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One of my favorite birding spots in Colombia is following the old Cali - Buenaventura Road in Western Colombia. Just twenty minutes from Cali, the road is only paved for about 30 kilometers, so take a 4WD vehicle.
Following the Anchicaya River, the road takes me past streams and waterfalls flowing down crevices created millions of years ago by constant rushing water. Clouds full of rain created by winds blowing past the ocean carry water up over the mountains and drop their liquid load on the park. The area receives an annual rainfall of about 2,000 mm.
Collecting these streams and various rivers, the Anchicaya River flows northwest into the Pacific Ocean eventually landing in Buenaventura Bay. As the main source of water for southwestern Colombia, nestled in the valley below is one of the largest hydroelectric plants in the country and a major source of employment for the locals.
Located 47 kilometers from Cali, the town of El Queremal stands as the gateway to the valley. Detour off the main road to the town square for lunch. Look for a little corner café and enjoy a tender perfectly fried chicken filet. Get a table with a view of the brightly colored statue of the town’s namesake, the local plant Cavendishia quereme. My traveling partners tell me the plant’s famous flower is known to create a love potion.
Just on the outskirts of town, I along with my birding buddies from Multicolor Birding Colombia stop and unload luggage at our site for showers and comfortable beds for the next two nights. The El Campanario Hotel is a wonderful Spanish architecture style building with a wrap-around porch loaded with hanging orchids too big to wrap my arms around.
Soon we are back on the Old Buenaventura road. Finally, we are ready for birds.
But it is hard to concentrate on birds. Waterfalls of all sizes flow down the mountain past an ancient forest that is fifty shades of green and full of wildlife. A friend of mine once attempted to count the waterfalls. She gave up and quit at 300. As I look up to watch these never-still streams I am reminded of snakes winding their way down the mountain.
At an elevation averaging 1,500 m, the climate is surprising cool with subtropical temperatures ranging from 18° to 24° C. This climate is possible because of the convergence of moist air of the Pacific Ocean with the Western Andes.
Not far from El Queremal begins the PNN Los Farallones de Cali which follows the road on the car’s left side seemingly forever. A natural reserve full of remarkable fauna and flora, the park has four climatic zones that stretch for 150,000 hectares creating an important site of biodiversity. The park protects over 100 species of mammals, 300 species of birds, 200 species of snakes and a wide variety of fish and frogs.
If you are hearty enough to climb to the top of the craggy mountains on available trails, I hear the rewards are stunning views of the Pacific coastline and the northern ridge of the Colombian Andes. I never left the road on the valley floor. The road is reasonably flat, but not for the easily car sick prone person. Prepare to stop suddenly a million times for chickens and dogs crossing your path at the exact time the car rounds a hair-raising curve.
As a bird watcher, I am lucky to walk quietly through most of the valley following bird guide Pablo Florez spotting impressive birds, stopping to examine striking tropical flowers and listening to God’s natural water features.
The right side of the road is private land mainly undeveloped. For many years this area was unsafe because of FARC, but today the Army has developed a strong presence in the area. A few kilometers inside the PNN Los Farallones de Cali is Tokio Hill, where 15 years ago many lives were lost during a brutal battle between the Colombian Army and FARC. The abandoned buildings are now reclaimed by nature, a tribute to Colombia’s peace agreement efforts.
On the second day of birding we get on the road early pausing about an hour later for breakfast at the Rest Stop, a pleasant little café with delicious scrambled eggs, hummingbird-catching flowers and numerous bird feeders filled with bananas. If given 24-hour notice, the Senora who operates the café will prepare chicken, rice, potatoes and plantains perfectly in a plantain leaf for take-out. Stopping for lunch on the roadside near an amazing waterfall, my meal-in-a-leaf was still hot and delicious. Do not leave Colombia until you have eaten this important local cultural meal.
As my last birding hotspot on this bird watching expedition, the Anchicaya Valley was an impressive exit from South America – and left me wanting more Colombia.