The Ultimate In Birding Tours

South America

BEST OF BOLIVIA – Macaws and other endemics in a charismatic part of South America

Friday 10th September – Friday 24th September 2021
Leader: Birdquest leader to be announced
15 Days Group Size Limit 7

BEST OF BOLIVIA: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Best of Bolivia tours explore one of South America’s fastest up-and-coming birding tour venues and one that surely deserves more recognition given its magnificently rich avifauna and wonderful scenery. Our Best of Bolivia tour achieves the most comprehensive coverage of this superb country available and records many great Bolivian specialities, including both Red-fronted and Blue-throated Macaws.

With around 1400 species already recorded, Bolivia boasts the highest avian diversity of any land-locked country in the world! We should see over 600 species during this exciting tour, including two stunning endemic macaws and a host of additional endemics and regional specialities.

Sitting astride the Andes at its widest point Bolivia is placed at the meeting point of several major biogeographical regions; Amazonia, the Cerrado and the Chaco all converge in the eastern lowlands, while in the Andes, humid and semi-humid foothill cloudforests meet in the Santa Cruz de la Sierra region and these ranges create a rain shadow to the west that features a spectacular system of cactus-clad canyons and inter-montane valleys dominated by towering snow-capped peaks.

Only sparsely populated, Bolivia has a very distinctive character our travels will be both a colourful and an unforgettable experience. This delightful and largely unspoilt country is now amongst the most democratic in South America and offers some of the continent’s most exciting birding, with a wealth of pristine habitats remaining throughout the country.

The Bolivian Andes are some of the highest and most spectacular of all, harbouring a high concentration of endemic, near-endemic and restricted-range species. Amongst the huge snow-capped peaks and volcanoes, the magnificent Andean Condor is still a regular sight soaring over canyons and ‘chaparral’ woodlands.

On their eastern flanks, these impressive mountains fall rapidly away through Yungas ‘cloud forest’ into luxuriant subtropical forests or arid, cacti-dominated valleys. The lowlands of Bolivia, made up of Amazonian forests, savannas and Chaco woodlands, together with the vast wetlands of the Llanos de Moxos, add to the considerable wealth of natural variety. Much of Bolivia is still very poorly known ornithologically and certainly conceals many future surprises.

The great diversity of habitats found in Bolivia provide a home for a bewildering array of birds. From huge rheas and tiny seedeaters in the lowland savannas and cerrado to noisy macaws and toucans in the tropical forests, scintillant hummingbirds and gaudy tanagers in the luxuriant subtropics, secretive antpittas and tapaculos hiding amongst the highland bamboos, a wealth of ground-tyrants on the puna grasslands and flightless grebes and shimmering flocks of flamingos on altiplano lakes, Bolivia offers even veteran South American birders a marvellous experience, and all this amongst some of the most awe-inspiring scenery on Earth. Our Ultimate Bolivia itinerary is the most comprehensive Bolivian specialities tour available. Join us for some of the best birding South America has to offer!

Our Best of Bolivia tour begins at the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, from where we fly northwards to the rather Pantanal-like region around the town of Trinidad in the province of Beni. Here, in the Llanos de los Moxos, we will go in search of the first of Bolivia’s two endemic macaws, the beautiful but very rare and critically-endangered Blue-throated Macaw. Only a hundred or so pairs of this magnificent species survive and seeing this ‘megabird’ will be the main goal of our visit.

Interestingly, four other species of macaw make a living here, including Golden-collared, and we will also see a host of other lowland birds, including such specialities as Orinoco Goose, Plain Softtail, Hudson’s Black Tyrant, Dark-throated Seedeater and the endemic boliviensis form of the Velvet-fronted Grackle. With a bit of luck, we will also see the very poorly known Unicoloured Thrush. The mixture of grasslands, palm savanna, gallery forest and seasonally inundated woodland in this bird-rich region holds an amazing variety of waterbirds and raptors.

After returning to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, we will spend some time in the bird-rich surroundings, where the habitat and avifauna are reminiscent of the pampas and cerrado of central Brazil. We then head into the Andean foothills to the Amboro National Park to explore a stunning area of sub-tropical forests in search of such sought-after species as the near-endemic Bolivian Recurvebill, Slaty Gnateater and Bolivian White-crowned Tapaculo.

As we work our way westwards to podocarpus forests and dry deciduous woodlands near Valle Grande we shall search for the rare Alder Parrot and Red-faced Guan. If we have not seen it already, we are sure to find the near-endemic Bolivian Slaty Antshrike.

Next, we explore the cactus-clad canyons of Comarapa and the cloudforests of Siberia perched above it on the western edge of Amboro National Park. In this spectacular area, we will be looking for a marvellous suite of endemics and near-endemics including the rare Red-fronted Macaw, Bolivian Earthcreeper, Light-crowned Spinetail, Rufous-faced Antpitta, Grey-bellied Flowerpiercer, Bolivian Brushfinch and Bolivian Warbling Finch.

