Bolivia is something akin to the “Andean Frontier” as far as birding tours are concerned. While new birds are certainly being discovered in Colombia and Peru, Bolivia remains the least-accessible of all the Andean nations. Lucky for us, this is changing! Our Bolivia Comprehensive birding tour covers it all: Yungas, Savanna, Chaco, Arid Montane Valleys and the Amazon Rainforest. While access to two Bolivian endemics remains elusive logistically, our tour features perhaps the two most iconic endangered endemics in the whole country: Red-fronted and Blue-throated Macaw! Those aside, Red-tailed Comet, Berlepsch’s Canastero, Scimitar-winged Piha, Slaty Gnateater, Plush-crested Jay, Blue-capped Puffleg, Titicaca Grebe, Bolivian Warbling Finch, Chestnut-crested Cotinga – the list of amazing Bolivian birds is endless! Yet birds alone are not the only allure to this culturally-intact and aware country. Amazing scenery in the High Andes puna, dramatic Andean canyons and vast savannas are the backdrop for a vibrant cultural diversity, which makes our experience in Bolivia’s remote wilderness all the more memorable. We look forward to having you join us on this ground-breaking tour.
Red-fronted & Blue-throated Macaw, Titicaca Grebe, Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Plush-crested Jay, Red-tailed Comet, Berlepsch’s Canastero, Scimitar-winged Piha, Slaty Gnateater, Blue-capped Puffleg, Bolivian Warbling Finch
yungas, savanna, chaco, arid montane valleys, amazon rainforest, high andes puna
warm to hot in the lower lying areas; cool with colder nights at the higher elevations
amazing scenery, vast pristine wildernesses, little explored country
Day 1: Arrival day in Santa Cruz de la Sierra
Guests that have not begun their Bolivian adventure on our Chaco Endemics Extension will arrive from their various points of origin and will be greeted at the airport, and thereafter transported to our hotel accommodations in Santa Cruz de la Sierra. After joining up with those guests already in Bolivia, we will have a welcome dinner to discuss the forthcoming days’ birding!
Day 2: Santa Cruz Botanical Gardens, transfer to Laguna Volcan
We start our comprehensive tour of Bolivia with an early morning departure to one of Bolivia’s best-known birding sites: Santa Cruz Botanical Gardens. Due to its great birding opportunities and convenience, the botanical gardens are a must on any Bolivia birding tour. We have two major target species already in the form of Fawn-breasted Wren and Bolivian Slaty Antshrike, while more typical birds of the garden include a mix of humid forest and Chaco species such as Chaco Chachalaca, Bicolored Hawk, Striped Cuckoo, White-barred Piculet, Great Antshrike, Stripe-backed Antbird, White-backed Fire-eye, Straneck’s Tyrannulet, Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Plain-crowned Spinetail, Suiriri Flycatcher, Rufous Casiornis, Plush-crested and Purplish Jays and Red Pileated Finch. Parrots can be confiding and common on occasion, with Chestnut-fronted Macaw, Blue-crowned, Yellow-chevroned, and Green-cheeked Parakeet all resident. After a thoroughly engrossing start to the tour, we drive south and then west of Santa Cruz, heading to the Laguna Volcan eco-resort for the night.
Day 3: Laguna Volcan to Comarapa
Our eco-resort is perfectly situated for a suite of interesting species. Starting around the lake, we may find the tricky Masked Duck and Grey-necked Wood Rail, while the manicured golf course proves attractive to South American Agoutis. Birding the forest patches nearby, we shall search for Ocellated Piculet, Moustached Wren and the difficult Slaty Gnateater. Working our way along the entrance road, through bamboo-laden foothill forest, we should find Yungas Tody-Tyrant and Black-goggled Tanager as well having a chance for the rarely seen Bolivian Recurvebill. Aside from the Recurvebill, our main targets here include the rarely seen McConnell’s Flycatcher and Yungas Manakin.
