NORTH WESTERN ARGENTINA
With the Yungas, Andes and Chaco
3rd – 17th September 2023
North West Argentina is a land full of spectacular landscapes and this incredibly varied region has a great diversity of natural habitats, ranging from Yungas Cloudforest to dry Chaco Woodlands and High Andean Lagoons. There are three provinces in the northwesternmost part of Argentina, Jujuy, Salta and Tucuman that host some pristine representatives of these habitats. Our birding adventure will start in the Province of Tucumán where we will explore the Yungas Cloudforest, this forms a wedge along the southern Andean chains of Bolivia and northwestern Argentina and supports one of the greatest biological diversities in the Neotropics. Flora and fauna is abundant here with ferns, bromeliads and other epiphytic plants being particularly stunning. The Yungas surrounding Tafí del Valle offer great chances for some beautiful birds including Rufous-throated Dipper and Torrent Duck. Tucumán is also a wonderful area for exploring two other habitats, The Monte at the Calchaqui Valleys, and the mountains of the Aconquija. After crossing the Aconquija, we will enter dense Monte habitat as we cross into the Province of Salta. This is a wonderful habitat for other Argentine endemics. No birding tour to northwestern Argentina would be complete without visiting the Andean habitats of the famous Cachi Road, an area well reputed among birders the world over for its remarkable diversity of birds. We will follow this road on our way to Los Cardones National Park, looking for birds like Andean Condor, Aplomado Falcon, Andean Flicker, Rock Earthcreeper and White-tipped Plantcutter.
After birding Cachi Road, we will continue west, into the dry Chaco forest, where we’ll spend time looking for specialties including Stripe-backed Antbird, Quebracho Crested Tinamou, Spot-winged Falconet and many others. We will then move on to the Yungas forests in the Province of Jujuy and explore the Calilegua National Park, one of the most important reserves in Argentina, specially created to protect an extensive patch of pristine Yungas cloudforest. We will finally head up to the northwesternmost part of Argentina, where we’ll spend the next few days birding and exploring Humahuaca Valley and the high Andes, with their amazing lagoons, home to spectacular birds like Giant Coot, and three species of flamingos. Exploring the southernmost end of the Humahuaca Valley is a must for birders, since it is here where chances are high to find such unique species as Red-faced Guan and Lyre-tailed Nightjar.
Continuing north, and up to higher elevations, we will leave behind the Yungas and the Alder forest and enter the pre-Puna. The Andes in this part of Argentina are very dry, but they are crossed by a series of humid valleys, with Humahuaca standing out for its unique setting. Nestled amidst spectacular rock formations of the most incredible and diverse colours, this is the heart of one of the richest cacti flora on Earth, and home to a wide array of birds, mammals and other wildlife. The Lake Pozuelos Natural Monument: This mountain ringed basin with shallow brackish water harbours thousands of Andean, Chilean and Puna Flamingos which we hope to see well. We will finally reach the Bolivian border at the small village of La Quiaca. From here we will explore the highest reaches of the Puna, getting above 4,000 meters (13,000 ft.) above sea level. After exploring Humahuaca Valley and the High Andean Puna, we will drive south, all the way down the Andes where our tour will end at Salta Airport.
Our tour will start at Tucuman Airport where we will meet our local guide. From Tucumán we will drive to Tafí del Valle, where we’ll spend the following 2 nights. We will make some birding stops on our way to Tafí, mainly to try and see our first specialties and endemics. The road from Tucumán to Tafí follows the River Los Sosa, which runs from 2,000 meters (6,500 ft.) in Tafí, to roughly 500 meters (1,650 ft.) above sea level near Tucumán. Chances are good here for Rufous-throated Dipper and also for Torrent Duck.
After breakfast we will spend the day birding different habitats around Tafí del Valle looking for birds like Yungas Dove, Rothschild’s Swift, the endemic Yellow-striped Brush Finch and White-browed Tapaculo among others.
