Peru is one of the most diverse countries on Earth for birds. Rose Ann Rowlett shares her extensive knowledge about this destination and our various birding tour itineraries to help you navigate the options.
Field Guides has been taking birders to Peru since the 1980s, and the fathomless richness of Peru’s avifauna—and the sense of discovery that probing it instills—keeps our experienced guides returning year after year. John Rowlett guided his first Peru trip back in 1979 and Rose Ann Rowlett in 1981, and Dan Lane co-authored the most popular field guide. Richard Webster has been guiding our Northern Peru tour since 1997, and Jesse Fagan has become a regular at Machu Picchu & Abra Malaga. Recently, native Peruvian Pepe Rojas has joined our full-time guide staff, having spent most of the past 15 years studying the birds of Peru. And don’t be surprised to run across Mitch Lysinger, Dave Stejskal, or Willy Perez co-leading a Peru tour now and then. Given that Peru is huge and geographically complex, with more than 1800 species spread across it, one can spend a lifetime birding there and still be seeing new species now and then! Field Guides has developed a diverse Peru birding tour program that includes many of the richest parts of the country.
Our tours can be viewed biogeographically, dividing into Amazonian destinations, north vs. south of the Amazon; and Andean destinations, north, central, and southeastern.
The Amazonian tours are generally immersions in rainforest birding, principally based at one or two lodges right in great habitat, usually reached by an internal flight from Lima and then by boat along the rivers. Most of our birding is by foot on established trails that are well maintained but can be muddy, uneven, slightly hilly, and occasionally littered with roots or fallen logs. The forest gives up its secrets slowly, and forest birding requires watching patiently and walking quietly—sometimes for hours—in a warm, humid climate. These tours are designed for birders who love forest birding and find sorting through mixed-species flocks, viewing a shy tinamou or wood-quail, or finding a troop of monkeys gorging on fruit overhead to be ample reward for their patience and well worth the heat and humidity. The specific rewards vary with each tour.
Northern Amazonian Peru
After a hiatus of several years, we are once again offering an Iquitos Peru: Canopy Walkways & Ancient Forests [map] tour. It is a two-week trip to what is probably the richest single area for antbirds on the continent. It combines a full week based in the Explorama rainforest lodges (most with shared bathroom facilities), reached by river from Iquitos, with day trips north of our comfortable Iquitos hotel into the ancient white-sand forests of the Allpahuayo-Mishana Reserve, rich in recently described endemics. Birding is by trail, by boat, and from what is perhaps the richest canopy tower and walkway in Amazonia. Highlights usually include most of the white-sand specialties, a host of river-island endemics, some terrific army-ant swarms and mixed-species flocks, and a good chance for some nocturnal specialties, from Rufous Potoo to Noctural Curassow.
Southern Amazonian Peru
Our Amazonia tours to southeastern Peru are distinguished by their wilderness aspects, and thus a greater number of big macaws and a greater diversity of big mammals (like monkeys, tapirs, and cats) and big, tasty birds (like trumpeters and cracids) than occur near Iquitos. They are further distinguished by their tremendous diversity of bamboo specialties, of which there are several dozen! Here too are some of the finest oxbow lakes in Amazonia, complete with Giant Otters, Hoatzins, and other cocha specialties.
Highlights of our Manu Wildlife Center [map] and our Peruvian Rainforests of the Tambopata: Macaw Lick Extraordinaire [map] tours invariably include watching the unbelievable spectacles of parrots and big macaws gathering in noisy, early-morning flocks to major clay licks (or ccollpas) by the hundreds. The ccollpa on the banks of the Tambopata, a short walk from our lodge at Tambopata Research Center, is still the largest known macaw lick. Tha Tambopata tour also features a fair possibility of seeing an active Harpy Eagle nest, tracked by natives of the Infierno community, owners of Pousada Amazonas, our first lodge.
Our Mountains of Manu tours (see more below) range down into the Amazonian rainforests as well, including a nice sampling of rainforest species that occur (or prefer) 1500-1700 feet, but not the majority of the effete lowlanders.
Each of these tours features canopy platforms offering different opportunities, from being right in the midst of a slow-moving canopy flock with time to enjoy at close range such specialties as Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak and Sclater’s and Chestnut-shouldered antwrens (at Manu Wildlife Center) to watching a troop of big woolly monkeys foraging all around you (at Amazonia Lodge on the Mountains of Manu tour).
Among these Amazonian tours, Manu Wildlife Center alone offers private bathroom facilities for the whole tour; reaching MWC involves a scenic, two-day transect from Cusco, first by bus across the crest of the eastern Andean cordillera and down the east slope through Manu National Park (broken by an overnight at Cock-of-the-rock Lodge) to the Rio Madre de Dios, followed by an exciting boat trip downriver for the remainder of the day. By contrast, on our Peruvian Rainforests of the Tambopata tour, we fly from Lima to Puerto Maldonado, where we travel by motorized dugout two hours to Posada Amazonas, the first of our two lodges along the Rio Tambopata; crossing the Andes is by commercial flights, but (if they operate on schedule) you’ll reach the rainforest a day sooner. Read our detailed itineraries, available from the right sidebar of each tour’s page, for help choosing among these trips.
