Experience Ecuador – a birdwatcher’s paradise! From the steamy equatorial lowlands to the misty cloud forests and lush rainforest, the country is just full of stunningly beautiful, colourful and often rare species.
You’ll explore the rich and diverse Tandayapa Valley/Mindo area from your base at the well-known Bellavista Lodge, nestled in the cloud forest. From here you’ll visit the famous Paz de las Aves Reserve to look for Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Giant Antpitta, a few other species of Antpitta and potentially the stunning Golden-headed Quetzal and skulking Dark-backed Wood-Quail. One of many star attractions at Milpe is the Club-winged Manakin, along with Choco Trogon and a range of other Choco endemic species. Rio Silanche is run by the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, as is Milpe, and is another bird-rich conservation area, home to Barred Puffbird, various trogons, Orange-fronted Barbet and birds of prey including Laughing Falcon to name a few.
At some point you’ll visit Alambi Hummingbird and Tanager Reserve and of course there will be plenty of opportunities to explore the network of trails around Bellavista Lodge itself where you can see Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, Tanager Finch, Grass-green Tanager, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Sickle-winged Guan, Red-billed Parrot and the recently identified Olinguito.
Then immerse yourself in the essence of Amazonia with this astounding trip to the world’s biggest and most wildlife-rich rainforest. Your Amazon adventure will start in earnest at the spectacular Sacha Lodge, but even before arriving there you may well have spotted some characteristic birds of the area such as the unique Hoatzin or cryptic Common Pottoo. From the dizzy heights of the canopy walkway enjoy Mealy Amazon parrots as they fly past, perhaps even a Blue and Yellow Macaw and if you are very lucky the guides may know the roost site for Crested Owl. Sloths are seen moving slowly through the canopy while Common Squirrel Monkey and Spix’s Night Monkey are a delight to watch. You may well smell and certainly hear Red Howlers before you see them! Occasionally Giant Otter is seen here too!
There are many ways to extend this tour, so please contact us for details.
Itinerary and price
Day 1: Flight to Quito to be organised by you
For help with your flight arrangements and to receive a no obligation quote, you can complete the enquiry form on our website or call 0800 280 8947 to speak to a flight advisor at StudentUniverse (in partnership with Gapyear.com), part of the Flight Centre Travel Group, a leading retailer of airfares and worldwide flights.
Meals: Payable directly today
There is a flight departing London Heathrow early morning which arrives in Quito in the evening. Some flights departing the UK earlier in the morning arrive in Quito late afternoon/evening.
Your driver will be outside Quito airport (look for your name on a placard) to welcome you and transfer you to Hotel Sebastian or similar. Relax for the remainder of the day.
Note: Quito is located at high altitude in the Andes, almost 3,000 metres. To avoid any symptoms of altitude sickness and prepare for the following day we advise as early a night as possible with plenty of sleep AND avoid alcohol until you reach lower altitudes.
Day 2: Quito – Bellavista (Upper Tandayapa Valley)
Meals: Breakfast in Quito, lunch and dinner at Bellavista
After breakfast our experienced guide will arrive at your hotel at 0730 hours and you’ll be driven (approx. 2 hours) to Bellavista, nestled in the cloud forest at the top end of the Tandayapa Valley, where you will be based for six nights. You’ll be able to enjoy birding along Bellavista trails in different areas of the reserve today and some very productive road-side birding during the course of your stay. All guided birding is on a shared guide basis. Relax for the evening. The recently discovered Olinguito (an arboreal mammal) sometimes comes to a feeding station at the lodge, so fingers crossed for a sighting of this also.
Night at Bellavista Lodge
Days 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7: Bellavista area with visits to Angel Paz Reserve, Milpe, Rio Silanche, Alambi and other sites
Please note: One of these nights may be spent in the region of Pedro Vicente Maldonado for better access to local reserves and the rest will be at Bellavista Lodge.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch (or box lunch) and dinner at Bellavista
Over the course of these days you’ll visit the above sites. The order and the number of times you visit may vary, depending on the other clients staying at Bellavista at the time. Guiding will be on a shared basis. I’m sure you’ll all agree that visiting any of these species-rich sites more than once will be well worthwhile, and the chances are you’ll see some different species on each visit. Birding in lush lichen-draped cloud forest habitats can be tough, but exceptionally rewarding.
