You might not be aware of this fact: Colombia is one of the countries with the highest biodiversity in the planet. Besides having the highest number of animal and vegetable species per square kilometer anywhere in the world, Colombia has the highest number of recorded species of amphibians and birds and more than 50,000 types of flowering plants recorded. It is not surprising that scientists and eco-tourists are heading to Colombia in larger numbers every year.
In this month’s interview with travellers from diverse backgrounds that have been to Colombia we have had the fortune of speaking with Mr Phil Yates, English wild life photographer with a passion for birds.
We would like to wholeheartedly thank Phil for taking the time to answer our questions and share his views about Colombia with us. For those of you who are into bird watching and ecotourism, we are certain that you will find Phil’s account extremely interesting and hopefully enticing enough to make you consider Colombia as your next destination.
To see more of Phil’s work we invite you to check his website by clicking this link.
As usual, we would love to read your comments below.
The Uncover Colombia Team
Tell us something about yourself
My name is Phil Yates and I live in the UK, currently dividing my time between Cambridgeshire and Lancashire. For the past 12 years or so I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to travel quite widely around this incredible world of ours, indulging my interests in wildlife and photography.
Why did you decide to visit Colombia?
Having an interest in wildlife and birds in particular, I discovered that Colombia has more species of birds than any other country on the planet! To date, some 1,870 species of birds have been recorded in Colombia, 73 of those being ‘endemic’ species (species not found anywhere else in the world). Also, there are undoubtedly more new species waiting to be discovered due to parts of Colombia being relatively unexplored by naturalists. I was also aware of the wonderful landscapes and scenery that a trip to Colombia had to offer.
What sort of things did you like?
There were so many things that I liked! Highlights included:
Visiting the Paramo zone high up in the Andes-this is a beautiful and fragile habitat containing many unusual plants, the most spectacular of which being the Espeletia (or Frailejon) plant. This is an endangered habitat and it was wonderful to see how relatively undisturbed it still is in Colombia.
Visiting the Santa Marta mountains in the north-east of Colombia, within sight of the Caribbean coast, was another highlight. I stayed at one of the reserve lodges run by the ProAves conservation organisation, high up in the mountains. These mountains abound with unique animals and plants-only recently a species of small mammal, thought to have been long since lost to science, was rediscovered running around the lodge buildings one evening by a group of startled researchers! The lodge grounds are full of hummingbird feeders and flowering plants-you can sit really close to a myriad of hummingbirds as they buzz around, fighting and feeding with seemingly boundless energy. The view from the lodge is legendary and it is claimed that this is possibly the best place in the world to regularly see stunning sunsets-the sky turning beautiful shades of red and orange as the sun dips down to the calm Caribbean horizon.
What didn’t you like?
There was very little that I didn’t like! We did undertake some very long road journeys, in particular driving almost the full length of the central Magdalena valley. As this is at a low altitude, the journey did become quite hot and tiring, but that was mainly because the vehicle didn’t have air-conditioning!
What was your favourite experience?
My favourite experience was when we went in search of the very rare and endangered Yellow-eared Parrot. A reserve has been purchased high in the western Andes where the wax palm trees that these wonderful parrots nest in have been protected, as these trees themselves are endangered. A pair of these majestic parrots flew right over my head and landed in the tree right behind me! It was quite an emotional moment.
Did you have any problems finding accommodation, transport, food etc?
Not really. I stayed at a range of lodges and hotels throughout the country and they were all clean and comfortable. Mostly we drove from place to place and there were some long drives involved, but the main roads were generally in good condition and there were not regular military check-points, such as were often encountered when I travelled around Venezuela. The food was fine, typical South American fare.
Which other countries did you visit besides Colombia and how did these compare?
It is said that Colombia is the most ‘European’ of South American countries and I certainly found this to be the case when compared with my previous trips to Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina. When we stayed in the beautiful small town of Jardin, south of Medellin, the atmosphere in the town square in the evenings made me almost forget that I was in South America at all and that I was somewhere in rural Spain instead. I definitely felt safer whilst travelling around Colombia than I did whilst exploring Venezuela.
Which image did you have of Colombia before going?
I knew that Colombia would be a fascinating country to visit and that there would be many spectacular sights and wonderful wildlife. Sadly I also had the image that Colombia was an unsafe and risky country to visit due the problems caused by the illegal drugs trade and the FARC rebel group campaigns of violence.
Did this image change after your trip?
Well, Colombia turned out to be even more spectacular than I had imagined! I also found Colombia to be a safe and welcoming country to visit. I certainly felt much safer whilst travelling around Colombia than I did in Venezuela, for example.
Would you like to come back?
Definitely! I would love to return to Colombia to explore other parts of this fascinating country. Whilst I was there I was acutely aware that there were so many places that would have to wait ‘until next time’.
What would you recommend to someone considering Colombia as destination?
Do not be afraid to visit Colombia! The beautiful Caribbean coastline. The wonderful, cool Santa Marta mountains. The high Andes with it’s spectacular landscapes. The many wonderful small Andean towns such as Jardin. I would recommend visits to all of these places and more!
Any final thoughts?
I really think that, now that Colombia is a safe destination for tourism again, it is the ‘unexplored jewel’ in the South American crown. Now is the time to plan your first visit to this wonderful land of so much variety and beauty.
- Colombia’s Biodiversity (uncovercolombia.wordpress.com)
- Uncover Colombia interview: Tom’s experience learning Spanish and touring the country (uncovercolombia.wordpress.com)
- Uncover Colombia interview: Nienke and Larry (uncovercolombia.wordpress.com)
- Scouting trip around Sesquilé, Guatavita and La Calera (uncovercolombia.wordpress.com)