Los Flamencos Sanctuary (Spanish: Santuario de Fauna y Flora Los Flamencos) has been a designated wildlife sanctuary since 1977.
On the La Guajira Peninsula, beneath clear blue skies, the Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary is a true visual spectacle that in 1979 was declared part of the cultural heritage and an AICA in the Colombian Caribbean. Its main attraction is the American flamingoes, and their nests that can reach 60 cm (2.0 ft) high.
The ecosystems most representative of the Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary are the dry forest and the very dry tropical forest, lagoons and mangrove swamps. Most important of the coastal lagoons are Navio Quebrado and Laguna Grande, by virtue of their great social, economic and cultural importance for the region and the fact that they constitute a crucial natural mosaic, with the capacity to generate environmental assets and services. Thanks to this, for many years they have occupied a preponderant position in the regional and local economies, since they provide the habitat for the most emblematic species such as the pink flamingo and other migratory species.
The main body of fresh water is the River Camarone, which flows into the Navio Quebrado Lake. Inside the Sanctuary there are rivulets that flow only during the rainy season. This protected area also contains a further three lagoons separated from the sea by sandbanks: Manzanillo, Laguna Grande and Chentico. At the end of the rainy season, the action of the strong waves tends to drag sediment to the top end of the beach until the mouths of the lagoons are closed once again.
The Park is subject to periods of water deficiency, during which most trees shed their leaves, since the Sanctuary is located in a transition area between tropical dry and very dry forests, where prolonged droughts occur. Forests must wait for the next rainy season in order to recover their foliage and luxuriant appearance. Estuary banks are the ideal habitat for a great diversity of vegetation, notably several species of mangrove, such as the black (Avi-cennia germinans), the Zaragoza (Conocarpus erectus), the white (Laguncularia racemosa) and the red (Rhizophora mangle) varieties, and other species like the divi divi tree (Libidibia coriaria), the bay cedar (Cuazuma ulmifolia), the palo Brasil (Haematoxylon brasiletto), the barra-bas (Jacquinia aristata), the mesquite tree (Prosopis juliflora), the toco (Capparis pachaca) the carretero (As-pidosperma dugandii) and the caper-bush (Capparis indica), among others.
The Sanctuary accommodates a biological community of great importance, composed principally of crustaceans, molluscs, birds and fish. This protected area possesses almost 180 species of both resident and migratory waterfowl, such as the flamingo, its main attraction, as well as herons, seagulls, terns and ibis, among others. The flamingo is characterised by the bright pink colour that covers its entire body, except for the wing tips and the beak, which are black. Its neck and legs are particularly long. Generally speaking, in Colombia it is found in the departments of Magdalena and La Gua-jira, from sea level up to a height of 200 metres. Its bill serves as a filter to take in food for a healthy diet: algae and small crustaceans, insects, molluscs and protozoa. The majestic colouring of its plumage derives from the rich sources of pigment contained mainly in the Artemia salina shrimp. The flamingo inhabits shallow briny or very salty lagoons in flocks. Observing these slender graceful birds is undoubtedly one of the main attractions at the Sanctuary, although under no circumstances must visitors disturb flamingos, startle them by making noise or provoke them to take flight. Consequently, to respectfully admire their fine pink plumage and observe their conduct in their natural habitat, we must use binoculars. Other prominent marine species are prawns, which migrate en masse to breed when the water level rises during the rainy season and the swamps become linked to the sea, and a number of species of turtle, such as the loggerhead, hawk-sbill, leatherback and green varieties, the latter feeding on the underwater meadows. Indeed, the marine area adjacent to the Sanctuary is a migratory corridor for turtles.
All the communities that live in the protected area together add up to a total population of some 1,400, mostly Wayuus and people of African descent, whose main source of income is subsistence shrimp fishing. A small group of local inhabitants also benefit from tourism while another, composed mostly of Wayuu women, is devoted to making craft ware.
- Established: 1977
- Area: 7,000 hectares
- Altitude: Between 0 and 5 metres above sea level
- Climate: Warm
- Average temperature: : 28°C
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
- LOCATION: The Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary lies in the jurisdiction of the corregi-miento of Camarones, part of the municipality of Riohacha in La Guajira Department.
- HOW TO GET THERE: Two overland routes provide access to the Sanctuary, the first of which includes a stretch by boat: 1.- From Santa Marta, take the main Caribbean highway to Riohacha until you reach Camarones. Covering this 165-km stretch takes 2 hours, 30 minutes. At this point, take one of the boats provided by the local community to cross Boca de Camarones and, after a stretch of 3,5 kilometres, you come to the Centro Administrative del Santuario, the Guanebucane cabin and the Centro de Visitantes Los Mangles. 2.- From Riohacha, take the main Caribbean highway to Santa Marta as far as Camarones, a 20-kilometre trip that lasts 15 minutes. At Camarones you cross Boca de Camarones.
- WHERE TO EAT: The El Santuario community group offers typical Caribbean food with the indigenous flavours of La Guajira.
- WHERE TO STAY: The Centro de Visitantes Los Mangles has five cabins. Furthermore, there is a camping area for ten people and a hut that accommodates seven hammocks.
- WHERE TO SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION: The nearest hospital to the Sanctuary is in Riohacha.
- HOW LONG TO STAY- Three days and two nights should be enough.
- WHEN TO GO: To avoid the rainy seasons, it is advisable to go between December and April or between July and August, the ideal months in which to enjoy the beaches and the sun, one of the most recommendable activities at the Sanctuary. The worst months are October and November, when rainfall is heaviest.
WHAT TO DO IN THE PARK
The authorities allow ecotouristic (mostly passive), environmental education and cultural activities. This is an ideal place for photography and video enthusiasts, since no restrictions are imposed on these activities, Other recommendable activities include:
- Discovering the cultural heritage, the flora and above all the fauna: One of the most interesting activities is bird watching in places such as the Navio Quebrado lagoon, or other observation platforms to which visitors may be guided along land trails. The most Interesting species, as we have seen, is the pink flamingo, while other birds representative of these ecosystems include the crab plover, the ibis and the northern shoveler.
- Self-guided hiking: One of the most attractive inner circuits is the boat trip on the Navio Quebrado lagoon. Visitors are transported by oarsmen from the local eco-tourism services communities. But there are other places of interest, like Boca de Camarones, the Centro Administrative Guanebucane, the Centro de Visitantes Los Mangles, the Cari Cari community, the Laguna Grande, the Laguneta Chentico, the village of Camarones, the Chentico ranches, Loma Fresca and Tocoromana (where you may enjoy traditional folk dance performances, cuisine, games, traditional medicine, and myths and legends of the Wayuu community), the Resguardo Perratpu and the Tococo sector.
- Subsistence fishing with local fishermen.
- Craft exhibitions and the Casa de la Cultura Luis Antonio Robles, in the corregimiento of Camarones.
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