Our journey into the Andes then continues with visits to dry valleys and remnant Polylepis woodland near Cochabamba, where specialities include the endemic Black-hooded Sunbeam, Wedge-tailed Hillstar, Maquis (or Iquico) Canastero, the endemic Bolivian Blackbird, Rufous-bellied Saltator, the endemic Cochabamba Mountain Finch and Citron-headed Yellow-Finch.

From Cochabamba, we descend into the temperate and subtropical forests along the Chapare Road, where some of Bolivia’s most exciting birding is to be found. We shall be wanting to find such species as the restricted-range Black-winged Parrot, Blue-banded Toucanet, the spectacular, near-endemic Hooded Mountain Toucan, the endemic Black-throated Thistletail, the gorgeous Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Band-tailed Fruiteater and White-eared Solitaire.

During the last part of our Best of Bolivia birding tour, we will be covering the La Paz region. During our visit, we will first enjoy some tremendous birding along the old Coroico road, where we will look for such poorly known species as Scimitar-winged Piha, Diademed Tapaculo and Orange-browed Hemispingus.

Finally, we will explore the Andean bogs at La Cumbre, the high altiplano and Lake Titicaca (the highest navigable lake on Earth) in search of the near-endemic Titicaca (or Short-winged) Grebe.

Birdquest has operated Bolivia tours since 1992.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are of good to medium standard throughout. Road transport is by small coach or minibus/passenger van and roads are variable in quality (there are some long drives on unsurfaced roads).

Walking: The walking effort during our Best of Bolivia tours is mostly easy, sometimes moderate.

Climate: Rather variable. At low and middle altitudes many days are warm or hot, dry and sunny, but it is sometimes cool and overcast. At high altitudes, conditions range from cool to decidedly cold. It may rain at times and it can be rather humid in the lowlands.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Best of Bolivia tours are quite good.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Seven species of Macaw on a single tour!
  • Prolific concentrations of screamers, Jabirus, Plumbeous Ibises and thousands of egrets and herons in the Beni wetlands.
  • Watching the endangered Blue-throated Macaw in the palm savannas of the Llanos de Moxos.
  • Andean Condors and Military Macaws wheeling around the immense red sandstone cliffs at Los Volcanes.
  • Searching through the bamboo forests for Bolivian Recurvebill and Slaty Gnateater in the Amboro National Park.
  • The tranquil Laguna Esmeraldas at dawn, searching for the rarely seen Red-faced Guan and Alder Amazon.
  • Tracking down White-throated Antpitta and Short-tailed Antthrush.
  • Dawn along the Rio Mizque with Red-fronted Macaws and Cliff Parakeets swirling around their breeding cliffs.
  • The claxon-like call and bill clatter of Hooded Mountain Toucans in bromeliad-laden cloud forests.
  • The rose-colored snowy Mount Illimani towering above the city of La Paz at dusk.
  • Mixed flocks of brightly-coloured tanagers all around us in the Yungas.
  • The enigmatic Scimitar-winged Piha in its mossy domain.
  • Walking the icy tops above La Paz, searching for Rufous-bellied and Grey-breasted Seedsnipes.
  • Titicaca Grebe, plying the tranquil azure waters of Lake Titicaca.

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • Day 1: Morning tour start at Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Fly to Trinidad.
  • Days 2-3: Trinidad/Llanos de los Moxos.
  • Day 4: Trinidad. Flight to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, then drive to Los Volcanes.
  • Day 5: Los Volcanes.
  • Day 6: Los Volcanes, then drive to Samaipata.
  • Day 7: Loma Larga, then drive to Saipina area.
  • Day 8: Red-fronted Macaw reserve, then drive to Comorapa.
  • Day 9: Comarapa/Siberia.
  • Day 10: Drive to Cochabamba.
  • Days 11: Chapare Road. Overnight at Cochabamba.
  • Day 12: Quillacolla road, then fly from Cochabamba to La Paz.
  • Day 13: Coroico road and Apa Apa reserve. Overnight El Chairo.
  • Day 14: Ascend Coroico Road to La Paz. Visit Lake Titicaca.
  • Day 15: Morning tour end at La Paz airport.

This is a temporary map. A new, improved map will appear in due course.

PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include these flights: Santa Cruz de la Sierra-Trinidad-Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Cochabamba-La Paz.

Deposit: 10% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)


2021: £4930, $6290, €5530, AUD9180. Santa Cruz de la Sierra/La Paz.

Single Supplement: 2021: £370, $480, €420, AUD700.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

BEST OF BOLIVIA TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Best of Bolivia: Day 1  Our Ultimate Bolivia birding tour starts this morning at Santa Cruz de la Sierra airport, from where we will take a flight to Trinidad, situated in the huge province of Beni, for a three nights stay. This afternoon we will commence our exploration of the Trinidad region.

