Photo by: Photo by Lucy Sheriff

Photo by Lucy Sheriff

Explore Colombia Where Few Have Trekked Before and Discover New Bird Species

By: Lucy Sherriff

The remote Serranía del Perijá mountain range, which divides Venezuela from Colombia, was once ruled by guerrillas, and near-impossible to access. But thanks to the Colombian peace agreement, which was signed in 2016, adventurers are starting to explore the formerly out-of-bounds forest-cloaked peaks.

Serranía del Perijá marks the northern end of South America’s Andes, the world’s longest continental mountain range, and spans around 310km (nearly 200 miles). It is a birders’ paradise, but also is a must-do for any adventurer wishing to walk where few have trekked before.

Explorers must start at the town of Valledupar, known for being the capital of vallenato music - a popular genre of Colombian folk music - and rent a car to drive the windy, one-track roads into the mountains. As the car ascends into the wilderness, the colorful wooden houses that line the roughshod lanes and are manned by clucking chicken, barking dogs, and children who wave at every passing car - for they are few and far between - become more and more infrequent. The trees become denser and the silence more still.

But your reward for this lengthy climb into the mountains, along streets so bumpy they rattle your bones like loose change on a tumble dryer, is the feeling of stepping into the unknown.

Photo by Lucy Sheriff

Photo by Lucy Sheriff

Photo By: Photo by Lucy Sheriff

Photo by Lucy Sheriff

Photo By: Photo by Lucy Sheriff

The mountain spine that separates the two countries is one of the least explored areas of the northern Andes. For birders and botanists--and anyone else willing to venture there--it’s a rare chance to actually be explorers in the truest form. The mountains present the opportunity to discover new species of flora, fauna, and birds is very real.

Many of the species that call this region home have yet to be formally identified, and many of those that have been discovered are endangered. For example, the Perijá metaltail and the Perija Thistletail, as well the Tapaculo Perijá—a species discovered as recently as 2015.

More than 40 soccer fields’ worth of forest is destroyed every day in Colombia, making the untouched, isolated strip of land that makes up the Serranía del Perijá feel even more precious. Trekking across the páramos - the ecosystem found at high altitudes - high above the carpet of clouds that blanket the mountains, it’s impossible to not feel protective of this paradise. And it becomes even more magical when the sun begins to lurch behind the peaks, cascading brilliant orange and red hues across the landscape.

Photo by: Photo by Lucy Sheriff

Photo by Lucy Sheriff

The only beds in the area are at the Chamicero del Perijá Bird Reserve, a low, white, building perched precariously on the side of the mountain. With no electricity, Mother Nature provides all the entertainment, and, as the sun sets over the distant Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains to the tune of rare, singing birds, she does not disappoint. The captivating spectacle is compounded by the dozens of hummingbirds that flock to the reserve’s feeders, which are suspended from branches around the perimeter of the building.

Spending just 24 hours in the Serranía del Perijá is enough to disassociate yourself from the outside world. With no signal, and the knowledge that this was once ruled by armed groups who considered the dense canopies as their protectors from intruders, it’s a return to the true wilderness, and you really are venturing where few have dared before.

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