Lodge Review: Kolibri Hostel, Pereira

For an independent birder who was basically “winging it” in Colombia, we had specific needs when we arrived in Pereira.  Our target bird was the Fuertes Parrot in a remote area near Santa Rosa de Cabal but we would need hired transport, preferably at backpacker prices.  So that is why I chose a backpacker lodge for this part of the trip.  The Kolibri Hostel was well recommended on Trip Advisor and it turned out to be a very cool hostel with friendly staff who speak English well and were very helpful.

The decor in the public areas is very cool, lots of unique artwork which I love!

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Friendly staff who understand the needs of budget travelers and booked our car & driver at a good price.  dscn3418

Upstairs there is a common use kitchen and a few bathrooms & toilets which are shared.  We had a double room with use of shared facilities.  dscn3417 dscn3411 dscn3410

I want these hummingbird decorations!dscn3409

Basic room which was fine for the night.dscn3408

Nice verandah with view over the city.  dscn3412 dscn3413 dscn3414 dscn3415 dscn3416

A few birds seen from the verandah below the hostel.

Blue-grey Tanager

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Blue-and-white Swallow img_6629

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More hummingbird decorations!dscn3425

Clean, modern bathroom.dscn3424

Seriously, for less than $20 you can’t beat it!  The car they booked for us was around 150,000 COP iirc so around $50 USD-ish which was an excellent value and they have some cool handicrafts for sale at the front desk, especially beaded bird earrings so I went a bit nuts.  Credit cards are accepted.

Birding The Termales Del Ruiz Garden

High in the Nevados del Ruiz, the hotel at the Termales del Ruiz has a lovely little garden with lots of hummingbirds.  You have to pay 18,000 COP admission to the thermal pool to enter the gardens even if you aren’t planning to swim.  I wouldn’t have minded a swim but the high altitude was making my husband woozy so I just ran in for about 20 minutes to see the hummingbirds and any other birds that happened by.

It’s quite an attractive hotel and I would have liked to spend a night here if it weren’t for the 3500 metres altitude.

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Great view of Manizales!dscn3272 dscn3274 dscn3277 dscn3278 dscn3275 dscn3276

I should have prayed harder for those elusive photos!dscn3303 dscn3305 dscn3307 dscn3308 dscn3314 dscn3316 dscn3315 dscn3313 img_6168

Even a quick walk around the garden produced hundreds of hummingbirds that were buzzing around everywhere!  I couldn’t keep up with them and the guide didn’t speak English or know all the species even in Spanish.  He wasn’t a birding guide, just a hotel employee.

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Shining Sunbeam dscn3286

Black-thighed Puffleg dscn3295

Buff-winged Starfrontlet dscn3298 img_6161 img_6163 img_6166 img_6176 img_6177 img_6185 img_6190

Rainbow-bearded Thornbill img_6197 img_6198 img_6202 img_6203 img_6226 img_6230 img_6238 img_6239 img_6242 img_6250 img_6251 img_6254 img_6269 img_6271 img_6295 img_6313 img_6326 img_6335 img_6352 img_6364 img_6374

When I first entered, I had shown a picture of a Rufous-fronted Parakeet to the guide and asked him to be on the lookout for the “periquitos”.  We had heard them in the trees down the road from the hotel but didn’t get a good look.  So I was really excited to hear some parrot-y squawks while walking through the garden.   I asked the guide “periquitos” and he nodded and led me to a better vantage point.  I barely had time to watch a pair of Rufous-fronted Parakeets zoom overhead and disappear into the fog.  Unfortunately “Hail Mary” wasn’t on my side that day as all I got was this shot.img_6368

At least I did see them, albeit very briefly!  I wanted to get Ina back down to a lower altitude so we left right afterwards and headed back to Manizales.  When we got back, the drive got a call just as we were about to go to the bus station with the news that the Golden-plumed Parakeets were at Rio Blanco, so off we went!

 

Hotel Review: Quo Quality Hotel, Manizales, Colombia

We had been birding for the last few weeks and  were about halfway through the trip and exhausted so we decided to take a time out and relax in a hotel with a spa where we could get a massage.  I did some hunting online and found the Quo Quality Hotel which is a decent small hotel in Manizales.  The reviews looked good so we booked a night for some R&R.

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That yellow building next door is a small shopping centre with a supermarket and a few fast food places.dscn3242

The rooms are spotlessly clean and very modern looking.  The wifi worked great too!dscn3245 dscn3244

Great views from the spa area on top.dscn3248 dscn3247

There was a group monopolizing the area during the day (which I was pretty annoyed about) and we had to wait for them to leave before we could use the spa and have our massages.  Finally we were allowed in and could relax!  The spa changes colours which was pretty cool!dscn3249 dscn3250 dscn3251

Quo Quality fit the bill for our need to chill out and relax but  I’d recommend making sure there are no private events that clash with your stay.  I booked with Hotels.com so I could get closer to a free night after 10 paid nights deal but they are available on most online hotel agencies.

