Where to Watch Birds in Bolivia
By Bennett Hennessey and Lawrence Rubey

This guide is based on four central hubs: Santa Cruz, Beni, Cochabamba, La Paz, and Rurrenabaque. Each has connecting main roads with connecting daily busses and flights (La Paz and Santa Cruz with international flights). Given the high altitude problems that some experience arriving directly in La Paz, we recommend and have placed the hubs in order of best acclimation to altitude, initially with Santa Cruz and Beni (lowlands), Cochabamba (medium highlands), and finally La Paz (very high, like many get sick high). Keep in mind American Airlines Miami based flights will allow you to land in Santa Cruz and fly out of La Paz for the same price. See Bolivian Specialities for an idea of the birds you are most likely to see only in Bolivia and where.


The city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, often just called Santa Cruz, is found on the central western edge of the department of Santa Cruz, almost in the middle of Bolivia. Santa Cruz is the best place to start any kind of birding adventure in Bolivia with excellent hotels and unique birding sites within the city, all accessible by local taxi. Santa Cruz along with Rurrenabaque, are the entrance points to the Bolivian lowlands. They are perfect spots to rest up, prep up and set off.  Even only for a short visit to Bolivia , the bird community around Santa Cruz is different enough to be worth a full morning at the Botanical Gardens for the Bolivian Slaty. 

Santa Cruz birding spots


Within the city of Santa Cruz you can visit the sites of Lomas de Arena Municipal Park, Viru-Viru Airport, and Santa Cruz Botanical Garden with local micros and taxis. Lomas de Arena is sandy halfway in, so you might need to walk the farthest bit.

The old road to Cochabamba travels from Santa Cruz west up the dry Andes of Bolivia. It is paved up to Siberia. From Siberia to Cochabamba it is a dirt road that is in horrible shape, with poor upkeep and heavy truck abuse. We recommend not driving this part. From Santa Cruz this road can be part of a wonderful birding route, visiting different habitats and bird communities as you increase in altitude. At about 900 m snuggled within sandstone cliffs is the lodge Los Volcanes (2.5 hrs from Santa Cruz). Also in this area is the Laguna Volcan which is a fancy hotel gold resort in distrubed habitat but with Andean Ducks on their lake. Further up is the town of Samaipata, where you could visit Las Ruinas and with local tour guide help Yungas de Samaipata. Santa Cruz has easy simple transportation to Samaipatat. The Northernmost Tucuman forest is a two hour drive from Samaipata in the area called Quirusillas, where you can also see the Tucuman Parrot. And further on you reach the Andean Dry Valley habitat with many endemics best to be seen at the spendid Red-fronted Macaw Reserve. And further west, the road travels up the moist higher Andes Yungas of Siberia, a very pleasant cloud forest.


From Santa Cruz you can take the new road to Cochabamba which passes through Montero leading to the town of Buena Vista (about a 3 hour drive). There are local trufi taxis, which fill with passengers like a bus, that travel to Buena Vista where you could visit the sites Buena Vista pumping station and Hotel Flora and Fauna. The Southern-horned Curassow site can be then visited from Buena Vista in car, but best to make arrangements in Santa Cruz without a car. 


South of the city of Santa Cruz you can visit the Chaco. Chaco is a very hot habitat that undergoes a strong dry season, and then a moist rainy season. Most of the habitat is in Paraguay, but we have found that few birdwatchers visiting all the South American countries include Paraguay, thus this could be an important area to spend a few days. Taking the main recently paved and very comfortable highway #9 south from the city of Santa Cruz, you want to visit two areas, Lagunills del Chaco and Boyiube Chaco. On a Bird Bolivia 35 day tour in 2012 passing time in all the key habitats in Bolivia, the third highest species count record in a day was a morning in Boyuibe Chaco, and visiting Lagunillas del Chaco in the afternoon (the best day was in Sadiri Rainforest and the second in Barba Azul Nature Reserve).


The Neol Kempff Mercado National Park is also of interest for it Cerrado and Tropical forest, though tourism infrastructure has not been kept up. Unfortunely Pantanal in Bolivia has no tourism infrastructure, but you can visit Brazilian Pantanal and the Hycinth Macaw just over the border of eastern Bolivia.


