Andes EcoTours has been working with a local association of guides in the municipality of Choachí, Cundinamarca for almost 7 years. Composed of a group of young adults from the area, the association was founded with the idea that they would be able to supplement their farming income without having to relocate to the city for work. By guiding visitors through their forested land, they are able to continue farming potatoes and producing dairy products without having to rely so heavily on agriculture. This allows them to conserve the land that has traditionally been deforested for survival.
Recently inaugurated as the first Trails for Peace* initiative in Colombia, this trail is an off-the-beaten path alternative to the heavily visited La Chorrera waterfall. It's located at the edge of the Eastern Andes where the mountains begin to descend down into the Llanos floodplains. Here the cloud forest is alive with orchids, bromeliads and ferns, with trails offering breathtaking views of the Choachí valley down below. When we learned that the region had been selected to host the first Cundinamarca Bird Festival, and that the land belonging to the association had been chosen as one of the official routes, we were very excited for the community. These local guides hold a wealth of ancestral knowledge that has been passed down through the generations. During our Cloud Forest & Waterfall Hike they teach visitors about animal behaviors and the medicinal uses of plants, while also sharing personal stories about their family histories and relationship to the land. Most of the youth are familiar with local bird species, having grown up alongside them. We knew, however, that they would require some guidance in order to lead experienced birdwatchers along the trails, as well as with learning to identify the species by their more popular names. It is for this reason that we decided that partnering with the local ornithological society ABO (Asociación Bogotana de Ornitología), would be the perfect way to test out the route, while at the same time strengthening the birdwatching abilities of the local guides. After proposing the route as a monthly outing for ABO, we expected to receive some interest, but not nearly as much as we ended up getting. We had to close the sign-ups at 30 people and had at least 10 more on the waiting list. It seemed like everyone was quite excited to be a part of the program and anticipation for the upcoming festival was at an all time high. On the day of departure we were accompanied by 5 additional members of the local community who welcomed us with a traditional snack and warm drink - the perfect start to an early day. With such a large group, we decided to divide in two. Half of us began walking up the colonial trail and the other half begun heading down from the top. We ended up meeting in the middle where we were graced with a beautiful Slaty-backed Chat-tyrant who seemed happy to pose for photos - a highlight of the event and a lifer for many of the participants. At the end of the day we managed to register 40 species between both groups, despite the strong sun and a much drier day than usual (birds tend to be more active when it's overcast and the temperatures are cooler). Other favorites included the Hooded Mountain-Tanager (Buthraupis montana), Purple-backed Thornbill (Ramphomicron microrhynchum) and an abundance of Amethyst-throated Sunangel (Heliangelus amethysticollis).
* Trails for Peace is an international, non-profit initiative designed to convey a message of peace through nature walks and tourism.