Special thanks to Mary Ceren, a guest on International Expeditions' Colombia tour, for the following trip review and photos.
"As a participant in International Expeditions' premier trip to Colombia, I am filled with graphic memories and anticipation of a return visit. Colombia is a country whose biodiversity is as rich as its civil history is tumultuous. It’s a birder’s paradise and our cozy group of six included two expert birdwatchers and a leader, Greg Homel, who has seen more than half of all of the world’s species of birds. We scoped, chased, trekked and tasted our way through the country under Greg’s expert guidance.
"The itinerary planned by IE took us from Bogota to the velvet-carpeted slopes of Valle de Cocura, through more foothills of the Andes, a 14,000 foot dormant volcano, and finally to the bustle, beaches and mangrove swamps of Cartagena. Our first stop was in Armenia, the coffee growing region of Colombia. Here we traveled by willis jeep to see the giant wax palm trees, the tallest palm in the world and the nesting foundation for the endangered, yellow-eared parrot.At lunch we feasted on fresh trout and palatenos, or fried plantains.
"More touring of the zona cafetera uncovered Parque Natural Otun Quimbaya, Quindio Botanical Gardens and its butterfly sanctuary, and Los Nevados National Park. The summit of Nevado del Ruiz is more than 14,000 feet high and experienced its last eruption in 1985. At the Rio Blanco Reserve we photographed a local naturalist hand feeding antpittas, and later fueled ourselves with huevos pericos, Colombian scrambled eggs, and arepas. Our group munched happily as tourmaline sunangel, buff-tailed coronet, and speckled hummingbirds darted around us. An endemic spectacled bear splashed in a pool nearby.La Casana a former convent in the town of Minca, beckoned us next. Its location in the humid eminence of Sierra Nevada attracts more than 260 species of birds. Joe, a local naturalist, graciously guided us on a night hike through the jungle where we saw black and white striped owls and heard scampering monkeys.
"As we cruised to our final destination we were buoyed by the smell of fresh, Caribbean air. Our tastes were satisfied, too, by coconut lemonade, coconut rice, pandebonos and fish stew from a roadside eatery. Castillo San Felipe de Barajas rose before us on our approach to Cartagena The city’s colonial architecture below the castle revealed bright colors, graceful balconies and abundant flora. Exploration of La Boquilla outside the city concluded our Colombian sightseeing.
"This swamp with its unique ecosystem shelters many nesting and migratory birds. Kingfishers, common lauras, pink spatulas and herons posed for our cameras, while our Cartagenian canoeists refreshed us with coconut milk. Overflowing with happy memories, beautiful pictures and recipe ideas our group sadly bade farewell to Colombia."