Best of Bolivia: Days 2-3  Our main reason for visiting the wide watery plains of the Llanos de los Moxos in eastern Bolivia is the occurrence of the very rare and famous Blue-throated Macaw. Until 1992 this species was only known from museum specimens and from cage birds that occasionally turned up in the international pet trade, but nobody knew where these birds originated from. In 1992 Charles Munn, a scientist with the New York Zoological Society discovered its breeding haunts in the vast, virtually uninhabited palm savanna and gallery woodland mosaic in the centre of the department of Beni. The last census indicates there may be fewer than 100 pairs in the wild, but nobody knows. This species, which resembles the much more common and widespread Blue-and-yellow Macaw, seems to require the presence of the palm Attalea phalerata, which is locally abundant here. With the help of local biologists, we should be able to admire this superb macaw and compare it to other members of its tribe, including Blue-and-yellow, Red-and-green, Golden-collared and Chestnut-fronted Macaws.

The grasslands and seasonally flooded woodlands of this region of Bolivia are reminiscent of the more open parts of the famous Brazilian Pantanal or the Venezuelan llanos and harbour the same rich and spectacular variety of birds. The open habitat makes for easy viewing and during our stay here we should amass a splendid list. Many of the birds of the marshes, oxbow lakes, open meadows and pastures are widespread in the Neotropics, but we will, of course, be concentrating on the local specialities and in particular the rare Orinoco Goose and the rare Hudson’s Black Tyrant (a migrant from central Argentina). There is even a chance for the rare American Crowned Eagle.

Among the numerous other species we are likely to see during our visit to this extraordinarily rich birding area are the stately Greater Rhea (often quietly feeding in extended family groups), Undulated Tinamou, Anhinga, Cocoi, Whistling, Capped and Striated Herons, Rufescent Tiger Heron, Least Bittern (uncommon), Great, Western Cattle and Snowy Egrets, Bare-faced, Plumbeous, Buff-necked and Green Ibises, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, the huge Jabiru, the remarkable Southern Screamer, Black-bellied and White-faced Whistling Ducks, Brazilian and Muscovy Ducks, Black and Turkey Vultures, Osprey, Snail Kite, the attractive Long-winged Harrier, Crane, Rufous-thighed (uncommon), Harris’s, Savanna, Roadside, Grey, Black-collared and Great Black Hawks, Southern Crested Caracara, American Kestrel, Speckled Chachalaca (a species that produces an amazing dawn chorus), the impressive Blue-throated Piping Guan, the retiring Razor-billed Curassow, the magnificent Southern Screamer, Limpkin, the skulking Ash-throated Crake, Purple Gallinule, Wattled Jacana, Southern and Pied Lapwings, Collared Plover, Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers, Black-necked Stilt, Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, Black Skimmer, Pale-vented Pigeon, Eared Dove, Plain-breasted, Ruddy and Picui Ground Doves, Peach-fronted, Dusky-headed and Cobalt-winged Parakeets, Blue-headed Parrot, Blue-winged Parrotlet, Smooth-billed Ani, the garrulous Guira Cuckoo, Ash-coloured, Striped, Little and Dark-billed Cuckoos, Great Horned Owl, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Great and Common Potoos, Nacunda Nighthawk, Pauraque, Little Nightjar, White-tailed Goldenthroat, Blue-tailed Emerald, the marvellous Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, Black-throated Mango, Gilded Hummingbird, Blue-crowned Motmot, Ringed and Amazon Kingfishers, Black-fronted Nunbird, Green-backed Trogon, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, White, Yellow-tufted, Little, Golden-green and Pale-crested Woodpeckers, and Campo Flicker.

Passerines include the spectacular Great Rufous Woodcreeper, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, the raucous Rufous Hornero, Chotoy, Pale-breasted and Plain-crowned Spinetails, Rufous-fronted and Greater Thornbirds, the huge Grey-crested Cacholote, Great and Barred Antshrikes, the localized Rusty-backed Antwren, Subtropical Doradito (uncommon), Yellow and Mouse-coloured Tyrannulets, Yellow-olive Flatbill, the diminutive Pearly-vented Tody Tyrant, Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher, Short-crested Flycatcher, White-headed Marsh Tyrant, Black-backed Water Tyrant, Great Kiskadee, the wonderful Spectacled Tyrant, Yellow-browed and Cattle Tyrants, White, Grey and White-rumped Monjitas, Tropical Kingbird, Grey-breasted Martin,Tawny-headed, White-winged and White-rumped Swallows, Black-capped Donacobius, the enormous Thrush-like Wren, Masked Gnatcatcher, Creamy-bellied Thrush, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Purplish and Plush-crested Jays, Orange-backed Troupial, White-browed, Scarlet-headed, Chopi and Unicoloured Blackbirds, Bay-winged Cowbird, Sayaca and Palm Tanagers, Saffron, Wedge-tailed Grass, Great Pampa, Lesser Seed and long-tailed Reed Finches, White-bellied Seedeater (the local form is often treated as a full species: Bicoloured Seedeater), Rufous-rumped and Rusty-collared Seedeaters, Greyish Saltator, and Red-crested and Red-capped Cardinals. Sometimes Dark-throated and Tawny-bellied Seedeaters are present.

