Ecuador: Relaxed Tandayapa (Safety Tours)

This is a relaxed birding tour, but also suitable for those who wish to be on a Birding With A Camera tour. It fits both needs, the birding is relaxed paced, and there are many good opportunities to take photos on this itinerary. This tour has been designed, specifically, to be as safe as possible in this Covid-19 era, by staying at only two, small hotels/lodges, using large vehicles, and only eating in very limited places throughout, with contact with others minimised throughout in doing so. There are also no domestic flights involved.


This is designed as a Safety Tour, (for the post-Covid era) which means:

HOTEL and FOOD:

ONLY 2, SMALL HOTELS ARE USED. THE MEALS WILL ALL BE PROVIDED BY THESE TWO HOTELS ONLY, WITH NO EXTERNAL RESTAURANTS USED.

• The lodging selected on this tour is relatively small. We have picked a small, but good, hotel near the airport for the first and last nights of the tour; all of the nights in between (10 nights) will be spent at Tandayapa Bird Lodge.

• By using only two places, minimal unpacking will be required on this tour.

• Both accommodations used also have on site restaurants; to ensure all of our meals will come out of the kitchens of just two places throughout. No external restaurants will be used. Where we take a day trip out from the lodge, we will take a boxed lunch in order to avoid this, and source our meals from as few places as possible.

GROUP VEHICLE: We have chosen a large bus for the group. All sites are accessible with this vehicle.

AIRPORT TRANSFERS: On day 1 at the start and day 13 at the end. These will be in vans provided by a trusted local transport company, and will not be shared with other hotel guests (i.e. it will not be a hotel shuttle). It will only ever be shared with a limited number of people on the same tour.

• There are no domestic flights on this tour, so no further air travel is required.

In summary, the use of only two, small hotels, with a large bus for the group, and only eating out of two restaurants (and using packed lunches from these, when not possible), will ensure as little contact with people outside of the Tropical Birding group as possible. This offers one of the safest Ecuador tours possible under current conditions.

Booted-Racket-tail-web-1224-Tandayapa-June-2009-Sam-Woods
Booted-Racket-tail-web-1224-Tandayapa-June-2009-Sam-Woods ( )

Ecuador is one of the most diverse countries on Earth for birds. The easily accessible northwest of the country (just 90 minutes from the capital, Quito), is long established as one of the best places in Ecuador to go birding, with more local birding sites concentrated there than anywhere else in the country. Therefore, it is possible to locate a tour in just one lodge for an extended period, as there are plentiful local birds and birding sites to cover from a single base. Tandayapa Bird Lodge has been serving birders, bird photographers and other tourists for nearly twenty years, and is set within one of the most important birding areas in the region, the Tandayapa Valley, with its cloudforests and plentiful birding hotspots. It is also within easy reach of other famous birding locales, like Mashpi, Milpe, Mindo, and Rio Silanche. All these, and more, will be covered on this tour.

Tropical Birding already offers shorter tours of this nature at Tandayapa, so see this page if you are interested in a shorter, more intense birding tour. One of the biggest complaints the lodge had is that people wish they could stay longer (even after 5 nights there). Therefore, this is deliberately longer, to allow a more relaxed approach, with “buffer days” around Tandayapa Bird Lodge to break up the longer day trips from the lodge, and many days when afternoons can be taken off if desired. The longer stay will also allow us to cover some other sites not possible on a shorter tour. By staying at just two hotels/lodges, by sourcing all of our food from these places only, avoiding eating in external restaurants, and using a large vehicle, we hope to minimize contact with others, making it a perfect Post-Covid tour option.

Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan inhabits the Tandayapa Valley
Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan inhabits the Tandayapa Valley (Sam Woods)

NOTE: The exact order in which the sites will be visited may be changed based on local weather conditions at the time.

