Birding Northern Chile – altiplano and desert valleysfrom
Scenically breathtaking and with stunning birdlife, the Andes conjure up a mouth-watering birding feast. Andean Condors soaring amongst high peaks in clear blue skies and Diademed Sandpiper-Plovers on mineral-rich bogs, with the sound of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipes echoing in the valleys; these are some of the magical experiences of birding northern Chile. In just few days we shall visit, not only the high Puna grasslands and the stunning Lauca National Park, but also the arid Pacific coast with its fertile valleys, visit lekking areas of the critically endangered Chilean Woodstar, and fit in a Humboldt Current pelagic trip.
On this tour you will explore one of Chile’s most bird-diverse areas and experience the striking contrasts between lush and arid landscapes.
13th-18th of October 2023
11th-16th of October 2024
Requests for pricing and itinerary can be made through Contact Form
Private trips can be organized upon request
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Vacation Style Holiday Type
Activity Level Birding
Day 1 – Friday, October 14th: Arrival in Santiago
Day 2 – Saturday, October 15th: Birding the Arica Valleys
Day 3 – Sunday, October 16th: Pelagic trip and birding on the way to Putre
Day 4 – Monday, October 17th: Full day in Lauca National Park
Day 5 – Tuesday, October 18th: Birding in Putre and return to Arica
Day 6 – Wednesday, October 19th: Birding around Arica and flight to Santiago
- The minute and critically endangered Chilean Woodstar
- Breathtaking high-altitude landscapes
- A comprehensive itinerary for all lowland, foothill, and high elevation specialist species of northern Chile.
- Relaxed to moderate pace. Days at higher elevation can be a bit more tiring, but good hydration and early nights will help everyone feel fit.
Ease of Birding
- Most species are easy to see. Aquatic species are quite reliable; birding in the desert and altiplano is also quite reliable, although possibility of windy condition may decrease activity. Tinamous and Seedsnipes are low density, so more effort is sometimes required to see them.
- 6 nights of accommodation
- Transport: SUV for 1-3 people, minivan for 4-6 people
- English speaking guide with birding equipment
- Snacks (fruit, nuts, cereal bars, water)
- All meals
- Park entrance fees
- eBird checklists for all stops
- This tour runs from 6 to 10 participants with one tour leader. Over more than 10 participants would be consider an additional tour guide.
- Pre-Tour: Birding in the Atacama Desert, Easter Island or Robinson Crusoe Island
- Post-Tour: Central Chile - From Santiago to the Araucaria Forests
DAY 1 - ARRIVAL IN SANTIAGO
Most international flights to Santiago are overnight. As they arrive in the early morning, participants will be able to spend a relaxing first day at a hotel close to the airport. During the afternoon their guide will meet them at the hotel in order to explain, discuss and answer last questions regarding the itinerary or any necessary detail before beginning the trip.
DAY 2 - BIRDING THE VALLEYS AROUND ARICA
Early in the morning we will fly from Santiago to the city of Arica, very close to the Peruvian border. This first portion of the far North of Chile is known as the “Big North”, containing the vast Atacama Desert and the high altitude Andean steppe, or Altiplano.
Although located in the driest desert on earth, our birding will start here in Arica’s surroundings. Good birding is only possible here because of rivers and small water courses fed by the runoff from the High Andes, creating fertile valleys and well-cultivated flood plains that form rich oasis in this harsh environment.
Our most important target species in this area will be the hummingbirds: Oasis Hummingbird, Peruvian Sheartail and the endemic, but Critically Endangered, Chilean Woodstar (world population estimated at 350 individuals). To look for this little stunner of an endemic we will drive south to the Camarones Valley where the largest remaining population of the Chilean Woodstar occurs.
In this same valley participants will be able to see other highlight species like Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant, Tamarugo Conebill and the newly-described-for-Chile Raimondi’s Yellow-Finch.
After lunch, we will return to Arica and bird along the coastline at the estuary of one of the most important rivers in the region, the Lluta River. The main target species here will be shorebirds: Killdeer, Snowy Plover, American and Blackish Oystercatchers, Surfbird, Willet and a good selection of Gulls and Terns.
DAY 3 - PELAGIC TRIP AND LLUTA VALLEY
This day’s schedule starts with an enjoyable 6-hour pelagic trip. Sailing into the Humboldt Current will allow visitors to spot many sub-Antarctic species of seabirds and warm water Petrels.
