The Best of Birding around Santiago
Santiago is a modern, cosmopolitan city and the main starting point to travel throughout Chile. Located in the central valley, on the east it is flanked by the imposing high Andes and to the west by the coastal mountain range. The natural areas surrounding Santiago are considered biodiversity hotspots, home to several of Chile’s endemic birds and many Mediterranean habitat specialists. This multi-day tour combines the best of birding around Santiago.
Only 120 kilometers away we reach the Pacific Ocean, with its vibrant coastal wetlands. Here we can also venture into the rich Humboldt Current, where pelagic birding is truly superb.
This birding trip is a comprehensive itinerary of all habitats and species to be seen close to Santiago. In four days we will cover varied high Andean landscapes and its birds, enjoy coastal wetlands and sail out into the Pacific to marvel at scores of large Albatrosses.
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Vacation Style Holiday Type
Activity Level Birding
Day 1 – Wednesday: Highlands above Santiago – The endemic quest!
Day 2 – Thursday: The Yeso Valley – Diademed Sandpiper Plover
Day 3 – Friday: Birding The Pacific Coast
Day 4 – Saturday: Pelagic Trip Off Valparaíso
Private trips can be organized on any day from September to May.
- Seven of Chile’s endemics
- Andean Condors soaring at a short distance
- Incredible mountain landscapes
- Relaxed pace; short easy walks. On days at high elevation we will maintain good hydration and slow pace so everyone feels fit.
Ease of Birding
- Most species show easily, with some trickier skulking species for which playback is used.
- Transport: SUV for 1-3 people, minivan for 4-6 people
- Pick-up/drop-off at your hotel in Santiago
- English speaking guide with birding equipment
- Snacks (fruit, nuts, cereal bars, water)
- Park entrance fees
- eBird checklists for the day’s stops
DAY 1 - WEDNESDAY. HIGHLANDS ABOVE SANTIAGO – THE ENDEMIC QUEST!
In a single day out of Santiago it’s possible to see all the endemics of central Chile. This trip aims to see all 6 of the central Chile endemics: Chilean Tinamou, Crag Chilia, Dusky-tailed Canastero, Moustached Turca, White-throated Tapaculo, and Dusky Tapaculo; as well as the near-endemic Chilean Mockingbird. During the day we will be exploring the Mediterranean scrub of the foothills and alpine areas of the Andes Mountains near Santiago, doing various stops at different altitudes.
Of course, our birding will not be limited to these endemics, and we will encounter many other wonderful birds like: Striped Woodpecker, Chilean Flicker, Austral Pygmy-owl, Giant Hummingbird, White-sided Hillstar, Creamy-rumped Miner, Black-fronted Ground-Tyrant, Greater Yellow-finch, Magellanic Tapaculo, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, Andean Condor, Mountain Caracara, among others.
At our picnic spot, we usually have Andean Condor soaring above, and Rufous-banded Miner, Gray-hooded Sierra-Finch and Greater Yellow-finch at close distances looking for some leftover crumbs from our lunch.
This trip is a great introduction to birds in Chile, from common widespread species to central Chile specialties. Climbing to higher elevations that are easily accessible from Santiago also offers stunning mountain landscapes.
DAY 2 - THURSDAY. THE YESO VALLEY – DIADEMED SANDPIPER PLOVER
The Yeso Valley is well known for being one of the most accessible places to see the sought-after Diademed Sandpiper-Plover. This beautiful and enigmatic mountain shorebird breeds in the high elevation bogs of the valley and will be our main target for the day. Members of Albatross are proud to have led a research project on the species for many years, and thus have a great track record for finding it.
In addition to the Sandpiper-Plover there are many other interesting species we will be stopping to look for on our way to higher elevations. Among them are the endemics Crag Chilia and Moustached Turca; Torrent Ducks in fast-moving rivers, and many Andean specialties like White-sided Hillstar, Andean Goose, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, Black-fronted and White-browed Ground-Tyrants, Greater Yellow-finch, Yellow-rumped Siskin, Andean Condors and Mountain Caracara. Reaching higher elevations we will also be able to see some more rare and localized species like Creamy-rumped Miner and Grey-breasted Seedsnipe.