We will leave Tafí del Valle after breakfast, and drive north, towards Cafayate. On our way, we will climb to higher altitudes to finally reach El Infiernillo mountain pass, at 3,042 meters (9,980 ft.) above sea level. On the journey we will look for specialities such as White-browed Tapaculo, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, White-winged Cinclodes, Slender-billed Miner, Paramo Pipit, Cordilleran Canastero, Puna Canastero, Buff-breasted Earthcreeper, Gray-hooded Parakeet and some endemics like Tucuman Mountain Finch, Yellow-striped Brushfinch and Moreno’s Ground Dove. After crossing El Infiernillo, we will descend down to the Province of Salta, and start exploring a slightly different habitat of dry thorny scrubland with rocky cliffs and sandy soil, known as Monte of the Calchaqui Valleys. In this area we’ll visit the Quilmes Ruins, one of the largest pre-Columbian settlements in Argentina, where around 5,000 people used to live. Despite being dry, this habitat is quite different to what we found near Tafí, and it’s full of new birds, including some endemics like White-throated Cacholote and Sandy Gallito. Other highlights for today include flocks of Burrowing Parrot (northern race), Chaco Earthcreeper, Spot-winged Pigeon, Blue and yellow Tanager, Black-crested Finch, White-banded Mockingbird, White-crested Tyrannulet and White-fronted Woodpecker. We will spend one night in Cafayate.
After breakfast we will leave Cafayate and continue north to Cabra Corral, where we’ll spend the following 2 nights. On our way, we will cross some of the most spectacular rock formations in NW Argentina at Quebrada de las Conchas, where besides enjoying the spectacular scenery we’ll have our first chances for the elusive Black-legged Seriema.
Today we will spend a full day at Cachi Road and Los Cardones National Park. We will be birding at different altitudes and habitats, following the famous Cachi Road. This winding road climbs all the way up to Cuesta del Obispo (Bishop’s Raise) at 3,500 meters (11,500 ft.). Variable Hawk, Aplomado Falcon, Andean Flicker and Rock Earthcreeper are all possible here. We’ll explore the gullies looking for White-tipped Plantcutter, Brown-capped Tit-Spinetail, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, White-winged Black-Tyrant, Black Siskin, Rufous-sided Warbling-Finch and the localized Rufous-bellied Saltator. We will also spend some time at lower altitudes, looking for Subtropical Doradito and Streak-throated Bush Tyrant. Flowering tobacco bushes attract hummingbirds like Giant Hummingbird and the striking Red-tailed Comet, and the dry slopes along the way are home to Andean Tinamou. On our way to Cachi, we will search for other Andean specialities such as Zimmer’s Tapaculo and the endemic Steinbach’s Canastero.
We will leave Cabra Corral after breakfast, for our next destination: Las Lajitas, in the heart of Salta’s dry Chaco woodland. To get there, we will take a dirt road through good Montane Chaco habitat with some transitional forest and agricultural land, which after a few kilometers connects to the main highway. The first part of this road goes through a canyon, where chances are good for birds like Andean Condor and Black-chested Buzzard Eagle. Chaco Chachalaca and Dusky-legged Guan are common sightings along the way and other possible birds include White-bellied Hummingbird, Blue-throated Starthroat, Ringed Kingfisher, Cream-backed Woodpecker, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, White-winged Black Tyrant, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Many-colored Chaco Finch, Red Pileated Finch, Ultramarine Grosbeak and Black-legged Seriema among others. On our way to La Lajitas, we will cross an area of wetlands, where chances are good for birds like Roseate Spoonbill, Southern Rough-winged Swallow and Amazon Kingfisher. This is also a good area for Turquoise-fronted Amazon. We will spend the following two nights in Las Lajitas.