Lodge Review: Rio Blanco Reserve, Manizales

The Rio Blanco Reserve just outside Manizales is a highlight of any birding trip to Colombia.  Although it sounds complicated to get there, it really isn’t but you do have to organize it in advance (details below).

We were dropped at the reserve by our guide from Jardin, Diego who communicated with the locals to get the directions here in Spanish.  If you are starting in Manizales, the local taxis probably know how to get here.  The gate will be locked and they only open it to people who are pre-booked.  It’s a good idea to reconfirm by email a couple days ahead so they remember you are coming.

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An attractive hostel is situated in rolling green countryside with spectacular views from the terrace.  dscn3155 dscn3153

This was our room which was a decent hostel style.dscn3152 dscn3145

We arrived pretty late in the afternoon so just time enough to see a few hummers and watch the sunset.  Excellent meals can be booked at the same time you make your overnight booking and you should do this as there are no other places to eat nearby.dscn3148 dscn3151

We got an early start the next morning to bird the Rio Blanco trail.  Ina was tired and stayed behind to relax and watch hummingbirds on the verandah.dscn3223 dscn3224 dscn3219

The dining room has some nice informational posters and bird art (unfortunately not for sale).  Take the time to learn about the amazing birds you will see here!dscn3233 dscn3232 dscn3228 dscn3227 dscn3226 dscn3225

There is a spectacled bear in an enclosure just outside the hostel area.dscn3221

 

HOW TO BOOK

Send an email to reservarioblanco@aguasdemanizales.com.co  with your names, dates and if you want a day visit or overnight accommodation.  Specify if you want a guide who speaks English (costs a bit extra) or are happy with a Spanish speaker (probably Albeiro who knows the birds very well).  Use Google Translate to translate into Spanish and paste this translation into the email but keep the English for your records.  They will reply in Spanish and you can easily keep using Google Translate to communicate with them.  You will pay on arrival in cash at the hostel.

Rates as of April 2016:
COP $ 70,000 per person (not including food).  The food was reasonably priced, somewhere in the 20-30,000 COP range.  Half day guided birding COP $ 30,000 for 2 people or full day $ 60,000 for two people.

We had already booked the next day in Manizales so we could have some spa time for R&R and I could organize a driver to go to the Paramo the next day.  It turns out that Albeiro can organize this driver (who is familiar with the needs of birders) so we could have stayed an extra day.

Want to see the birds?  Stay tuned!

Hotel Review: Valdivia Plaza

Jardin, Antioquia, Colombia was the only place on this trip we didn’t have a pre-booked room.  My research showed that there were enough budget hotels in town and I figured it would be easiest to just get one as soon as we got off the bus.

We were lucky, the bus stopped right in front of the Valdivia Plaza and they had rooms we could afford and they even took credit cards!   I had remembered the name from preliminary research on Trip Advisor and knew it would be a decent place.

The location is superb, right on the main plaza with restaurants and a small market just outside.

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Small but functional and clean roomdscn2997 dscn2998

Wifi only works in the restaurant near the reception.dscn2999 dscn3000

Cathedral in the main plaza dscn3002 dscn3012

The market has some food stalls and random stuff but nothing artistic that interested me.dscn3004 dscn3003 dscn3005

Margarita’s Restaurant is just across the plaza from Valdivia Plaza and has a good budget menu.

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Lodge Review: Hotel Minca – La Casona

When I was researching accommodation in Minca, I noticed that people kept raving about the hummingbird feeders at Hotel Minca La Casona so it was an easy choice!  Circumstances made us arrive after dark but we did get a good look around early the next morning.

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The one thing I would have liked is if the restaurant had been open for dinner or at least sandwiches.  We were just too tired (having woken up at 4:30am for birding) to walk into town.dscn2897 dscn2898

Nice bird posters on the walls in the lobby/restaurant.dscn2899 dscn2900

Rooms along an attractive corridor that also had some nice artwork.dscn2901

Our room was fairly simple but functional.  dscn2903 dscn2904 dscn2905 dscn2907

The corridors overlook some nice gardens and a swimming pool.  We had a morning walk around looking for birds.dscn2908 dscn2911 dscn2912 dscn2910

Hummingbirds were already gathering near the feeders just outside the restaurant.  The feeders were empty so I chased up one of the workers to come fill them up.  dscn2913 dscn2914

