If you enjoy spending time in nature, and you’re interested in birds, you may want to consider going on a birdwatching holiday.
Birdwatching gives you a good reason to travel to some of the most exotic destinations on the planet. Plus, very few creatures are as vibrant and beautiful as birds, and seeing them in wild and wonderful places can be incredibly rewarding.
Birdwatching on holiday – or ‘avitourism’ as it’s known in the travel industry – is increasingly popular with people around the world, so much so that around three million bird-enthusiasts do it each year. And, with over 10,000 bird species on every continent, from penguins to condors and majestic eagles to birds-of-paradise, there’s no shortage of amazing feathered friends to see.
Whether you’re a casual, enthusiastic, or seasoned birdwatcher, there are a huge number of destinations to choose from – many of which are off-the-beaten-track and make for once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Some places also offer tours from expert guides, which can increase the likelihood of sightings, and help you get to know more about each beautiful bird species.
Whether it’s seeing flamingos in Kenya, spotting hummingbirds in the cloud forests of Costa Rica, or island-hopping to get up close and personal to the legendary birds of The Galapagos Islands, there’s a birdwatching holiday for everyone.
Though, you don’t need to travel to a far-flung country to enjoy a birdwatching break, as our own shores are home to some fascinating birds too.
To help get you inspired, here are eight of the best destinations for bird lovers.
1. Glimpse the resplendent quetzal in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is considered one of the best destinations on the planet for birdwatching. This Central American country is one of the most biodiverse places on earth, with over 900 bird species living in its rainforests, cloud forests, highlands, and coastal mangroves.
What makes it particularly popular with birdwatchers is that it’s compact, relatively safe, and its birding habitats are easily accessible on foot. Plus, birdwatching tours – with specialist guides and equipment – are widely available in Costa Rica.
Within a 2.5-hour drive of Costa Rica’s capital, San José, is the spectacular Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, which is home to around 450 bird species. It’s one of the best places to see one of the most beautiful birds on the planet: the rare, resplendent quetzal.
Quetzals have iridescent green feathers that were once used as currency by the ancient Mayans – and they make a soft, rather sad cooing noise.
Around the lush rainforests and sandy beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park (on the central Pacific coast), you can also spot the frigatebird, as well as delightful toucans, tanagers, and the colourful Scarlet Macaw – which looks like a flying rainbow!
In the north of Costa Rica is the awe-inspiring Arenal Volcano National Park, where you might be lucky enough to see an impressive selection of unique birds. And last but not least, one of the best places to glimpse over 50 species of tiny (but noisy) hummingbirds that live in Costa Rica, is the La Selva Biological Station.
Costa Rica is a great overall destination for those who love the great outdoors. Keep your eyes peeled for other exotic wildlife in the national parks. And if you enjoy an active holiday, you can hike up the popular volcano of Rincón de la Vieja, or go whitewater rafting in the Pacuare River before hanging out on a white sand beach.
Visit Costa Rica
2. Get close to blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos Islands
Known as ‘the greatest wildlife show on earth’, The Galapagos Islands have extraordinary levels of biodiversity and are home to over 2,000 species found nowhere else. There are also no large predators on the 13 accessible islands, so the animals have evolved without instincts of fear – making for incredible up-close-and-personal encounters.
The Galapagos has around 20 native bird species, and around 750,000 seabirds. And, although birdwatchers flock to this enchanting volcanic archipelago lying almost 1,000km off the coast of Ecuador, you don’t have to be a seasoned birdwatcher to enjoy the spectacle of crowd-pleasing and curious blue-footed boobies (pictured above).
On island-hopping cruises, you can also spot the large black frigate (or ‘pirate bird’), the elegant waved Albatross – which has an eight-foot wingspan – and the tiny Galapagos penguin on the rocky coast.
The far-flung island of Genovesa, home to flocks of Nazca boobies, is a favourite with birdwatchers. But, they mainly come to see the striking red-footed boobies, which are much rarer than their blue-footed relatives. Fun fact: males who have the brightest red feet have the best chance of scoring a mate!