Today we will depart early and drive north to the area of La Estrella, where dense stocks of Dry Chaco Forest still stand. Our plan is to spend the morning looking for specialties including Quebracho Crested Tinamou, Black-legged Seriema, Stripe-backed Antbird and Short-billed Canastero to name but a few. Greater Rhea can usually be spotted in farmlands along the way too. We will return to Las Lajitas around noon, in time to have lunch and take a midday break to avoid the heat, before setting off for the area of Joaquín V. González, where we’ll spend the rest of the day birding the farmland and Chaco woodland around town. We’ll have plenty of time to walk around and look for birds in the thorny Chaco forest, where we hope to find Great Antshrike, Scarlet (formerly Vermilion) Flycatcher, Great Rufous and Scimitar-billed Woodcreepers, Straneck’s Tyrannulet, Solitary Cacique, Greyish Saltator, Cinereus Tyrant, Crowned Slaty Flycatcher and woodpeckers including White-fronted, Checkered and Green-barred. In the farmlands we might get falcons, like Aplomado and Peregrine, also Smooth-billed Ani and passerines like White-browed Blackbird, Southern Yellowthroat and Tropical Kingbird.
After breakfast we will depart and bird our way to Libertador General San Martín, where we hope to arrive around midday, in time to have lunch at a local restaurant and check into our hotel for the following two nights. This afternoon we’ll go birding in the transitional forest and wet lowlands along the entrance road to Calilegua National Park, where we’ll look for birds including Pale-vented Pigeon, Rothschild’s Swift, Toco Toucan, Golden-collared Macaw, Azara’s Spinetail, Ochre-faced Tody-Tyrant, Purple-throated Euphonia and Crested Oropendola and others.
Today we will spend the day birding Calilegua National Park, one of the main Yungas relicts within Argentina. We’ll drive to the lower Yungas at the entrance of the park stopping often along the way, searching some trails for new birds, like Green-cheeked Parakeet, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Slaty Elaenia, Highland Elaenia, Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, Plumbeous Tyrant, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Green-backed Becard and Blue-crowned Trogon among others. If we are lucky, we might also get Amazonian Motmot, a bird that is rather uncommon in Argentina and highly restricted to this corner of the country. We will stop at a beautiful picnic site for lunch at Mesada de las Colmenas, half way up the road across Calilegua, great for watching raptors including Rufous-thighed Hawk, Plumbeous Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, White-rumped Hawk and King Vulture. This is also a good place for the secretive White-throated Antpitta which we will put in a concerted effort to find! Whilst trying for the antpitta, we’ll also have good chances for other wonderful birds, including Variable Antshrike, Rusty Flowerpiercer, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Mountain Wren, Two-banded Warbler, White-bellied Hummingbird and Andean Slaty Thrush. We will return to Libertador General San Martín in the late afternoon.
We will leave Libertador General San Martín this morning and drive to our next destination, northwest to Purmamarca, a lovely village sitting at the foothills of the Andes, in the southern end of Humahuaca Valley. Rather than taking the shorter road, we will start by driving slightly south, to take an alternative road, crossing the Santa Laura mountain pass, a wonderful birding area. This road crosses some transitional forests and wetlands, offering great chances for birds like Golden-Olive Woodpecker, Whistling Heron, Band-tailed Seedeater, White Monjita, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Purple-throated Euphonia, Rusty-browed Warbling Finch, Spot-breasted Thornbird and Slaty Elaenia to name but a few. Raptors are a bit unpredictable, but Barred Forest Falcon, Short-tailed Hawk and King Vulture are all present here, especially as we get deeper into another patch of Yungas, which we’ll cross en-route to Purmamarca, where we plan to arrive in the afternoon.
We will check into our selected hotel for the following two nights, and then set off for spending the remainder of the day birding around town and enjoying the spectacular surroundings, including Cerro del los Siete Colores (seven-color hill). Chances are good this afternoon for new birds like Brown-backed Mockingbird and Black-hooded Sierra Finch among others.
Today we will have another opportunity to look for Torrent Duck and the scarce Rufous-throated Dipper, just in case we didn’t get to see them at the beginning of the tour. We will also explore a local reserve in the area looking for specialties of the Alder forest, including Dot-fronted Woodpecker, Spot-breasted Thornbird, Fawn-breasted Tanager, Rusty-browed Warbling Finch and the scarce and elusive Red-faced Guan. We then continue northwards to Purmamarca, where we will have the opportunity to photograph the famous Cerro del los Siete Colores (seven-colour hill). Chances are good this afternoon for new birds like Brown-backed Mockingbird and Black-hooded Sierra Finch among others. We will spend the remainder of the day birding around town and enjoying the spectacular surroundings.
