Southern Ecuador Photo Tour

This is a Photo Tour. The goal of the tour is to get great photos of certain species. Sometimes a lot of time is spent trying to get a great shot of a single species, and quite a bit of time will be devoted to feeders and multi-flash hummingbird photography. The size of the trip list is not a priority. If you are a birder as much as you are a photographer, another option is our Southern Ecuador: Birding with a Camera® Tour (BwC). If you are only a casual photographer, or are looking for a traditional Birding Tour, check out one of our very popular Southern Ecuador: Highland Rarities and Tumbesian Endemics tour.

Southern Ecuador is rightly famous among birders for its huge diversity and fantastic eco-lodges, and serious bird photographers have also started to take notice. Most lodges have great feeders for hummingbirds as well as other species including tanagers, orioles, and even jays and tinamous. There are a new set of targets for multiflash hummer photography compared to northern Ecuador. Antpittas visit worm feeders including arguably the most spectacular of them all, the iconic Jocotoco Antpitta. Venturing away from the feeders, we can search for a nearly endless variety of other birds including the remarkable Long-wattled Umbrellabird. We’ll also spend a day in the picturesque Cajas National Park, where the scenery also merits a few shots.


The tour leader may modify the plan on any particular day based on weather, feeder activity, recent sighting information, newly opened sites, and other factors to improve the tour experience.

Day 1: Quito. Upon arrival in Quito you will be met by a driver and transferred to an airport hotel for the night.

Day 2: Quito to Buenaventura. We’ll take a morning flight to southern Ecuador and drive up into the emerald green, epiphyte-laden cloudforests of Buenaventure. Swarms of hummers buzz around the feeders, and after settling in we’ll get set up for some multiflash photography. Crowned Woodnymph, Violet-belled Hummingbird, and Green Thorntail are just a few of the species that visit. Fruit feeders also attract a variety of interesting birds like Rufous-headed Chachalaca and Collared (Pale-mandibled) Aracari. Late in the afternoon, we’ll take a short but steep trail down into a ravine where the spectacular Long-wattled Umbrellabird can often be seen displaying.

Green Thorntail is a common  hummer at Buenaventura
Green Thorntail is a common hummer at Buenaventura (Pablo Cervantes D.)

Day 3: Buenaventura. The reserve was created specially to protect the largest known population of the endemic El Oro Parakeet. If the birds are nesting, we may be able to get some shots of them in and around their next boxes. Not far from their nesting area, there is a another set of hummer feeders that attract Booted Racket-tail, Violet-tailed Sylph, and Velvet-purple Coronet. There are plenty of other birds to go after, like Golden, Rufous-throated, and Bay-headed, and Blue-necked Tanagers, Choco Toucan, and Ornate Flycatcher.

Buenaventura is one of the best places to see and photograph Long-wattled Umbrellabird
Buenaventura is one of the best places to see and photograph Long-wattled Umbrellabird (Nick Athanas)

Day 4: Buenaventura to Jorupe. After breakfast, we’ll depart Buenaventura and drive about five hours south into the seasonally dry deciduous forests near the Peruvian border. Towering ceiba trees line the road up into the Jorupe reserve, where we’ll spend three nights in Urraca Lodge. “Urraca” is the local name for the gorgeous White-tailed Jay, and loud flocks of these fabulous birds occasionally visit the feeders.

Gorgeous White-tailed Jays visit the feeders at Jorupe
Gorgeous White-tailed Jays visit the feeders at Jorupe (Iain Campbell)

Day 5: Jorupe. We’ll start the morning at the lodge feeders, where Whooping Motmot, Plumbeous-backed Thrush, Yellow-tailed and White-edged Orioles, White-tailed Jay, and Red-masked Parakeet, and White-tipped Dove are all regulars. Pale-browed Tinamou is also an occasional visitor. Once we finish with the feeders, we’ll head out into the forest looking for more difficult targets like Watkins’s Antpitta, Black-capped Sparrow, and Ecuadorian Piculet.

Screeching flocks of Red-masked Parakeets are found around Urraca Lodge
Screeching flocks of Red-masked Parakeets are found around Urraca Lodge (Pablo Cervantes D.)