As the day heats up, we shall depart Laguna Volcan and bird for the rest of the day through and up the dry inter-Andean valley to Comarapa. As is typical in the Andes, we will cross several strata of avifauna as we change altitude. Though these xeric environs hold less overall species than the wetter slopes, endemism is much higher. Some of the many gems we may find today on our Bolivia birding tour include Olive-crowned Crescentchest, Black-and-rufous and Black-capped Warbling Finch, Dusky-legged Guan, Rufous-breasted Wood Quail, Andean Condor, Planalto Hermit, White-bellied Hummingbird, Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Ocellated Piculet, Mitred Parakeet, Chaco Puffbird, Slaty Gnateater, Ochre-cheeked Spinetail, Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet, Moustached Wren and Bronze-green Euphonia. We also have our first chance to see one of Neotropic’s most widely recognised and desired hummingbirds, the Red-tailed Comet.
Days 4 & 5: Serrania de Siberia and surrounds
We will depart early for our drive up the Andes to Serrania de Siberia. This is the best site in the country to access south Bolivian upper Yungas forest, which differs greatly from the upper Yungas birding we’ve done thus far. Serrania de Siberia is one of Bolivia’s best birding assets for a good reason. As the old main highway (remember, most of these are merely widened, graded, dirt roads with little traffic) ascends beyond Comarapa, up through the dry valley habitats towards Cochabamba, a full day’s drive away, it crosses the Serrania de Siberia. This high mountain range captures what moisture there is in the atmosphere, allowing lush high-elevation southern Yungas forests to thrive on its steep slopes. Access, in the form of side roads and tiny footpaths, is plentiful, though often not needed as birding the main road can be outstanding.
Mixed flocks are plentiful, hosting a number of rarely seen and sought after species including Blue-capped Puffleg and Violet-throated Starfrontlet. Black-winged Parrot are often seen in flight, while we can look forward to perched views of Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Light-crowned Spinetail, Buff-banded and Tawny-rumped Tyrannulets, Pale-legged Warbler, Brown-capped and Spectacled Whitestarts, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Chestnut-bellied Mountain Tanager, Blue-backed Conebill, and a number of Bolivian Brush Finch. Future ‘armchair’ ticks are practically assured with the obviously unique argentines subspecies of Common Bush Tanager, the distinct discolor subspecies of Pearled Treerunner and even the odd-sounding form of Blue-winged Mountain Tanager all being rather common here. In fact, there are so many distinct taxa in Bolivia, with so little current research that one can only hazard a guess as to the overall number of possible new species.
With two full days of our Bolivia birding tour in this area, we will have enough time to fully bird the various habitats as well as enjoy the spectacular scenery. Diversity is high, with every flock and practically every forest patch offering something new. Andean Tinamou, Andean Guan, Grey-headed and Mountain Parakeets, the impressive Giant Antshrike, endemic Bolivian Earthcreeper, Streak-fronted and Spot-breasted Thornbirds, Stripe-crowned Spinetail, Highland Elaenia, Pale-footed Swallow, White-browed Conebill, Bolivian, Rufous-sided and Ringed Warbling Finches, Fulvous-headed Brush Finch, Trilling Tapaculo, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, Pampa Finch, Rusty-vented Canasteros, Cliff Flycatcher, White-winged Black Tyrant and Fawn-breasted Tanager.
Day 6: El Tambo to Red-fronted Macaw Reserve
Today on our Bolivia birding tour, we will drive to the newly established Red-fronted Macaw Reserve, birding en route. The drive is spectacularly scenic, and again we will be in habitat unique to these few days of birding only. Cactus-studded scrub and forests, red cliff faces, immense waterfalls and deep-plunging canyons characterise this region that harbours a third of Bolivia’s endemic flora and fauna. Many of the species we will look for are listed above, with a few notable exceptions that will be specifically searched for over the course of our time here. These include the highlight of the show: Red-fronted Macaw, of which fewer than 1000 persist in the wild. Cliff Parakeet essentially occupies the exact same habitat and range as the Macaws, and we can expect to see them together on the cliff faces opposite our accommodation. A number of other valuable species exist in this xerophytic habitat including White-tipped Plantcutter, Black-chested Buzzard Eagle, Bolivian, Black-and-chestnut and Ringed Warbling Finches, Band-tailed Sierra Finch, White-bellied Tyrannulet, the lovely Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, Chaco Puffbird, Striped Woodpecker, Sooty-fronted Spinetail, both White-fronted and Green-barred Woodpeckers, Yellow-browed Tyrant, Grey-crested Finch, Ultramarine Grosbeak and the sometimes tricky endemic, Bolivian Blackbird.