Day 1: Arrival in Quito. After you arrival in Ecuador’s capital, Quito you will be met at the airport and taken in a van by private transfer to our nearby hotel, a short drive from the airport. The van will be private for a limited number of our guests only, and not shared with other hotel guests. There is no birding on this day, so please take time to relax, and the group will meet for dinner at 6:30pm, for the first meal of the tour. This will be a welcome dinner in the hotel restaurant.

Grass-green Tanager frequents the Upper Tandayapa Valley
Grass-green Tanager frequents the Upper Tandayapa Valley (Nick Athanas)

Day 2: Yanacocha to Tandayapa Bird Lodge. After a sit down breakfast in Quito, we will leave for our first site, Yanacocha. The morning will be spent at this temperate forest site, before we eat our boxed lunch in the beautiful surroundings there, then leave directly for Tandayapa, arriving by midafternoon. Yanacocha has a great set of feeders, which may draw the best birds of the morning, including Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Masked Flowerpiercer, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Great Sapphirewing, Sapphire-vented Puffleg, and Tyrian Metaltail. Working our way through the forest, we may also come across other temperate forest birds not possible at any other sites on the tour, like Black-chested Mountain-Tanager, Superciliaried Hemispingus, Blue-backed Conebill, and Yellow-breasted Brushfinch. In the afternoon we will make our way to Tandayapa Bird Lodge, our comfortable base for the next ten nights.

Day 3: Tandayapa Bird Lodge and the Tandayapa Valley. The lodge is set within rich subtropical forest in the Andes of western Ecuador. The trees, and birds, come right up to the lodge. The climate at the lodge is very pleasant, lacking the humidity of lower altitudes in the tropics, and lacking the chill of the highlands.

Crimson-rumped Toucanet occurs right around the lodge in Tandayapa
Crimson-rumped Toucanet occurs right around the lodge in Tandayapa (Sam Woods)

Today will involve a mix of birding right around the lodge, and doing some roadside birding in other parts of the valley. Early in the morning around the building, birds like Slate-throated Redstart, Toucan Barbet, and Golden-bellied Flycatcher can be found. Alongside them, the hummingbird feeders will be being worked overtime by the hundreds of hummingbirds present. Regular species include Violet-tailed Sylph, Purple-throated Woodstar, Buff-tailed Coronet, Brown Inca, and the cartoon-like Booted Racket-tail, while fruit feeders may bring in toucanets and tanagers. Lunch will be taken at the lodge, and the afternoon plan will involve birding some other parts of the Tandayapa Valley.

Tandayapa Bird Lodge from the air
Tandayapa Bird Lodge from the air (Pablo Cervantes Daza)

In between the birding, we will enjoy some stellar meals!
In between the birding, we will enjoy some stellar meals! (Pablo Cervantes Daza)

Day 4: Milpe half day. The joy of being based at Tandayapa Bird Lodge, is that as well as great birding on the doorstep, short trips can be made to other sites, which differ greatly in the lists of birds found there. Milpe is only 45 minute’s drive from the lodge, but is over 2000ft (650m) lower, in the foothills of the Andes, therefore offering very different species those found in Tandayapa. The reserve comes with hummingbird feeders, where the dominant species will be new to us, like Green Thorntail, Green-crowned Brilliant, White-whiskered Hermit, and Crowned Woodymph. In the open skies above, Swallow-tailed Kites often pass overhead. Optional trail walks may reveal Rufous or Broad-billed Motmot, Collared Aracari, Yellow-throated Toucan, Bronze-winged Parrot, Spotted Woodcreeper, Buff-fronted Foliage-Gleaner, Red-faced Spinetail, Cinnamon Becard, Ornate Flycatcher, or even Club-winged Manakin. After a morning walking trails, watching feeders, and being entertained by hummingbirds while we take a boxed lunch on site, we shall return to Tandayapa Bird Lodge by midafternoon. The rest of the afternoon will be for relaxing around the lodge, with a longer day trip planned for the following day.

