Eastern Ecuador: High Andes to Vast Amazon
Volcanoes to Canopy Towers, Seedsnipes to Macaws.
On this varied tour we cover everything from the windswept páramo grasslands and snow-capped peaks of the high Andes all the way down to the humid rainforests of the Amazon basin. The biodiversity of this area is arguably the highest in the world, with more than 1000 bird species recorded from the region. A series of excellent lodges makes this trip a delight and accessible for anyone.
Day 1: Quito
Your flights arrive in Quito and we’ll take you to a hotel for the night. On this tour we highly recommend arriving a day early to prepare for the high altitude of the first two days. Our office can arrange this for you as well as provide an airport transfer.
Day 2: Antisana
As we climb up the eastern Andes we leave the crowded metropolis of Quito far below us. On clear days the views of the snow-clad volcanoes of Antisana and Cotopaxi are staggering. Today we bird dry páramo looking for Black-faced Ibis, Andean Condor, and Ecuadorian Hillstar. A nearby lake holds a variety of waterfowl, including Silvery Grebe. Later we drive over Papallacta Pass and down to Guango Lodge for the night. This small lodge boasts great hummer feeders, which attract Tourmaline Sunangel and the incredible Sword-billed Hummingbird.
Day 3: Papallacta
We start birding near Papallacta Pass at 13,700 ft (4200 m). The páramo here is wet and lush, and we’ll look for species that we didn’t see yesterday, like the charismatic Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe and the skulking White-chinned Thistletail. Lower down we search the Polylepis woodland for Giant Conebill and Black-backed Bush-Tanager before birding our way down to San Isidro, checking for Torrent Ducks as we go. Located on an old ranch adjacent to extensive subtropical cloudforest, Cabañas San Isidro is our base for two nights.
Day 4: San Isidro
We spend the whole day birding the subtropical forest, and there is plenty to keep us busy. Large mixed species flocks roam the forest and hold flashy birds such as Saffron-crowned Tanager, Black-eared Hemispingus, and Rufous-breasted Flycatcher. Cute Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatchers and Long-tailed Antbirds skulk in the bamboo but can be found with a little work. At night we’ll search for the “mystery” owl that lives near the cabins; this bird could be an undescribed race or even a new species.
Day 5: Guacamayos to Sumaco
Only 30 minutes from San Isidro is the famous Cordillera de Guacamayos, an outlying ridge of the Andes with extensive forest and numerous rare and local species. Birding a trail along the ridge, we may see Black-billed Mountain-Toucan, Ocellated Tapaculo, Slate-crowned Antpitta, Dusky Piha, and Barred Antthrush. Later, we drive to WildSumaco, located in the beautiful mid-elevation cloudforests at the base of the Sumaco volcano. We’ll spend the next three nights at this beautiful new lodge.
Days 6-7: Sumaco
The forests near the lodge are loaded with east slope specialties; with a combination of road and trail birding we are sure to see plenty of exciting birds here. Coppery-chested Jacamar, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Rufous-vented Whitetip, Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Gray-tailed Piha, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, Blue-rumped Manakin, and Rufous-naped Greenlet are just a sample of some of the birds we have a good chance to see. At night we can look for some hard-to-find nightbirds like Band-bellied Owl and Blackish Nightjar.
Day 8: Sumaco to Sacha Lodge
We drive to the steamy town of Coca on the edge of the Napo River, where we board motorized canoes for a two-hour journey to Sacha Lodge. Along the way we’ll be entertained by White-winged Swallows flitting over the banks, Yellow-billed Terns plunging into the river, and stately herons and egrets watching our passage. On reaching the dock, we’ll have some time to bird our way to this luxurious Amazon lodge. The lodge is beautiful, with comfortable, screened cabins with fans and private facilities. Food is plentiful and excellent. The prehistoric-looking Hoatzins clambering around in nearby trees add to the charm.
Days 9-10: Sacha Lodge
The star attraction is the 1000 ft (300 m) long canopy walkway. Built of metal and supported by three towers, it is sturdy and moves very little. From our high perch we can look down on gangs of aracaris, a multitude of oropendolas, flocks of brilliant tanagers, and plenty of other tree-top species. We have the chance to visit the clay licks downriver, which attract a legion of parrots, as well as a nearby trail that goes through excellent terra firme forest hosting a variety of antbirds such as White-shouldered Antshrike, Yellow-browed Antbird, and Long-winged Antwren. The nightbirding around the lodge is superb. Crested, Black-banded, and Spectacled Owls are frequently seen, and the local guides often know roosting places for potoos.
Day 11: Sacha to Napo Wildlife Center
This lodge offers a very different experience than Sacha. While still very comfortable, it is more remote and only accessible by canoeing for two hours up a magical forest-lined channel that can be pumping with birds. Local guides do the paddling while you sit back and watch Casqued Oropendolas, White-chinned Jacamars, five species of kingfisher, and even Zigzag Heron if you’re out at dusk.
Days 12-13: Napo Wildlife Center
By now most of our target birds will be shy, forest-interior species. While this is some of the most challenging birding, after 10 days getting your eye in, you should be ready for it. With the help of eagle-eyed local guides, we’ll search out leks of the glowing Black-necked Red Cotinga and several species of manakin, as well as territories of other handsome birds like Yellow-billed Jacamar and Collared Puffbird. We need to keep an eye out for ants – if we luck into a big army antswarm, we could find ourselves surrounded by antbirds like Sooty, Bicolored, Lunulated, and Hairy-crested. One morning we can also make a visit to their 130 ft (40 m) tree tower to get stunning eye-level views of various canopy species.
Day 14: Return to Quito
We leave Napo Wildlife Center in the morning for the journey back to Quito, taking a short flight over the snow-capped volcanoes of the Andes. We will probably arrive in the early afternoon, giving you some time to explore the capital before our farewell dinner.
Day 15: Departure
We’ll take you to the airport to meet your international flights home or we’ll connect with one of our other Ecuador tours.
PLEASE NOTE: On some trips the order in which we visit Sacha and Napo Wildlife Center may be reversed.
CLIMATE: Very cold in Papallacta to hot and humid in the Amazon. Rain is possible anywhere.
DIFFICULTY: Mostly easy. There are some short, slippery trails in the Andes. There are some longer walks in the Amazon, but the terrain there is relatively flat. Two mornings of the tour will be spent at high elevations from between 3500 – 4300 m (11,200 – 14,100 ft)
ACCOMMODATION: Very good to excellent throughout, we stay at the best lodges in the region.