Day 7: Red-fronted Macaw Reserve to Santa Cruz de la Sierra
We have a few more hours to bird around the reserve for any species we may be missing, before retracing our steps to Santa Cruz de la Sierra.
Days 8 to 10: Yungas forests between Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Cochabamba
The word ‘Yungas’ is a Bolivian term applied to an array of mid- and upper-elevation forests, ranging from subtropical to temperate in affinity. Each elevation has its own unique flora and fauna, host not only to the majority of Bolivia’s prized endemic birds, but some fine mammals to boot.
Over the coming days of our Bolivia birding tour, we will bird around Villa Tunari and Currasco National Park where a completely different host of lower Yungas species are to be found. Species here include the extremely rare and critically endangered Yungas Antwren, White-throated Quail-Dove, Blue-crowned Trogon, Rufous Motmot, White-shouldered Antshrike, Grey-throated Leaftosser, Sclater’s and Buff-banded Tyrannulets, McConnell’s Flycatcher, Flammulated Bamboo Tyrant and Two-banded Warbler, amongst many others.
We then continue through Currasco National Park and up the eastern Andes to higher elevations near Cochabamba, birding such iconic Yungas sites as Tablas Monte and the Chapare Road. This route will provide us excellent access to a huge variety of habitats, from temperate and upper subtropical forests home to Hooded Mountain Toucan, Stripe-faced Wood Quail, Chestnut-bellied Mountain Tanager, Rufous-faced Antpitta, Trilling Tapaculo, Black-throated Spinetail, Rufous-bellied Bush Tyrant, Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher and Black-hooded Sunbeam, through to the middle-elevation cloud forest haunts of both Crested and Golden-headed Quetzals, Yungas Manakin, Versicolored Barbet, Bolivian White-crowned Tapaculo, Slaty Tanager, Yungas Tody-Tyrant, Rust-and-yellow and Straw-backed Tanagers, Bolivian Tyrannulet, Bolivian Brush Finch and Upland Antshrike.
Day 11: Cochabamba – Polylepis Forest and Laguna Alalay, PM flight to La Paz
We will depart early this morning in 4×4 vehicles to visit the first Polylepis forest patches of the tour. While not particularly large or contiguous, this Polylepis forest abounds with incredible species including Red-tailed Comet, Wedge-tailed Hillstar, Bolivian Blackbird, Giant Conebill, Cochabamba Mountain Finch, Bolivian Warbling Finch, Streak-fronted Thornbird, Maquis Canastero, Brown-capped and Tawny Tit-Spinetails, D’Orbigny’s Chat-Tyrant, White-winged Diuca Finch, Short-tailed Finch and many others. After what is likely to be a memorable morning, we may return to Cochabamba for lunch. Our afternoon’s birding will take place at the nearby Laguna Alalay, where our attention will initially be drawn to a host of waterbird targets such as Silvery and White-tufted Grebe, Puna Ibis, Puna Teal and Red Shoveler, before turning to the surrounding scrub and forest patches for White-tipped Plantcutter, Grey-crested Finch and Greater Wagtail-Tyrant. After another action packed day of birding, we will catch an afternoon flight to La Paz.
