Guide to Bird Watching in Bolivia

This guide is based on four central hubs: Santa Cruz, 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, inicially with Santa Cruz (lowlands), Cochabamba (medium highlands), La Paz (very high). Keep in mind American Airlines flights will allow you to land in Santa Cruz and fly out of La Paz, for the same cost.

Santa Cruz area
Cochabamba area
La Paz area
Rurrenabaque area
Madidi National Park
Selvablue Lodge


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, is the entrance point to the Bolivian lowlands. It is a perfect spot to rest up, prep up and set off.  Even only for a short visit to Bolivia , the bird community around the city is different enough to be worth a full morning.  We would recommend for a two-week tour in Bolivia at least passing two mornings in Santa Cruz city sites.


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.


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. 


The old road to Cochabamba travels from Santa Cruz almost up the dry Andes. It is not paved all the way to Cochabamba, but up to Comorapa. Along this road, traveling up the Andes it is possible to visit the site Los Volcanes (2.5 hrs from Santa Cruz) but you must make a reservation before hand in Santa Cruz. There are many trufi taxis daily that travel to Samaipata, where you could visit Las Ruinas and with local tour guide help Yungas de Samaipata. The Red-fronted Macaw lodge will require a reservation in Santa Cruz. Check with for more information.


From Santa Cruz you can also visit the Selvablue Lodge, which protects an excellent rare Cerrado forest with flooded savannas, dry forest and tropical forest. 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 .

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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 (Site 20: Tablas Monte), 1900 meters (Site 21: 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.


Some of these 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. The Mecapaca site deserves a full day to find many of the lower dry valley resident birds.

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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. The road continues to travel down but we have no good birding site information for these areas yet.

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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.


The Apolo area is a fantastic part of Bolivia and Madidi National Park that deserves more attention. But the logistics are difficult, so Apolo is not a spot one can place on a 10 site, two week Bolivia visit. 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 Apolo Yungas as you travel down the lush cloud forest, from 3500 down to 2000 m, searching the Inter-Andean dry forests of Machariapo valley, and the odd Apolo Semi-humid forest and savannas with the endemic Palkachupa Cotinga, once considered a subspecies of the Swallow-tailed Cotinga and 20 savannah species. 

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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 Beni flooded 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 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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