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Machu Picchu and Abra Malaga - Birding program


Birding Machu Picchu and Abra Malaga

Machu Picchu  Szeke (FLickr)

Machu Picchu hardly needs any introduction and for the birders the Polylepis forest at the Abra Malaga pass with many endemics is almost as famous. There are three different programs available for five days. There is a deluxe program for bird photographers staying at lodges which have many feeders and beautiful gardens and a birding/culture combo which puts emphasis on the many cultural aspects of the region as well as the scenery, but still tries to get most birds.

The below program is the best program for serious birders as it intends to try to get all the endemic and special birds in the region, including the temperate wet and dry Polylepis forests at Abra Malaga as well as endemics in the Apurimac drainage. These are the prime sites you need to visit near Cusco, since there are a lot of endemic and near endemic birds here, most of which are difficult or non-existant on the Manu road. We also spend sufficent time at the Machu Picchu citadel to feel the magic of the citadel.

The grading of the tour is "moderately difficult", because of the walking one does at altitude at Abra Malaga and the many stairs at Machu Picchu. The birding in contrast is quite easy. 

The design ot the tour is that it starts at modest altitude of Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu, and gradually gets higher. This way you avoid altitude sickness. 

No Departures for this Tour

If the departure dates don't fit you, please suggest another date.

Birding Machu Picchu and Abra Malaga

This program gives you all the endemic birds in the Cuzco region that are hard or impossible to get on the Manu road, and at the same time offers a spectacular visit to one of the new Seven Wonders - Machu Picchu. 

Day 1:  Cusco-Sacsayhuaman-Ollantaytambo-Aguas Calientes

You either get picked up at the airport at 6 am or at hotel at around 7 am. We’ll take a short drive around Cusco's main plaza with the cathedral and a short stop if time permits to bird close to the impressive Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman above town (entrance not included, but non-birding partners may choose to do a visit while the others bird-watch. Most birds should be seen on the following days). Creamy-crested Spinetail, Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch, Peruvian Sierra-Finch, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, Chiguanco Thrush, Red-backed Hawk, Black-backed Grosbeak, Sparkling Violetear and Golden-billed Saltator are all possible here. At 8:00am we leave for Ollantaytambo.

After leaving our luggage at the hotels in Ollantaytambo, and if time permits, some birding in Ollantaytambo specifically looking for Bearded Mountaineer.  We board the 10:30am train to Aguas Calientes

. From the train we shall look out for Torrent Duck, White-capped Dipper and Torrent Tyrannulet in the stream that runs along the railroad track. Usually, these are seen also in Aguas Calientes, but there since the river is regulated for hydroelectric purposes upstream sometimes there is not enough water for the duck in the Aguas Calientes.

After checking at our hotels and lunch we’ll take the bus to Machu Picchu citadel for an afternoon visit. A little known fact is that the light for photography at Machu Picchu is much better in the afternoon than early morning and there are far less people. Close to the ruins one can find the endemic Inca Wren, Cuzco Brush-Finch, White-winged Black-Tyrant, Dull-colored Seedeater, Highland Elaenia, sometimes Peregrine or Orange-breasted Falcon and Green-and-White Hummingbird.

Back in Aguas Calientes at dusk, those who want, can look for Lyre-tailed Nightjar close to the Kolibri Pro Hotel.  

Kolibri MST deluxe - Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. Here you get marvelous birding and bird photography on the premises of the hotel with feeders for tanagers and hummingbirds and a exquisite evening meal (those who do not stay there, cannot bird the area). Fantastic pre-dawn breakfast, Porters for luggage etc.

Kolibri Pro. Hotel Pachakutek or similar. Good service mid-range hotel which we have used for years. Good predawn breakfast included.

Kolibri Backbacker. Depending what is available at your time of booking, it may be a backpacker hostel dorm or an Airbnb type room. We always book the best option available in the backpacker price range. We use safe, recommended places only.

Day 2: Birding Machu Picchu 

Predawn breakfast. The area below the ruins is rich with birds and many good species can be seen such as: Torrent Duck, White-capped Dipper, Mitred Parakeet, Barred Parakeet, Andean Guan, Andean Cock-of-the Rock, Ocellated Piculet, White-eared Solitaire, Highland Motmot, Variable Antshrike, Black-streaked Puffbird, White-crowned, Sierran and Highland Elaenias, the endemic Masked Fruiteater, Saffron-crowned, Flame-faced, Rust-and-Yellow and Beryl-spangled Tanagers, Mottled-cheeked and Sclater's Tyrannulet and many more.

Lunch together in Aguas Calientes.
The train back to Ollantaytambo leaves from 3pm, depending on the category chosen and takes two hours.

Hotels in Ollantaytambo:

Kolibri MST. Hotel Pakaritampu (best place for Bearded Mountaineer in town)
Kolibri Pro. Hotel Munay Tika or Tunupa
Kolibri Backpacker. Backpacker hostel or airbnb type room. 

