Birding the Atacama Desert and Altiplano
The Atacama Desert is the driest place in the world, however, it holds a surprising array of life. Many species have adapted to survive in this harsh environment, showing much ingenuity. Birding the Atacama Desert and Altiplano takes us to the heart of the desert surrounding San Pedro de Atacama. These areas are world famous for its striking otherworldly landscapes, massive snowcapped volcanoes dotting the horizon, colorful lagoons and mesmerizing salt pans. But not only is the scenery fantastic, the bird species that have made this place home are equally fascinating.
Here we’ll have the chance to see all high elevation Flamingos (Chilean, Andean and Puna), Horned Coots, Puna Plover, highly localized species like Red-backed Sierra-Finch and Tamarugo Conebill, among many other desert and high elevation specialists.
2nd Feb – 5th Feb 2021
22nd Oct – 25th Oct 2021
21st Oct – 24th Oct 2022
Private trips can be organized upon request
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Vacation Style Holiday Type
Activity Level Birding
DAY 1. 2nd Feb: Arrival to Santiago
Day 2. 3rd Feb: Miscanti & Miñiques lagoons and Salar de Atacama
DAY 3. 4th Feb: Geysers and Andean wetlands
DAY 4. 5th Feb: Desert birding and return to Santiago
- Chilean, Andean and Puna Flamingos
- Breathtaking high-altitude Altiplano landscapes
- Highly localized species: Horned Coot, Red-backed Sierra-Finch, Tamarugo Conebill.
- Relaxed to moderate pace. Days at higher elevation can be a bit more tiering, but good hydration and early nights will help to feel fit.
Ease of Birding
- Most species are easy to see. Aquatic species are quiet reliable; birding in the desert and altiplano is also quiet reliable, although possibility of windy condition may decrease activity. Tinamous and Seedsnipes are low density, so more effort is sometimes required to see them.
- Transport: SUV for 1-3 people, minivan for 4-6 people
- Internal flights
- English speaking guide with birding equipment
- Snacks (fruit, nuts, cereal bars, water)
- All meals
- Park entrance fees
- eBird checklists for the day’s stops
2nd Feb - 5th Feb 2021
- This tour is limited to a group of 6 participants with one tour leader.
DAY 1 - 2nd Feb: 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 - 3rd Feb: MISCANTI & MIÑIQUES LAGOONS AND SALAR DE ATACAMA
We will take an early flight from Santiago to Calama, the largest city in the desert. From here we’ll drive (1 hr) to San Pedro de Atacama, our base for this Andean birding adventure. Heading south from San Pedro we’ll visit an area with Tamarugo forest, one of the few tree species that grows in this arid landscape. Here we’ll look for a specialist of these woods, the Tamarugo Conebill. Other species of interest include Cinereous Conebill, Gray-bellied Shrike-Tyrant, Chiguanco Thrush and Scale-throated Earthcreeper.
Continuing south we’ll reach the twin lagoons Miscanti and Miñiques, richlu coloured lagoons nestled among striking moutanins. These Andean lagoons are the most important nesting sites in Chile for the Horned Coot, a high localized Altiplano species. This area is also good for Puna Tinamou, Puna (Lesser) Rhea, Andean Goose, Golden-spotted Ground-Dove, Andean Gull, Puna Miner, Cordilleran Canastero, Black-hooded, Plumbeous and Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch, Bright-rumped Yellow-Finch and Black Siskin.
After a nice picnic lunch we’ll visit Chaxa lagoon located inside the Salar de Atacama, an absolutely massive salt pan. Here we’ll enjoy the amazing and dazzling landscape and look for several birds that feed in these salty waters. Particularly the Chilean, Andean and Puna Flamingos. Additionally, the Andean Avocet, with its peculiarly up-curved bill, and Puna Plovers, scurrying along the salty shore, are also seen here. We will spend the night in San Pedro de Atacama.
DAY 3 - 4th Feb: GEYSERS AND ANDEAN WETLANDS
Early in the morning we will head north of San Pedro to the Tatio Geysers, the third largest geyser field in the world. We’ll arrive at this geological spectacle as the sun rises over the horizon and enjoy a cup of hot coffee or tea and some breakfast. The parking lot here is great for Andean Gull and many species of Sierra-Finches.
From here we’ll visit several high elevation wetlands. The landscape will be amazing – with snowcapped volcanoes and vast landscapes of Puna habitat. These high elevation bogs are the haunts of two high Andes ‘endemics’, the sought-after Diademed Sandpiper-Plover and Red-backed Sierra-Finch. Other interesting species seen in these wetlands are Crested Duck, Yellow-billed Teal, Puna Teal, Andean (Slate-colored) Coot, Giant Coot, Puna Ibis, Puna Snipe, Gray-breasted Seedsnipe, Mountain Caracara, Straight-billed Earthcreeper, Andean Negrito, Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Black-hooded Sierra-Finch, Mourning Sierra-Finch, Greenish Yellow-Finch. Night in San Pedro de Atacama.
DAY 4 - 5th Feb: DESERT BIRDING AND RETURN TO SANTIAGO
After breakfast we’ll start our way back towards Calama, an area of more sheer and desolate desert. In areas seemingly devoid of all life we’ll look for an enigmatic specialist. The Grayish Miner, a species that seems to handle the driest of places. Part of the furnariid family, but sometimes behaving more like a tyrant, it’s definitely an interesting species to see. After lunch in Calama we’ll head to the airport for our early afternoon flight back to Santiago.