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WINGS Birding Tours – Information

Colombia: The Chocó

A remote biodiversity hotspot

Tour Information

Note: The information presented here is an abbreviated version of our formal General Information for Tours to Colombia. Its purpose is solely to give readers a sense of what might be involved if they took this tour. Although we do our best to make sure what follows here is completely accurate, it should not be used as a replacement for the formal document which will be sent to all tour registrants, and whose contents supersedes any information contained here.

ENTERING COLOMBIA:  US citizens must present a passport valid at the time of entry and with at least one blank page for an entry stamp. No visa is required for US citizens visiting Colombia for 60 days or less. Visitors from other countries may need a visa; please contact your nearest Colombian embassy or consulate for further information.

COUNTRY INFORMATION: You can review the U.S. Department of State Country Specific Travel Information at http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/colombia.html , and the CIA World Factbook background notes on Colombia at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/co.html

Safety: After years of instability, Colombia is once again becoming a safe destination for sensible international travelers. The Colombian government has made significant progress in strengthening its democratic institutions, promoting respect for human rights and the rule of law, intensifying counter-narcotics efforts, fostering socioeconomic development, addressing immediate humanitarian needs, and ending the threats to democracy posed by narcotics trafficking and terrorism. Security has improved massively and violence has decreased markedly in most areas, and there is no significant terrorist threat in the areas we will visit. However petty crimes such as pickpocketing are common in major cities including airports, so be careful.

PACE OF TOUR: Because just a few roads reach the Pacific slope of the Western Cordillera, only a few scattered sites are accessible, and there will be quite a few long drives between birding localities (usually 3-4 hours between two birding sites, but could be as long as 8 hours to drive from Las Tangaras to Montezuma).

Most of our days will begin between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m., however there will be some mornings when we start at 04:30 so that we reach areas in time for a field breakfast and dawn birding. Some breakfasts will be taken in the field, others will be eaten at our hotels and lodges. On some days we will take a picnic lunch in the field and on others we will stop at roadside restaurants.

Participants should be able to walk at a slow to moderate pace for five or six hours at a time; we may walk in the sun on some roads, though most of our trails will be in the shade. Although we’ll take it slow and not cover long distances on foot, the trails on this tour are tougher than on many others, including some steep up-and-down tracks. Sturdy shoes or boots are necessary and a walking stick may be helpful at times. Rubber boots or Neos are highly recommended as some locations can be muddy. 

Be aware that you will not be able to return to the lodge or the vehicle on your own should you become tired. On some days however, it will be possible to stay behind and bird the lodge grounds; there is time for a siesta on those days. 

The long drives will be broken up by restroom breaks and lunch stops. The group will typically return to our lodgings between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m., with dinner generally starting between 7:00 and 8:00. On most days there will be a break of one hour between getting back and meeting up for dinner. The leader will call a list of the birds recorded during the day either just before or just after dinner. 

HEALTH:  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all travelers be up to date on routine vaccinations. These include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot. 

They further recommend that most travelers have protection against Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Please contact your doctor well in advance of your tour’s departure as some medications must be initiated weeks before the period of possible exposure. 

The most current information about travelers’ health recommendations for Colombia can be found on the CDC’s  Travel Health website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/colombia. 

Malaria: A very small part of the tour is conducted in areas where there is a low risk of malaria; the remainder is at altitudes where it does not occur. Your tour guides will not be taking anti-malarial drugs. Please consult your physician. 

Dengue Fever and Chikungunya: Dengue Fever and Chikungunya virus also occur in parts of Colombia and seems to be becoming more common in many parts of South America. There is no inoculation available for dengue, so no protection can be made in advance of travel. This disease is transmitted by diurnal mosquitoes mostly in heavily populated areas. It is important therefore cover up and use repellent wherever mosquitoes might be encountered. 

