Ecuador: A Taste of Tandayapa (Safety Tours)

This is a relaxed birding tour. 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, RELATIVELY 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 relatively small, but good, hotel near the airport for the first and last nights of the tour; all of the nights in between (4 nights) will be spent at the famous 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 7 at the end. These will be in vans, 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.

We'll check within exciting mixed feeding flocks for Flame-faced Tanagers
We'll check within exciting mixed feeding flocks for Flame-faced Tanagers (Sam Woods)

In these extraordinary times, traveling for overseas birding tours can appear daunting, so we have kept this tour simple, staying at one well known location for all of our birding time, Tandayapa Bird Lodge. It is situated in gorgeous subtropical forest in the Andes (just 90 minutes drive from the capital, Quito), has gained a very good reputation for the fusion cuisine that has been developed by the local chef there in recent years, and above all, it sits within easy reach of multiple, fantastic birding sites. Tandayapa Bird Lodge sits within endemic rich Choco bioregion, so as well as plentiful widespread Andean species, we will also pick up some specialties as we go along too, which may include such thrillers as Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Choco Toucan, and Toucan Barbet. The significance of lodge locality, within easy reach of other markedly different birding sites, is illustrated well with the birdlist for the area, which exceeds 600 bird species! On this relaxed tour, we cover elevations from 1750m/5740ft at the lodge itself to sites as low as 500m/1640ft downslope from there. We will also cover the Upper Tandayapa Valley at 2300m/7545ft, while the capital sits at 2800m/9190ft. The locality is also convenient in that no long drives are required, with the maximum being around 2 hours only. Hummingbirds will feature heavily, with superb feeders at Tandayapa, and others at Milpe, with the usual birds in attendance including the dramatic Booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph, Purple-throated Woodstar and Crowned Woodnymph, among others. This has been designed as a short, but suite “Taste of Tandayapa”, run at a relaxed pace, and sitting neatly within seven days. If you wish for a longer relaxed tour, we have this one also, which also visits further sites in the region. The sites on this tour have been kept limited, allowing us plenty of downtime, when needed. A relaxed, short birding tour, designed with Post-Covid needs in mind, while based at a world class birding lodge.

An aerial view of Tandayapa Bird Lodge
An aerial view of Tandayapa Bird Lodge (Pablo Cervantes Daza)

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.

Red-headed Barbet frequents the cecropia trees at the lodge
Red-headed Barbet frequents the cecropia trees at the lodge (Nick Athanas)

Day 2: Quito to Tandayapa Bird Lodge. After a sit down breakfast in Quito, we will leave for Tandayapa Bird Lodge, arriving by late morning. The drive is only 90 minutes direct, although a short birding stop is scheduled along the way, and could produce some great “starter” birds, like Black-tailed Trainbearer, Variable Hawk, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Golden-rumped Euphonia and Golden Grosbeak. This is a dry country area on the outskirts of Quito, quite unlike anything we will be birding in thereafter.

Bring your apetite!
Bring your apetite! (Pablo Cervantes Daza)

We will arrive in Tandayapa Bird Lodge in time to take lunch there. During our first afternoon we will get acquainted with some of the Tandayapa regulars, not least the humminbirds, which crowd the feeders almost constantly. Usually there are around a dozen species, and dozens of individuals, making for a gripping introduction to the lodge, just outside the dining room. On most days these hummingbirds occur around the lodge: Brown, Lesser and Sparking Violetears, Violet-tailed Sylph, Brown Inca (the latter two both Choco specialties), Buff-tailed Coronet, Booted Racket-tail, Purple-bibbed Whitetip (another specialty species), Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Purple-throated Woodstar, Andean Emerald, and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (yes, count them, that’s a dozen regular species!) After lunch, and taking a good long look at the hummingbirds, we will bird the local area around the lodge for the remainder of the day. The next four nights will be spent in Tandayapa Bird Lodge, so you can unpack, knowing you will not have to repack any time soon!