Pale-browed Tinamous are seasonal visitors to feeders at Jorupe
Pale-browed Tinamous are seasonal visitors to feeders at Jorupe (Nick Athanas)

Day 6: Utuana. East of Jorupe are some higher mountains with a much cooler climate. We’ll visit another protected area, the Utuana Reserve, where two spectacular hummingbirds are regular visitors at the feeders: Purple-throated Sunangel and Rainbow Starfrontlet. We’ll try to get some multiflash shots of them, along with Collared Inca and Speckled Hummingbird. Other birds in the forest here that we might manage to get some shots of include Silvery Tanager, Black-crested Tit-Tyrant, and Chapman’s Antshrike. In the afternoon, we’ll return to Jorupe.

The spectacular Rainbow Starfrontlet comes into feeders at Utuana
The spectacular Rainbow Starfrontlet comes into feeders at Utuana (Nick Athanas)

Day 7: Jorupe to Tapichalaca. After some final shooting at Jorupe, we’ll depart on a long drive east over the Andes to the cool, temperate forest of the Tapichalaca Reserve. The reserve was created to protect the Jocotoco Antpitta, which was discovered here back in the late 90’s. In the afternoon, we’ll have another session of multifash at the lodge feeders, several new hummer speciesw will make tantalizing targets for our lenses, including Amethyst-throated and Flame-throated Sunangels and Long-tailed Sylph.

Flame-throated Sunangel visits the feeders at Tapichalaca
Flame-throated Sunangel visits the feeders at Tapichalaca (Pablo Cervantes D.)

Day 8: Tapichalaca. This morning we will focus on photographing several species of antpittas that come in to worms in the reserve. We’ll first start with Undulated Antpitta, a large and impressive bird that occasionally hops out onto the trail near the lodge. Next we will walk to a nearby photo setup where the stately Chestnut-naped Antpitta is very reliable and usually shows well. However, our main quarry is the outstanding Jocotoco Antpitta. Reaching the site requires walking along a well-made mountain trail for about 45 minutes but the birds are confiding and come in super-close, meaning that you will probably not want to lug your 500-600mm lenses up the mountain for it. Not far away there is also a feeder for White-throated Quail-Dove. In the afternoon, we may spend more time with the hummingbirds, or else try our hand at shooting tanagers, warblers, fruiteaters, and the like from the long clearing or along the road.

Jocotoco Antpitta is the star of the antpitta show at Tapichalaca
Jocotoco Antpitta is the star of the antpitta show at Tapichalaca (Nick Athanas)

Golden-crowned Tanager is one many colorful birds that join mixed species flocks near Tapichalaca
Golden-crowned Tanager is one many colorful birds that join mixed species flocks near Tapichalaca (Nick Athanas)

Day 9: Tapichalaca to Copalinga. We’ll try again for Undulated Antpitta if necessary, and then, after breakfast, depart Tapichalaca and drive into the warm cloudforest along the eastern foothills of the Andes. We’ll spend two nights at another fine lodge, Copalinga, which has spacious cabins and a separate bar/eating area with feeders. While the hummingbird feeders can be good, the stands of verbena flowers by the parking lot can be even better as they attract Violet-headed Hummingbird, Wire-crested Thorntail, and with luck, the amazing Spangled Coquette. Fruit feeders vary quite a bit in their activity, but on good days they can bring in a variety of great birds including Green-and Gold Tanager, Golden-eared Tanager, Silver-beaked Tanager, Speckled Chachalaca, and others.

The beautiful Spangled Coquette is an occasional visitor to the flower gardens at Copalinga
The beautiful Spangled Coquette is an occasional visitor to the flower gardens at Copalinga (Nick Athanas)

Day 10: Copalinga area. The day is somewhat flexible based on the activity at the feeders. If activity is low, we’ll venture out and look for other things to shoot in the lodge ground, along the road, or at the edge of Podocarpus National Park. In the later afternoon, we will walk up a moderately steep trail to a feeding area of Gray Tinamou, where we hope to get shots of this large and normally very shy terrestrial bird, along with Gray-fronted Dove and Orange-billed Sparrow.

Golden-eared-Tanager-IMG_3006-pablo
Golden-eared-Tanager-IMG_3006-pablo (Pablo Cervantes D.)

Gray Tinamous visit a feeder along a trail at Copalinga
Gray Tinamous visit a feeder along a trail at Copalinga (Nick Athanas)

Day 11: Copalinga to Cuenca. After a last session of shooting at Copalinga, we’ll embark on a rather long drive north through the Andes to the city of Cuenca. We’ll spend the night at a very pleasant hot spring resort, and soaking in the thermal baths is a great way to relax after the long drive.

The fancy Wire-crested Thorntail visits flowers at Copalinga
The fancy Wire-crested Thorntail visits flowers at Copalinga (Pablo Cervantes D.)