Day 12: Upper Coroico Road to Apa Apa
An early departure will see us heading towards Apa Apa and Chulumani in the heart of the north Bolivian Yungas. The list of birds we will search for along the higher elevations of today’s route is impressive, with the likes of Andean Goose, Crested Duck, Giant Coot, Rufous-bellied and the rare Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, White-winged Diuca Finch, White-winged Cinclodes, Buff-breasted Earthcreeper, Puna Tapaculo and several species of ground tyrants at the highest elevations. Working our way down these staggeringly attractive high Andean slopes, we will bird some forest tracts for Black-winged Parrot, Yungas Dove, Diademed Tapaculo, the endemic Black-throated Thistletail, Hooded Mountain Toucan and Yungas Pygmy Owl. Mixed flocks are often encountered, and some of the commoner participants such as Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, Light-crowned Spinetail, Moustached and Black-throated Flowerpiercers, Golden-collared Tanager, Orange-browed and Drab Hemispingus, Scaled Metaltail, Violet-throated Starfrontlet and other fine hummers are abundant. In order to keep close to these fantastic birding areas, we will stay at a fairly basic hotel in Chulumani, very near to Apa Apa.
Day 13: Apa Apa Reserve
Today is THE day that we search for the critically endangered and seldom-seen Scimitar-winged Piha, amongst a host of other fine middle Yungas species. The subtropical elevation of Apa Apa Reserve makes it one of the finest birding sites in Bolivia, containing many highly sought after species including Hooded Tinamou, Scarlet-breasted and Band-tailed Fruiteaters, Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Yungas Manakin, Slaty Gnateater, Blue-browed Tanager, White-browed Brush Finch, Barred Antthrush, Dusky-green Oropendola, Green-cheeked Parakeet, Green-capped Tanager, Blue-banded Toucanet and an impressive array of flock species are all possible at this beautiful site.
Mixed flocks can contain high concentrations of species, some of which may be welcome repeats from earlier on, or even new birds for the tour such as Black-winged Parrot, Versicolored Barbet, Straw-backed Tanager, Blue-tailed Emerald, White-bellied Woodstar, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Red-billed Parrot, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, near-endemic Upland Antshrike, Rough-legged Tyrannulet, Unadorned Flycatcher, Inca Jay, Andean Solitaire, Grey-eared Brush Finch and Slaty Tanager.
Day 14: Apa Apa to La Paz
We will depart early this morning to reach the best upper Yungas and high-elevation birding areas en route back to La Paz. The scenery today, as will be the case for much of this portion of the tour, is again of the spectacular kind.
The Yungas, near Unduavi, gives us our best chance at seeing Yungas (large-tailed) Doves, while Andean Guan, Yungas Pygmy Owl, Citrine Warbler, White-banded Tyrannulet and Blue-backed Conebill, Hooded Mountain and Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager should all turn up. Further gems may consist of White-collared Jay, flocks of Southern Mountain Cacique, Scaled and Tyrian Metaltails, White-crested and Sierran Elaenias, the rare Three-striped Hemispingus, Barred Fruiteater or even Stripe-faced Wood Quail! However, the undeniable draw card here is the chance to see Hooded Mountain Toucan. This mythical creature, which has led plenty a fine birder on a merry chase through the Andes is certainly not guaranteed, but this is one of the best places to find it.
We expect to arrive in La Paz later this afternoon, where a comfortable hotel and a good meal will help us a rest a little better. Tomorrow we head to the hot and humid lowlands for an entirely different suite of species.
Day 15: La Paz to Trinidad
After breakfast this morning on our Bolivia birding tour, we will take a flight from La Paz to La Santísima Trinidad, commonly known simply as Trinidad. A large town with a friendly populace, it is fiercely independent and has attempted to secede from Bolivia even recently. Surrounded by rivers, lakes and lagoons – Trinidad is very much a small dot amongst the Beni grasslands and varze forest, with Brown-throated Sloths present even in the town plaza!
On arrival, we will drive only a short distance to the surrounding varzea forest in search of a few very important species such as the near-mythical Unicolored Thrush. Of equal importance are the local races of Plain Softtail (known locally as Beni Softtail), which is completely different to any currently know population in both vocalisation and behaviour, as well as the ‘Beni’ (Velvet-fronted) Grackle.
