Ecuador: East Andean Foothills (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, 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 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 WildSumaco.

• 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, So that 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 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.

Paradise Tanager
Paradise Tanager (Jose Illanes)

Ecuador is one of the world’s leading countries in terms of bird species, with more than 1500 species, it is an amazing destination for birding in the tropics. This tour has been designed in the post-Covid era, to stay at one very comfortable birding lodge, based in the diverse foothills of the Andes (at 1100m/ft), where good dining and excellent birds are available out of this one location, WildSumaco Lodge. The lodge boasts two super sets of hummingbird feeders, an extensive system of forest trails, a forest feeding station, and excellent roadside birding too. The other appeal of this tour, is that (aside from the travel days in and out of the lodge), all of the birding localities are local, meaning two things: one, that down time in the middle of day is the norm, and two that no long journeys are required. This birder-focused lodge boasts an extraordinary list of well over 500 species for the lodge and the local area, so we will never be short of something to look at. This beautiful lodge is on the eastern slope of the Andes, overlooking the impressive Volcan Sumaco. If you have only ever visited the western side of the Ecuadorian Andes (around Tanadayapa for example), there will be plenty of new birds on offer, with the two slopes having distinctly different bird communities. The lodge and its surrounds are one of the most highly ranked sites in the country on eBird. Among the bird groups well represented in the area are tanagers, hummingbirds, toucans, woodpeckers, woodcreepers, parrots, and antbirds; among them, many specialties of the foothills.

Chestnut-tipped Toucanet
Chestnut-tipped Toucanet (Nick Athanas)

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.

Green-and-gold Tanager
Green-and-gold Tanager (Jose Illanes)

Day 2: Quito to Sumaco. After a sit down breakfast in Quito, we will leave for WildSumaco, a five hour drive away (direct). However, we will take boxed lunch with us, so that we can make some stops along the way where needed. The route passes through Papallacta Pass, where weather permitting, we will make a stop to break up the journey, and try for high elevation species like Tawny Antpitta, Andean Tit-Spinetail, and Blue-mantled Thornbill, among others. As the elevation at this site is extremely different from that at WildSumaco, almost anything we see here will be totally different from the main part of the tour. We will arrive at our base for the next 4 nights, WildSumaco by late afternoon, right in time to enjoy a sunset from the sprawling veranda of the lodge, looking out at the Sumaco Volcano.

Channel-billed Toucan
Channel-billed Toucan (Iain Campbell)

Day 3-5: WildSuamco Lodge. Even with three full days to explore, we will feel like we have left something behind, there is simply too many birds in the area to get them all in single trip! There are two sets of hummingbird feeders for us to enjoy, one right beside the fantastic lodge veranda, but also another set hidden away in the forest, while other hummingbirds like Violet-headed Hummingbird, Wire-crested Thorntail, and woodstars frequent the flowering verbena plants in the garden. A long list of hummingbirds awaits us, like Napo Sabrewing, Black-throated and Violet-fronted Brilliants, the jawdropping Gould’s Jewelfront, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Many-spotted Hummingbird, the absurd Booted Racket-tail, and gorgeous Golden-tailed Sapphire. There is also a forest feeding station, where usually shy species like Plain-backed and Ochre-breasted Antpittas can often be seen up close.

Mixed feeding flocks are a major feature of the Andean foothills, and these can contain a bewildering variety of spectacular tanagers, like Paradise, Orange-eared, Golden-eared, Golden, Spotted, Blue-necked, Bay-headed, and Green-and-gold Tanagers! Outside of the flocks other tanagers like Silver-beaked and the bold Magpie Tanager are also frequently encountered. The feeding flocks however are not confined to tanagers, these mixing in with antwrens, warblers, flycatchers, spinetails, woodcreepers and others providing a sudden blitz of birds, when they pass by. Toucans are also very well represented in the area, with an absurd 11 species have been recorded with some of the regulars being Channel-billed and Yellow-throated Toucans, Golden-collared and Chestnut-tipped Toucanets, and Many-banded Aracari. Likewise, parrots are also prominent, with over ten species having been recorded, and regulars including Military and Chestnut-fronted Macaws, White-eyed and Maroon-tailed Parakeets, and Red-billed Parrot.

