We’ve written before about the many surreal locations that you can visit on a trip to Colombia: eerie prison islands battered by the waves of the Pacific, lost colonial gems on the Magdalena River, rivers running red through the jungle…and a bunch of bright pink cartoonish birds living in a wondrous coastal desert by the Caribbean. La Guajira’s Flamingo population is yet another of the amazing little quirks of nature that make Colombia such a magical place to visit. So here’s how you can visit them yourself…
Whilst there are flamingos in Manaure and Punta Gallinas, the gem of the Guajira flamingo population is at Parque Natural Los Flamencos near Camarones, which lies just off the main coastal road which links Santa Marta with Riohacha, the department’s capital city. A small desert town with a population of just about 2000, Camarones is a typically Guajiran settlement, largely made up of members of the region’s indigenous Wayuu people. To get there just take any bus heading to Riohacha from Santa Marta or vice-versa, and make sure to tell the driver to drop you in Camarones.
Once you arrive in the town (dropped by the bus on the roadside that approaches it), your best bet is to grab a moto-taxi to Boca de Camarones or Playa de Camarones, the beachside settlement which lies closest to the flamingo reserve. This should cost about 1.000 COP and takes about 10 minutes along a beautiful coastal road. Down by the beach there are a number of hotels offering basic rooms with air-con or fans, as well as hammocks and chinchorros (a large Wayuu-made hammock). I stayed in El Remanso del Santuario Ecolodge, which is right on the beach, and although the name ‘ecolodge’ is a stretch, has a great position, good-value food, and hammocks at just 15.000 COP a night.
So, how to enjoy the main attraction of this place? Getting a boat to see the flamingos is very simple, as there are boatmen willing to make the journey all along the shoreline of the coastal lagoon where they live; we went with Juan, a very friendly and accommodating guide based out of the hotel, and he was excellent. It’s forbidden to use motors on the lake for fear of disturbing the birds, so it’s a sailboat job, one which requires a good deal of skill, and at least 2 hours on the boat to get to the birds and back. It’s a lovely trip, with plenty of other large aquatic birds to see, and the pay-off is wonderful views of the bright-pink birds in flocks of hundreds in number; a special sight by anyone’s reckoning. The cost of the boat should be around 20.000 COP per person.
As an avid bird lover, I was also keen to see some of the wonderful smaller species that inhabit this reserve, and was lucky enough to meet Jose Luis (Juan’s brother), who has guided for ProAves, and basically knows his stuff; including the bird’s calls and names in English. With him we rose at 4:30am, and spent the morning pursuing Guajira specialties such as Vermilion Cardinal, Tocuya Sparrow, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Orinocan Saltator, and Buffy Hummingbird. That may sound like gibberish to you, but these birds only inhabit this dry, desert peninsula and can be extraordinarily hard to see without an expert. Luckily, Jose Luis was just that, and we saw all of these species and many more in just a few hours. Should you be interested in contracting his guiding services, he will charge a flat rate of 60.000 COP for a morning, and 100.000 should you wish for him to also join you to hunt the flamingos (not literally…). He can be reached on either 3107012276 or 3153758491.
And it’s not just about birds; Camarones and it’s adjacent beach are beautiful, isolated places (although it gets a bit busier on weekends and festivos), with stunning views over the sea towards the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The food is fresh and delicious, the people are welcoming, and the birds are beautiful. Definitely a must-visit spot on any tour of the Colombian Caribbean region.