Flooded Beni SavannahsThe Beni holds three habitats of interest for birdwatchers; Beni Tropical Savannah Endemic Bird Area; Bolivian Cerrado; and Beni Tropical Forest. The Beni Tropical Savannah has two "acknowledged" Bolivian Beni Endemic species, with a plethora of subspecies suspected or obvious Beni proper species. The must see star is the Endemic and Critically Endangered Blue-throated Macaw, best seen at the Barba Azul Nature Reserve, a fantastic protected cattle-free tall-grass Beni Savannah and palm forest island reserve. A visit to this reserve should be combined with a one day visit to Trinidad to try and pick up some other Beni Endemics and future splits. The other popular tourist spot in the department of Beni is Rurrenabaque. From Rurrenabaque the Santa Rosa Beni Savannas can be visited within a few hours from the town. Given its rainforest tourism popularity it is dealt with in a different section.

Within the department of Beni is also the city of Riberalta, which is the only home in the world for the Bolivian Endemic Masked Antpitta. Here you have access to Varzea forest. There is also tall forest in the area which is worth a short visit, but with no large protected areas or lodge facilities. For rainforest birds you are better of going to Rurrenabaque.

Bolivia's Cerrado will become a hot topic in future years as Brazil diligently destroys what it has. The Cerrado in Bolivia would appear to hold no country endemics, but many of the Cerrado specialists found across this habitats girth- which is mostly in Brazil. From Riberalta, you can visit two healthy yet remote Cerrado sites. The Cerrado sites in Noel Kempff Mercado National Park are no longer of easy access. The Los Lagos Lodge is located at the edge of the Beni grasslands, with a mix of savanna and Cerrado forest with flooded savannas, dry forest and tropical forest.

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The Department of Cochabamba (with the department capital of the same name) lies in the geographical center of Bolivia. The city of Cochabamba itself lies in a fertile valley that centuries ago was the breadbasket of Bolivia , supplying the mining towns of Potosí. Much of the original vegetation in the valley has given way to farmland and industrial parks, but both Lake Alalay in the center of town and the outstanding Polylepis forest in San Miguel near Quillacollo offer interesting birding sites easily reached by taxi. It is also a center of endemism, with most of the key Bolivian endemics found within the department. At an altitude of 2600m, the city of Cochabamba is firmly in the highlands, but the abundance of city parks and small-town atmosphere make it a pleasant base for birding explorations. The surrounding areas offer high habitat diversity, from high altitude Polylepis forests, to dry valles, to an interesting transect though Yungas montane forest down into the tropical lowlands. The city of Cochabamba offers hotel accommodation in every price range and an excellent selection of restaurants. In order to insure a quality car rental we suggest using the Avis car rental now available in Cochabamba, next door to the La Portales Hotel.


A taxi or local bus can take you to Lake Albarrancho or Lake Alalay within the city. An hour taxi ride up the Mountians from the city will take you to the San Miguel Polylepis forest
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Cloud forest birdwatching is only a two hour drive outside of the city of Cochabamba. Since its construction in the early 1980's, the road linking Cochabamba and the Chapare, a sub-tropical region that is Bolivia's prime coca growing area, has been a favorite of birders. Most Bolivian records of such spectacular species such as Scimitar-winged Piha and Hooded Mountain-Toucan come from this road. However in the last decade, settlement along the road has increased and deforestation for small-scale agriculture has taken its toll. Though of more difficult access, the road through the Apolo Yungas offers more intact cloud forest.

The Chapare road travels through Cochabamba Yungas, a humid forest area along the eastern slope of the Andes, to the main Chapare town of Villa Tunari. Starting at an altitude of 3800m outside of Cochabamba, the road drops quickly over a 100 kilometer stretch to 500m at Villa Tunari. As a result, the road travels through a variety of habitat types: Upper Montane ( 2600 m and above), Middle Montane (1600- 2600 m), Upper Tropical (900 - 1600 m), Hill Tropical (500- 900 m) and Lower Tropical (500 m and below). However, whether due to habitat loss or geographic position, the Hill Tropical and Lower Tropical habitats around Villa Tunari are not that rich in terms of bird life. If your trip also includes visiting lowland habitats in another area of Bolivia , spend most of your time above 1000 meters.

