Thursday, 23 August 2012

Monkeys at last

Our trip to Tayrona and Minca near Santa Marta in the north of Colombia was excellent for seeing spectacular wildlife. Best of all for me was finally getting to see monkeys in the wild. There are some species (I don't know what) on the in-laws farm, but I've not seen them there yet. We saw Red Howler Monkeys, the loudest land animal on Earth, in Tayrona National Park, near to the main trail. They were fairly calm and obliging and I had enough time to get the tripod sorted and get some digiscoped shots. I also took a short video of one individual which you can see on this link. Red Howler on Youtube. We also saw Red Howlers in the Proaves El Dorado bird reserve.

In Tayrona we got great views of the critically endangered Cotton-top Tamarin monkey (called Mono Tití in Colombia), a species endemic to Colombia. They were very curious and came quite close but sadly without the 'scope, the pictures were useless.

Near the hammocks where we stayed the night in the park were a family of Collared Aracari. My first ever toucan. I also saw my first Jacamar, the Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and my first Manakin, a hard to identify Lance-tailed Manakin (hard because it was a juvenile bird).

There were several herons on the beach, including this Little Blue Heron. I also had a few other new species in the woods near the beaches such as the spectacular Crimson-crested Woodpecker and the less spectacular Plain-brown Woodcreeper!

There were many colorful, but very quick lizards near the beach, some very large toads, and some giant grasshoppers as well as this huge millipede on the trail.

Minca was great for hummingbirds, some of which like this White-vented Plumeleteer were new to me. I was also well pleased with good views of the fantastic Keel-billed Toucans, Crested Oropendola and Black-chested Jays which were all new to me. The only problem was the horrible biting sandflies, which drew plenty of blood on our legs as we'd forgotten to put on repellent.

Also a great new bird to see was the Whooping Motmot, on the fruit feeders at Hotel Minca, where they also have many hummers on their feeders (when they've filled them!). Sadly I didn't get better shots of these birds.  

El Dorado reserve was fantastic. It was empty of people because we were "out of season" but it is packed with endemic species all year round. There is no doubt it is one of the best sites in Colombia if not the world for endemic birding - 19 species that only occur in this area. Sadly, the weather didn't help the birding or taking pictures but I did see amongst other birds the endemic Santa Marta Brush-finch (easy to see there), Colombian Brush-finch (on the compost heap), White-tailed Starfrontlet & Santa Marta Woodstar hummers and White-lored Warblers as well as other colorful "megas" like Emerald Toucanet, Masked Trogon and Strong-billed Woodcreeper. I felt very happy despite just a few hours on the reserve in poor weather. No doubt you could add dozens more great birds with a longer visit. The road is terrible though, it takes nearly 2 bone-shaking hours to get there from Minca. Probably best to stay at the lodge which looked excellent, and the food was great. 

Overall it was a fantastic trip with the monkeys and over 50 new species of birds for me. The only really problem was lack of time! 


  1. Really good blog. Where did you stay in Tayrona? Was it any good?

  2. Thanks.

    We stayed in Arecifes in hammocks which were in a small "shed" enclosed by netting. The location is very good, less than one hours walk from the carpark at Cañaveral, and right next to a fantastic beach with the iconic split rock that you see in all the photos (but it´s not safe to swim there).

    Probably Arecifes could become crowded at times but that was not a problem when we were there. I'd say the showers and toilet facilities were not great - with mud and insects - but otherwise it was a good place to stay. The wildlife, forests and beaches in Tayrona are well worth it!

  3. Thanks for that. I am not sure if my wife will accept hammocks but thanks anyway.
    My Colombian wife and I almost moved to Colombia 2 years ago but decided against it.

  4. After re-reading this I - boss allowing - going to Tayrona next year, I wish I had this year.
    However one thing that is a millipede.
    You can tell by the shape and the number of legs per segment (it is one pair for centipedes two for millipedes). For some reason it is hard to see centipedes in Colombia

  5. You won't regret going to Tayrona!

    Absolutely right, millipede it is. I knew that but was suffering from brainfade....

  6. I have some questions about this trip, we are going there in August.
    ) How long does the cheapest (apart from walking) journey from Tayrona to Minca take? How easy is it?
    2) How long does the cheapest (apart from walking) journey from Minca to El Dorado take? How easy is it?
    3) How long does the cheapest (apart from walking) journey from El Dorado to the airport take? How easy is it?
    4) Any recommendations about where to stay in Minca?
    5) Any recommendations about staying in El Dorado?
    6) Any recommendation about food?
    7) Any recommendations about the time they merit. I was thinking of 4 days in Tayrona, 4 El Dorado and one in Minca.
    8) Is it better to go to Tayrona during the week?
    Although I like seeing new bird species my main interest is in invertebrates particularly phasmids

  7. My best answers based on what I remember!
    1)Tayrona to Minca turn in Santa Marta about 30 km, good road, plenty of buses or minibuses into the park. Short walk from the road but it's hot and you might be carrying plenty of gear. They do mules as well if you want them to carry you stuff. Then Santa Marta to Minca about 15km, OK road, regular buses I guess, maybe 25-30 mins or possibly a taxi wouldn't cost too much.
    2) Minca to El Dorado - 2 hours by car or moto taxi - 10km over worst "road" in Colombia !
    3) To Santa Marta Airport? I'd guess 3.5 or so hours or more as above.
    4) We stayed in Hotel Minca which was fine and the standard place for those going to El Dorado because of some link with ProAves. There were frequent power cuts though in Minca, and we had trouble paying with credit card because of that.
    5) Only option is the ProAves lodge I guess but pricey. It looked comfortable and we had a very good lunch.
    6) Minca has good Pizza place plus a few other cafes.
    7) I think your times are about right. Weather can be misty and drizzly in El Dorado which might be tiring and it makes birding tougher but OK for invertebrates I guess?
    8) No idea, but many foreigners in Tayrona, so they might not care about weekend or weekday.

    I can imagine that if you know how/where/what to look as you might, you can find some great invertebrates in these places. Tayrona forest is fairly accessible, and Santa Marta mountains full of unique stuff. Very jealous of your trip.

    Minca and Tayrona seem fairly secure, but I'd be careful in Santa Marta.

  8. Thanks when you say the worst road in Colombia. Have you been to San Agustin?
    The El Dorado lodge is pricey I might stay a bit longer in Minca and less in El Dorado for that reason.


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