Purple-throated Woodstar is wonderfully common at Tandayapa
Purple-throated Woodstar is wonderfully common at Tandayapa (Andres Vasquez)

Day 5: Rio Silanche day trip. This will be the longest trip taken from the lodge, which is still only 90 minutes away. With the long distance, we will take breakfast early at the lodge, and bring a boxed lunch with us to be taken in the field. This site is much lower than the lodge, further downslope than Milpe, and so offers yet more birds for us. The entrance road to the reserve can often be distracting with species like Hook-billed Kite, Pacific Parrotlet, Blue-headed Parrot, Pacific Antwren, Choco Toucan, and Blue-necked Tanagers turning up along there. While, I the reserve, we will be on the lookout for Guira, Gray-and-gold and Scarlet-browed Tanagers, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Guayaquil Woopdecker, White-tailed Trogon, Orange-fronted Barbet, and Black-faced Dacnis. This day often yields 100 species in a day, and at the end of that we will arrive back at the lodge by early evening.

Day 6: Tandayapa Valley. After a long day yesterday, we will stay local, concentrating in the Tandayapa Valley, and particularly checking the upper reaches of this, a 20-minute drive from the property. At the top of the valley, cloudforest becomes dominant with trees heavily laden with bromeliads and other epiphytes, and where the cloud rolls in regularly encompassing all around. The birds are subtly different in the short distance from the lodge, and we will be searching for some real lookers, like Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Grass-green Tanager, and Green-and-black Fruiteater. Other regulars include Collared Inca, Gorgeted Sunangel, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Turquoise Jay, and a giddy selection of tanagers, like Golden, Flame-faced, Golden-naped and Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers. After a morning at the top end of the valley, we shall return to the lodge for lunch, and make plans for another local outing in the afternoon, for those who wish not to stay at the lodge. This day has been planned as a relaxed one to break up the longer day trips either side of this.

Flame-faced Tanagers visit the feeders regularly at Mashpi
Flame-faced Tanagers visit the feeders regularly at Mashpi (Pablo Cervantes Daza)

Day 7: Mashpi. Having had a local day before this one, we will head out further afield to bird Mashpi. This site, 90minutes or so from the lodge, is at an elevation only slightly lower than Tandayapa (900ft/320m), the charcter of th forest is quite different, being a wetter, more mossy forest, with an exciting list of birds hard to find elsewhere, like Glistening-green, Rufous-throated and Moss-backed Tanagers, Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager, and Orange-breasted Fruiteater, among many others. Some of these come to some superb feeders, and we will switch our time from watching fruit feeders on site for some of these, checking the hummingbird feeders alongside for Velvet-purple Coronet and Empress Brilliant, and birding the forest patches along the quiet road for mixed feeding flocks, with birds like Toucan Barbets and tanagers often in attendance. We will take lunch on site, beside the feeders, and then head back to the lodge arriving by late afternoon.

Day 8: Tandayapa Valley. Another day will be spent in the Tandayapa Valley, covering the lower and upper valley, and taking lunch in between this. We will ensure we finish early to get some rest before the earliest start of the day, for something very special indeed, the next day…

Toucan Barbet likes to hang around Tandayapa Bird Lodge at first light
Toucan Barbet likes to hang around Tandayapa Bird Lodge at first light (Andres Vasquez)

Day 9: Paz de Aves (Mindo) half day trip. This small, private reserve on the edge of Mindo will be our destination for he morning. This wonderful cloud forest reserve, with a super set of local guides, involves visiting feeding stations in the forest for a chance at seeing several species of antpittas at close range, as well as wood-quail too, and also have some active feeders packed with hummingbirds and tanagers. However, the early start will be for one of the most striking birds in the Andes, the scarlet and black Andean Cock-of-the-rock. Early in the morning, a handful of males awake early, to display together to attract females. A specially built blind will help us see this extraordinary bird up close, just after daybreak. After this headline performance, we will be led by the local guide to various forest feeding stations, looking for Yellow-breasted and Ochre-breasted Antpittas, Dark-backed Wood-Quail, and sometimes there is a roosting Lyre-tailed Nightjar to admire too. This will all end with us taking our boxed lunch in their small on site café, overlooking their feeders, where we will be surrounded by hummingbirds and tanagers, begging to be photographed. After lunch, we will head back to Tandayapa Bird Lodge for a relaxing afternoon.

