Colombia: A birdwatcher's paradise

Updated: 2015-05-23 05:55

By Chen Liang(China Daily USA)

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Colombia: A birdwatcher's paradise

Colombia: A birdwatcher's paradise

The Black-fronted Nunbird, left, and Baby Rufous-banded Owl are two charismatic species that can be observed in Colombia.Photos by Yang Fan for China Daily

"Colombia is more developed than Peru and Ecuador, probably 15 years ahead in terms of the level of development," Yang said. "The streets in many big cities are clean and tidy and you don't feel any danger while traveling around there."

After two days in Medellin, he headed to Manizales, capital of Caldas province in central Colombia, part of the Colombian Coffee-Growers Axis, by bus. The ride took five hours and cost him about $18.

The coach system is very modern and convenient, he said. "They are always very clean, usually on time, without many passengers."

Birders of the world come to Manizales for one reason — to see Rio Blanco, Yang said. The nature reserve, owned by Aguas de Manizales, the local water company, is one of the best birding sites in Colombia.

"It is the best site for antpittas," Yang said, referring to the forest bird that tends to feed on insects at or near the ground since many are specialist ant-eaters. "If you are lucky enough, you can see seven different species of antpittas there. I saw three. Pretty good."

Back in Manizales, he found a Chinese restaurant and met a Chinese-Colombian family. They were the only Chinese he saw during his stay in the country.

"I ordered a dish of fried noodles that cost nearly 10 US dollars," he said. "It was the most expensive meal I had in Colombia, but truly tasty."

He took a bus from Manizales back to Bogota. After relaxing there for three days, he headed to Santa Marta, the capital of Magdalena province. Founded in 1525, it was the first Spanish settlement in Colombia.

From there, he visited his last birding site in Colombia — the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, an isolated mountain range separated from the Andes chain that runs through Colombia.

"I booked my room from and saw half of the endemic birds there," he said. "People told me that I was the first Asian birder to visit the site."

According to Sun Jiajie, a professional bird-watching guide based in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, the high price of international air travel is a major factor that restricts Chinese travelers from visiting South American countries, like Colombia.

He led nine Chinese birdwatchers to Ecuador, four in June 2014 and another five in January this year. He charged them an average of $7,000 per person for a 20-to-30 day stay in the country. The price didn't include the air travel between China and Ecuador, he said. That would cost another $3,200 on average, he added.

In June he will guide four Chinese birdwatchers to Peru. The tour costs $9,600, excluding international air tickets. In July, another five have booked a tour to Ecuador. This time they will visit the Galapagos Islands, so the price is $15,440, he said.

He is organizing a group to visit Colombia in 2016 or 2017.

"Because of the prices, I have very few customers. But still, I think I am tapping into a fast-growing niche market."

Of the 10 birding regions in Colombia, Yang said he has visited three or four. "Even in the summer, the weather is cool because of the tropical country's high attitude. There is a diverse range of fruit. It's also a haven for coffee drinkers and meat lovers," Yang said. "So I might return some day."

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