Puna Rhea in Parque Nacional Lauca, Chile

Alto Andino Nature Tours

Birding itineraries for northern Chile

All tours are customized; reservations required. Choose full tours or guide service in your own rental car.   Consider the following itineraries as suggestions as we nearly always adjust the route according to the time of year and the experience of the birders or photographers. We can easily adjust any itinerary for non-birding partners or for those who are more oriented towards ecology.     

The boat trip is optional, there are other choices like more time with hummingbirds, or for photography. These routes pass through interesting botanical habitat and you'll see thousands of camelids and maybe Andean Deer and other highland mammals.  Tours available year round. 

Looking for just a few certain species?  Inquire for dedicated birding for the specialties.  B. Knapton guides all birding tours for Alto Andino.

Right:  Inca Terns, Larosterna inca.  They nest in the harbor of Arica, and are easy to get close to.     All photos ©  B. Knapton

Inca terns near Iquique, Larosterna inca, gaviotin monja

SLICE OF THE ANDES FOR THE BIRDS: 18º S, Arica to Lauca National Park, ends Arica or Iquique

3 to 5 days

Arica, Putre, Parque Nacional Lauca, extension to Ramsar Site Salar de Surire, Atacama Desert to Iquique. Available all year, also can be adjusted to begin and end tour in Arica.   Habitats include near-shore marine, rocky and sandy beaches, small estuary, native and agricultural vegetation of the transverse valleys, precordillera cactus scrub, high Andes lakes and cushion bogs, salt flats, and Polylepis.

Day 1:  Start Arica:  Beach birding for our only geo-political endemic, the Chilean Seaside-cinclodes, ("the most maritime of all passerine birds") and for oystercatchers, Inca Terns, turnstones, Surfbirds, etc.  optional boat trip to Humboldt Penguin colony or marine environs of Arica.   Instead of boat trip, choose more time for observing or photographing hummingbirds, in a garden especially dedicated to hummer and butterfly flowers.   

Afternoon visit to tiny estuary for herons, shorebirds, ducks, coots, and shorebirds.  Then up to Putre stopping along the way to look for Peruvian Thick-knee, Bran-colored Flycatcher, Peruvian Pygmy-Owl, and the new genera and species that begin with the ascent up the foothills of the Andes.  Overnight in Putre, at 3,550 meters.             

Day 2
:  Morning in Parque Nacional Lauca,  introduction to cushion bogs and tola-grassland habitat. Everyone's target bird for Lauca:  Phegornis mitchelii, the Diademed Sandpiper-plover.  Afternoon birding in cactus-scrub and Polylepis habitats in the gorges near Putre.  Diademed Sandpiper-plover, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, Black-throated Flowerpiercer, White-fronted, Rufous-napped, Puna and Ochre-naped ground-tyrants, White-winged Cinclodes, Ornate Tinamou, White-throated Sierra-Finch, White-throated Earthcreeper, Mountain Parakeet, D’Orbigny’s and White-browed chat-tyrants, Magellanic Horned Owl, Straight-billed Earthcreeper, Aplomado Falcon, Golden-billed Saltator, other ground tyrants, earthcreepers, tit-tyrants, canasteros, sierra finches, seedeaters and hummingbirds.  Possible Giant Conebill, Thick-billed Siskin, Rufous-webbed Tyrant, Peruvian Pygmy Owl.  

Day 3:  Parque Nacional Lauca, wetland assemblages at Lago Chungará and Parinacota bofedal, tola grassland and riparian habitats.  National Monument Parinacota Village for an optional stop to see the lovely frescoes on the church walls. 
Chilean, Andean, James’ flamingos, Puna Tinamou, White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, Puna Rhea, Puna Teal, Giant and Andean coots,  Variable Hawk, Puna Ibis, Mt. Caracara, Black Siskin, Bright-rumped Yellow-Finch, Puna Plover, Puna Snipe, Andean Flicker, avocets, lapwings, ducks, grebes, canasteros, tit-spinetails.  

Day 4: A day for the Atacama Desert visiting Tamarugo mesquite (Prosopis), and the transverse valleys that provide corridors for altitudinal migration.  Tamarugo Conebill, Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant, Andean Swift, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, Slender-billed Finch, Chestnut-Throated Seedeater, Oasis Hummingbird, Chilean Woodstar, Croaking Ground-Dove and other arid-land birds.  End tour in Iquique.

Includes lunches, bottled water, use of spotting scope(s), bird lists, mammal lists, transportation, thermos jugs, etc.  Price for tour depends on group size, please inquire. This itinerary available all year.  This tour can also include wildflowers of the Atacama, which are found along the route in certain seasons.  Accommodations not included but we can help with recommendations.    

