Read the VENTFLASH and catch up on the latest news from VENT!

October 25, 2019

VENTFLASH #263: Cuba, Colombia & Other Travel Opportunities

Dear friends:

 Jaguar, Pantanal ©​ Andrew Whittaker

For most of the last decade, the Pantanal region of southwestern Brazil has been one of our most popular destinations. With so much to offer—spectacular birds, megafauna, and wildlife spectacles that elicit comparisons to those of East Africa—it is easy to understand why anyone with a love of birds and nature would want to travel there.

I have been to the Pantanal on two previous occasions, most recently in 2013, and have fallen in love with it. This year I decided it was time for another visit. From the end of September through the first week in October, I took a vacation with friends to the Pantanal to again immerse myself in the magic of the place. To convey what a trip to the Pantanal can be like, on one unforgettable day we saw both Giant and Lesser anteaters, Jaguar, Ocelot, Marsh Deer, Brown Brocket Deer, and a host of great birds that included Greater Rhea, Jabiru, Red-legged Seriema, and Toco Toucan. Then, on the very next night we saw a South American Tapir. It was incredible.

I could go on and on about the Pantanal, but I’m going to stop here for now. At some point in the coming weeks I will write more extensively about the Pantanal and share my thoughts with you on why I think it has the greatest wildlife, in terms of diversity and spectacle, in the Western Hemisphere. In the meantime, I encourage you to visit our website and learn more about this remarkable destination.

In this issue:



Blue-headed Quail-Dove, Cuba ©​ David Ascanio

After dominating the news headlines at various times in the last three years, we are very much aware that uncertainty exists surrounding travel to Cuba. Due to shifting political winds in the U.S., a hurricane (Irene, 2017), a State Department Travel Warning (2017) and, most recently, a new round of limitations on legal travel to Cuba, it is easy to understand why many people—including some in the travel industry—are under the impression that Cuba is now off limits.  As VENT gears up for 2020, a year in which we will offer two Cuba departures, I want to reassure you that travel there is both secure and legal.

The most important fact I want to emphasize is that our Cuba tours operate wholly within the letter of the law. We operate our tours through International Expeditions under the “Support for the Cuban People” program. The rules governing this program are set by the U.S. Department of Treasury, which means that I.E.’s program is in total compliance with all regulations. While it is true that the American government has greatly restricted legal travel to Cuba, the “Support for the Cuban People” program is still in effect, and will be for the foreseeable future. In fact, we have secured dates for our 2021 tours as well. In joining a VENT tour to Cuba, you will be there legally and with the backing of two solid companies and the U.S. government.

Prior to 2018, I had always wanted to visit Cuba, not only because of its history and proximity to the U.S., but because Cuba is also the only large island in the Caribbean I had not birded. As VENT has been operating tours to Cuba since 2014, my desire to visit that country had only grown. I finally had the chance to make the trip in January 2018 when I co-lead a tour with fellow VENT tour leader David Ascanio.

Cuban Trogon ©​ David Ascanio

When our flight from Miami landed in Cuba, I said to David, “Cuba, at last.” As it turned out, we had a marvelous trip, and Cuba was all I hoped it would be. We saw 26 bird species that are found nowhere else in the world, including the tiny Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world; Cuban Trogon; Blue-headed Quail-Dove; Cuban Tody; Zapata Wren; and many others. Beyond birding, one of the many highlights of the tour was our contact with people. We stayed mostly in private homes where we were delighted with the hospitality, and in every location local experts helped us find birds.

Those are wonderful memories. I highly recommend VENT’s tours to Cuba. The birding is terrific, the accommodations are fine, the history is fascinating, and the interactions with Cuban people are unforgettable.

Our Cuba tours are limited to 12 participants and are led by veteran tour leader David Ascanio and a local leader.

Cuba, March 17–28, 2020; $6,998 in double occupancy from Miami. 4 spaces available.

Cuba, March 31–April 11, 2020; $6,998 in double occupancy from Miami. 7 spaces available.

If you are not able to join a Cuba tour in 2020, you might be interested to know that we will operate two tours in 2021 as well:

Cuba, March 16–27, 2021; $6,998 in double occupancy from Miami.

Cuba, March 30–April 10, 2021; $6,998 in double occupancy from Miami.

Return to Top


Guide to the Birds of Colombia ©​ Steve Hilty

Many of our longtime travelers will remember a time when ecotourism in Colombia was nonexistent. The political problems and security issues that defined Colombia in the 1980s and 90s deterred all but the most determined travelers from going there. All of that began to change about fifteen years ago when the country settled down and became much more stable. In short order, veteran tour leader Steve Hilty led VENT’s return to that country after an absence of more than two decades. In the ensuing years, VENT has developed a robust program of tours that includes at least half a dozen departures per year to a diversity of destinations within the country. This year, VENT operated six Colombia tours, and seven are scheduled for 2020. Most of these tours will be led by Steve Hilty.

Steve Hilty is one of VENT’s longest-serving guides, and his experiences with Colombia’s astounding biodiversity date to the early 1970s when he conducted graduate research in ornithology there. His study of flowering and fruiting plants and foraging strategies of fruit-eating birds culminated in his PhD dissertation. Later, he wrote the monumentally important, A Guide to the Birds of Colombia. The publication of this field guide in 1986 was a major event in world birding. Prior to its release, there were no first-class books on the birds of any South American country, a continent where over one-third of the world’s birds occur. A Guide to the Birds of Colombia changed all that. It is a superb book, in fact, one of the finest field guides ever published for any region of the world. The excellent plates were painted by Guy Tudor, one of the finest illustrators of South American birds. The text is also excellent, containing a wealth of information in a concise form. What is most remarkable is that Steve was able to write so succinctly that he described all the species of Colombia in one volume. This is all the more impressive given that Colombia’s bird list is the largest of any country in the world.