Day 12: Cajas National Park. A short drive from Cuenca brings us to this beautiful park, which protects temperate forest and scrub, windswept páramo, patches of Polylepis woodland, and pristine highland lakes. We’ll start near one of these lakes where we could find Andean Duck, Andean Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, and Slate-colored Coot. Higher up in the grassy paramo we can look for Tawny Antpitta, Many-striped Canastero, Stout-billed Cinclodes, Tit-like Dacnis, and others. In the afternoon, we’ll return to Cuenca and catch a short flight to Quito, where we spend the last night.

Tit-like Dacnis can be very confiding in Cajas National Park
Tit-like Dacnis can be very confiding in Cajas National Park (Sam Woods)

A Yellow-billed Pintail flies by at a highland lake
A Yellow-billed Pintail flies by at a highland lake (Pablo Cervantes D.)

Day 13: Departure. The tour ends this morning with a transfer to the international airport.

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: This tour focuses on photography, and will be run at a moderate pace. If you are looking for a tour that maximizes number of species seen, or you are only a casual photographer, you should consider one of our other Ecuador tours. Breakfast times are typically 5:30-6:30am, with an earlier breakfast required on at least one or two days. Some days will have several hours of downtime to relax or download photos – this is often in the afternoon when the light may be poor and when it is more likely to rain, or in the middle of the day around lunch. On the tour, much of the time will be spent on birds coming to feeders (with the option for some multi-flash hummingbird photography; multiflash gear will be provided). The rest of the time will be spent targeting things along roads or trails. There are a few long drives on this tour, up to five-six hours in length (Buenaventura to Jorupe, Jorupe to Tapichalaca, Copalinga to Cuenca).

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate. Much of the tour will be spent near feeders, which are accessed by only a short walk. Some of the feeding areas are along trails that can be a bit wet and slippery. Most of these trails are fairly short, but there are some longer ones. Reaching the Jocotoco Antpitta site involves walking about 2 miles roundtrip on a moderately inclined trail, and reaching the sites for Gray Tinamou and Long-wattled Umbrellabird are about 1 mile roundtrip on moderately inclined trails. Parts of two days will be spent at high elevations above 11,500 ft. (3500 m.), however little walking is done at these altitudes, and the night is spent much lower at 8500 ft. (2600 m).

CLIMATE: Highly variable. It can be rather hot at Jorupe (usually 68°-90°F/20°-32°C) and very sunny. Most of the rest of the tour is at middle elevations of the Andes where it is quite pleasant (usually around 50°-75°F/10°-24°C). In the higher elevations at Cajas, it can be quite chilly and windy. Some rain can be expected.

ACCOMMODATION: Good, all have private bathrooms, hot water showers, full-time electrity, and wi-fi (wi-fi is generally quite slow outside of the cities).

PHOTO PHILOSOPHY: At least half the time will be spent on birds coming to feeders (with the option for some multi-flash hummingbird photography). The rest of the time will be spent targeting things along roads or short tracks/trails.

GEAR: A good 300mm lens (or high end zoom that covers 300mm) and a full-frame camera are ideal for hummingbirds and for the Jocotoco Antpitta. For most other birds, a longer lens such as a 500mm with a 1.4x or 600mm is the best option, though a 300mm with 1.4x and 2x teleconverters also usually does a great job. A small lens can be nice for scenery shots. A flash (where permitted) is also useful since light can be quite low early in the morning and inside forest. If you are into macro photography, bring a macro lens with flash, especially for the extension. A tripod and a shutter release are highly recommended for multiflash hummingbird photography. Flash is not permitted at feeding sites inside the forest for antpittas and tinamous.

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, EU, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and many others. 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?: Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 12; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 13(if you have a very early departing flight, you may miss the included breakfast on the last day); safe drinking water and/or juice during meals; safe drinking water as well as tea and coffee are available at Umbrellabird Lodge, Jorupe Lodge, Tapichlaca Lodge, and Copalinga Lodge at any time; one of our photo guides with camera and audio playback gear from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 12; one arrival and one departure airport transfer per person (transfers may be shared with other participants of the same tour if they arrive at the same time); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from day 2 to day 12 in a suitable vehicle with a local driver; roundtrip airfare from Quito to Cuenca; entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to help keep track of what you have photographed (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 tour leader; tips for luggage porters in the city hotels (if you require their services); international flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; 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; excess luggage charges; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.