The hummingbirds lost no time in getting their breakfast!dscn2915 dscn2917 dscn2918 dscn2924 dscn2928

We were also served breakfast (included in the rate).dscn2951 dscn2953

But it’s more fun to watch hummingbirds eating!dscn2932 dscn2940 dscn2946 dscn2949 img_5393 img_5400 img_5427 img_5430 img_5436 img_5479 img_5492 img_5495 img_5447

The breakfast area overlooked a valley where we could see several parrot species flying through – Blue-headed Parrots & Orange-chinned Parakeets.  No Military Macaws though.img_5459 img_5464 img_5467 img_5473 img_5500 img_5504 img_5507

We hung around most of the morning to enjoy the birds, then had the receptionist call a taxi to take us to the airport which cost around 50-60,000 COP.  We could have saved a few pesos but taking a collectivo but that would have wasted time I would rather spend watching the birds!

You can book this pleasant little hotel directly on their website or via a few online hotel agencies like Booking.com.

Lodge Review: El Dorado Reserve, Colombia

The El Dorado Reserve is the flagship of the ProAves Conservation group and was founded over 10 years ago.  Their location high atop the Cuchilla de San Lorenzo, in the western sector of the northern slope of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta provides access to many Colombian endemic birds such as the Santa Marta Parakeet.  This place is a must for any birding trip to Colombia!

I’d like to say that getting there is half the fun but nothing compares to getting from the lodge to the birding location further up!

A welcome sight after the bumpy ride!

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A restaurant with a view!dscn2683 dscn2684

Some nice handicrafts made by localsdscn2685 dscn2686

The verandah looks out over the grounds and you can see some of the hummingbird feeders.  I’ll have to so a separate post for the birds as there are so many.dscn2687 dscn2688 dscn2689

We had a jennian room with a private balcony.  The room was beautifully furnished and the view was amazing!dscn2690 dscn2692 dscn2694 dscn2695 dscn2696 dscn2698 dscn2699

We went back to the restaurant for lunch and to look for birds.dscn2712 dscn2713

The second story of the main building has another viewing terrace and a cozy lounge to relax and talk to other birders.dscn2714 dscn2715 dscn2716 dscn2717 dscn2718

The lounge is decorated with conservation posters.dscn2719 dscn2720 dscn2721

Amazing sunset!dscn2736 dscn2739

Educational video about ProAves and the El Dorado Reservedscn2741Dinner was quite tasty with local home-made food and delicious juice. dscn2839 dscn2840 img_4839

El Dorado Lodge is easy to book on their website.  I recommend pre-paying the transfers and the morning birding excursion so you can use your credit card as much as possible.  They can accept credit cards at the lodge but only if the signal is working.  This lodge is an amazing experience and the staff clearly love what they do and their contribution to conservation.  Highly recommended!

Hotel Review: La Casa del Farol Hotel Boutique

La Casa del Farol Hotel Boutique is a very attractive small hotel in the historic center of Santa Marta, Colombia.  We were only here for one night as our main focus was getting up to El Dorado Reserve for birding but if we had more time, we would have enjoyed staying here.

The building is very nice and only 5 minutes walk from the main square.

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Small pool in the courtyardDSCN2625

Breakfast areaDSCN2627

There were several courtyards with seating and some tables for breakfast.DSCN2626 DSCN2624

The rooms all have some kind of theme.  We got one with a Chinese theme which was very surreal after that late night arrival in Colombia, then waking up to THIS!  I had to remind myself that we were actually in Colombia!  The wifi was spotty, I could only use it from the room with the door open and laying on the bed nearest the door.DSCN2623 DSCN2614 DSCN2613 DSCN2616 DSCN2618 DSCN2617 DSCN2619 DSCN2621

Breakfast was really good, eggs cooked to order, toast, juice, sausage and Colombian coffee of course!DSCN2628

We really liked this small, atmospheric hotel and would choose it again if we ever come back.  You can book direct with the hotel on their website but I had some Orbucks in my account that I combined with a $50 off $100 purchase and ended up getting it for free!

The location is perfect, right in the historic center and walking distance to just about everything.  A taxi from the airport has a fixed rate of around 27,000 pesos.

Lodge Review: Guango Lodge (Short Visit), Ecuador

Although we didn’t stay in Guango Lodge and only made a day visit, I am going to list this in the accommodation as they do provide excellent accommodation at a super reasonable price and it’s about 1 hour from the airport by taxi, a bit more if you use the bus.  We didn’t have enough days in our schedule to spend a night here but we would have if we had the time.  And if we ever have a flight from Quito Airport after 12 noon (which allows for morning birding, breakfast, transport and check in) we will definitely stay here.