Our time in the forests will not only be dedicated to finding the above three target species, with excellent chances of seeing Golden-collared, Blue-and-yellow and Chestnut-fronted Macaws, the unusual Hoatzin, Pale-legged Hornero, Plush-crested Jay, Greater Ani, Slender-billed Kite and Great Antshrike. We will also have our first opportunity of seeing a number of savanna species, here in isolation over 1000km away from most of the nearest known populations in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay – and we all know what geographic isolation equals!
Day 16: Trinidad to Barba Azul
We have the slightly cooler morning hours to bird around Trinidad looking for any of the above-mentioned species that we may not have found as yet before taking our charter flight to Barba Azul Reserve (Blue-throated Macaw Reserve) around mid-day. We can expect to arrive at the reserve in time for lunch, with time to settle into our abodes before heading out to explore the nearby forests. Our short flight takes us out and over the Beni savanna where we should see several of the lakes made by the ancient Moxos tribe that inhabited the area. They survived the flood periods in the Beni by digging up snail shells and other organic material to build tall mounds on which they would farm and live. This left huge, symmetrical, rectangular quarries that filled with water over the years since their disappearance. The effect from the air is impressive, seeing a seemingly homogenous grassland dotted with huge, bizarre, rectangular lakes!
Barba Azul is understandably a rarely-visited site. However, after only a few years of research and a handful of intrepid birders, the reserve has a bird list just short of 300 species! Established in 2008 to preserve about 20% of the world’s extant Blue-throated Macaws population (only 300 – 400 wild individuals remain), this property protects over 11 500 acres of the Beni savanna’s mixed habitat. From lakes and rivers to forest islands and various types of savanna grasslands, the entire habitat type is in peril due to habitat alteration.
Day 17: Barba Azul Reserve
This morning on our Bolivia birding tour, we head out early to enjoy some of the most fruitful and relaxed (relatively open habitat) birding of the tour. Our mammal list can expect a boost with possibilities including the endangered Pampas Deer, impressive Giant Anteater and a good dose of Capybara! Of course, our main focus here will be locating the Critically Endangered Blue-throated Macaw. While searching for the macaws, we can also expect to see many other key species, including the near mythical Black-masked Finch – a species that has seen many a birder stomping the grasslands of Brazil and Argentina fruitlessly. The list of impressive species is far too long for the purposes of this itinerary, but may include Southern Screamer, Orinoco Goose, Maguari Stork, Jabiru, Ocellated and Rufous-sided Crakes, Greater Thornbird, Nacunda Nighthawk, Scissor-tailed Nightjar, Streamer-tailed and Cock-tailed Tyrants, Red-crested Cardinal, Tawny-bellied, Dark-throated, Rufous-rumped and Rusty-collared Seedeaters, White-browed, Chopi and Unicolored Blackbirds, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Grey-crested Cacholote, Chotoy Spinetail Large-billed and Rusty-backed Antwrens, White-eyed Attila, Rusty-collared Seedeater, Campo Flicker, White-rumped Tanager, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, White Woodpecker, Long-tailed Ground Dove, Hudson’s Black Tyrant, White-rumped and White Monjitas and Black-capped Donacobius.
Day 18: Barba Azul to Rurrenabaque and onwards to Sadiri Lodge
After a thrilling and successful few days at Barba Azul, we climb back on our charter flight and head to the tourist gateway town of Rurrenabaque. Thereafter, we depart on a 3-hour drive to Sadiri Lodge, enjoying a plethora of new, lowland species en route. Red-and-green and Chestnut-fronted Macaws are fairly common, as is the prehistoric Hoatzin! We expect to arrive at Sadiri Lodge in time for lunch. By now, we will all have deserved a short rest before spending the afternoon birding the grounds and nearby trails in the pristine foothill forest around our lodge. Night birding has incredible potential, with Rufescent Screech, Crested and Band-bellied Owls all possible.