Traveling with Steve is an unforgettable experience. To demonstrate, I offer this quote from a participant on our 2019 Colombia: Bogotá, Eastern Andes & the Magdalena Valley tour: “Steve is an incredible teacher. We got so much info. What an opportunity to meet him! I would go on another trip with him.”

In 2020, in addition to leading established tours to eastern Colombia and different areas of the central and western Andes, Steve will introduce a brand-new tour to Southern Colombia that focuses on areas seldom visited by other birders to date. Anticipated highlights include spectacular scenery, huge species diversity, and habitats ranging from Pacific lowlands to cloud forest and paramo grasslands above treeline. In Steve’s words, “We believe this trip will exceed all previous Colombian offerings in total avian diversity…”I know that you would enjoy any of these fine tours:

Blue-throated Starfrontlet, Bogota ©​ Steve Hilty 

Undiscovered Eastern Colombia: Birding Secrets of the White Sands of Inirida, January 4–11, 2020 with Steve Hilty and Luis Urueña; $4,145 in double occupancy from Bogotá. Limit 8. Sold out! Join the waitlist.

Colombia: Bogota, Eastern Andes & the Magdalena Valley, February 25–March 11, 2020 with Steve Hilty and Luis Urueña; $6,895 in double occupancy from Bogotá. Limit 8. 4 spaces available.

Colombia: The Central & Western Andes: Hummingbirds, Antpittas, Tanagers, & Andean Endemics, July 9–24, 2020 with Steve Hilty and a local leader; $6,895 in double occupancy from Calí (ends in Bogotá). Limit 8. 4 spaces available.

Southern Colombia: Eastern & Western Slopes of the Andes: An Extravaganza of Birds, November 7–20, 2020 with Steve Hilty and a local leader; price to be announced in double occupancy from Bogotá. Limit 8.

Return to Top


Beyond Cuba and Colombia, VENT will operate many other tours in the coming months to a variety of worldwide destinations. Many of these trips are sold out; however, some still have a few spaces available. If you have not yet made your winter travel plans, or are able to travel on shorter notice, perhaps one of these fine departures will meet your fancy:

White-tipped Sicklebill, Panama ©​ Andrew Whittaker 

New Zealand Highlights, November 30–December 18, 2019 with Dion Hobcroft and a local leader; $8,495 in double occupancy from Auckland (ends in Dunedin). Limit 12. 4 spaces available. $1,000 discount available for all new registrations!

Austria: Christmas in Salzburg, December 19–27, 2019 with Rick Wright and Alison Beringer; $4,595 in double occupancy from Salzburg. Limit 14.

Panama’s Canopy Tower & El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, January 4–16, 2020 with Jeri Langham and a local leader; $6,495 in double occupancy from Panama City. Limit 14. 2 spaces available.

Winter New Mexico, January 7–13, 2020 with Barry Zimmer and a second leader to be announced; $2.150 in double occupancy from El Paso (ends in Albuquerque). Limit 14.

Panama’s Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp, January 11–19, 2020 with Erik Bruhnke and a local leader; $4,195 in double occupancy from Panama City. Limit 12. 4 spaces available.

Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand Aboard the Caledonian Sky, January 16–February 2, 2020 with Max Breckenridge; cabins start at $15,980 in double occupancy from Dunedin (ends in Queenstown).

Ecuador: Eastern Slope of the Andes, January 18–28, 2020 with Paul Greenfield; $3,595 in double occupancy from Quito. Limit 8. 1 space available.

Belize’s Hidden Treasures, January 19–25, 2020 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; $3,095 in double occupancy from Belize City. Limit 14. 4 spaces available.

Winter Southern Arizona, January 20–26, 2020 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $2,445 in double occupancy from Tucson. Limit 14. 2 spaces available.

Winter Southern California, January 26–February 1, 2020 with Brennan Mulrooney; $2,395 in double occupancy from San Diego. Limit 7. 1 space available.

Return to Top


Purple-throated Carib, Dominica ©​ David Ascanio

Looking a little further down the road, our next voyage aboard the Sea Cloud, a charter cruise to the islands of the Lesser Antilles, is approaching a sell-out. At this time only three cabins are still available!

The Lesser Antilles Aboard the Sea Cloud is a beautiful week-long birding and natural history voyage that visits the major islands of the Eastern Caribbean including Barbados, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent. We have operated this voyage on many previous occasions, the last time as a private departure for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in 2018. This trip is exceptional in many ways, with lots of range-restricted birds—especially parrots and hummingbirds—and plenty of beautiful island scenery in store. Complementing the birding are optional sightseeing excursions that visit some of the important historical and natural landmarks on each of the islands.

This trip is ideal for those whose primary interest is in birds and nature as well as for those who travel with a non-birding spouse or companion.

Joining me in leading this trip are VENT colleagues Barry Lyon and David Ascanio; Peter Zika, a botanist with the herbarium at the University of Washington; and John Harrison, historian, lecturer, and travel writer. Peter and John will each deliver several on-board presentations throughout the trip.  

Please note that this trip will not operate again until 2022.

The Lesser Antilles Aboard the Sea Cloud, March 5–13, 2020; cabins start at $9,795 in double occupancy from Bridgetown, Barbados. 3 cabins available.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel

Copyright © 2019, Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
Victor Emanuel Nature Tours
2525 Wallingwood Drive, Suite 1003
Austin, TX 78746
800-328-8368 / 512-328-5221