A good strategy for maximizing the number of species seen is to make stops at 2900 meters (Tablas Monte), 1900 meters (Miguelito) and somewhere on the roadside at about 1000 meters. Birding can be good in the upper elevations even in the midday sun, even in one of the frequent mist showers. And do not be fooled, birding in the rain is often fantastic above 2000 meters. Villa Tunari offers several nice hotel options and makes a good base for exploring the region.

Unlike most roads in Bolivia , the Chapare road has occasional kilometer markers that make providing directions somewhat easier. Coming from Cochabamba, the kilometers posts start at zero at the tool booth in the city of Cochabamba. The Chapare Road, after passing though Villa Tunari, continues on to Santa Cruz. As it is the main highway linking Santa Cruz to the highlands, it is also known as the "new road" to Santa Cruz. Some road signs also mention "Sacaba," a small town just outside of Cochabamba. Thus, the " Chapare Road," the "new road to Santa Cruz" and "road to Sacaba" are all really one and the same.
GPS reading at tollbooth leaving Cochabamba for the Chapare Rd: S 17 23.895' W 66 03.223'

From the top of the road coming down into the Cloud forest check sites as Tablas Monte Road, Miguelito, Lower Chapare Road, Carrasco National Park Road, and Hotel El Puente grounds (Villa Tunari).
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A relatively under-explored area by birders, the vast collection of dry mesothermic valleys south of Cochabamba is home to the endangered Red-Fronted Macaw. The macaw is restricted to a small area of south-central Bolivia and is usually present in the Rio Caine valley, but requires a long hard drive in. Few tourists venture this direction and the area has the added bonus of the little known Torotoro National Park.

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The endemic Rio Cocapata watershed dry Andean valley forest of Machaca is an interesting site for birdwatchers and naturalists alike. Armonia is working at this site to protect the last stand of the Endangerd (probably Critically) Bolivian Spinetail Cranioleuca henricae. This is for hardy birders, with a 6 hour dirt road drive in, but an interesting habitat.

If you are travelling on the paved highway between Cochabamba and La Paz, you might want to visit the Cochabamba Arid valleys for an hour or so of birding. Andean Condor can often be found soaring in late morning along the highway.

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Bolivia's largest city is not itself a particularly exciting birding destination. But it does offer "daytrip" access to some truly spectacular sites, including the Yungas cloud forests, puna grasslands, Lake Titicaca and even dry valles. Though La Paz is not actually the highest capital in the world, it is one of the highest cities in the world.


If you have one afternoon or one morning in La Paz, we highly recommend you visit the Mecapaca site- only a one hour drive from the city and a great spot- one could easily spend a full day to find many of the lower dry valley resident birds. Some of the La Paz city sites can be easily combined to make good all-day trips. For example, after a dawn stop at the UMSA Botanical Gardens, one can continue up the road and visit Huni Pass (on the Palca Road) and still return in time for a late lunch. The Ravine below Zenon Iturralde Park could be visited in half a day and with local transportation.

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The famous (or infamous to many nail-biting passengers) Coroico Road is one of the most spectacular roads in South America. Carved into the cliff face, it is the main road linking La Paz and Coroico. For birders, it offers a stunning transect from the high altitude puna grassland to the subtropical "Yungas" forests. From the top, La Cumbre, the road travels down to Upper Coroico Road (between La Cumbre and Pongo), Choquetanga Valley, the Cotapata trail, Chuspipata, and Hotel La Finca, Coroico. You can also see birds of this area by birding from La Cumbre down the famous El Choro hiking trail.

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The South Yungas road, which effectively ends in the Yungas town of Chulumani, has less traffic than the more famous North Yungas (Coroico) Road and is statistically safer. The directions for each site assume you re-set to zero your odometer at the start of the junction for the South Yungas road. The raod travels down through Upper South Yungas Road, Chojlla aqueduct trail, arriving at the final destination of Apa-apa reserve. Another option in the area is the Takesi Trek.

