The tapered landmass of South America sits at the apex of global biodiversity. A marvelous collection of habitats across a relatively vast area encompasses rainforests and cloud forests, deserts, grasslands, thornscrub, rivers, and glaciers. Almost a third of the world's birds are found in South America along with a limitless treasure trove of mammals, fish, insects, flowers, and trees.
Among its over 3,000 birds are some of the most colorful and spectacular in the world—hummingbirds, tanagers, cotingas, and macaws—and most bizarre—Capuchinbirds, oilbirds, potoos, screamers, and cocks-of-the-rock.
Over the last 15 years we have witnessed tremendous developments in ecotourism in South America, including the opening of many excellent lodges and the publication of first-rate field guides. After languishing behind the rest of the world, South America now has field guides available for nearly every major country, and work has started on the largest remaining countries without dedicated guides of their own. Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela all have their own dedicated field guides, while Argentina and Brazil will have their own field guides in the next few years.
VENT has been conducting tours in South America since 1978. Our South American tour program was developed over many years with the help of such renowned South American bird experts as David Ascanio, Paul Greenfield, Steve Hilty, John P. O'Neill, Tom Schulenberg, Robert Ridgely, Andrew Whittaker, David Wolf, Kevin Zimmer, and the late Ted Parker. Our South American tour leaders possess tremendous knowledge about the avifauna and natural history of the countries in which they lead tours. Many of them have made significant contributions to ornithological knowledge, including the discovery of new species to science. Several VENT leaders have written the definitive field guide for the countries where they lead tours, but even more importantly, they are superb leaders, skilled at finding birds and showing them to others, and highly competent at handling the logistical challenges of tour-leading.
For U.S. birders, South America also has the advantage of being relatively close and thus more easily accessible than many other parts of the world. Our tours to Venezuela are among the longest established in the industry. Steve Hilty, David Ascanio, and Jeri Langham anchor a program of tours that includes our Grand Venezuela, Eastern Venezuela, and Hato Piñero tours. Each of these departures offers intimate surveys of the plentiful wildlife and multitudes of habitats that characterize this northern South American country. Among the many highlights one might experience on a trip to Venezuela are some of the continent's greatest waterbird and mammal spectacles, outstanding rainforest birding, and visits to the famed Llanos, Andes, mystical Tepuis, and the Orinoco River Delta.
Few countries can match compact Ecuador for its fantastic combination of Andean scenery, Amazonian jungle, and spectacular birdlife. Our Northwestern Andean Slopes tour is a highly recommended starting point for birding Ecuador, as it offers terrific birding only a little more than an hour from the capital city, Quito. Amid middle elevation Andean cloud forest, participants are treated to the world’s greatest hummingbird and antpitta shows, displaying cocks-of-the rock, and many species of colorful tanagers. Our tours to the Napo Wildlife Center provide an Amazonian jungle experience of exceptional high quality and comfort. Aside from spectacular birding, you’ll experience a vast and pristine wilderness while enjoying a well-appointed jungle lodge, complete with particularly good cuisine. Highlights of our Napo trips include an amazing canopy tower, lengthy boat rides on a jungle river, hikes in the rainforest, visits to an outstanding parrot lick, and a tour of an indigenous community. Another of our outstanding Ecuador offerings is a tour of the Eastern Slope of the Andes, where a drastically different biotic province promises an avifauna differing considerably from that of other parts of Ecuador. Additional tours to the southern part of the country take you to more far-flung areas where fewer birders typically go, but where the birding is equally rewarding. Ecuador, furthermore, has actively promoted ecotourism and tried to attract birders as much or more than any other South American country.
Our Peru program centers on the incomparable Manu Wildlife Center, which offers immersion into outstanding forest birding in the Andean highlands and Amazonian lowlands. The combination of birding and mammal-viewing makes this destination among our most popular tours anywhere. A remarkable collection of rare, beautiful, and exotic tropical birds is guaranteed. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of a trip to Manu is the genuine wilderness experience afforded here. An optional extension to Machu Picchu reveals the greatest archaeological site from the Inca world, in addition to spectacular Andean scenery and rewarding highland birding. Exciting new trips in 2009 to northern and central Peru herald a fresh perspective on the world’s most bird-rich country.
Delightful Chile, with its snow-capped Andes, rugged coastlines, and breathtaking Tierra del Fuego, provides some of the easiest and most satisfying birding on the continent. Our Central Chile and Patagonia tour is designed to show you the remarkable birding and scenery of the central Chilean Andes and Patagonia. A visit to Torres del Paine National Park is the highlight of our land-based portion of the trip, but is nicely complemented by a three-day cruise through the dramatic deep-water fjords and channels of Tierra del Fuego, where penguins, albatross, and fur seals are constant companions.
Argentina, European in flavor but distinctly South American in avifauna, occupies nearly the entire southern portion of the continent. Our Northeast Argentina, Northwest Argentina, and Southern Argentina tours provide in-depth looks at the most dramatic and distinct regions of the country, each with its own wonderful avifauna. Depending on which trip you choose, you'll also witness some of South America’s most endearing landscapes—the pampas, of myth and romance; Iguacu Falls—the world’s tallest unimpeded cascade; and Patagonia in the far south—distant, wild, and empty.
Finally, there's Brazil, home of the Amazon basin and over 1,500 bird species. The rainforest in this vast country is the largest in the world and underpins the web of life for the entire region. To list all of our Brazil trips is not practical, but some of our most time-tested departures include our Southeastern Brazil and Pantanal tours. Southeastern Brazil is our flagship Brazil tour, where hundreds and hundreds of exciting tropical birds are guaranteed, many of which are among the world’s rarest and most captivating species. Our tour of the Pantanal is always a winner, with its massive collection of waterbirds and equally impressive mammal-viewing.
With so many destinations to explore, we are confident that wherever you chose to travel in South America, VENT has the right trip for you!