The scenery here is some of the most beautiful and dramatic in Central Chile. High mountains, turquoise lakes, hanging glaciers and white-water rivers combine to make a magnificent spectacle.
DAY 3 - FRIDAY. BIRDING THE PACIFIC COAST
Leaving early from Santiago we will head towards the coastal city of San Antonio. Just south of the city we will visit a recently created reserve on the Maipo river estuary. This reserve protects one of the most important wetlands in central Chile, where we’ll be able to enjoy large groups of gulls, Black Skimmers, terns, pelicans and shorebirds.
The reedbeds at the reserve entrance are a great place to see the stunning, but skulking, Many-colored Rush-Tyrant and Wren-like Rushbird, as well as Yellow-winged Blackbird and Sedge Wren.
On the beach, seawatching can add sightings of Red-legged and Guanay Cormorants, Peruvian Boobies, and even Chilean Skuas.
After scanning the masses of migrant shorebirds on the mudflats in search of potential rarities we will pay some more attention to the passerines and look for the rare Ticking Doradito (a recent split from the Warbling Doradito), Spectacled Tyrant, Correndera Pipit and the Chilean endemics Dusky Tapaculo and Dusky-tailed Canastero.
Driving north along the coast we will have lunch at a seaside restaurant on the rocky shoreline. This location is also a great spot to find another Chilean endemic, the Chilean Seaside Cinclodes.
In the afternoon we will visit more protected wetlands, looking for Spot-flanked Gallinule, Black-necked and Coscoroba Swan, Plumbeous Rail, Black-headed Duck and maybe even the secretive Stripe-backed Bittern.
We will also stop near a Peruvian Pelican colony where a few Humboldt Penguins are also breeding.
DAY 4 - SATURDAY. PELAGIC TRIP OFF VALPARAÍSO
Murphy said “I now belong to the higher cult of mortals for I have seen the albatross!”
If you want to belong to this cult, and enjoy one of the best pelagic experiences in the world, then you have to go on a pelagic trip on the Humboldt Current!
Seabirds such as albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters are species with a unique biology. In their wandering through the seas of the world they only touch firm ground for breeding. Thus, to see them up close it is necessary to embark on offshore pelagic trips to reach their feeding areas.
Chile has more than 4,000 kilometers of coastline and is considered as one of the best places in the world to do pelagic trips. The Humboldt Current was named after its ‘discoverer’, the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt; a cold and low-salinity ocean current emerging from the seabed off the coast of southern Chile and moving northward dragging nutrients even as far up as Ecuador, creating one of the world’s richest marine ecosystems.
This huge rise of nutrients notably favors the observation of marine fauna. Exceptional trips have produced roughly 60(!) species of seabirds. With over half a dozen species of albatrosses, and multiple species of petrels, shearwaters, terns, diving-petrels, cormorants, gulls and terns.
The abundance of different species vary throughout the year, depending on each species’ reproductive strategy. Among the most commonly seen species off the coast of Valparaiso are: Black-browed, Salvin’s and Royal (Northern and Southern) Albatrosses, Northern Giant-Petrel, Mottled (Cape), Juan Fernandez, White-Chinned and Westland Petrels, Sooty and Pink-Footed Shearwaters, Peruvian Diving Petrel, Inca Tern, Wilson’s (Fuegian) Storm-Petrel, Humboldt and Magellanic Penguins, Peruvian Booby, Guanay Cormorant and Peruvian Pelican. Among the more uncommon species we may see, are Masatierra Petrel, Chatham and Buller’s Albatross, and Southern Fulmar.
Our pelagic trips last roughly 6 hours and a shared boat is scheduled for the second Saturday of every month.