Common Zorro (or Crab-eating Fox), Brown Brocket Deer and many Capybaras should also be encountered.

In the gallery forests bordering the rivers, we will go in search of four more specialities; the localized but vocal Plain Softtail (here of the endemic nominate race), the near-endemic Fawn-breasted Wren, the endemic Unicoloured Thrush (uncommon everywhere in its limited range) and Velvet-fronted Grackle (here of the endemic form boliviensis).

Other birds in this habitat include Black-tailed Trogon, the incredible Toco Toucan (with its bright blue eye), White-wedged Piculet, handsome Pale-crested and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, Red-billed Scythebill, Mato Grosso Antbird, Euler’s Flycatcher, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, White-eyed Attila, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Rufous-crowned Greenlet, Golden-crowned Warbler, Orange-headed, Grey-headed and Silver-beaked Tanagers, Chestnut-vented Conebill and Buff-throated Saltator. With luck, we will come across the enigmatic Pheasant Cuckoo.

Best of Bolivia: Day 4  After some final birding around Trinidad, we will fly back to Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

Despite being Bolivia’s fastest-growing town, Santa Cruz de la Sierra retains a pleasant, colonial-style centre. A curious mix of old and new, where horse-drawn carts are passed by innumerable Land Cruisers and Mercedes and Colonial red tile buildings stand side by side with glass and concrete designer outlets and futuristic skyscrapers. It lies at the great meeting point between the Amazonian rainforests to the north and the dry Chaco to the south, the Andes and semi-humid cloud-forests to the west and open savannas to the east.

Before leaving the Santa Cruz de la Sierra area, we will visit an area of grassy savanna interspersed with areas of bushy scrub and dotted with pools, reminiscent of Brazil’s cerrado. Here the rhythmic whistling of Red-winged Tinamous break the silence. We shall diligently search weedy areas for the localized White-bellied Nothura, which often explodes partridge-like from the grass at our feet. Other likely species include White-tailed Kite, Short-tailed Swift and Shiny Cowbird.

Afterwards, we work our way up into the foothills for a two nights stay at Los Volcanes; situated in a spectacular basin surrounded by towering red sandstone cliffs.

Best of Bolivia: Day 5  During our stay at Los Volcanes we will be birding beneath the sheer red sandstone cliffs of several immense sugarloaf domes that encircle the lodge clearing. Here, a constant lookout may well be rewarded with great views of the resident King Vultures or spectacular Andean Condors as they sail along the cliffs. If we are really lucky we will see Solitary Eagle or a flock of the increasingly rare Military Macaw.

At the base of the sheer cliffs, there are extensive semi-humid cloudforests through which pass several pleasant trails to which we shall devote some time as we search for a number of sought-after species. These include three near endemics, the rare Bolivian Recurvebill,  the rather shy Slaty Gnateater and the diminutive Bolivian White-crowned Tapaculo, as well as Grey-throated Leaftosser. We shall also try to get a good look at the splendid Yungas Manakin which, although being quite common, can be tricky to see well.

Walking the trails, we should also see a good variety of commoner and more widespread species including White-tipped Dove, Blue-headed and Red-billed Parrots, Grey-rumped, Chestnut-collared and White-collared Swifts, Green and Sparkling Violetears, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, the pretty White-eared Puffbird, Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Chestnut-eared Aracari,  Lineated and Red-necked Woodpeckers, Black-banded and Tschudi’s Woodcreepers, Plain Antvireo, White-backed Fire-eye, Sepia-capped and Slaty-capped Flycatchers, and the shy White-necked Thrush. Mixed flocks may well produce Tropical Parula, Slate-throated Whitestart, Guira, Black-goggled, White-winged, and Saffron-crowned Tanagers, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, and Thick-billed and Golden-rumped Euphonias. This is a good place for seeing, as opposed to hearing, Brown Tinamou. If we are lucky we will also see the rare Blue-browed Tanager.

While staying at this magical location (probably one of the most spectacularly situated lodges anywhere) we shall head out into surrounding forests to do some night birding in search of Rufescent Screech Owl, the impressive Band-bellied Owl, Pauraque, the elusive Rufous Nightjar and Ocellated Poorwill. If we are very fortunate we will also find the rare Yungas Pygmy Owl.

Best of Bolivia: Day 6  Today we climb up to some higher elevation forests in search of the elusive Short-tailed Antthrush, devoting some time to obtaining good views of this beautifully marked species. After our final birding at Los Volcanes, we will head for a beautiful crater lake, surrounded by dense reed beds, that usually holds one or two family parties of Masked Duck, as well as Least and Pied-billed Grebes. We then continue on our way to the small town of Samaipata for an overnight stay.

On our way, we will explore a picturesque valley, occupied by a typical Andean farming community that has created a mosaic of cultivated and fallow fields together with a mix of scrub and taller deciduous woodland. We are fortunate that a few good trails follow the contours through this woodland, enabling us to enter this very birdy area and find a variety of species of limited distribution. In the late morning, we should see the increasingly rare Mitred Parakeet heading off to the hills after raiding the cornfields. We shall also be on the lookout for Ocellated Piculet, Ochre-cheeked Spinetail, Black-capped Antwren and Black-and-chestnut Warbling Finch.