After enjoying an early breakfast surrounded by the beautiful landscape of blue mountains and deep valleys, we will spend a couple of hours searching for local specialties possibly missed the day before. After this we will travel north entering the Humahuaca Valley. The attractive geological formations and the varied colours of the mountains give an adequate frame to ancient adobe villages and old churches of Cuzco influence that make Humahuaca Canyon such a spectacular place, worth enough for UNESCO to declare it a World Heritage Site. We will stay one night in Huacalera.
Today we will continue north, to finally enter the Puna region. This will be a day of fascinating contrasts as we gradually move to higher elevations along the Humahuaca Canyon to finally reach La Quiaca where we will stay for two nights. The Lake Pozuelos Natural Monument, is a mountain ringed basin with shallow brackish water located roughly 90 kilometers north of Abra Pampa. This area hosts a huge population of Andean, Chilean and Puna Flamingos, so large concentrations of these beautiful birds can be seen amidst the solitude and grandeur of this unique high Andean landscape. Depending on the water levels, chances are also high here for other Puna specialties, like Andean Goose, Andean Avocet, Crested Duck, Puna Teal, Andean, Horned and Giant Coots, Puna Plover and a number of North American migrants such as Baird’s and Pectoral Sandpipers and Wilson’s Phalarope. We will also explore the surrounding grasslands in search of Tawny-throated Dotterel, American Golden Plover and Least Seedsnipe. Other birds we could see today include Andean Gull, Mountain Caracara, Andean Flicker, Golden-spotted Ground Dove and Ornate Tinamou. Your day in Pozuelos will also provide excellent chances for the local race of Lesser Rhea –called Puna Rhea in some books.
Today we will spend the day birding the high Andes around the Village of Yavi and Cuesta del Izoite, driving through the higher Altiplano, searching for birds including Variable Hawk, Straight-billed Earthcreeper, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, Grey-bellied Shrike-Tyrant, D’Orgigny’s Chat-Tyrant, and Black Siskin to name but a few. Other species to be seen around La Quiaca are Citron-headed Yellow Finch, Spot-billed Ground Tyrant, Red-backed Sierra Finch, Tawny-throated Dotterel, Lesser Rhea, Andean Condor and some mammals, like Vicuña, a delicate wild cousin of the Llama.
Unfortunately, our wonderful tour of Argentina will end today. If time permits, we will do some local birding before we make our way to Salta Airport to start our journey home.
What to expect:
Our tour of North West Argentina covers a multitude of habitats and altitudes, therefore weather conditions will range from being hot and humid in the lowlands to feeling very cold in the mountains. The tour pace is relaxed but we will be driving some long distances to ensure we visit the areas needed in order to see a diverse range of species. Any drives that involve longer distances will be broken up with regular birding stops along the way.
The accommodation is comfortable and of a good standard throughout the tour with good food.
There are good photographic opportunities on this tour.
LEADER: Andy Foster and local guide
GROUND PRICE: £5090.00 per person. Single supplement: £495.00
GROUP SIZE: Minimum of 6 required to run the tour, maximum group size of 8
DEPOSIT REQUIRED to secure your place on the tour: £765.00
TOUR STARTS at Tucuman Airport (TUC) on the 3rd September 2023, time to be confirmed
TOUR ENDS at Salta Airport (SLA) on the 17th September 2023, time to be confirmed
Included in our tour price:
All birding excursions as outlined in the itinerary with a Serra dos Tucanos Birding Tours leader
Local guide for the duration of the tour
All ground transportation from Tucuman Airport on the 3rd September to Salta Airport on 17th September
Full board accommodation on a twin/double share basis in en-suite rooms
All meals and packed lunches from lunch on the 3rd September to breakfast on the 17th September
Admission fees to all National Park and Nature Reserves
Site guides where required by law
Mineral water on board the vehicles for the duration of the tour
Not included in our tour price:
International or domestic flights
Airport taxes where applicable
All other meals other than what’s specified above
Personal travel and medical insurance
Tips of any kind
Items of a purely personal nature