I’ve said it before on this blog, and I’ll say it again: I am a birdwatcher. As a 27 year old man, many people are surprised that I am so passionate about something so often associated with older people; however, living in a country like Colombia, with it’s world record numbers of birds and remarkably diverse ecology, I couldn’t be happier that I chose to love birds when I was just 6 years old. And that is partly down to places like the San Lorenzo ridge, a remarkably diverse mountain ridge high up in the coastal mountain range of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
The San Lorenzo ridge is a bit of a Mecca for bird-lovers: it’s probably one of the best places in the world to see endemic bird species, with at least 10 seen regularly, and many more possible. The real highlight is the extremely rare and endemic Santa Marta Parakeet, with it’s delightful orange epaulets and electric blue wings: I was lucky enough to enjoy a leisurely view of a group of six feeding in a small fruit tree, and I would defy even the most anti-bird person (is that a thing?!) not to have been impressed by the sight. If that doesn’t do it for you, how about the pair of giant Andean Condors we watched playing on the thermals at the ridge’s peak, with nothing but vast blue skies for company?
But it’s not just about the birds here: the real beauty of the place is how undeveloped and peaceful it is. I spend Christmas Day last year hiking the ridge (which is when the photos in this article come from), and I have rarely experienced a more profound sense of solitude and relaxation that in the 6-odd hours I spent ambling through the woods of the Sierra Nevada, spotting Andean Condors and mountain tanagers, breathing in the fresh mountain air, and marveling at the almost uninterrupted views of the snow-capped peaks of Picos Colon and Bolivar, Colombia’s highest mountains. These peaks are considered sacred by the local indigenous groups of the Sierra Nevada, and, when viewed from this privileged vantage point, it’s hard not to see why…Along much of the hike, a 360 degree panorama offers remarkable views of both the highest mountains in the country, covered in snow and glaciers, and the Caribbean sea, glinting blue in the distance. There are few places on earth that offer such a view.
This is what is so great about having an interest in birds (although I’m sure that any niche wildlife interest like flowers or butterflies would work just as well): searching for them brings you to some truly special, wild places, where not too many travelers and tourists routinely head. I have been to some truly off-the-beaten-track spots in Colombia in search of ticks for my list, but the San Lorenzo ridge is by far the best of them: it offers the perfect combination of unique and special wildlife and spectacular natural scenery.
It’s possible to visit the ridge on a day-trip from Minca, especially from the Casa Elemento hostel, which is 45 minutes further up the mountain, making it easier to arrive at dawn, which is preferable for spotting the best birds. Ask for Marcos Torres at the hostel: he was an excellent guide; relaxed and friendly, but informative and passionate. I’m sure he would happily lead a group just to enjoy the hiking and the views, not just for the birds! He charged around 100.000COP for a full-day visit, including transport and guiding. Otherwise, the San Lorenzo ridge is mostly visited by birders staying at the nearby El Dorado ProAves bird lodge: well-worth a visit for any hardened birders out there.