The Galapagos Islands is also a great place to spot other unusual wildlife, including impassive giant iguanas, colourful Sally Lightfoot crabs, and sea lions. And if you haven’t had enough birdwatching, you could consider visiting the cloud forest of Mindo; a paradise for birdwatchers on the Ecuadorian mainland.
3. Spot the ‘big six’ in South Africa
South Africa boasts the largest number of endemic bird species of any African country (meaning they live only here) – as well as rich seabird diversity and the chance to see many other exotic African birds.
About 500 bird species can be found in The Kruger National Park in the northeast, which, with its diverse eco-zones, is the best place in the country to go birdwatching.
While most people visit this famous wildlife park to see Africa’s ‘big five’ animals on safari, for birdwatchers, it’s about spotting the ‘big six’: the martial eagle, striking saddle-billed stork, kori bustard, ground hornbill, lappet-faced vulture, and the nocturnal Pel’s fishing owl, which hangs out along the Luvuvhu River in northern Limpopo province.
One of the most prominent raptors seen here is the beautiful bateleur eagle, which is known for its aerial acrobatics and its long hunting hours (eight to nine hours a day!). Other colourful bird species to look out for along the guided wilderness walking trails include lilac-breasted rollers, bee-eaters, kingﬁshers, and weaver birds to name just a few.
Plus, from November to April, you’ll also be able to spot around 200 migratory birds, such as the greater striped swallow and the blue crane.
When you’ve had your fill of birdwatching and wildlife, South Africa offers many other memorable travel experiences, from the 850km wine route, to the city life and beaches of Cape Town.
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4. Marvel at flocks of flamingos in Kenya
Kenya’s vast and varied landscapes make it a bird watcher’s paradise, and over 1,100 recorded bird species – many rare – live here. Its rich bird habitats range from rainforests to grasslands, wetlands to woodlands, and rugged hills to lagoons and saltpans.
Perhaps the most popular birdwatching experience is seeing the gorgeous lesser flamingos, which flock in their millions to Kenya’s Rift Valley. These long-legged, long-necked creatures are the smallest species of flamingo. They tip-toe around as they feed, moving between Lake Bogoria, Lake Nakuru, and Lake Elementaita. And, you’ll be able to witness a marvel of nature when they launch into the air in a pink cloud!
The great thing about Kenya is it offers opportunities for bird watching at any time of the year. Aside from lesser flamingos, other species you may want to look out for are the grey crowned crane, African pygmy kingfisher, and striking scarlet-chested sunbird.
For more animal encounters, you can also head to the Masai Mara National Park to see the ‘big five’. Or, if you want to kick back and relax, Kenya has no shortage of beautiful white-sand beaches with twinkling blue waters.
5. Admire the Andean condor in Peru
From the dry plains of the Pacific coast to the towering Andes mountains and the tropical rainforests of the Amazon basin, Peru is one of the three most diverse countries on earth.
As home to more than 15% of the world’s bird species – of which 138 are found nowhere else – Peru offers spectacular experiences for birdwatchers, and new bird species are still being discovered in its unspoilt wilderness.
It’s one of the best spots in South America to see the magnificent Andean condor, which is the largest flying species on earth (and weighs 33 lbs with a wing-span of 10.5ft!). In southern Peru, from the Cruz del Condor viewpoint in the rugged Colca Canyon, you can spot this carnivorous bird soaring over the Colca River.
The incredible Manu Biosphere Reserve has the highest biodiversity of protected areas in the world, in an area half the size of Switzerland. Its cloud forest is home to the flame red or orange Andean cock-of-the-rock – and males gather in communal ‘leks’, where they strut and sing to compete for the attention of a female.
At sunrise, you can watch a dazzling display of macaws, parrots, and parakeets gathering in a ‘lick’ to eat clay along the banks of the Manu River.