Wire-crested Thorntail
Wire-crested Thorntail (Nick Athanas)

While the forested roadsides can be good for locating such feeding flocks, we will also walk some forest trails for interior species, such as antbirds, manakins, and more. Some of the exciting trail birds could include a series of antbirds (betraying its close proximity to the Amazon), with Black-faced, Blackish, Peruvian Warbling Antbirds and White-backed Fire-eye all turning up regularly within the forest. 9 species of manakin have been recorded over the years, with White-crowned, Blue-rumped and Golden-winged being the most frequently seen.

Some real rarities are also found in the area, and while not guaranteed, this offers one of the best sites in the country for Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Scarlet-breasted and Fiery-throated Fruiteaters, Gray-tailed Piha, Yellow-throated Spadebill, and Chestnut-crowned Gnateater. The exceptional Andean Cock-of-the-rock also turns up from time to time too. Othjer alluring species include the lodge’s logo bird, Coppery-chested Jacamar, Collared and Green-backed Trogons, Gilded and Red-headed Barbets, and Black-streaked Puffbird. We will also stop in on a local bamboo forest, where specialties of that habitat, like the striking Black-and-white Tody-Flycvatcher occur.For those who wish to venture out at night, nocturnal species like Common Parauque and Band-bellied Owl are seen frequently, while Rufescent and Foothill Screech-Owl occur too, but require some luck to see.

This is merely a snapshot of what can be seen!

Violet-headed Hummingbird
Violet-headed Hummingbird (Jose Illanes)

Day 6: Sumaco to Quito. A final morning will be spent around Sumaco. After an early lunch at the lodge, we will pack up and leave for Quito, a 5 hour drive away. Late in the afternoon we will arrive at the same interesting airport hotel, where we will enjoy a final farewell dinner before departures the next day (if you wish to leave on a late night flight, then that is also possible).

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.

Golden-eared Tanager
Golden-eared Tanager (Andres Vasquez)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate. Early starts are necessary since birding is almost always best early in the morning, and breakfast will typically start at 5:30am. On most days (i.e. days 3, 4 and 5) there will be some downtime after lunch to relax.

One of the lunches will be a boxed lunch (on day 2 for the Quito-Sumaco drive). There are two long drives on the tour, of around 5 hours (direct, no stopping) to travel between Quito and Sumaco on days 2 and 6. On the other days all the birding sites are local, with the longest drive being under an hour.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate. There will be a mixture of trail birding and road birding. The trails are not long, and will be taken at slow pace, but some of them do have steep sections, and so a walking pole is recommended for those who ordinarily use one. The main part of the tour, at WildSumaco, is based at a pleasant elevation of 1500m/4500ft. On day 2, we are planning to stop at high altitude to break up the journey at Papallacta, at an elevation of around 4000m/13,125ft. Although high altitude, this will consist of limited, short distance, road birding always close to the vehicle, so few people suffer with sickness there.

CLIMATE: Highly variable. In the high Andes (only for several hours on day 2), it can be near freezing and windy. At WildSumaco it is quite pleasant (usually 53°-78°F, 12°-26°C). Some rain can be expected, especially in the afternoons and evenings.

ACCOMMODATION and FOOD: Very good to excellent. Both have private, en-suite bathrooms, full-time hot water, and electricity 24 hours a day. The hotel in Quito and WildSumaco also have good Wi-Fi Internet connections too.

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 WildSumaco Lodge, one of the best 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 WildSumaco Lodge. These will be mostly sit down meals, with one boxed lunch, in order to avoid eating in external restaurants, and risking greater contact with others. The food at WildSumaco is rightly highly regarded, and this should be a big feature to accompany a great, relaxed birding trip.

VEHICLE: A large bus will be used for this group of 8 participants, plus 1 Tropical Birding guide, and 1 experienced local 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, but casual photographers will have opportunities to photograph birds at the hummingbird feeders WildSumaco. Serious bird photographers may wish to check out our Ecuador Photo Tour.

WHEN TO GO: This tour can be run year round. The climate does not vary greatly from month to month compared to most other regions, and the “driest” months on average are December-February; note that dry weather does not necessarily mean better birding, and even during this period, rain can be expected.

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); WildSumaco Lodge has a large tank of safe drinking water to refill from, and 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 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.