Northern Ecuador Photo Tour
Ecuador is famed for its extraordinary diversity. With a superb selection of lodges and reserves, many of them with excellent feeders, it is one of the premier bird photography destinations in South America. The jewels of the Andes, the hummingbirds, will feature heavily; fantastic feeder set-ups allow excellent photographic opportunities of these “winged gems”. While hummingbirds are undoubtedly a front and center feature of this tour, they will also be accompanied by other colorful tropical birds, including an assortment of tanagers, toucans, trogons, woodpeckers, and even the incredible, vivid scarlet Andean Cock-of-the-rock. An optional extension to Sani Lodge in the Amazon is also available.
Main Tour: 13 - 22 January ($4700; single supplement: $450)
Extension: 22 - 27 January ($3500; single supplement: $400)
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 10 Days (15 Days w/ Ext.)
Starting City: Quito
Ending City: Quito
Physical Difficulty: Moderate
Group size: 6 + 1 leader
This itinerary is sometimes run in a different order than listed here due to availability in the lodges and other factors. In Jan-Feb 2023, the extension will be run before the main tour, and Guango Lodge will be visited before Tandayapa.
Day 1: Quito
The tour starts this evening in Quito, and you will be transferred to an excellent hotel for the night. If the extension is run before the main tour, this will be the last day of the extension.
Day 2: Antisana to Guango Lodge
Our first morning of the tour will be truly spectacular and for good reason, as we visit the open grasslands surrounding the enormous Antisana volcano. This is often voted as the favorite site of the tour by many, for the wonderful surroundings in which we will be shooting. The towering peak of the Antisana Volcano itself is impressive, with a large snow-covered top, and dramatic rocky sides. The páramo (grassland) is interspersed with rocky outcrops and scenic high Andean lakes dotted with high altitude waterfowl. Indeed the scenery itself may be our biggest photo asset. Aside from these breathtaking Andean scenes, the upper páramo is carpeted with Carunculated Caracaras, a striking pied raptor that occurs here in impressive numbers. Black-faced Ibis patrol these high plains as do Andean Lapwings and large flocks of Andean Gulls. It is a site that will leave a lasting impression, and provide ample shots for processing at the end of the tour. After lunch at a hacienda on site, we shall drive to Guango Lodge, where we will spend two nights
Day 3: Guango Lodge
Guango is a small lodge with great hummingbirds; it will complement our later visit to Tandayapa very well. Guango has a varied set of feeders that attract dozens of hummingbirds, including such extravagant species as the “cartoonesque” Sword-billed Hummingbird, the dapper black-and-white Collared Inca, aggressive Chestnut-breasted Coronet, tiny White-bellied Woodstar, and sublime Tourmaline Sunangel. The hummer feeders are also a target for other local birds, most notably the indigo blue Masked Flowerpiercer that will make a tempting subject for our cameras. The temperate forest that overhangs this comfortable Andean lodge also attracts passing flocks of birds, some of which can be remarkably confiding and photogenic, that including the cerulean-blue Turquoise Jay.
Day 4: Papallacta and Guango to Quito
Weather permitting, we will venture into the páramo grasslands of the high Andes around Papallacta Pass; on clear days we can enjoy spectacular views of several snow-capped volcanoes. The high altitude birds that reside there can be remarkably confiding. Comical cinclodes bound around on the páramo, Tawny Antpittas hop along the roads, and with the use of playback, shier birds like canasteros and tit-spinetails can often be brought in close. At lunch time we will return to Guango, where will have the most of the afternoon to shoot hummingbirds, walk the forest trails behind the lodge, or scan the river alongside for Torrent Ducks. In mid-afternoon, we shall pack up and head to Quito for a night.
Days 5-8: Northwest Ecuador based out of Tandayapa Bird Lodge
After leaving Quito, we’ll have four nights based in Tandayapa Bird Lodge, nestled within lush subtropical forest on the west slope of the Andes, an area renowned for its high bird species diversity. This is especially evident in the impressive hummingbird community found right around the lodge that will occupy much of our photographic energies. The lodge feeders attract thousands of individual hummingbirds, with 10-20 species visiting on most days. The most common is usually is the outrageous White-booted Racket-tail, the male of which has a strange long tail, with two paddles at the end. Other regular drop-ins are a number of glistening species like the audacious Violet-tailed Sylph, the standout Purple-bibbed Whitetip, and the gem-like Western Emerald., dinky Purple-throated Woodstar that regularly buzz around the Tandayapa balcony. If hummingbird photography is your goal, you are likely to come away with plenty of shots of over ten species of hummingbird, many of which are hard to photograph elsewhere. Fruit feeders at the lodge can also attract “technicolor” birds like Red-headed Barbet, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, or Toucan Barbet. Other species often come in to eat insects attracted to lights, such as flycatchers, woodcreepers, and more.
Day 9: Paz de las Aves to Quito
We’ll depart very early and head to one of the most important bird sites in the area, the wonderful Paz de las Aves Refuge. This beautiful reserve is set within subtropical forest where the moist, moss-covered trees are burdened with bright red bromeliads. Our early rise will let us visit an area deep within the forest where a short time after dawn the bright scarlet forms of several displaying Andean Cock-of-the-rocks will start the day off with a spectacular forest performance. However, what has made this place such a joy for photographers and birders alike is the habituating of several rare and shy species of the forest floor, especially the antpittas. Giant, Moustached, Yellow-breasted Antpittas, Ochre-breasted, and Chestnut-crowned Antpittas are all possible, with usually at least two of them cooperating on any given visit. Other birds we will be trying to photograph include Dark-backed Wood-Quail, Rufous-breasted Antthrush, and White-capped Dipper. Later in the morning, we may visit one of the other sites mentioned above, or we may return to Tandayapa for a few hours, before returning to Quito for the final night of the tour.
Day 10: Departure
The tour ends this morning with transfers to the airport. If the extension is running after the main tour, this will be the first day of the extension.
Wildlife photography in the Amazon is as tough as it gets. We had hesitated to offer a trip until we went to Sani Lodge in early June 2015, and that totally changed our minds. After a few days there, we came back with chips loaded with great photos, and were convinced that this was THE place to do it. This extension can also be done at any time as a custom tour, and longer and shorter packages are possible.
*Please note: For the Amazon Extension, a Tropical Birding guide will only accompany the group if there are three or more people. For groups of only one or two people, a local, bird guide from the lodge will be used.
Day 1: Quito to Sani Lodge
After a short flight to the lowland city of Coca, staff from Sani Lodge will meet us and take us to a dock, where we’ll board a large, covered motorized canoe for the 2.5 hour journey down the Napo River. There won’t be much in the way of photo opportunities during this trip, so just sit back in relax. Upon arrival at Sani’s dock, you’ll have a chance to unpack your camera and get ready. Here in the virgin Amazon rainforest, you never know when something amazing will pop into view and it pays to be prepared! The path to Sani goes along a boardwalk through seasonally flooded várzea forest to another dock at the edge of the Challuayacu River, a small channel that winds through beautiful swamp forest to an oxbow lake. Five species of kingfishers occur along here along with herons and other water-loving species. Shy species like Cocha Antshrike can sometimes be lured into view, and while the dark rainforest makes the photography challenging, with persistence, the right gear, and a little luck, great shots are still possible. We’ll have lunch at Sani, and spend the afternoon either on the lake or river, or spend time around the lodge depending on activity. We’ll have four nights total based in Sani Lodge. Note: If the extension runs before the main tour, today will be the second day, since you will need to arrive the previous day in Quito.
Days 2-4: Full days based out of Sani Lodge