Sites to be visited include:
Bellavista trails and local environs (c. 2,300m)
There is so much to see around Bellavista and today you’ll explore locally in a small group with your guide during two organised walks. Some of the special species might include Swallow-tailed Nightjar, Beautiful Jay, Tanager Finch, Golden-headed and Crested Quetzals. You could see Sickle-winged Guan, Grass-green Tanager, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Gorgeted Sunangel and Red-billed Parrot. You can often see 10 species of hummingbird visiting the feeders at once and up to 20 species or so within one hour including the characterful Booted Racket-tail. In between walks and excursions you can relax or explore locally on your own. Nights at Bellavista Lodge in the cloud forest.
Angel Paz Reserve
Early one morning you’ll enjoy an unforgettable experience, a visit to Angel Paz’s private forest reserve, well known for the owner offering juicy worms to entice onto the forest trails some sought-after species that are usually difficult to see – Giant, Yellow-breasted, Ochre-breasted and Moustached Antpittas. It isn’t just the antpittas, though, as this diverse forest is home to many brightly coloured species, including Andean Cock-of-the-rock and Orange-breasted Fruiteater and the more cryptically coloured Dark-backed Wood-Quail. With a little luck this morning could yield Golden-winged Manakin, Golden-headed Quetzal, Rufous-bellied Nighthawk, Pauraque and perhaps Chestnut-crowned Antpitta!
If you ever watched the Life of Birds, you may have seen David Attenborough captivated by the sight of displaying Manakins. Today you will explore the fascinating forest trails at Milpe, run by the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation (MCF) and hopefully you, too, will be captivated by Club-winged Manakin. Obviously you can never guarantee wildlife, but fingers crossed you’ll see them and perhaps Choco Toucan and Choco Trogon as well as some of the other endemic birds of the Choco region which occur here. Lunch will be provided locally and you may visit San Miguel’s Restaurant in Los Bancos, complete with a bird feeding station by the window and lovely views from high above the Rio Blanco.
Rio Silanche, also run by MCF, has an extensive bird list. Here your guide will help search for Pacific Parrotlet and Pacific Hornero (both are Tumbesian endemics), Orange-fronted Barbet, Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, Grey-and-gold, Blue-whiskered, Ochre-breasted and Scarlet-browed Tanagers (all Choco endemics) and many other species that are easier to see like White-bearded Manakin, Squirrel Cuckoo, Rufous-tailed and Purple-chested Hummingbirds, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Masked Tityra, Yellow-tufted Dacnis and some more tanagers including Silver-throated, Blue-necked and Golden-hooded. As well as forest trails to explore for White-bearded Manakin, there is a 15m high observation platform, where, depending on luck, sometimes Swallow-tailed Kites grace the skies.
Alambi Hummingbird and Tanager Reserve
32 different types of hummingbird have been recorded from the feeders or in the Reserve at this wonderful site and often you can expect 12 – 15 species on a visit, depending on the season, not to mention Maroon-chested Ground-doves recorded in the lodge garden and Lyre-tailed Nightjar in the parking area! On a typical visit around the feeders and garden plants look out for Western Emerald, White-necked Jacobin, Purple-throated Woodstar, Booted Racket-tail and Green-crowned Woodnymph. Red-headed Barbet, Ecuadorian Thrush, Choco Brush Finch and Yellow-tufted Dacnis are all attracted to the fruit which is put out and the natural food available in the forest, while a walk down to the river can result in views of White-capped Dipper, Golden-headed Quetzal and Pacific Hornero and many other birds, frogs, butterflies and flowers.
Day 8: Bellavista - Lake Cuve
Meals: Breakfast, lunch or box lunch and dinner
Cuve offers some different habitats at a lower elevation (500’). Travel here will be along some back roads with birding on the way. You’ll enjoy abundant birdlife, cascading waterfalls and a one night adventure in a private reserve where frog concerts accompany your evening stay at a simple but very friendly, community-run hostel near Lake Cuve. A night trip to see Caimans is offered and you can opt to enjoy more birding or visit a bat cave. Time will also be spent (today or tomorrow) at Mashpi Reserve and potentially Rio Silanche again as well as the Laguna Cuve National Protected Area.
Night at Lake Cuve community run hostel
Day 9: Lake Cuve – Quito
Meals: Breakfast and lunch
You’ll enjoy further birding today and your return to Quito will be early/mid evening having enjoyed an amazing experience.
You’ll be taken to hotel Casa Aliso in Quito where you’ll say farewell to your guide/driver. Dinner tonight is payable directly and there are a few local restaurants to choose from close to Casa Aliso. Reception staff will give you directions.