Some of the more widespread species we may well encounter include Short-tailed Hawk, Green-cheeked Parakeet, Scaly-headed Parrot, Blue-crowned Parakeet, Squirrel Cuckoo, Planalto Hermit, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, Sooty-fronted Spinetail, the huge Giant Antshrike, Variable, Chestnut-backed Antshrike, the near-endemic Bolivian Slaty Antshrike, the Andean form of the Rufous-capped Antshrike (sometimes split as Marcapata Antshrike), Southern Beardless, White-bellied and Sclater’s Tyrannulets, Highland Elaenia, Yellow-olive, Bran-coloured and Cliff Flycatchers, the delightful Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, the lovely Rufous Casiornis, Blue-and-white Swallow, Moustached Wren, Rufous-bellied Thrush, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, the ubiquitous Rufous-collared Sparrow, Black-capped Warbling Finch, Saffron-billed Sparrow, Golden-billed Saltator, Two-banded Warbler and, if we are lucky, the uncommon Dull-coloured Grassquit.

As we continue towards Samaipata we cross a low pass where we have a reasonable chance of seeing the huge Dusky-legged Guan (the Andean form surely deserving of specific status), the beautiful Cream-backed Woodpecker and the noisy Spot-backed Puffbird (the local form is sometimes split as Chaco Puffbird).

Best of Bolivia: Day 7  Departing early this morning, we cross a number of deeply incised valleys on our way to a remnant patch of Podocarpus forest at Loma Larga. Our primary goal here is seeing the Alder Parrot, an increasingly rare species found only here and in north-west Argentina. Also present is the equally rare and infrequently seen Red-faced Guan. Exploring these forests and enjoying the splendid vistas over unending forests ridges stretching away to the south and east will make for a very enjoyable morning.

In addition to those species already mentioned, we will also hope to see Masked Trogon, Golden-olive Woodpecker, the rare Blue-capped Puffleg, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, the near-endemic Buff-banded Tyrannulet, Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Highland and Sierra Elaenias, the localised Andean Tyrant, the shy Andean Slaty Thrush, Blue-winged Mountain Tanager and the somewhat uncommon Golden-winged Cacique. In the past, we have seen the lovely Straw-backed Tanager here and we shall certainly be on the lookout for this rather elusive species.

Afterwards, we will head for the broad floodplain of the Rio Misque where we will stay overnight in the Saipina area.

During the journey, we shall make a concerted effort to find the range-restricted Dot-fronted Woodpecker and we will also have another opportunity to see the formidable Giant Antshrike. In the open scrubby areas with rolling hills, we have an opportunity to look for the confiding Olive-crowned Crescentchest, the endemic Bolivian Warbling Finch and the elusive Huayco Tinamou (although we will count ourselves very lucky if we see the latter). As we continue through the dry valleys, we will be keeping an eye on the skies as in the past we have seen good numbers of Andean Condors here.

We should arrive in time for some initial birding along the Rio Misque valley.

Best of Bolivia: Day 8  This tranquil valley is home to one of the most stunning parrots, the now rare Red-fronted Macaw. This large macaw, another Bolivian endemic, can be seen as it crosses the valley en route between its feeding and roosting areas. We will make a special effort to get good looks at this spectacular bird in one of its favoured feeding sites. Getting close to these spectacular creatures, only around 3000 of which remain in the wild, will be an undoubted highlight of the trip. The curious White-tipped Plantcutter is a taxonomic anomaly (and currently placed with the cotingas) and can be found here uttering its rasping call or using its serrated bill to dismember a flower.

Other species we may well encounter include White-tipped Dove, the remarkable Cliff Parakeet at its nesting site, the rather Budgerigar-like Grey-hooded Parakeet, White-bellied Hummingbird, White-fronted, Striped and Golden-breasted Woodpeckers, the rare Cream-backed Woodpecker, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Stripe-crowned Spinetail, Streak-fronted Thornbird, the delicate but vociferous Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, Chiguanco Thrush, Black-backed and Ultramarine Grosbeaks, the localized Grey-crested Finch, Ringed Warbling Finch, Highland Hepatic Tanager, Purple-throated Euphonia, Rusty Flowerpiercer, Southern Yellowthroat and Bay-winged Cowbird.

After lunch, we will head for Comarapa for a two nights stay. This provincial town, nestled beneath the mighty Siberia massif, enjoys the balmy climate of the inter-montane valleys but is within easy reach of some of the finest cloudforests in Bolivia, protected within the famous Amboro National Park. We may arrive in time for some initial exploration.