Day 3: Birding Abra Malaga

We will get up very early for the drive up beyond the Abra Malaga pass at 4200m and continue to the north side of the pass and the wet temperate forest at Canchayoc.
Here we may see Diademed Tapaculo, Unstreaked Tit-Tyrant, Golden-collared Tanager, Violet-throated Starfrontlet, Parodi´s Hemispingus, Marcapata Spinetail, Tit-like Dacnis, Cuzco Brushfinch and Rufous-bellied Bush-Tyrant. Rusty-breasted (Leimebamba), Red-and-White, Rufous (occubambae race) and Undulated Antpitta are often heard and with some luck we may be able to lure some of them into view with play-back of its call. Returning to the pass around mid morning we will do a short, but quite strenuous walk to the Polylepis woodland on the ridge beside us.

This is the most accessible high Polylepis woodland that holds the very rare Royal Cinclodes, Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant and White-browed Tit-Spinetail. Among other specialties are Giant Conebill, Line-fronted and Junin Canstero, Puna Tapaculo, Stripe-headed Antpitta, Thick-billed Siskin, Tawny Tit-Spinetail, Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant and Puna Thistletail. As we come out of the valley, we stand good chance of encountering Andean Parakeet and Tit-like Dacnis. Back on the main road in roadside scrub we often find Junin Canastero, Chestnut-breasted Mountain-Finch and Golden-billed Saltator

Day 4: Morning Abra Malaga - Afternoon Apurimac Valley

After additional morning at Abra Malaga to pick up species we may have missed the previous day, we shall continue to Laguna Huaypo for some marshland birding with Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, Wren-like Rushbird, Yellow-winged Blackbird, Andean Lapwing, Puna Teal, Yellow-billed Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean (Masked) Duck, Puna Ibis, Andean Gull and many more. It is a long drive through the dry Apurimac valley, and over to the other side where we shall particularly look for the yet undescribed “Apurimac Tapaculo” and Apurimac Spinetail. Some night birding may award us with the Apurimac forms of Peruvian Pygmy Owl and Koepcke's Screech-Owl, and with lots of luck perhaps Buff-fronted Owl.

MST and Pro Altaruna Lodge.
Backpack: Casona Mollepata, Mollepata village.  

Day 5: Apurimac Endemics

We'll start looking for Pale-tailed Canastero and Spot-eared Puffbird near Moyopata and then spend the rest of the morning birding on Salcantay road. Apurimac Spinetail, Apurimac Brushfinch, White-tufted Sundbeam, Chestnut-breasted Warbling-Finch, Undulated Antpitta and Vilcabamba Tapaculo are found here. We travel to Cusco and will be able to make late afternoon flights or perhaps stay in Cusco.


DAY 1 Birdwatching Cusco-Sacsayhuaman-Ollantaytambo-Aguas Calientes.
DAY 2 Birding Machu Picchu.
DAY 3 Birding Abra Malaga
DAY 4 Morning at Abra Malaga; Afternoon drive to Apurimac valley.
DAY 5 Apurimac endemics. Return to Cuzco.

Option: 5 days program Birding Machu Picchu program Days: 5
Price: US$ 1630 (Minimum 5 people).
Less than 5 people: (see pricing)
Single supplement: 75 US$

Price refers to Kolibri Expeditions Pro Service. 

For Kolibri Expeditions Marvelous Spatuletail DE LUXE Service - please send an email to kolibriexp@gmail.com for a quote.

For Kolibri Expeditions backpacker service subtract $160 from total price. Dinners are not included in backpacker service

Includes: Transport (bus and train), guiding, 3 meals/day (breakfast and lunch usually in the field and a cooked meal at night) and entrance-fees at Machu Picchu.
Does not include: Hotel and dinner the last night in Cusco. Tips, bottled drinks and other expenses of personal nature are not included.
The local fee for Abra Malaga reserve (currently 15 soles), as well as Salcantay road (10 soles) are not included. Entrance fee to archeological sites such as Ollantaytambo and Sacsayhuaman can be purchased at the sites. One ticket is valied for several archeological sites around Cuzco. 



Posted on BirdForum

Just returned from a great trip to Peru. Didn't do the east slope (with megadiversity) but did do Amazonas at Los Amigos biological station, Abra Malaga, Tumbes, Chaparri Lodge, Santa Eulalia, Cusco to Machu Picchu and Agua Calientes.

540+ species including 34 +/- antbirds. Had Point-tailed Palmcreeper at Los Amigos, fleeting look at Royal Cinclodes (will not count in my book but glad they are still at Abra Malaga (also had an adult Andean Condor there too).

Despite rumors of their demise we had 20+ Humboldt Penguins at Pucusana just an hour south of Lima as well as Seaside Cinclodes, Peruvian Thick-knee, and Slender-billed Finch at Canaette.

Kolibri was an excellent company with great guides in each location that really knew their birds and the best places to find them.

Brian Allen


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