The sign is easily spotted if you are coming from Quito, it’s on your right.  If you are coming from Coca or San Isidro, it’s on your left and you need to watch carefully and let the bus driver know.

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Alejandro from Cabanas San Isidro had called ahead and they were expecting us so there was a gentleman waiting at the gate who grabbed our backpacks and led us to the main building.DSCN2457

Hummingbird feeders are scattered around the property so you can walk the trails and see them all.  If you aren’t an overnight guest, there is a $5 entry fee that also includes coffee or tea.DSCN2458 DSCN2459

The very attractive dining room has a nice porch with lots of hummingbird feeders and you can shelter there from the rain.DSCN2460 DSCN2461 DSCN2462 DSCN2463 DSCN2464

We did pretty well in our 2 hour visit getting good looks at most of the resident hummingbirds and one flowerpiercer.  If you spend the night, you have a better chance to see more birds as you can make an early start.  Here’s the full bird list.DSCN2541a DSCN2589 DSCN2586

Collared Inca maleDSCN2488

Collared Inca femaleDSCN2580

Chestnut-breasted Coronet DSCN2473 DSCN2479 DSCN2494 DSCN2510 DSCN2553 DSCN2554 DSCN2556 DSCN2559 DSCN2561

Buff-winged Starfrontlet DSCN2579

Tourmaline Sunangel – scroll down to see the flashy violet throat! DSCN2483 DSCN2504 DSCN2495 DSCN2499 DSCN2524 DSCN2543 DSCN2545 DSCN2546 DSCN2550 DSCN2551 DSCN2552 DSCN2548 DSCN2537 DSCN2534 DSCN2530 DSCN2529

White-bellied Woodstar DSCN2528

Masked FlowerpiercerDSCN2520 DSCN2573 DSCN2574

There was a Sword-billed Hummingbird hanging around the flowers but I couldn’t get a clear shot!DSCN2576 DSCN2477

Not bad for 2 hours in a rainy day!

Lodge Review: Cabanas San Isidro

Cabanas San Isidro is a beautiful eco-lodge set high in a cloud forest only 2 hours from the Quito Airport.  You can easily get there by bus from either Quito, Coca or Wildsumaco Lodge.  When booking, we were told to get off the bus in Cosanga, walk to a particular small roadside restaurant and call them and they would come and get us.  It was pouring rain as you can see!

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They assigned us to a beautiful cabin with a spectacular view over the cloud forest.  DSCN2292

I didn’t want to step on the macaw!DSCN2294

The cabin was gorgeous, spotlessly clean and very attractively furnished.DSCN2293 DSCN2295 DSCN2296 DSCN2298

And the view to die for……………..well bird for!  The rain wasn’t letting up so we hung out on the balcony looking for birds.  DSCN2297

It rained most of the afternoon but it finally did let up for awhile.  DSCN2299 DSCN2300

I was in “give up” mode and not really paying attention when I heard parrot squawks.  I barely had time to reach for my camera (which I had put down as it was heavy) but the two White-capped Parrots disappeared into the trees on the left.  I think they perched as I could still hear them but they must have taken off shortly afterwards.  I was hoping they would come back, or more would fly by but they didn’t.  DSCN2301 DSCN2302

The rain had let up enough to walk down to the main building and it was getting close to dinner time so we walked down.DSCN2303

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Map of the trails which we had planned on walking but not in the rain!DSCN2410 DSCN2409

The dining room is beautiful with some nice bird artwork on the walls.  They also have a nice selection of bird books.  Some people have posted on Trip Advisor that wifi is available but it wasn’t working they day we were there.  (This would later become very important).DSCN2317 DSCN2318 DSCN2319

We were there in time to see a few straggling hummingbirds before they turned in fo rthe night.  Then we sat down for dinner.  Alejandro, the very friendly manager joined us.DSCN2320

At this point, I should mention that the day we were there was 16 April, the day of the big earthquake.  I did a separate post about that as this post is meant to review the property.  The food was excellent!DSCN2321 DSCN2322

In spite of the outside influences (rain, earthquake) we really loved Cabanas San Isidro and wish we could have stayed longer.  The grounds are amazing and there are lots of birds (will do a separate post for birds), and the local guide is excellent!  He even found the rare San Isidro Owl for us!  The staff were “grace under pressure” while the earthquake was happening.  We felt it shake the buildings and everyone was nervous but not panicky and Alejandro got information as quickly as he could when he could get a signal.  You can book directly with the lodge.  The lodge gets rave reviews on Trip Advisor too!  We would definitely stay here again if we ever get back to Ecuador!