Days 19 & 20: Foothill and lowland forests of Sadiri Lodge
We will have two days of our Bolivia birding tour to search out as many of the foothill speciality birds as we can; fortunately for us, many of these species are more easily seen here than anywhere else in their ranges – Andean Laniisoma, the first of several that comes to mind! This beautiful, well-appointed lodge is uniquely situated in Bolivia – having access not only to foothill forest but also some true lowland Amazonian tracts as low as 500masl in elevation.
Over the next two days of our Bolivia birding tour, we can expect to see some of this diversity, including White Hawk, , Subtropical and Amazonian Pygmy Owls, Great-billed Hermit and White-browed Hermits, Grey-breasted Sabrewing, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Many-spotted Hummingbird, Violet-fronted Brilliant, Black-eared Fairy, Amethyst Woodstar, Black-tailed Trogon, Lemon-throated Barbet, Curl-crested Aracari, Bar-breasted Piculet, White-throated Woodpecker, 4 species of Macaw (including Military), Rose-fronted Parakeet, Rufous-tailed, Chestnut-winged, and Buff-throated Foliage-gleaners, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Purple-throated Cotinga, Grey-throated Leaftosser, Tschudi’s, Elegant and Inambari Woodcreepers, ‘western’ Striolated Puffbird (a possible future split), Brownish-headed and Hairy-crested Antbirds, Yungas, Red-billed, and Cinnamon-faced Tyrannulets, Spectacled Bristle Tyrant, White-crested Spadebill, Dusky-tailed Flatbill, Round-tailed Manakin, Sharpbill, Cinereous Mourner, Chestnut-crowned and Pink-throated Becards, Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, 5 species of Euphonia, Cuzco Warbler, Pectoral Sparrow, White-winged Shrike-Tanager, Yellow-crested, Turquoise, Paradise, Green-and-gold, Yellow-bellied, Spotted, Masked and Olive Tanagers, Yellow-shouldered and Rothschild’s Grosbeaks. Mammals seen in recent years include Brazilian Tapir, Puma and Ocelot!
Day 21: Sadiri Lodge to La Paz and onwards to Lago Titicaca
After a thrilling and successful few days around Sadiri Lodge, we depart after breakfast and head back to Rurrenabaque. After a short flight to La Paz, we drive west to Lago Titicaca for our final evening together on the main tour.
Day 22: Lago Titicaca and Sorata area, final departures
This morning of our Bolivia birding tour will be spent at various viewpoints and open-terrain sites around the shores of Lake Titicaca. Our primary reason for being here is to see the Titicaca Grebe (also known as Titicaca Flightless or Short-winged Grebe), which we have a very good possibility of seeing today! There will also be a supporting cast of other commoner waterfowl, wildfowl and shorebirds. However, there are some fine passerines to be found in the surrounding altiplano as well including Black Siskin, Wren-like Rushbird, Cream-winged Cinclodes, Brown-backed Mockingbird, Cinereous Conebill, White-winged Black Tyrant, Many-colored Rush Tyrant, Mourning, Peruvian and Ash-breasted Sierra Finches and Bare-faced Ground Dove, all of which are relatively common in the area.
In the early afternoon, we will venture to the Sorata area in search of Berlepsch’s Canastero, a highly range-restricted endemic. The drive to Sorata is again great for altiplano birds, as well as waterbirds with Andean Avocet, Chilean Flamingo, Andean Lapwing, Aplomado Falcon and several species of miners, pipits, and ground tyrants commonly encountered en route. The habitat around Sorata is typical humid altiplano and Andean scrub, with another set of new species for the tour including Huayco and Ornate Tinamous, Black-winged and Golden-spotted Ground Doves, Scribble-tailed Canastero, White-winged Black Tyrant, Golden-billed Saltator and Yellow-bellied Siskin.
For those of us participating on Apolo Dry Valley Extension, we shall head back to our hotel in Lago Titicaca for a good night’s rest, while those not continuing onwards will take a shuttle transfer back to La Paz for their international departures.