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In Tiwanaku mythology, Lake Titicaca was considered the centre of the world. One of its islands was made into the sun, another the moon, while stone giants evolved into the first humans. In 200 AD, the mighty city of Tiwanaku was built on its shores, spawning craftsmen and an empire that would spread and thrive, for nearly a millennia. Amazonian natives later moved in, building floating reed villages where they thrived on fish, and still remain today. They have domesticated the Puna Ibis to provide eggs, and their craftsmen were enlisted when Thor Heyerdahl undertook his Kon-Tiki expedition. The wildlife here is unique, with aquatic endemism high. Top of the food chain, the very special Titicaca Flightless Grebe, takes star billing.
You should put aside any preconceptions you may have of Bolivia being solely about snow-capped peaks and barren deserts of the High Andes. It has hundreds of square miles of wet tropical rainforest and vast grasslands peppered with palms and thorny thickets. There are also dry valleys, vast areas of cactus scrub, wet Yungas, dry Yungas, Chiquitania, Chaco and Elfin Forests.
For years Bolivia did not have the infrastructure needed to entice tourists but this has started to change. Its diverse avian treasures finally look set to be revealed as the first field guide to the country is due to be published. Hector Slongo, our local guide, is an artist working on its plates. We will start at the spectacular Amboro National Park, where the red sandstone cliffs are home to Military Macaws and Spectacled Bear. Next are the lowlands that are an extension of the Brazilian Pantanal, complete with Sunbitterns and an Oilbird cave. We will rise up through Yungas cloud forests filled with trogons, tanagers and hummingbirds; then enter the dry valleys that have evolved their own species in isolation. The Puna and Altiplano are home to Andean Condors that shadow the herds of Llama, as White-capped Dippers bob by mountain streams. Finally, a boat ride on Lake Titicaca will provide chance to search for the rare and enigmatic flightless grebe.
Our flight takes us to Santa Cruz, in Bolivia where we transfer to Los Volcanes, in the vicinity of Amboró National Park. This must be one of the most breath-taking locations for a lodge in the world. It is tucked away in a deep valley where red sandstone cliffs rise up like spikes all around. We will check the trails for birds like Bolivian Recurvebill, Bolivian Tapaculo, Masked Trogon and Slaty Thrush. The crystal clear river has nesting Black Phoebes by a waterfall and, by just sitting and taking in the view, it is possible to see Military Macaw, Toco Toucan, Barred Forest Falcon, Purplish Jay and perhaps our first Andean Condor. Dark nights are lit up by the light of hundreds of fireflies. One morning on our recce, we found the footprints of Spectacled Bear and Jaguar; but of course you need a large amount of luck to see them.
BUENA VISTA AND CARRASCO NATIONAL PARK
After two nights at Los Volcanes, we travel to Carrasco National Park, stopping en-route at Buena Vista for one night. This allows us to experience the Bolivian savannah where Greater Rhea strut and Hoatzins perch alongside Greater Anis in the marshes. Crimson-crested Woodpeckers leave their mark on huge trees that are home to Blue-headed and Mealy Parrots, and Dusky-headed Parakeet. On day four, we enter Carrasco National Park. A two-night stay gives us time to look for Amazonian Umbrellabird and Andean Cock-of-the-Rock as both have leks here. The enormous Blue-and-Yellow Macaws prefer open habitats, while wetlands attract Black Skimmer, Collared Plover, Capped Heron and Bare-faced Ibis. There is an Oilbird cave that we can visit to see this unique nocturnal frugivore, while the forest is home to Paradise, Green-and-gold and Carmiol’s Tanagers.
COCHABAMBA AND TUNARI NATIONAL PARK
Leaving the lowlands, we climb through moss-laden cloudforest where we check the Yungas trees for Crested Quetzal, Blue-banded Toucanet, Slate-throated Redstart, Rust-and-yellow Tanager and Orange-bellied Euphonia. By afternoon, we enter montane forest that holds three endemics: Rufous-faced Antpitta, Bolivian Brush-finch and Black-hooded Sunbeam. This hummingbird is restricted to a small area of the Bolivian Andes and very little is known about it. Maybe one will be seen alongside a Green-tailed Trainbearer, which looks like a flying pencil!
Other birds include Light-crowned Spinetail, Scaly-naped Parrot, Trilling Tapaculo, Barred Becard, Spotted Nightingale Thrush and Blue-backed Conebill. Although we may drive up to 3200m altitude, we will descend to our hotel at 2600m, allowing for peaceful sleep and gradual acclimatisation.
