the Santa Marta Mountains, El Dorado Nature Reserve and surrounding areas, please contact us at

We will be pleased to arrange a trip for you!

Esta entrada también está disponible en: Spanish

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