Best of Bolivia: Day 9  Comarapa and nearby Tambo are surrounded by semi-desert, with cultivation restricted to the flood plains of the rivers that descend from the surrounding high, forest-clad ridges. In the early morning and evening, these fields can be full of birds taking advantage of the comparatively easy pickings. Deep red and orange canyons bisect the surrounding cactus-covered hills. These are the home of the endemic Bolivian Earthcreeper which, as its name suggests, can be found hugging the canyon walls. In the evening we will go in search of one of South America’s most impressive nightbirds, the remarkable Scissor-tailed Nightjar, as well as the more common Tropical Screech-Owl.

During our stay in this area, we shall also visit the Siberia cloudforest, which lies on the high ridge which marks the boundary between the departments of Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Cochabamba. Here, in complete contrast to arid Comarapa and Tambo, tall, epiphyte-laden trees tower over a thick undergrowth of bamboo and flowering shrubs. Often clear in the mornings, when there are wonderful views over the surrounding hills, it is a rare day when swirling cloud does not envelop all by the afternoon, leaving us to chase disappearing flocks in the mist.

Here, the haunting whistles of the endemic Rufous-faced Antpitta and the endless trills of the mouse-like Trilling Tapaculo taunt us from the densest undergrowth (though with a bit of luck we will eventually encounter both). The flowering roadside bushes attract such evocatively named hummingbirds as Violet-throated Starfrontlet and Tyrian Metaltail. Perusing the denser foliage are Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Montane Woodcreeper, the near-endemic Light-crowned Spinetail (here of the buff-crowned race) and the beautiful Pearled Treerunner. More easily seen are the canopy foragers such as Common Bush Tanager, Blue-winged and Chestnut-bellied Mountain Tanagers, and Brown-capped and Spectacled Whitestarts.

Amongst the many other birds we may well find here is the endemic Bolivian Brushfinch, as well as Broad-winged and Variable Hawks, Mountain Caracara, Andean Guan, Azara’s Spinetail, the pretty Barred Becard, White-throated, Tawny-rumped and Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulets, Rufous-breasted and White-browed Chat-Tyrants, Smoke-coloured Peewee, Mountain Wren, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Great Thrush, Fulvous-headed and White-browed Brushfinches, Blue-backed Conebill and Pale-legged Warbler.

On our descent, we shall search an area of low bushes for Grey-bellied Flowerpiercer, a species which has become a Bolivian endemic following the splitting off of the other components of the Carbonated Flowerpiercer complex. Here we should also encounter the fabulous Red-tailed Comet, Freckle-breasted Thornbird, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, the near-endemic Bolivian Warbling Finch, Rufous-sided Warbling Finch and Band-tailed Seedeater.

Best of Bolivia: Day 10  Leaving early, we shall cross the Siberia watershed in the dark, entering a series of dry valleys on the road to Cochabamba. Here the true majesty of the Andes becomes apparent, as does the tranquil life of the Quechua-speaking Indians who have created a stunning landscape in this impressive environment. We shall have time to search several small gullies filled with Polylepis scrub as well as a larger cultivated valley.

Our main targets today are one little known Bolivian endemic and several near-endemics, and we shall make a concerted effort to locate all of these scarce birds. The superb Black-hooded Sunbeam may not look much in the shadows, yet when the sun strikes its back it is transformed into one of the most beautiful of all hummingbirds, a kaleidoscope of iridescent turquoise and velvety black. Several other species found in the drier valleys of this region and just over the border in Argentina will also take up much of our time today. These include the stunning Wedge-tailed Hillstar, the pretty Citron-headed Yellow-Finch and Rufous-bellied Saltator, and they can all be found here more easily than elsewhere.

Other species we may encounter today include Cinereous Harrier, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, the handsome Tawny-throated Dotterel, Bare-faced Ground-Dove, Giant Hummingbird, Slender-billed Miner, Cream-winged Cinclodes, Brown-capped Tit-Spinetail, Creamy-breasted Canastero, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Rufous-webbed Bush Tyrant (with its unusual hovering feeding technique), Brown-bellied Swallow, Rusty-browed Warbling Finch and Greenish Yellow Finch.

After a long and rewarding day, the bright lights of Cochabamba beckon and a pleasant two nights stay in a comfortable hotel awaits us. Cochabamba is one of Bolivia’s largest cities. Founded in 1574, it still retains many attractive historic buildings. The rich soil and pleasant climate of the surrounding valley allow the production of copious quantities of wheat and maize, which were used to feed the silver miners in their heyday.

Best of Bolivia: Day 11  The Chapare Road, which we will explore today, has few rivals in South America and is a must for the visiting birder. Climbing out of the Cochabamba valley, it soon reaches the puna zone, from where, in a comparatively short distance, it drops through virtually untouched elfin, temperate and subtropical forests on its way to the distant Amazonian lowlands.

Several trails facilitate exploration of these various forest types. We will explore the stunted mossy underworld of the elfin forest looking for the endemic Black-throated Thistletail, which creeps through the tangled vegetation like an arboreal mouse. Losing altitude, we shall search the bromeliad-encrusted temperate forest for the diminutive, Bolivian Tyrannulet before entering the warm humid world of the subtropical forest with its silvery Cecropia trees and multicoloured mixed feeding flocks of birds.

