A plethora of South American countries claim to be the best destinations for birdwatching. Undoubtedly, South America does offer some of the worlds best birdwatching, but with so many countries claiming to have “the most species” or the “highest biodiversity per square km” that it all gets confusing! There’s almost 3000 bird species registered in South America - but where are best birding regions?
Colombia claims to have more birds than any other country in South America. While some areas are distinctly off limits due to security considerations, many regions are perfectly safe to visit. There’s so much birdwatching potential in Colombia, it’s hard to exaggerate - see paisatours.com’s extensive guide to birdwatching in Colombia for more advice.
Tiny Ecuador claims to have South America’s greatest biodiversity (as measured by land mass to species ratio). There’s a huge number of fearless endemic species in the amazing Galapagos Islands, in addition to a range of birdwatching options on Ecuador’s mainland. Mindo has the greatest biodiversity - this is one of South America’s best birding locations. Mindo’s cloudforest has such a huge range in altitude, you could easily spend time in two or three different birding lodges and experience completely different birdlife in each. We’ve visited a lot of Mindo’s lodges - you can read hotel reviews on them here. In addition, there’s fantastic birdwatching in Ecuador’s Amazon region, the western lowlands, the Eastern Andes and the Paramo. Ecuador is choc-a-bloc with great birding spots.
Peru also has a claim to fame as one of South America’s best birdwatching travel dstinations. Apparently, 19% of the worlds bird species can be found in Peru. The best time for birdwatching in Peru is just before the rainy season, or just as it’s starting, as that’s also the breeding season - so visit in October or November if possible. A one month birding trip to Peru often produces over 700 species spotted - the best spots are Tambopata Reserve (well known for it’s macaw lick), Manu Biosphere reserve, the rainforests of the Iquitos region in the north of Peru (see the section on Peru’s Amazon for more info), the Colca Canyon (South America’s best spot for spotting Condors), the Huascaran Reserve and the area around Paracas (near the Nacza lines). There’s also fine protected areas good for birdwatching in northern Peru that are more off the beaten track, such as the those near Tumbes (Peru’s “beach resort”), the Tumbesian dry forest, the Maranon Valley and the Chaparri Private Reserve.
The pantanal wetlands, in western Brazil towards the border with Bolivia, has an amazing array of birdlife (and other much other wildlife) - the pantanal is one of South America’s top wildlife and birding destinations. Brazil’s Amazon rainforest also has amazing biodiversity, one of the best (least disturbed) regions to visit being that around Tefe, a short flight west of Manaus. Other excellent birdwatching regions of Brazil include the subtropical forest near Iguassu Falls; the northwest coastal region between Sao Luiz and Fortaleza; and the Mata Atlantica rainforest pockets in Eastern Brazil.
In Bolivia: there’s Andean birdlife around the Uyuni salt flats; Rurrenabaque is a central point for jungle tours and birdwatching in Bolivia’s lowland region; Amboro National Park (some three hours travel west of Santa Cruz) has particularly diverse ecosystems; and Park National Noel Kempff Mercado also has a particularly high biodiversity.
Argentina has recorded some 980 bird species in total. It’s a huge country, but many of the best birdwatching regions are easily accessible. Argentina’s best birdwatching regions include Patagonia (near Bariloche for example), the Peninsula Valdes (also great for seeing other marine wildlife), the forests to the northwest of Argentina, and the Iberra wetlands, which is one of South America’s best wildlife viewing regions (though it’s quite remote some 10 hours from Iguassu Falls). Argentina’s pampas are also rich in birdlife - flamingoes in particular.
Guyana is possibly South America’s best destination for wildlife tours, and the tiny country has a species count of over 800 birds. Some of Guyana’s best birdwatching sites include the Iwokrama Centre for Rainforest Conseervation (also a great spot to see the elusive Jaguar), Surama and Kaietur Falls.
Hopefully I’ve given you some ideas if you’re a birdwatcher planning a trip to South America. Ecuador, Colombia and Peru are the best spots. There’s so many great birdwatching destinations in South America that it’s impossible to mention them all - if you’ve any travel tips to share please do.
Suggested birdwatching resources:
Tinalandia Ecolodge - excellent birdwatching in the cloudforest slopes, just a couple of hours from Ecuador’s capital Quito.
Costa Rica Birdwatching Lodge - 350 bird species have been counted in the pristine rainforest surrounding Laguna del Largato Lodge in Northern Costa Rica, which is great for birdwatchers and rainforest lovers alike. There’s over 10 miles of well marked rainforest trails, making exploraton and birdwatching easy.
Birdwatching in Costa Rica - Hacienda Baru offer nature tours and birdwatching on Costa Rica’s Southern Pacific Coast, in an area of forests and pristine beaches.