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You are here:3.9 Chilma Alto and Chilma Bajo

3.9 Chilma Alto and Chilma Bajo

The forest surrounding the small towns of Chilma Alto and Chilma Bajo does not have any current conservation status. The two small towns are located near each other along the western slopes of the western Andes of El Carchi Province.  Chilma Alto is located at 2300 m and Chilma Bajo at 2000 m.  For many years the area was considered to be dangerous due to its proximity to the Colombian border, and the influence of Colombian guerrillas in the area. Recently political development and security in Colombia and Ecuador have improved and visiting the Colombian border is safer now than in past years.

The road starting in Tulcán, and heading to the western foothills goes along various habitats close to Volcán Chiles located right by the Ecuadorian-Colombian border. The Chilma Alto road finishes at a dead end near the small town of Peñas Blancas where very few ornithologists have been, and it would be well worth studying.



Páramo Grassland, Temperate Forest, Upper, Middle Montane Forest.



Chilma Alto and Chilma Bajo

There is no reliable public transportation along the road to this area, though a 4-wheel drive vehicle is not essential, a high clearance one is.  No special arrangements are needed but actualized information regarding the safety of the place should be asked before visiting the site.

You could camp near either of the two towns for that area is very safe.   The villagers here are peaceful, and welcoming and do not mind if you want to camp.  You could also stay in one of the many Hotels in Tulcán.   For further information about different hotel and accommodations in Tulcan visit:  The drive from Tulcan to Chilma takes between 2 and 2½ hours.



Chilma Alto and Chilma Bajo

To visit this site you must begin Tulcan in City.  You can reach Tulcán after birding and traveling from El Angel Ecological Reserve, Cerro Mongus, Reserva Guanderas or La Bonita Road sites.  A good point to begin our trip instructions is at the beginning of the side road entrance to El Angel city along the Pan American Highway.  This point of reference has been described in several of the sites mentioned in earlier chapters.

From this point, 0.0 km, drive to Tulcán for 60.9 km.  From Tulcan, you must drive toward Tufiño and beyond toward Chilma Alto.  The start of the road to Tufiño and beyond commences on the northwest end of the city of Tulcan. 

(Click here to download Map. Chilma Alto & Chilma Bajo).   

After crossing a narrow bridge and a sharp turn to the left you set your odometer to point 0.0 km.   After driving for 1.4 km you will be going by “Chapuel,” and a further 6.9 km or 8.3 km from Tulcán, you will go through El Consuelo.  At 6.7 km farther or 15 km from Tulcán, you will find a military check point where the soldiers might search your vehicle and ask for identification and credentials for the driver and vehicle passengers.  You should have them handy. Continuing ahead for 2.3 km, or 17.3 km from Tulcán, you reach the town of Tufiño.  Drive through the town along the main road, and after passing the main plaza at the end of the town, 17.9 km from Tulcán, you will come to a fork.   Stay to the right hand road when exiting the town.  From this point the road starts ascending into the grassland Páramo and 3.2 km ahead, or 21.1 km from Tulcán, there will be a fork.  Do not take the right road for it goes to some hot springs.  Continue driving for 13.7 km or 34.8 km from Tulcán.  At this point you will be driving over the pass at 3900 m. This highland habitat is dominated by “Frailejones”  (Espeletia sp).   This high elevation “Frailejones” dominated habitat is a good place to look for Blue-mantled Thornbill and Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant.  Drive down the mountain for 31.5 km, or 66.3 km from Tulcán.  Here you will be driving through the small town of El Laurel.  In case you find any forks here, just stay on the main road.  After driving for 3.1 km past El Laurel, or 67.4 km from Tulcán, the road levels out and the forest is in really fine condition.  Continue for at least 1 more km along the road until you reach the “Cascada Humieadora” (sic), which is a small waterfall.  This site is about the same elevation than that of Chilma Alto and should have the same species.  It will be worthwhile to survey this stretch of road.  After birding here, drive on for another 3.1km, or 70.5 km from Tulcán.   At this point you will be driving through the small town of Bellavista.  From here, only 2.6 km ahead, or 73.1 km from Tulcán, you will be in Chilma Alto.   There will be a fork on your right.  The fork to the right goes to Chilma Bajo.  From this fork, go ahead along the main road on the left for only 0.3 km, or 73.4 km from Tulcán.   Here you will see a house with a trail on its left side.  This trail is used by the local people to extract wood out of the forest and it might be muddy and steep at times.  The first section is quite level.  The trail begins at 2300 m, and you can follow it for a long stretch.   I have been only as low as 2050 m.  Shortly after the beginning of the trail start looking for the Purplish-mantled Tanager.  Some of other important species from the area include Hoary Puffleg, White-faced Nunbird and Black Solitaire.

The road to Chilma Bajo descends steeply and you can drive it for 0.9 km.  Bird the forest stretch until 1.4 km from the Chilma Alto turn off. The habitat pass this point has been converted to pastureland and birding is poor.

Continuing beyond Chilma Alto to lower elevations toward Peñas Blancas seems to be quite promising, and the area would be well worth exploring.


Birds to look for

Chilma Alto and Chilma Bajo

Second-growth   (2G), Forest (F).

Common: Toucan Barbet (2G,F), White-tailed Tyrannulet (2G),   (F), Slaty-capped Flycatcher (2G, F), Beryl-spangled Tanager (2G, F), Golden Tanager (2G, F), Golden-naped   Tanager (2G, F), Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager (2G, F).

Uncommon: Barred Hawk (F), Rufous-bellied Nighthawk (2G, F),   Barred Parakeet (2G, F), Red-billed Parrot (2G,F), Collared Inca (2G,F), Hoary Puffleg (2G,F), Purple-throated   Woodstar (2G,F), White-bellied Woodstar (2G,F), Crimson-rumped   Toucanet (2G, F),  Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan (2G, F), Crimson-mantled Woodpecker (2G, F), Golden-headed Quetzal (2G,F), Strong-billed   Woodcreeper (F), Tyrannine Woodcreeper (F),    Spotted Barbtail (2G, F), Rusty-winged   Barbtail (2G, F), Lineated Foliage-gleaner (2G,F), Streak-capped   Treehunter (2G, F), Uniform Antshrike    (2G), ), Spillmann's Tapaculo   (2G, F), Yellow-bellied   Chat-Tyrant (F), Andean   Cock-of-the-rock (F), Slaty-backed   Nightingale-Thrush (2G, F), Plushcap (2G, F),

Rare: Cloud-forest Pygmy-Owl (F), Yellow-vented   Woodpecker (F), Powerful Woodpecker (F),    Beautiful Jay (2G, F).

Copyright © 2010 by Lelis Navarrete

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Meet the Author

Lelis Navarrete – Birding tour leader. Lelis has 19 years of experience as a birding guide and naturalist in the field. He has led groups of birders throughout most of Latin America, guiding frequently in countries like his native country of Ecuador and in the Galapagos Islands, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Panama. A Biology B.Sc. graduate from Universidad Católica in Quito, Lelis has supported Jocotoco Foundation since its founding in 1998 and was an active Board Member until 2010 supporting Ecuadorian bird and wildlife conservation. Lelis divides his time between his two great passions in life: birding and spending time with his wife Solange and son Fabian with whom he lives in Quito.


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