Day 10: Rancho Suamox half day trip. After an early finish the afternoon before, we will be ready for a longer half day trip, this time downslope to Rancho Suamox, close to the lowlands. This private reserve has feeders, and some wide trails to bird for lowland species, not possible in our higher based lodge. This is a good site for Dusky-faced Tanager, Red-headed Barbet, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Purple-crowned Fairy, Green-breasted Mango, Pacific Hornero, Great Antshrike, Ecuadorian Thrush, and Orange-crowned Euphonia, along with a whole suite of other lowland species. After a morning’s birding, and taking a boxed lunch beside the feeders, we will return to Tandayapa Bird Lodge, getting back in around mid-afternoon.

Choco Toucan occurs at Rio Silanche
Choco Toucan occurs at Rio Silanche (Jose Illanes)

Day 11: Oilbird trip. On this day we have a very special trip out to see the odd Oilbird, a nocturnal bird that rests in dark caverns by day. As they are nocturnal, there is no rush to leave, and we will take a later breakfast at the lodge, and leave after then with a boxed lunch. After watching these strange birds huddled against the damp walls of the gully, we will take our boxed lunch in the field, and return to the lodge after that, making stops for anyting we might find along the road back.

Day 12: Tandayapa to Quito. A final morning will be spent in the Tandayapa Valley, either at the lodge itself or combining this with a short trip into the upper Tandayapa Valley. After lunch at the lodge, we will pack up and leave for Quito, a 90 minute drive away, arriving no later than 5pm. The night will be spent in Quito, near the airport, although if you wish to leave on a late night flight (9pm or later), then that is possible too.

Day 13: Departure from Quito. There is no birding on this day, so flight departures at any time are possible (or even late in the night before if preferable). Breakfast is the last meal of the tour on this day, if you do not leave before the hotel serves that. The airport transfer will be provided by a private transport company, and will only be shared with a limited number of other participants, if at all.

This Rufous Motmot was photographed through the window of Tandayapa Bird Lodge!
This Rufous Motmot was photographed through the window of Tandayapa Bird Lodge! (Sam Woods)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Easy. While there are multiple early starts, the trip has been designed with plentiful room for time off, particularly in the three full days around Tandayapa itself, where middle of the day breaks are possible. Early finished have been planned for many days too. Even on many of the days away from the lodge (where lunch is taken in the field), such as the day at Yanacocha, Milpe, Rancho Suamox, and Paz de Aves, the days are planned so that time of arrival back at the lodge will likely be around midafternoon (3-4pm). Boxed lunches will be taken on many days in the field, in order to avoid using external restaurants and coming in contact with others. However, all of the sites in which these will be taken are birding areas. Breakfasts will typically be around 5:30am, although on the days we visit Rio Silanche and Rancho Suamox these will be taken at 5am, and on the half day trip to Paz de Aves, we will leave at 5am (with a snack breakfast for the bus) in order to arrive on time for the displays of the Andean Cock-of-the-rock. On this day, like many others, we will return to the lodge by midafternoon for recovery time!

The drives on this trip range from short drives up to 2 hours in length. The long drives (i.e. up to 2 hours direct) include from Yanacocha to Tandayapa, and to Mashpi, Suamox and Rio Silanche from Tandayapa (i.e. 4 days of the tour). These longer days have been planned with “buffer” dyas in between, where shorter days break these up and allow plenty of downtime in between the longer days. There are some unpaved roads for short periods on this tour, although these are good dirt roads, generally in good condition.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate. Most of the birding will be on flat or slightly inclined roads or wide tracks. Paz de las Aves, which is visited on one day, has some fairly steep and muddy trails (a walking stick helps a lot), but they are relatively short.