Day 10: Quito – Coca – Sacha Lodge, Amazonia
Meals: Breakfast in Quito, packed lunch in Coca and dinner at Sacha
A short flight of 30 minutes takes you to Puerto Francisco de Orellana, locally known as Coca. A warm welcome will await you at the airport, you’ll be taken for lunch before boarding a large motorised canoe to whisk you down the Rio Napo. After two hours on the river (look for Great Yellow-headed Vulture overhead and Oriole Blackbird, Giant Cowbird and Pied Plover’s on the river islands), a short stroll along a boardwalk and a final journey by dugout canoe, Sacha Lodge will come into view on the edge of Pilchicocha Lake.
By now you may well have seen the very vocal Red Howlers as well as Black-fronted Nunbirds, Hoatzins and Great or Common Potoo!
On reaching Sacha Lodge you will be split into groups of up to six and the programme for the next few days will be explained. The remaining time this afternoon can be spent relaxing in your hammock or scanning from the jetty overlooking Lake Pilchicocha, where Black Caiman feed and very occasionally Giant River Otters are seen.
Your nights will be in a comfortable cabin with western style bathroom and shower.
Days 11, 12 and 13: Sacha Lodge
Breakfast, lunch and dinner
The programme for these days will consist of morning and late afternoon/early evening excursions which will include:
Treetop viewing from a sturdy canopy walkway with observation platforms at each end and in the middle. The sound of tropical birds, mixed with cicadas and frogs can be almost (pleasantly) deafening at times – just one of the many experiences you’ll remember from your holiday. In the canopy you should see White-throated Toucan, Russet-backed Oropendola, Purple-throated and Spangled Cotingas, Ivory-billed Aracari, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker and many other species.
Canopy viewing from a 40+ metre high observation tower. Breathtaking views across the rain forest canopy for as far as the eye can see, and long may it continue! Canopy birding species here might include various birds of prey overhead such as Black Caracara, Crane Hawk and Slender-billed Kite, with White-lored Euphonia, Green-and-Gold Tanager, Purple-throated Fruitcrow and if you are lucky Tawny-bellied Screech Owl seen from a nearby trail.
Creek exploration by dugout canoe and it isn’t all about birds – you might see Black or Spectacled Caiman, Caiman Lizard, maybe an Anaconda and hopefully some very beautiful tropical butterflies, including the large and very bright Blue Morpho. Many birds will put in an appearance – Black-capped Donocobius, Limpkin, Black-crowned Night Heron, Greater Ani, Snail Kite and you may see the wonderful Hoatzins again.
Guided walks along forest trails where you may see Kinkajous, skulking antbirds such as White-shouldered, Spot-backed, Silvered and Black-faced. With a little luck you may see stunning Wire-tailed and White-bearded Manakins and perhaps even Crested Owls if the guides know of a roost site. And if you are very, very lucky, a Southern Tamandua (anteater).
The order of the activities and the number of times you do them will vary. Usually in the middle of the day you’ll find some time to relax or explore the area around the lodge itself on your own.
Day 14: Sacha – Coca – Quito
Day 14: Sacha – Coca – Quito
Today you journey back to Coca and Quito from Sacha Lodge (time and flight details to be supplied), returning the way you arrived via the channels, boardwalk, Napo River and a flight departing Coca for Quito.
Note: You can if you wish extend your experience in the Amazon rain forest with a stay at Napo Wildlife Centre. Please enquire and we can supply a supplement.
Extra note: If you require an extra night in Quito to link with your international flight please enquire and we can provide a supplement.
Price per person valid from 1 January 2016 to 31 December 2016:
Based on two travelling on a twin share basis: US $ TBA
Based on three travelling on a twin share basis: US $ TBA
Based on four travelling on a twin share basis: US $ TBA
Single supplement US $ TBA
Accommodation as specified
All land transfers
Meals as mentioned above
All entrance fees to sanctuaries for the whole tour (except Yasuni in the Amazon which is payable directly – see below)
Bird checklist, pre-travel and top tips for travel advice
Services of an experienced guide on a shared basis for the West slope
And for the Amazon…
All land/boat transfers
Experienced bilingual naturalist guide at Sacha Lodge and a native guide on a shared basis (max. group size is usually 6 at Sacha)
Internal flight from Quito – Coca and Coca – Quito (approx. US $200 per person)
Yasuni entrance fee when you visit the parrot clay licks (approx. US $22 per person)
All drinks. You may need to purchase the odd teas/coffees/beer every now and again at establishments with excellent veranda/restaurant bird feeding stations. Filtered water in the Amazon is usually available, but bottled water would need to be purchased
Phone calls, laundry and anything else of personal nature