Sparkling Violetears flare their
Sparkling Violetears flare their "ears" up when facing rival hummingbirds at the feeders (Sam Woods)

Day 3: Tandayapa Bird Lodge and the Tandayapa Valley. The lodge is set within rich subtropical forest in the Andes of western Ecuador (with a very comfortable climate at 1750m/5740ft). 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.

Toucan Barbet often hangs around the lodge early in the morning
Toucan Barbet often hangs around the lodge early in the morning (Pablo Cervantes Daza)

Today will involve a mix of birding right around the lodge, and doing some roadside birding in other parts of the Tandayapa Valley. Early in the morning around the lodge restaurant, 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. Lunch will be taken at the lodge, and the afternoon plan will involve birding some the upper parts of the Tandayapa Valley, where higher ranging species like Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Grass-green Tanager, and Green-and-black Fruiteater can be found. Other regular species on this day may include Beryl-spangled, Golden, and Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers, Montane Woodcreeper, Masked Trogon, and Crimson-mantled Woodpecker. The valley has a list in excess of 400 species, and so the possibilities are extensive! After a full day in the wonderful subtropical cloudforests of the Tandayapa Valley, we will be ready to explore somewhere nearby, but quite different, the next day…

Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan is found in the Upper Tandayapa Valley
Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan is found in the Upper Tandayapa Valley (Pablo Cervantes Daza)

Day 4: Milpe half day trip. 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.

Green-Thorntail is abundant at the feeders at Milpe Bird Sanctuary
Green-Thorntail is abundant at the feeders at Milpe Bird Sanctuary (Sam Woods)

Day 5: Rio Silanche full 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 (at around 500m/1640ft), 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.

Beryl-spangled Tanager is a resident of the Tandayapa Valley
Beryl-spangled Tanager is a resident of the Tandayapa Valley (Pablo Cervantes Daza)

Day 6: Tandayapa to Quito. Having only spent one full day and an afternoon at the lodge, we will be happy to spend a full morning in the area again. With 400 species at the lodge and surrounds, we will not be short of avian action! A final delicious lunch will be taken at at Tandayapa Bird Lodge, in company with by now very familiar hummingbird crowd, before 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 7: 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.

The bird rich forest in the Tandayapa Valley
The bird rich forest in the Tandayapa Valley (Pablo Cervantes Daza)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Relaxed. While there are multiple early starts (breakfasts will be typically at 5:30am), the trip has been designed with plentiful room for time off, particularly on days 2, 3 and 4, where middle of the day breaks or early finishes are available.

Boxed lunches will be taken on two days in the field (for the half day trip to Milpe and the full day trip to Silanche), in order to avoid using external restaurants and coming in contact with others. However, both of the sites in which these will be taken are birding areas.

The drives on this trip range from short drives up to 2 hours in length (the longest drives being to and from Quito on days 2 and 6, and for the trip to Silanche). There are some unpaved roads for short periods on this tour, although these are good condition dirt roads.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate. Most of the birding will be on flat or slightly inclined roads or wide tracks. Everything will be taken at slow pace, with no long walks. Typically while we bird dirt roads, the driver follows us along the road, so we do not need to backtrack, and the vehicle is never far away, should you need some rest time. We also try to make sure we walk downhill, rather than uphill, where the terrain allows (as it does in the Tandayapa Valley).

There are a range of elevations visited on this tour: The capital, Quito is at 9190ft (2800m); the Upper Tandayapa Valley is at 7545ft (2300m); Tandayapa Bird Lodge is at 5740ft (1750m); Milpe is at 3610ft (1100m); and Rio Silanche at 1640ft (500m).

CLIMATE: Usually very pleasant (mostly 55°-75°F, 13°-24°C), but hot on one day at Silanche (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 relatively small, hotel, near Quito airport on the first and last nights, and then 4 nights in between at Tandayapa Bird Lodge, 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 to 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 good feeders on this tour at Tandayapa and Milpe where photos are often productive, particularly of hummingbirds and tanagers.

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 6; meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 7 (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 afternoon of day 6; 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 6; 1 airport transfer on day 1 for each person and on day 7 (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.