Our Andean tours are transects or loops through a wide range of habitats, often rich in localized Peruvian endemics. So young, rugged, and complex are the Andes in Peru that a large number of species have been isolated for a very long time, resulting in a high percentage of narrowly range-restricted species. For example, the genus Incaspiza, itself endemic to Peru, consists of five species of inca-finches, each restricted to a local section of Andean slopes and valleys in central or northern Peru. Each of our Andean tours encounters an impressive number of such specialties, as well as many of the widespread Andean classics, from Torrent Duck and White-capped Dipper to Golden-headed Quetzal and an amazing array of multi-colored tanagers, for which the east-slope forest is justifiably famous. And the settings for our birding are invariably magnificent, the climates pleasantly cool. Each tour usually includes a few steep (and sometimes muddy) trails and some high elevations. The accommodations range from camping (on some) to staying in first-class hotels. If you prefer a cooler climate and are not bothered by high altitude, you may want to select one of these tours.
Our Machu Picchu & Abra Malaga, Peru tour [map] is unique among our offerings. It combines a world-class archeological site with some fabulous birding in the shadow of a snow-capped peak and on southern Peru’s humid east slope (complete with Masked Fruiteater, Inca Wren, Parodi’s Hemispingus, and a handful of other endemics), all the while basing in relative luxury! For birders unaffected by high elevation (14,200 feet at the pass at Abra Malaga) and a few steep trails (like to your room or among the ruins)—but not indifferent to a passing Andean Condor—this is the way to see Machu Picchu.
Our Mountains of Manu tour [map] also bases in comfort and enjoys a terrific range of habitats, from 1500 to almost 13,000 feet. From the arid intermontane Cusco valley, we climb (by bus) endemic-rich, scrubby slopes to the high puna zone and then descend from tree line, at the boundary of Manu National Park, through temperate and subtropical cloud forest down to the foothill zone at the eastern base of the Andes.
While based at a comfortable lodge at 4600 feet, we bird up and down one of the “birdiest” roads in the world, which ribbons its way through uncontained wilderness full of flagship east-slope species (like lekking Andean Cocks-of-the-rock!) and a handful of endemics and regional specialties. Then, after crossing the Alto Rio Madre de Dios, we have four full days of birding on trails in upper tropical rainforest while based at the lovely elevation of 1600 feet, at Amazonia Lodge, its gardens abuzz with a dozen species of hummingbirds. If you don’t mind lighting your room with candles (at our higher-elevation lodge) or sharing some well-kept bathrooms down the way (at our foothills lodge), this tour would be a natural followup to Machu Picchu & Abra Malaga for extending your Andean birding.
Our Northern Peru: Endemics Galore tour [map] transects the Andes (in three weeks) from the coastal deserts and foothills in the west to the crest of the western cordillera, through arid intermontane valleys, including that of the great Rio Marañon; up over the eastern cordillera to the humid forests of the east slope that spill down to the foothills. While overlapping some with the avifauna of southern Ecuador (especially in Tumbesia), most of the birds are different, especially south of the Marañon. We loop back to the western Andes through treeline forest, puna grassland, and vast intermontane desert valleys to the south, ending at a luxury hotel in Cajamarca. The focus is on the many endemics and regional specialties, from White-winged Guan, Long-whiskered Owlet, and Marvelous Spatuletail to some rather undistinguished-looking furnariids and difficult-to-see antpittas and tapaculos. It offers our most complete coverage of northern Peru, and, as a result, involves several basic hotels and two nights of (outfitted) camping.
Our Peru’s Magnetic North: Spatuletails, Owlet Lodge & More tour [map] is a 12-day trip that concentrates on the extraordinary Abra Patricia area and Alto Mayo cloud forest visited by our Northern Peru tour with some additional birding on the east slope, in a transect from Tarapoto. It requires no camping and uses comfortable hotels throughout. Both northern tours use the lovely Owlet Lodge as a base for birding the humid east slope, and both have excellent chances for an adult male Spatuletail and increasing chances for the legendary Long-whiskered Owlet.
Our Central Peruvian Endemics: the High Andes tour, which focuses on the many high-Andean endemics of central Peru (more than on any other of our Peru tours!) amid extraordinarily scenic settings, includes wilderness camping at an 11,000-foot bog and is a good choice for the physically fit. By bus from Lima we make an extraordinarily scenic loop that includes coastal lomas, Huascaran National Park (considered by Peruvians “the jewel of Peru”), the Carpish Mountains (from Bay Antpittas to Golden-backed Mountain-Tanagers), and Lake Junin (and a chance for its flightless grebe). It’s 18 days long and climaxes with Diademed Sandpiper-Plover and White-bellied Cinclodes at 15,500 feet, after two weeks of acclimatization. It will be offered again in June of 2012.
Have a look through our offerings by visiting the links above. There’s much to discover in Peru!