Day two at Cochabamba sees us entering the Inter-Andean dry valleys and polylepis forest near Tunari National Park. In an area we know well, we will search for Grey-bellied Flowerpiercer and the endangered Cochabamba Mountain-finch. There are, of course, many other good birds here including the Giant Hummingbird, Maquis Canastero, Rock Earthcreeper, Olive-crowned Crescentchest, Giant Conebill and Tawny Tit-spinetail. In the higher Puna habitat, we can look for Taczanowski’s and Puna Ground-finches, as well as the aptly named Bright-rumped Yellow-finch.
Near Cochabamba, a lake holds various waterbirds and we can look for wildfowl like Puna and Cinnamon Teal, Slate-coloured and Red-fronted Coots, as well as Puna Ibis, Chilean Flamingo, Many-coloured Rush-tyrant and Plumbeous Rail. After a morning birding here we will head for Tiwanaku near La Paz. This ancient city began life in 200 AD and was the capital of the Tiwanaku Empire. After 800 years, a long drought caused this civilization to collapse, creating a vacuum that was soon to be filled by the Inca Empire. This is one of the earliest Pre-Columbian archaeological sites in South America, and among the ruins it is possible to see Ochre-naped and Spot-winged Ground Tyrants, and Black-hooded and Boliviavian Sierra Finches.
The following day, we cross the city of La Paz which nestles in a large bowl, and then go over a pass surrounded by dramatic peaks. Andean Gulls and Mountain Caracaras eke out a living in this challenging environment. From here we drop in altitude to Coroico for two nights where the birding is simply awesome. Our hotel has Dusky-green Oropendola nests hanging in the garden and Yellow-rumped Siskins that feed on seeding grasses. The North Yungas Road is particularly spectacular. Cut into the cliffs, the road slowly rises as we pass different birds and plants that thrive at different elevations. We will search for White-throated Quail-dove, Great Sapphirewing, Collared Inca, Golden-headed Quetzal, White-eared Saltator, Grass-green Tanager, and the paintbox explosion that is the Versicoloured Barbet. The lower, wetter yungas has Upland Antshrike, Bolivian Tyrannulet, Scaled Antpitta, Smoke-coloured Pewee, Spotted Tanager and so the list goes on.
Finally, our tour takes us to Lake Titicaca. The Titicaca Flightless Grebe can often be seen from our hotel by the shore. On our recce, we met an old man here who had helped Thor Heyerdahl build Ra II from reeds. We can also look for White-tufted Grebe and Andean Duck. On the banks we can watch Cinereous Harriers trying to surprise Darwin’s Nothuras and Ornate Tinamous, while Andean Lapwings scold any Llama that gets too close to its nest.
The following morning, we transfer to the nearby La Paz airport for a flight to Santa Cruz and then home.
CLIMATE AND PACE
In lowland areas the climate is mostly hot in the day and cooler at night. At higher elevations there can be a cold wind. It can be cold in the night with cool mornings. The Bolivian Andes are very dry, but we may get rain in the lowlands or in the cloud forest at Coroico. Breakfast time will be flexible to take advantage of bird activity. By climbing and acclimatizing slowly, the effects of the altitude are greatly reduced. Most of the walking is on roads or good tracks, some of it will be uphill, but at a sensible pace. Some birding in Lake Titicaca will be done from a boat if conditions allow.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full board accommodation is provided, with two nights at the Refugio Los Volcanes, one night at the Hotel Buena Vista, two nights at the Hotel El Puente, Villa Tunari, two nights at the Hotel Aranjuez, Cochabamba, one night at the Hotel Akapana, Tiwanaku, two nights at the Hotel Viejo Molino, Coroico, and two nights at the Hotel Lago Titicaca, Titicaca. All are of a good standard, with en-suite bathrooms.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local guide, full-board accommodation (starting with breakfast on 28th, ending with breakfast on 9th), soft drinks at meal times, bottled water throughout, transport by mini-coach, boat trips, reserve entrance fees and international flights.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flights from London Heathrow to Santa Cruz (via Madrid) using the scheduled services of Iberia Airlines. Outbound flight departs mid-afternoon, arriving back in the UK early evening. Domestic flights from Manchester and other UK airports are available on this tour. See booking form for details.
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