Yellow Fever:  At the time of writing, no proof of vaccination is required to enter Colombia unless traveling from a country with a risk of YFV transmission; however the CDC recommends a Yellow Fever vaccination for visitors to certain areas where there is a risk of transmission at altitudes below 2300m. 

Note that the CDC and World Health Organization are said to be on the verge of announcing that a single Yellow Fever vaccination sometime during your life is enough to confer immunity.  Please check the CDC’s Travel Health website and consult your physician. 

Altitude:  Altitude is not a major concern on this tour. The highest point we will be birding is La Eme ProAves reserve at 9,800 feet elevation (3,000 m). We will stay at that elevation just one or two hours before dropping down to lower elevation. No clients have ever been affected by the altitude at that location. No clients have had a serious problem so far with altitude at that location.

Smoking:  Smoking is prohibited in the vehicles or when the group is gathered for meals, checklists, etc. If you are sharing a room with a nonsmoker, please do not smoke in the room. If you smoke in the field, do so well away and downwind from the group. If any location where the group is gathered has a stricter policy than the WINGS policy, that stricter policy will prevail.  

Miscellaneous:  Bottled water is readily available throughout the areas visited. Drinking water is provided at reserves, in the van when we are on the road, and with meals. 

There are few issues with insects on this tour. Chiggers are present off the roads in Santa Marta, but are not a real problem. There are a few mosquitoes in some areas. Bring a good insect repellent for mosquitoes and other insects that we will occasionally encounter.

CLIMATE: 

The Chocó is one of the wettest places on Earth, so you need to be prepared for some tropical rains. Along the coast, it will be hot (expect 85-90°F) and humid. In the Cauca valley, it will be as hot (80-90°F) but dry. Our lodges at Las Tangaras, Montezuma and El Queremal are at middle elevation (all between 4,000 and 5,000 feet elevation), with pleasant daytime temperature and cooler nights. Temperatures can be cold when we will be birding at higher elevation, like at La Eme at 9,800 feet elevation, – a fleece, scarf and gloves are recommended here and might also be useful at other high elevation sites such as the upper part of the Montezuma road. 

ACCOMMODATION: All of our lodges have electricity and all but one (El Almejal at El Valle) have hot water. In Medellin and Cali, we stay in comfortable modern hotels. Outside of the cities, many of our accommodations are in very birdy settings, and some exciting birding can be had right from the balconies. We will spend two nights in a basic but acceptable lodge at Montezuma, whose garden is full of tanager and hummingbird feeders. The hotel in El Queremal where we spent two nights is very simple, but by far the best option in town.

FOOD: Colombian cuisine is very diverse and varies depending on the different regions of Colombia. In some areas you will find specialties like roasted ants or guinea pigs while in other areas Colombians wouldn’t even touch those dishes.

Colombia is not a paradise for vegetarians as the Colombian diet includes a lot of meat. In the coastal areas you will find a good variety of fish, lobster and seafood often prepared with a sauce made out of coconut milk. The offer of fresh fruit is overwhelming and many of the varieties you have probably never heard of before.

In general breakfast is quite important in Colombia and consists of fruit juice, coffee or hot chocolate, fruit, eggs and bread.

Drinks: Bottled water or a soft drink or a beer is provided at lunch and dinner, as is coffee or tea. Bottled water is provided for day us in the vehicle.  

Food Allergies/Requirements: We cannot guarantee that all food allergies can be accommodated at every destination. Participants with significant food allergies or special dietary requirements should bring appropriate foods with them for those times when their needs cannot be met. Announced meal times are always approximate depending on how the day unfolds. Participants who need to eat according to a fixed schedule should bring supplemental food. Please contact the WINGS office if you have any questions. 

TRANSPORTATION: 

Travel will mostly be by minibus, with 4wd jeeps used in a few localities such as in the Las Tangaras area. In some areas, van travel will alternate with jeep rides to the higher elevations.

Note that jeep rides can be rough and cramped for short distances. Participants must be willing and able to ride in any seat in our tour vehicles.

Updated: 07 December 2017