Pied-crested Tit-tyrant, Anairetes reguloides, left, and Slender-billed Finch, Xenospingus concolor, right  


Ramsar Site Salar de Surire extension, 4WD:  1 or 2 days,  starts and ends in Putre
Surire is the best place for flamingo photography, thermal baths, and for seeing Puna Rhea and Puna Tinamou. The Surire trip can include a night in the refugio at 4,300 meters above sea level. Or we can leave early from Putre and make the round trip in a full day.  Surire is an excellent example of an altiplano salar and an important breeding locality for Andean, Chilean, and a few James' flamingos.  Nearby Polylepis tarapacana copses may yield some surprises, and there's a chance for Rufous-webbed Tyrant, Puna Yellow-Finch, Red-backed Sierra-Finch, Puna Snipe, Gray-bellied Shrike-Tyrant, Thick-billed Siskin, Tawny-throated Dotterel, the black subspecies (Phrygilus fruticeti coracinus) of the Mourning Sierra-Finch.  At the Salar we like to look for armadillos and cuys, and to observe the (seasonal) colonies of nesting flamingos, albeit from afar.  Although Surire is a Natural Monument and Ramsar Site, extensive borax mining occurs there and some parts of the year there are many huge trucks that produce dust.  But then the miners maintain the road; we wouldn't be able to visit the site without that crucial road maintenance.  

   Arica -- lowland transverse valleys  -- Putre  -- PN Lauca   

Concentrated  birding for those short on time, or for those who have already seen some of our birds in Peru or Bolivia.  Mostly new birds each day as we gain in elevation.  

3 days, 2 nights.  Starts in Arica, BK guides.

Day 1: Starts early morning, beaches, transverse valleys, riparian habitat, overnight Putre.
Day 2: In the ravines, terraces, and microhabitats of the precordillera, overnight Putre. 
Day 3: In the altiplano portion of Parque Nacional Lauca. Tour ends in Putre or Arica or you can stay in Parque Lauca on your own after the tour for additional birding.  

cuervo de pantano de la puna or "swamp crow", the lovely Puna Ibis in Parque Nacional Lauca
Puna Ibis,  Plegadis ridgwayi  
in the setting sun, Lago Chungará 
© B. Knapton

How to save money on birding tours:
  choose a "semi-independent" tour.  There are several options, for instance you can take the bus to Putre, and/or take the bus back to Arica, thus saving tour costs on those independent days.  Another way to save money for those with rental cars, Barb's guide service is now available in 2 forms, short day and long day.  Please inquire.

birding opportunity for Lauca and Putre,  good for semi-independent birders.  Time to really look at birds, observe behavior, practice your ID skills, do some photography, sketching, hike around, and breathe good fresh air in the Andes.  Partly guided, partly independent, can be any number of days.

Semi independent:   guided tour precordillera and Parque Nacional Lauca
Day 1:  Come to Putre on public bus, leaves Arica at 6:45 am.  Arrives Putre 10 am.  No guide service this day, you bird or hike on your own, overnight in Putre.  
Day 2:  More birding on your own, walking around Putre, acclimatizing to the altitude.  Overnight  Putre.
Day 3:  Guided tour with BK to Polylepis grove and other precordilleran habitats near Putre.  Chance to go over ID's of birds seen on independent days. Overnight Putre.
Day 4:  To Lauca Park with BK.  Diademed Sandpiper-plover, visit cushion bogs, wetlands as described above.  Optional visit to historic Parinacota.  Back to Putre for the night.
Day 5:  Morning hiking, birding, etc.  Guided or unguided.  Take bus down to Arica at 1:30 pm.

Day tour from Arica (all low elevation) 
This 1 day tour with BK concentrates on habitats in Arica and nearby valleys.  Sandy and rocky beaches, watered valleys, estuary, hummingbird areas, olive plantations, introduction to native vegetation of the Atacama Desert.   Includes optional beach walks to seabird roosts and historic guano collection sites.  Good option for those who have only 1 day to spend in Arica, or for those who prefer not to ascend to higher elevations. Great for cruise ship travelers who are tired of the same old "city tour" and would prefer to have a private nature tour.   


Itineraries:  birding   nature   wildflowers   cruise ship shore birding       Birds & Fauna:   resources    area birds    Puna Rhea   Diademed Sandpiper-plover   Giant Conebill   Torrent Duck   James' Flamingo   seabirds   Andean Lapwing   Andean Deer    birding in Patagonia   Hornby's and Markham's storm petrelMountain Parakeets  Wildflowers:   flora    Lauca's extreme alpines   Atacama wildflowers    alpine cushion bogs      Unique places:   PN Volcán Isluga    Ramsar Site Salar de Surire    Putre     Details:   guiding    home    FAQ    reservations   altitude    planning    Blog:  Andean Desert Gardens & Village Life     


photos and text © 2011            Alto Andino Nature Tours             Putre, Chile                 contact