During our navigation it is possible to see Salvin’s, Buller’s and Black-Browed Albatross, Northern Giant-Petrel, White-Chinned and Westland Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Elliott´s Storm-Petrel, Markham’s Storm-Petrel, Peruvian Diving Petrel, Humboldt Penguin, Chilean Skua and Swallow-tailed Gull. More coastal species may include Red-Legged and Guanay Cormorants, the splendid Inca Tern, Peruvian Boobies and Peruvian Pelican.
A tasty lunch at a restaurant on the beach will be waiting for the group after the pelagic trip. Later, with birding stops along the way, the plan considers heading to the farmland areas outside Arica and then to the town of Putre. On route we will be searching for some specialties like the Peruvian Thick-knee, West Peruvian Dove, Croaking Ground-Dove, Groove-billed Ani, Burrowing Owl, Andean Swift, Peruvian Elaenia (the northern form of White-crested Elaenia), Vermilion Flycatcher, the local race of Bran-Coloured Flycatcher (a strong candidate for a future split), Cinereous Conebill, Chestnut-throated Seedeater, Blue-Black Grassquit, Slender-billed Finch and Peruvian Meadowlark and much more.
During the afternoon, after an intensive birding day, we will arrive in the beautiful town of Putre, 3.500 m.a.s.l. (11.483 ft). Putre will be the gateway for next day’s adventures in higher elevation Andean ecosystems.
DAY 4 - FULL DAY LAUCA NATIONAL PARK
In the heart of the Altiplano of the ‘Big North’ and about 50 kilometers away from Putre we’ll reach the Lauca National Park, a place of outstanding natural beauty. It was declared part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) in 1981. The massive snow-capped volcanoes, Pomerape and Parinacota, soar to over 6,300 m.a.s.l. (20,670 ft) and are a perfect backdrop reflecting in the deep blue water of Chungara and Cotacotani Lakes, both, important attractions of the park. The highlight of this excursion is the dazzling Chungara Lake, the highest altitude lake in the world.
Some of the high altitude specialist birds present in this habitat are: Andean Grebe (the local form of Silvery Grebe), Puna Teal, Giant Coot, Andean Gulls, along with many more broadly distributed species of ducks. While driving up to the lakes we will search in the high altitude bogs for the stunning and difficult-to-find Diademed Sandpiper-Plover. Other target birds for this area are: Puna Rhea, Andean Flicker, White-winged Cinclodes, Black Siskin, Puna Tinamou, Puna Ibis, Andean Goose, Mountain Caracara, Andean Lapwing, Puna Plover, Andean Avocet, Puna Miner, Puna and White-fronted Ground-Tyrants, Andean Negrito, White-winged Diuca-Finch and White-throated Sierra-Finch.
The lakes in the park are also the home to large groups of Flamingos, and with some luck we will be able to spot all three species: Chilean, Andean and Puna (James’s). After a day of soaking in the wide-open vistas and fascinating high-altitude birds we’ll return our lodge in Putre.
DAY 5 - PUTRE AND RETURN TO ARICA
We’ll spend the morning around the small Andean village looking for Bare-faced Ground-Dove, White-throated Earthcreeper, Yellow-billed Tit Tyrant, Canyon and Dark-winged Canastero, Blue-and-Yellow Tanager, Cream-winged and White-winged Cinclodes, Streaked Tit-Spinetail, D’Orbigny’s and White-Browed Chat-Tyrants, Chiguanco Thrush, Black-throated Flower-Piercer, Golden-billed Saltator, Black-hooded and Ash-breasted Sierra-Finches, Greenish Yellow-Finch, Band-tailed Seedeater, and Spot-winged Pigeon. Along the alfalfa field on the outskirts of the village we’ll also look for the secretive, but vocal, Ornate Tinamou. Around midday we’ll drive slowly down the windy mountain road back to Arica looking for any birds we may have missed on the way up to Putre. Night in Arica.
DAY 6 - ARICA AND RETURN TO SANTIAGO
This morning we’ll have one more chance to look for anything we’ve missed around Arica, visiting the Lluta Estuary or hummingbird sanctuaries. We’ll board a midday flight back to Santiago. Night in Santiago.