In Depth

Seven of the world’s best birdwatching holidays

Whether you're tracking ostriches in African grasslands or seeking out toucanets in cloud forests, there's plenty here to fit the, er, bill

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A wildlife-spotting holiday no longer has to mean a safari. Specialist birdwatching breaks are catching on, and many operators now offer tailored packages to suit every twitcher's dream. 

From quetzals in Central American rainforests to penguins on perfect Falkland beaches, there’s something out there for everyone. This is our pick of the best. 

Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s mountains and rainforests, home to an abundance of birds, are a twitcher’s dream. “Rich in natural wonders and abundant biodiversity,” says Frommers, it’s one of the world’s best destinations for fans of all sorts of wildlife. Wexas Travel’s tailor-made birding tour includes a visit to San Gerardo de Dota, one of the few places where you can be confident of seeing the quetzal, “a massive tropical trogon with iridescent green plumage and doe-like eyes”, says Travel+Leisure, as well as 170 other species. The itinerary also includes time in the Costa Rican capital, San Jose, white-water rafting at Turrialba and time on the beach

The nine-day Wexas Travel tour is available from £2,405 per person based on two sharing, including international flights from the UK to San Jose

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Birdwatching, culture and coffee

Colombia “occupies less than 1% of the world’s total land surface, yet it boasts a staggering 18% of all known bird species”, says the Bogota Post. In fact, it has more avian species - 1,804, according to Birdlife International, than any other country, and Naturetrek’s two-week tour of the country should introduce you to more than a few of them.

Indigo-capped hummingbird, silvery-throated spinetail and black Incas are among the common sightings in Bogota alone. Buffy helmetcrest, rufous-fronted parakeet and golden-capped tanager populate the volcanic slopes around Nevado del Ruiz, and at Jardin you will visit a superb Andean cock-of-the-rock lek and search for endangered yellow-eared parrots - and seek refreshment. Here, “brewing coffee is a rustic and ritualistic process”, says The New York Times, and the beans are among the world’s finest. The itinerary also includes an insight into Colombia’s colourful history and culture.

Naturetrek tour led by naturalist guides, departing 24 November 2018, from £4,295pp including flights

Sri Lanka

“Located on a pristine stretch of golden sand,” says the London Evening Standard, the Wild Coast Tented Lodge sits in between the verdant Sri Lankan rainforest and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. It’s also in one of the country’s designated “important bird areas”, and among the 215 species found there is the national bird, the Sri Lankan junglefowl. Thousands of waterfowl, including northern pintails, white-winged terns, whimbrels, godwits, and ruddy turnstones, migrate to the lagoons of Yala during the northeast monsoon, between October and December. The migrant great white pelican and resident spot-billed pelican have also have been recorded. Visiting humans are accommodated in “28 otherworldly tented cocoon suites”, says Robb Report, “each boasting vaulted ceilings and double-height glass facades that offer panoramic views of the jungle outside”.

Botswana

Bird names in Botswana’s Okavango Delta come with a pleasing feel of the jungle - the swamp boubou and the African jacana can be spotted in the network of canals and grassland, as well as ostrich and pied kingfisher. At andBeyond Xudum Okavango Delta Lodge, nine split-level suites sit beside a lagoon in a 670,000-acre wildlife concession which attracta vast numbers of birds between October and March. Of course, it’s not just creatures of the sky - elephant, hippo and lions ensure you’ll be looking down as well as up on one of the lodge’s game drives or bush walks. AndBeyond promises “earthy glamour” amid a luxurious natural setting.

andBeyond Xudum Okavango Delta Lodge, from £650 per person, per night 

Galapagos

It was the finches of Galapagos which helped inspire Charles Darwin to write On The Origin of Species and transform the way humanity sees itself. So for a bird enthusiast, a trip to these highly protected islands is a must. As well as Darwin’s finches, there are Nazca boobies, frigate birds, albatrosses and cormorants, plus a whole host of sea creatures, from whales to sharks and rays. July is the best time to visit, followed by January to March, when the seas are calmer and snorkellers benefit from the best visibiity. While staying on land is possible, the islands are best visited from a sea cruise. Cox and Kings offers first-class travel and guides aboard its eight-cabin catamaran - including a bar. Itineraries range from three to 14 nights.

Cox and Kings tour, 11 days and eight nights, from £4,595

Tanzania

In Tanzania, a new lodge is aiming to provide a super-luxurious location for safari visitors. Set in Ruaha National Park - a 77,000-square-mile chunk of some of Africa’s finest wilderness - Asilia’s Jabali Ridge has eight suites secluded among large rocks. Serious twitcher can request specialist birding guides to help them track down the best of the local wildlife, including hornbills, barbets and turacos and many more of the 1,000 species of birds in Tanzania and Kenya. The lodge is equipped with private decks, rain showers and an infinity pool, while night drives and walking safaris ensure a rich all-round experience. A visit to Jabali Ridge can be combined with others in the country to create a Tanzania-wide birding itinerary.

The Luxury Safari Company offers three nights all-inclusive, including flights from the UK, for £3,207 per person

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2016 Getty Images

Scotland

Autumn is a special time in the Scottish Highlands as the leaves turn russet and red deer roam the hills. This is the time of year when migrating waders and geese fly south from the Arctic, and peregrines and golden eagles glide through the sky. The Travelling Naturalist offers eight-day guided tours spanning from the Cairngorm Mountains to the Black Isle, promising a glimpse of everything from red squirrels to bottle-nosed dolphins. Late October is the time to go.

The Travelling Naturalist offers an eight-day for £1,325 per person

Kings of the Beach

The Falklands

There is nothing quite like the bleak beauty of the Falkland Islands, and that makes it an excellent choice for the more unconventional birdwatcher. From its pristine beaches keen eyes might spot five different species of penguin, plus oystercatchers, falcons, teals and plovers, while minke whales, orca and elephant seals can all be glimpsed in the freezing waters. On Cox and Kings’ itinerary, you can also take a flight to Sea Lion Island, the archipelago’s southernmost inhabited isle, to see the endangered striated caracara, or the Antarctic skua. A full-day trip to Volunteer Point introduces you to a colony of king penguins.

Cox and Kings tour, 8 Days & 7 Nights, from £2,795

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