Some of the least common Andean species occur along this road and we shall keep a sharp eye out for such highly-desired specialities as the restricted-range Black-winged Parrot (the only other population is in central Peru), Blue-banded Toucanet, the spectacular, near-endemic Hooded Mountain Toucan (with its amazing voice), Band-tailed Fruiteater, the gorgeous Chestnut-crested Cotinga, White-eared Solitaire, the uncommon, restricted-range Straw-backed Tanager and Pale-footed Swallow. If we are fortunate and the birds are singing, we shall also try to see the shy White-throated Antpitta at one of our sites.

Other species we may encounter today include Fasciated Tiger Heron, Swallow-tailed Kite, Band-tailed and Plumbeous Pigeons, Red-billed, Plum-crowned (or Speckle-faced), Blue-headed and Scaly-naped Parrots, White-collared and Chestnut-collared Swifts, Green Violetear, Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Crested and Golden-headed Quetzals, Yellow-ridged Toucan, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Azara’s Spinetail, the endearing Rufous Antpitta, Torrent Tyrannulet, Smoke-coloured Pewee, Black Phoebe, Sierran and White-crested Elaenias, Streak-necked Flycatcher, Marble-faced Bristle Tyrant, Streak-throated Bush Tyrant, the uncommon Rufous-bellied Bush Tyrant, Plumbeous Tyrant, Red-crested Cotinga, Barred Fruiteater, the strange but impressive Amazonian Umbrellabird, the spectacular Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, White-capped Dipper, Glossy-black Thrush, Magpie, Rust-and-yellow, Blue-capped, Saffron-crowned, Blue-necked and Blue-and-black Tanagers, Hooded and Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanagers, Masked Flowerpiercer, Slate-throated Whitestart, Three-striped Warbler, Dusky-green and Russet-backed Oropendolas, Yellow-rumped and Mountain Caciques, Giant Cowbird and Olivaceous Siskin.

If we are lucky we will find the remarkable Torrent Duck and the extraordinary Sword-billed Hummingbird.

Best of Bolivia: Day 12  This morning we drive through the Cochabamba valley at 2600m and soon start to ascend the Quillacolla road. A series of hairpin bends along this rough track take us rapidly higher, from one breathtaking vista to another. Sheer cliffs tower above us, crowned by snow-capped peaks (including Cerro Tunari, at 5035m the highest peak in Bolivia east of the altiplano).

We shall make several stops along this road to acclimatize and also to search for some highly localized birds. Foremost amongst these is the attractive endemic Cochabamba Mountain Finch. We also have another opportunity to see the Wedge-tailed Hillstar, a species which was thought to be extinct until rediscovered here a few years ago. We shall also visit a stand of Polylepis trees, a high altitude species now rarely encountered as it has been frequently cut down for firewood throughout the Andes. Here we shall look for the beautiful Rufous-rumped Bush Tyrant, have another look for Rufous-bellied Saltator and hopefully see the nuthatch-like Giant Conebill, which specializes in finding insects amongst the flaky red bark which characterizes Polylepis.

Nearing the pass at 4000m, we shall search a roadside boulder field where we may well see Andean Flicker, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, Black-hooded, Mourning, Plumbeous and Ash-breasted Sierra Finches, and White-winged Diuca Finch. A search of the surrounding crags may reveal an Andean Condor drifting across the azure skies.

Other birds we will look for along the Quillacolla road include Darwin’s Nothura, Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Andean Swift, Sparkling Violetear, Andean Hillstar, Rock Earthcreeper, Tawny Tit-Spinetail (another Polylepis specialist), the near-endemic Maquis (or Iquico) Canastero, Streak-throated Canastero, Puna Tapaculo, D’Orbigny’s Chat-Tyrant, Spot-billed, Puna, Taczanowski’s, Cinereous and Ochre-naped Ground Tyrants, Black-billed and possibly Grey-bellied Shrike-Tyrants, Plain-coloured Seedeater and Bright-rumped Yellow Finch.

If we are lucky we will come across the secretive Andean Tinamou or the restricted-range Boulder (or Short-tailed) Finch.

Close to Cochabamba, Bolivian Blackbirds are usually to be found singing in introduced eucalyptus trees. These virtually all-black birds with a subtle flash of brown on the primaries are endemic to the Cochabamba valley and belong to a monotypic genus. We will also be on the lookout for the range-restricted Brown-backed Mockingbird.

We will also visit a lake that should turn up White-tufted and Silvery Grebes, Black-crowned Night Heron, Neotropic Cormorant, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Red Shoveler, Yellow-billed and White-cheeked Pintails, Puna and Cinnamon Teals, Rosy-billed Pochard, Andean Duck, maybe a Peregrine Falcon, Common Gallinule, Slate-coloured Coot, Andean Lapwing, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least, Baird’s, Pectoral and Stilt Sandpipers, Wilson’s Phalarope, American Golden Plover, Andean Gull and Wren-like Rushbird.