There are a range of elevations visited on this tour: Yanacocha is at 11,485ft (3500m); Quito at 9190ft (2800m); the Upper Tandayapa Valley at 7545ft (2300m); Tandayapa Bird Lodge at 5740ft (1750m); Mashpi at 4595ft (1400m); Milpe at 3610ft (1100m); Rio Silanche and Ranch Suamox at 1640ft (500m). We often suggest people come into Quito a day early (we can book you into the same hotel to do so if needed), in order to have some acclimatization time in Quito. We very rarely have people encounter altitude sickness at any of the sites on this itinerary.

CLIMATE: Usually very pleasant (mostly 55°-75°F, 13°-24°C), but cold on one morning at Yanacocha (near freezing) and hot on two days at Silanche and Suamox (up to c. 90°F/32°C). October is the end of the dry season, so is one of the drier times of year. However, some rain can still be expected, usually comprising short bursts in the afternoons and evenings.

ACCOMMODATION and FOOD: We will be using two locations for the entire trip, a single small, hotel, near Quito airport on the first and last nights, and then 10 nights in between at Tandayapa Bird, one of the longest established birding lodges in the region. This minimizes contact with other people, and also has the bonus that you only need to unpack twice on the tour. Our meals will be provided by only these two places, the hotel in Quito and Tandayapa Bird Lodge. These will be either sit down meals, or boxed lunches taken from the lodge, in order to avoid eating in external restaurants, and risking greater contact with others. The food at Tandayapa is often considered one of its greatest assets, and this should be a big feature o accompany a great, relaxed birding trip.

Both places are of a good to excellent standard, have full time electricity, full time hot water, wifi Internet, en-suite bathrooms and an on-site restaurant from where all the meals will be taken. The accommodation in Quito is a 20-minute drive from the airport, and Tandayapa Bird Lodge lies 90 minutes northwest of Quito.

VEHICLE: A large bus will be used for this group of 8 participants, plus 1 Tropical Birding guide, and 1 driver.

AIRPORT TRANSFERS WILL BE PRIVATE (i.e. not public shuttles), and only shared with a limited number of other participants, if required.

PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, and trying to ensure as many people see each bird as possible will be the primary objective. However, cameras are welcome on this tour, and there are many good feeders on this tour; at Tandayapa, Yanacocha, Milpe, Suamox, Mashpi and Paz de Aves where photos are often productive, particularly of hummingbirds and tanagers. The relaxed pace of the tour, and the number of feeders on site, means that it is a good tour for photography, even while being a bird tour.

WHEN TO GO: Ecuador, and Tandayapa, offers good year-round birding, and therefore birders frequently visit in all months of the year. The wettest months are from November to May, with mid-March to May being the very wettest of these. Temperatures and day length remain almost constant through the year, as Ecuador is on the equator.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Tourist visas are currently not required for citizens of the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and all European countries. Visas are currently only required of a few nationalities, mostly in Asia, Africa, and the middle East. Travel requirements are subject to change; if you are unsure, please check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff for help.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 12; meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 13 (if you do not leave earlier than it is ready); bottled drinking water (do not drink the tap water anywhere in Ecuador); Tandayapa Bird Lodge has a large tank of safe drinking water to refill from, ad so bringing your own refillable bottle is the best advice; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the morning of day 2 to the evening of day 12; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary in a bus from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 7; 1 airport transfer on day 1 for each person and on day 13 (these transfers will not be by shuttle, but will be private, and only shared with limited others in this group, if needed); tips to driver (1), and lodge/restaurant staff; entrance fees to birding sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the Tropical Birding tour leader; tips for any porters used (we advise against this if you want to limit contact with others); international flights; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.