Approximately 10% of Earth’s living species are found in Colombia. At present, Colombia ranks first in the world when it comes to the number of bird species.
Our first major stop for birding on this trip was El Dorado Reserve in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and a two-three hour drive from Santa Marta. El Dorado Reserve is ProAves’ flagship reserve and a Holy Grail for birding in the Americas. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a unique massif separated from the Andes Mountains, rises 19,000 feet in elevation from the nearby Caribbean coastline. This rapid change in topography hosts the highest concentration of continental range-restricted bird species found anywhere in the world. As such, conservation efforts here are critical.
The main road to El Dorado Reserve is one of the worst I’ve experienced in Latin America. A 4-wheel drive vehicle or motorbike is mandatory for motorized transportation. Otherwise, you can walk it. Luckily, birding opportunities along the road are abundant so you can get out of the vehicle and walk much of the way while birding at the same time. The road’s poor condition also means tourism in the region will remain low volume in the foreseeable future.
We spent one night at Jeniam Ecolodge in the reserve. Before the trip, I wasn’t able to find much information on the lodge. Upon arrival, the entire group was pleasantly surprised. The main lodge affords sweeping views down to the coast, hummingbird feeders buzz with activity, the rooms are comfortable, the showers hot, and the food delicious. If given the option, choose a room with a balcony.
Even though El Dorado Reserve garners most attention because of resident endemics, the overall birding experience is well worth the effort it takes to get there. In just over 24 hours, the group saw more than 80 species, including Santa Marta parakeet, Santa Marta screech-owl, Santa Marta mountain tanager, masked trogon, white-necked jacobin, bat falcon, king vulture, strong-billed woodcreeper, and brown-rumped tapaculo.