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Few visitors to Bolivia , even the most hard-core birders, will want to leave Bolivia without a quick visit to Lake Titicaca. At 3810 meters ( 12,500 feet), Lake Titicaca is often called the highest, navigable lake in the world, although there seem to be several other more likely candidates. Nevertheless, Lake Titicaca is a very pleasant birding destination, especially towards the tail end of a long birding trip when early mornings and long days in the field have begun to take their toll. As might be expected, waterbirds are the key attraction. Diversity is not that high (an average day might reach 50 species), but many of the target birds are high-altitude specialties. One of the most sought-after birds is the flightless Short-winged Grebe, relatively common in its stronghold on Lake Titicaca. We recommened two sites: Huatajata lakeshore and Yampupata Peninsula. You might also want to investigate the Sorata site if you are in the general area.

For more similar Altiplano birds based in La Paz, you can visit Sajama Polylepis forest, Laguna Huanakota area, Lagunas area and border with Chile, and Northern Chile and the High Andes.


Apolo y La Paz mapApolo area holds the only Bolivian Andean Cerrado in the world, with its flagship species the Palkachupa Cotinga. For years this area has remained unexplored by birdwatchers, but recent discoveries are making the long road trip to this uinique area worth the effort. And some day we are promise the airport in this poor town will once again function, were short flights from La Paz will be possible. The problem is the area is not very well developed to receive tourists- which we know for some of you would be a positive point. A visit to Apolo would include birdwatching the threatened Bolivian Andean Cerrado with the endemic Palkachupa Cotinga, once considered a subspecies of the Swallow-tailed Cotinga, the Apolo Yungas as you travel down the lush cloud forest, from 3500 down to 2000 m, and searching the Inter-Andean dry forests of Machariapo valley.

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Southeast of the city of La Paz, the stark, limitless expanses of the Altiplano give way to the spine of the Andes. The descent into these dry valleys from the Altiplano offer some of the most spectacular scenery in La Paz Department and some very special birds. Of interest in general is the Urmiri/Sapahaqui circuit and Inquisivi.

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At the junction between the last foothills (serranías) of the Andes and the beginning of a large expanse of flat, lowland tropical forest and pampas, Rurrenabaque is a gateway to the Amazonian lowlands of Bolivia. 

The immediate area around Rurrenabaque for bird watching is mostly disturbed, second growth forest of limited interest.  If you find yourself in Rurrenabaque for a morning or afternoon of birding, try to get some distance between you and the town.  Renting a motorcycle or taxi for the day or half-day is an easy proposition.

From Rurrenabaque you can plan guided tours to the rainforest visiting the Wattled Curassow Lodge, Mapajo Lodge, and Chalalan Eco-lodge. You can create your own trip, or get one of the many tourism agencies in Rurrenabaque to do it for you to visit Santa Rosa Beni Savannas, Serrania Pilón, Serranía Sadiri, Alto Madidi, and San José de Uchupiamonas. There is public transportation to many of these sites, within hiking distance. Also of interest in the area might be the Beni Biological Station.

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Madidi National Park is a phenomenal protected area worth more attention. The park covers almost 2 million hectares, from some of the most important highland Polylepis forests, down the Andean cloud forest to the richest rain forest site in Bolivia (site 57: Alto Madidi) and north to cover ungrazed, unburnt savannahs. The problem is that most of this natural area is inaccessible- and what roads do exist are only 50% of the time functional.  We are hoping to see more tourism development in Madidi in the oncoming years, but progress has been slow.

The best known site with tourism infrastructure is Chalalan Eco-lodge, but other sites like Serranía Sadiri, Alto Madidi, San José de Uchupiamonas, and Apolo semi-humid forest and Machariapo Valley dry forest might be a bit rough, but well worth it for the birds.


We are greatful for the assistance and comments made by Victor Bullen, Claudia Coca, Isabel Gomez, Sebastian Herzog, Jon Hornbuckle, Alvaro Jaramillo, Charles Hesse, Michael Kessler, Barbara Knapton, Tim Miller, Douglas Mason, Preston Motes, Manual Olivera, Carmen Quiroga, Jonathan Rossouw, David Recalde, Joe Tobias, Jim Turner, Melinda Walton, Bret Whitney, and Brian Woods.

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