In the late afternoon, we will catch a flight to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, for an overnight stay. La Paz, which lies at 3600m, is the highest capital city on earth. As we enter La Paz, the suburbs initially conceal the huge natural amphitheatre nearly five kilometres wide and up to 400 metres deep in which the main city lies. Above it all rises the impressive, snow-clad peak of Mount Illimani.

Best of Bolivia: Day 13  Today we will work our way down the Coroico Road to El Chairo for an overnight stay. Few roads bisect the impressive mountains that divide La Paz from the lowlands, but surely the most remarkable is the famous Coroico Road, often described as the most spectacular highway in South America: in a short distance, it drops from a high puna pass at 4600m through rich cloudforest and into verdant subtropical forest, reaching an elevation of only 500m in under 80 kilometres (50 miles)!

Interesting birds to be found at higher elevations include Great Sapphirewing, Greenish Puffleg, Blue-mantled Thornbill, Slender-billed Miner, White-fronted and White-browed Ground Tyrants, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Olive-backed (or Peruvian) Sierra Finch, Black-throated Flowerpiercer and White-browed Conebill.

We will spend much of the day exploring middle elevation Yungas forest, including the Apa Apa reserve, where we will be looking in particular for Long-tailed Antbird, Hazel-fronted Pygmy Tyrant, Olive Flycatcher and the uncommon Scimitar-winged Piha. The latter species was thought to be endemic to Bolivia until discovered in extreme southeast Peru, but we will need a bit of luck to find this shy denizen of the subtropics. We shall also make a concerted effort to observe the little-known Diademed Tapaculo, a distinctive member of this secretive family which was only discovered as late as 1992. We will also hope for a lucky break that allows us to see as well as hear the secretive but vocal Hooded Tinamou, a species that occurs here in good numbers.

Amongst the many other birds we may well encounter in this exciting area are White-throated Quail-Dove, White-eyed Parakeet, White-tipped Swift, Speckled Hummingbird, Collared Inca (of the handsome orange-collared race, sometimes split as Gould’s Inca), Booted Racket-tail, Long-tailed Sylph, Masked Trogon, the magnificent Versicoloured Barbet, Smoky-brown and Lineated Woodpeckers, Scribble-tailed Canastero, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Striped Treehunter, Buff-banded and White-banded Tyrannulets, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant, Ochraceous-breasted, Cinnamon, Dusky-capped, Piratic and Variegated Flycatchers, Yungas Manakin, Fulvous Wren, Andean Solitaire, the attractive White-collared Jay, Red-eyed Vireo, Plush-capped Finch, Orange-browed, Superciliaried, Black-eared and Three-striped Hemispinguses, the amazing Golden-collared Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, the exquisite Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Blue Dacnis, Rusty and Moustached Flowerpiercers, Swallow Tanager, Bananaquit, Citrine Warbler and Yellow-bellied Siskin.

Ultimate Bolivia: Day 14  Today we will work our way back up through the verdant cloudforests to the La Paz region for an overnight stay. Early in the day, our principal targets will be a selection of species restricted to the upper tropical zone, including Cabanis’s Spinetail, Upland Antshrike, the unobtrusive, near-endemic Yungas Tody-Tyrant and the pretty little White-bellied Pygmy Tyrant. There is likely to be a substantial supporting cast in this life zone, including Dusky-green and Crested Oropendolas.

We will surely need to spend some more time exploring the middle and upper elevation habitats and so it will not be long before we begin to retrace our steps up the Coroico road. In addition to looking for any species that we have missed yesterday, we shall be exploring a side valley in search of Scribble-tailed Canastero, Puna Tapaculo, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Puna, Ochre-naped and White-fronted Ground Tyrants, the rare Boulder (or Short-tailed) Finch and Black Siskin. Amongst the bogs and stony slopes near the La Cumbre pass at an altitude of 4700m (15420 ft), our main target will be the attractive Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, which can often be found foraging in a sheltered spot in this seemingly inhospitable environment.

In the late afternoon, we shall visit famous Lake Titicaca. This deep turquoise lake, which straddles the Peruvian border, lies in the heart of the altiplano. When we see its still waters and the distant ring of snow-capped peaks it is easy to understand how the first people to inhabit its shores believed that Titicaca was the mother of all creation.

The bird we shall be targeting here is the localized Titicaca (or Short-winged) Grebe. We should find several of these attractive chestnut-and-white waterbirds swimming quietly along a reed-edge or showing off their spectacular display. In addition, we should also see Plumbeous Rail, Puna Snipe, Puna Miner, the striking Many-coloured Rush Tyrant, Short-billed Pipit, Band-tailed Sierra Finch, Grassland Yellow Finch and Black Siskin.

Best of Bolivia: Day 15  Our tour ends this morning at La Paz airport.

ULTIMATE BOLIVIA TOUR REPORT 2019

by Eustace Barnes

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ULTIMATE BOLIVIA TOUR REPORT 2017

by Eustace Barnes

View Report

ULTIMATE BOLIVIA TOUR REPORT 2015

by Eustace Barnes

View Report

Other shorter South America birding tours by Birdquest include: