Colombia - Llanos Orientales and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

An exploration of Colombia’s vast savanna plains, cloud forest and alpine ‘páramo’ grassland.
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Wildlife Travel leaflet Colombia 2020

31 October – 16 November 2020


Laurie Jackson


To be confirmed


Return flights: UK to Colombia. Local transport as specified in itinerary including internal flights. Fifteen nights’ accommodation (two extra nights are overnight flights), full board basis.

Not included

Drinks and refreshments. Gratuities. Travel insurance.

Group Size

To be confirmed

With an opportunity to visit the Llanos Orientales and the Santa Marta Mountains, along with the Caribbean coast, this holiday provides a fantastic introduction to some of Colombia’s diverse landscapes and rich biodiversity.

Colombia is home to more bird species than any other country in the world. It also encompasses a variety of habitats stretching from the lowlands of the Pacific coast in the west, the Andes encompassing the Cauca and Magdalena valleys, vast swathes of ‘llanos’ savanna grassland, mangroves and dry tropical forests in the north, and Amazon rainforest.

We will pass through several of these areas during our time in Colombia. Our visit begins in Bogotá with a chance to acclimatise to the altitude, before we explore the eastern Andes, including a trip to Sumapaz National Park to explore the breathtaking alpine ‘páramo’ grassland.

We will then fly east to the Llanos Orientales, Colombia’s vast savanna plains that form part of the Orinoco River basin, and home to the llaneros (Colombian cowboys) with their unique culture.

After our time in the llanos, we will fly to Colombia’s north coast (via Bogotá), lapped by the Caribbean Sea. Travelling in four-wheel-drive vehicles we head upwards to 1,900m and the El Dorado Ecolodge in the Santa Marta Mountains. Santa Marta is well known for its biodiversity, including a wealth of endemic species and the El Dorado Bird Reserve is a fantastic place to get a flavour of the wildlife here. We will then have time to explore the dry tropical forest, semi-desert and lagoon habitats of northern Colombia’s lowlands, before a visit to the historic city of Cartagena and our flights back to the UK.

Please note that holidays change, although sometimes only slightly, from year to year and previous trip reports may not reflect the planned itinerary, or other holiday details, for the current trip. Please ask us if you would like to know of any significant differences.

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Day 1 Fly to Bogotá, via Paris, arriving late evening.

Day 2 A day in Bogotá to acclimatise to the altitude with the opportunity to visit attractions such as the Gold Museum and Monserrate.

Day 3 We explore the Eastern Andes around Bogotá and San Francisco.

Day 4 We visit Parque Nacional Natural Sumapaz to explore the alpine ‘páramo’ grassland of the high slopes where the unusual tall frailejones Espeletia grow, and home to an array of birds.

Day 5 We take an early flight to Yopal from where we drive to the Hato la Aurora reserve in the heart of the Llanos Orientales, stopping to enjoy the wildlife as we travel (c.6 hours).

Day 6-7 We will explore the savanna, wetlands and gallery woodlands of Hato la Aurora, home to a huge array of birds and butterflies. We should see plenty of Capybara and with some luck Spectacled Caiman, Giant Anteater or even an Anoconda.

Day 8 We return towards Yopal, again stopping to look for wildlife along the way.

Day 9 We take an early flight to Santa Marta (via Bogotá) on Colombia’s north coast and transfer into four-wheel-drive vehicles for the journey to El Dorado Bird Reserve (c. 3 hours) high in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (1,900m), making stops along the way.

Day 10-11 We have two days to explore different elevations within the El Dorado Reserve. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park was named the world’s most irreplaceable nature reserve, due to its exceptional levels of endemism, which include many birds and amphibians.

Day 12 We take our return journey down from the mountain (c. 3 hours); stopping along the way to enjoy the views and wildlife, before a visit to the beaches and rainforest of Tayrona National Park.

Day 13 We have more time to enjoy Tayrona National Park as well as the opportunity to find out more about the indigenous Wayuu communities of this area.

Day 14 We head west along the coast, stopping to visit the dry forest and mangroves of Salamanca National Park.

Day 15 We will have time to explore the area around Barranquilla before continuing on to the historic city of Cartagena (c. 2 hours).

Day 16 We will have a relaxing start to the day with some time to explore Cartagena before our evening flight back to the UK, via Amsterdam (arriving Day 17).

Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.

Accommodation at the lodges is clean and comfortable with en-suite accommodation, good food and some very attractive settings. Tourism in Colombia is still establishing, so in comparison with lodges in more developed countries such as Costa Rica, you should be prepared for the accommodation to be a little more basic. El Dorado is set in the cloud forest with accommodation split between the main lodge and kogihabs (individual huts), which are around ten minutes walk from the main lodge. Juan Solito is set alongside the Ariporo River. The lodge or hotel used may be changed if any local conditions change or if we feel a different choice would suit our needs better.

The meals provided during the stay will be a mixture of local and International dishes. Requests for special diets can be accommodated.

We will ensure our travelling is as comfortable as possible, using a small coach/minibus or four-wheel-drive vehicle, however, some of the roads can be bumpy. There will be days when we are transferring from one area to another where the journey may take much of the day but we will take plenty of stops for comfort breaks and to enjoy interesting areas. Travel from Yopal to Juan Solito is only possible by four-wheel-drive vehicle: the last two hours of the journey are on unsurfaced roads, so will be slower and more bumpy.The road to El Dorado Reserve is in poor condition and passable only with four-wheel-drive vehicles: it is a long and bumpy drive, but worth it when you reach the top.

We will take three domestic flights: Bogotá to Yopal and Yopal to Santa Marta (via Bogotá).

The group flights are with Air France (outbound) and KLM (inbound) from London Heathrow:

31st October depart London Heathrow 11.30, arrive Paris Charles de Gaulle 13.50, depart Paris Charles de Gaulle 17.15, arrive Bogotá 22.05
15th November depart Cartagena 19.48, arrive Amsterdam Schiphol 10.30 (16th), depart Amsterdam Schiphol 11.45, arrive London Heathrow 12.05

Colombia is five hours behind the UK. France and the Netherlands are one hour ahead of the UK

It may be possible to fly from other airports, including Manchester, and you may wish to extend your time in Cartagena or Bogotá: we can discuss options. You can book the trip without flights – please contact us for the price reduction.

You must have a valid passport for this trip (valid for at least six months from the date of entry in to Colombia). Visas are not required for holders of UK/EU passports, although you may be asked to show evidence of return/onward travel. For holders of other passports please check with your embassy.

A range of weather is expected. We will be travelling at the end of the wet season, so rain showers are likely. Bogotá has little seasonal variation in weather: it is likely to be relatively mild (15-20°) with rain a distinct possibility. In Palomino, Barranquilla and Cartagena it is likely to be hot and humid (25-35°) with rain very possible. Hato la Aurora is likely to be hot (25-35°), and with our visit falling at the end of the wet season, rain is still possible. We can expect cooler temperatures in El Dorado (15-20°). You should be prepared for cold temperatures in Sumapaz (below 10°), and rain or drizzle is likely. At higher altitudes, nights can be chilly.

You should consult your GP at least eight weeks before departure about travel inoculations, including typhoid and hepatitis. General inoculations for overseas travel are recommended. You must drink only purified drinking water at all times.

Biting insects such as mosquitoes are likely to be present: particularly in the lowlands. Dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever, zika virus and chikungunya fever are present in Colombia: strong repellent is essential. The areas we visit are currently classified as low risk for malaria. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required if arriving from a country with risk of yellow fever transmission (please check if you are not taking the group flight) and may be required for entry to some national parks in Colombia.

No strenuous walking is involved but you need to have a reasonable level of general fitness to be able to participate in the holiday. The tour visits several locations and travelling in the tropics can be tiring if you are not used to it. However, the trip is designed to be relatively comfortable so please discuss any concerns with us.

Although most of the walks are not long, we will sometimes be walking on rough or wet ground. Walking boots (lightweight ok) are essential for most areas. There are a few occasions when we walk uphill but this is not excessive.

We will be visiting high altitudes in the Andes, up to around 3,720m in Sumapaz National Park, although our accommodation is all lower than 3,000m. There is some risk of altitude sickness although rest and drinking plenty of water usually relieves any mild effects (headaches and tiredness). If you have suffered from altitude problems before or have any reason to believe that you will be adversely affected at these altitudes you should consult your doctor prior to booking. We will be taking it easy at these higher altitudes and none of the walking will be strenuous.

As we are in the tropics, the sun is very strong, even when it appears overcast. Sun protection (hat, sunglasses and suncream) is essential. We avoid walking far in the hottest part of the day.