If you want to make the most of your time in Peru, you might also want to consider hiking the Inca trail to the iconic Machu Picchu!
6. Visit the remarkable King Penguins in The Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands deserves to be on any serious bird-watchers bucket-list, and can also appeal to the most casual of bird watchers. Over 200 diverse bird species live on this Southern archipelago off the coast of Argentina.
Most people go to see the remarkable king penguins; a spectacular sight accessible from the Falklands’s main town, Stanley. Few birds are as cute as these penguins, which are almost a metre tall, and most people try to time their visit with when the fluffy brown chicks appear in the colony.
Weddell Island is another bird-watching hot spot with over 54 different species. Be prepared to spot spectacular seabirds on the cliffs and along the craggy coastline of the Falkland Islands, such as black-brow albatrosses, southern giant petrel and rock cormorants – and look for the comical steamer ducks who waddle around the islands in pairs.
In between birdwatching, there are chances to spot other aquatic wildlife such as seals, sea lions, and dolphins. You can also discover the history of British and Argentine conflicts; enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, kayaking; and attend local events and festivals.
7. Spot the beautiful bee-eater in Andalusia
Andalusia, in southern Spain, has some of the richest bird life in Europe. From wetlands to soaring rocky mountains, it’s home to brilliantly diverse bird species.
One of the best places for birdwatchers is the wetlands and lagoons of Coto Doñana National Park in southern Andalucia, where you can spot the rare Spanish imperial eagle, the white stork, the Dalmatian pelican, and red-necked nightjars.
And, of course, keep an eye out for the beautiful turquoise European bee-eater along sandy river banks. This is a brightly coloured bird with a long, slender bill that’s specialised for catching and eating flying insects, especially bees and wasps.
You might also be able to spot the Eurasian black vulture in Sierra Morena in the north; while the Fuente De Piedra Salt Lagoon in central Andalusia is famous for its greater flamingos. Plus, if you want to head to the mountains, the Sierra Nevada National Park is home to species such as the golden eagle, the rock bunting, and the wallcreeper. And, in March, you can catch the impressive display of thousands of migratory birds such as storks, raptors, and honey buzzards flying through The Gibraltar Straits.
While you’re in Andalusia, why not also pay a visit to the famous Alhambra, taste the region’s famous food, and catch a Flamenco performance?
8. Watch puffins on the Farne Islands
If you’d prefer something a bit closer to home, our very own island offers spectacular and varied bird-watching holidays too.
The Farne Islands, an uninhabited archipelago off the coast of Northumberland, is one of the best places on the planet to spot seabirds like puffins, guillemots, razorbills, eider ducks, and dive-bombing Arctic terns.
The puffin in particular is one of the most iconic – and photogenic – seabirds in the world, with its clown-like face, and bright-coloured bill. And you’ll find a staggering 150,000 of them here during the breeding season, and you can see the young pufflings from June.
These rocky islands also boast breathtaking scenery – from craggy cliffs to crashing waves – and are home to Atlantic grey seals.
In terms of what else the Farne Islands have to offer, you can visit historic lighthouses and the ruins of a medieval monastery; go snorkelling and diving to see the diverse marine life and shipwrecks; and take guided walking tours to learn about the islands’ ecology and history.
Visit the Farne Islands
If you love nature and fancy spending your next holiday marvelling at birdlife, we hope that these destinations have given you some inspiration.
If you’re drawn to remote wildernesses, birdwatching is a great excuse to explore some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. Observing birds in their natural habitat can take you from sultry rainforests, jungles, and cloud forests to lagoons, mountains, and savannahs. Although, equally, you may find some incredible birds hopping around your hotel garden!
Whatever type of bird or scenery you’re most fascinated by, there’s a bird-watching holiday for everyone.
For more ideas and inspiration, you might want to check out our article; 10 of the best holidays for animal lovers. Or, if you’re interested in learning more about birdwatching, you might want to check out our beginner’s guide.