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Peru: Field Guides Birding Tours

Peru is one of the most diverse countries on Earth for birds — and one of the most spectacular, as the images below will reveal. Here we present additional information 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. Dan Lane co-authored the most popular field guide to this large and diverse country and spends much of each northern summer in Peru, and Jesse Fagan regularly guides our Machu Picchu & Abra Malaga tour and is based in Lima. And don’t be surprised to run across several of our other veteran guides 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.

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, classic icon of the majestic mountain backbone of Peru, photographed by participant Steve Wakeham on our Mountains of Manu tour

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, classic icon of the majestic mountain backbone of Peru, photographed by participant Steve Wakeham on our Mountains of Manu tour

Our tours can be viewed biogeographically, dividing into Amazonian destinations, north vs. south of the Amazon; and Andean destinations, north, central, and southeastern.

AMAZONIA

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.

macaws in southeastern Peru

Blue-and-yellow and Scarlet macaws visiting the famous ccollpa (mineral lick) on our Peruvian Rainforests of the Tampobata tour. Photo by guide Dave Stejskal.

Southern Amazonian Peru

Our visits to Amazonia in 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 Peruvian Rainforests of the Tambopata: Macaw Lick Extraordinaire [map] tour 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. The 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.

Complementing Machu Picchu is our visit to Abra Malaga, where Cerro Veronica dominates the landscape at the high pass. (Photo by guide Jesse Fagan)

Complementing Machu Picchu is our visit to Abra Malaga, where Cerro Veronica dominates the landscape at the high pass. (Photo by guide Jesse Fagan)

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 numerous avian specialties to watching a troop of  monkeys foraging all around you.

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 the tour’s page, for all the details of our Peruvian Rainforests tour.

Spectacular Machu Picchu changes moods with sun and cloud. (Photo by guide Jesse Fagan)

Spectacular Machu Picchu changes moods with sun and cloud. (Photo by guide Jesse Fagan)

THE ANDES

Our Andean tours are transects or loops through a wide range of habitats, often rich in localized Peruvian endemics. So young (geologically speaking), 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.

A dynamite Rufous-crested Coquette -- one gem among dozens of hummingbirds possible on our various Peru tours, in particular in the Andes. (Photo by participant Steve Wakeham)

A dynamite Rufous-crested Coquette — one gem among dozens of hummingbirds possible on our various Peru tours, in particular in the Andes. (Photo by participant Steve Wakeham)

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.

The view from Wayqecha over fabulous forest on our Mountains of Manu tour (Photo by guide Dan Lane)

The view from Wayqecha over fabulous forest on our Mountains of Manu tour (Photo by guide Dan Lane)

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, we enjoy several days in the lower foothills where the lowlands meet the mountains near the start of the Rio Alto Madre de Dios. If you want to see the breadth of birding from the rim of the Amazon to the snowline, this tour would be a natural followup to Machu Picchu & Abra Malaga for extending your Andean birding.

The Marañon river valley in northern Peru is one of the most scenic in the country. (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

The Marañon river valley in northern Peru is one of the most scenic in the country. (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

Our Northern Peru: Endemics Galore tour [map] transects the Andes (in under 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, then up over the eastern cordillera to the rim of 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 and north of the Rio Chamaya), 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, including a luxury hotel in Cajamarca near the famous Inca hot springs, and return to the coast. The focus is on the many endemics and regional specialties, from White-winged Guan and Marvelous Spatuletail to some rather undistinguished-looking furnariids and difficult-to-see antpittas and tapaculos. It targets the varied avifauna of northwestern Peru, and allows comparisons across the North Peruvian Low (the arid valley of the Chamaya/ Marañon rivers), one of the most important avian biogeographic barriers of the Andes. This is a newly revamped itinerary and no longer includes camping.

Birding in the Lomas de Lachay in the coastal foothills north of Lima (Photo by participant Daphne Gemmill)

Birding in the Lomas de Lachay in the coastal foothills north of Lima (Photo by participant Daphne Gemmill)

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 with some additional birding on the east slope, in a transect from Tarapoto. This is one of the birdiest regions of the country, with a possibility of about 500 species in a very small area, and probably more species that have been discovered new to science since 1970 than perhaps any other tour we run! It requires no camping and uses comfortable hotels throughout, and we don’t get any higher than about 9000 feet in elevation. We use the lovely Owlet Lodge as a base for birding the humid east slope, and have good-to-excellent chances for an adult male Spatuletail and the legendary Long-whiskered Owlet.

Our Central Peruvian Endemics: The High Andes tour [map] seeks the many upper-elevation endemics and specialties of the central Peruvian Andes—from White-cheeked Cotinga and Golden-backed Mountain-Tanager to White-bellied Cinclodes and many more—amid some of the finest montane scenery in the world. It includes days at very high elevations (birding nearly to 15,000 feet!), and a couple of nights of camping, but with rewards that should make these efforts worth it! This tour is offered every few years in our schedule.

Have a look through our offerings by visiting the links above. There’s much to discover in Peru!

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