Ecuador & the Galápagos 2014

Despite being one of South America’s tiniest nations, with an area smaller than the US state of Nevada, Ecuador is one of the seventeen “megadiverse” countries on the planet.  It is home to more than 250 mammal and over 1600 bird species.  Ecuador also includes the Galápagos Islands, which offer one of the world’s great wildlife spectacles.  From the populated coastal plains, to the hummingbird-rich peaks of the Andes Mountains, down to the species-laden Amazon basin, and across the Pacific Ocean to the remote Galápagos Islands, Ecuador is one of the best places on Earth to view wildlife and to enjoy the dramatic beauty of nature.  Our itinerary takes us from the colonial city of Quito, to the cloud forest reserves of the Andes.  From there we drive over the Papallacta Pass and down into the Amazon basin, stopping en route at two spectacular reserves which are home to a variety of mammal and bird species.  In the Amazon we spend 4 nights at one of the premier lodges, exploring the diversity of this spectacular region, before flying back to Quito.

The tour combines with the option of an 8 or 15 day cruise to the Galápagos Islands (see separate itinerary) sailing aboard a 16-passenger motor-cruiser.  The cruise can be taken with the main Ecuador tour or on its own.

Day 01,                       September 1st

We arrive in Quito, capital of Ecuador, and transfer to our hotel.  This evening we meet for our welcome dinner.

Day 02,                      September 2nd

After an early breakfast we begin our adventure, driving up into the high Andes to visit Yanacocha Reserve, an area of pristine forest perched on the north-western slope of Volcán Pichincha.  After looking for birds including tawny antpitta, great sapphirewing, masked and glossy flowerpiercers, and the critically endangered black-breasted puffleg hummingbird, we continue to the Tandayapa Valley, and our destination, Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve.  The reserves that we will visit in the cloud forest of the Andes are home to a wide variety of bird species, most spectacular being the multitude of species of hummingbirds that make this area their home.  Feeders often attract between 15 and 20 species within a few minutes, and offer fantastic photographic opportunities.

Days 03 & 04           September  3rd & 4th

Over the next two days we continue our exploration of this area, visiting forest reserves around the charming town of Mindo.  Driving just a few miles in this mountainous region takes us into different valleys with different ecosystems, and allows us to see a myriad of spectacular species.  At Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve we look for specialities such as plate-billed mountain toucan and tanager-finch, as well as a wealth of brilliantly coloured tanagers, while at Septimo Paraiso we look for a variety of birds and mammals, including club-winged manakin, toucan barbet, black howler and capuchin monkeys, and Andean coati.

Refugio Paz has already become famous for its Andean cock-of-the-rock lek, and its habituated antpittas, as well as the bird feeders which attract the bizarre toucan-barbet, mountain tanagers and a horde of hummingbirds.  Antpittas are one of South America’s most sought-after, and difficult to see, bird families, but Angel Paz has habituated several antpittas of different species.  To hear him calling through the moss-laden forest for “Maria” (a giant antpitta), “Willie” (a yellow-breasted antpitta), “Shakira” (an ochre-breasted antpitta) or “Jose” (a moustached antpitta) is really a treat – particularly when one of them comes hopping along the path eager for a mealworm!

Day 05;                      September 5th

After a final morning in the cloud forest, we drive towards the 4,110m Papallacta Pass, in search of high altitude birds and mammals.  Papallacta is home to two of the Andes’ rarest and most endangered mammals: spectacled bear and mountain tapir, both of which are rare and hard to find, as well as some beautiful birds, such as rufous-bellied seedsnipe, giant conebill, Ecuadorian hillstar, blue-mantled thornbill, and the rare masked mountain tanager.  We will also keep an eye out for the massive presence of Andean condor flying overhead.  This afternoon we drive back down the Pass to our charming lodge, where we stay for the next two nights to continue our exploration of this area.

Day 06;                      September 6th

Our lodge is in a spectacular setting beside a rushing mountain river, and we will look for torrent duck and white-capped dipper making their way through the rapids.  The lodge is famed for its hummingbird feeders, with 15 species frequenting the area including glowing puffleg, sword-billed hummingbird, tourmaline sunangel and mountain velvetbreast.  Other birds regularly seen include Andean guan, grey-breasted mountain-toucan, turquoise jay, slaty brush-finch and lacrimose mountain-tanager.  As well as spending time around the lodge, we will also continue our search of the high altitude areas looking for spectacled bear and mountain tapir.

Day 07;                      September 7th

This morning we continue our journey down the east slope of the Andes, marvelling at the beautiful views en-route.  Our destination is San Isidro Forest Reserve, a family-run reserve in a pristine section of forest which has been protected by the Bustamente family for the past 40 years.  Mammals at San Isidro that we hope to see include black agouti, night monkey and tayra; while giant anteater and puma are also occasionally seen.  After dark we go spot-lighting, looking for San Isidro and mottled owls, and hoping for a glimpse of an oncilla.

Day 08;                      September 8th  

Today we explore the trails around the San Isidro reserve, looking for white-fronted capuchin monkey, golden-headed and crested quetzals, inca jay and masked trogon amongst flocks of tanagers and caciques.  The lodge puts mealworms out for chestnut-crowned and white-bellied antipittas, and so we have a good chance of seeing these elusive birds.  There are also plenty of feeders which attract some of the 32 species of hummingbird that have been recorded in the area.

Day 09;                      September 9th  

After breakfast we leave San Isidro and drive the winding road down into the foothills of the Andes.  Our destination is a lovely lodge located on the side of Sumaco volcano.  The forest in this region is one of the areas most at risk from logging, and so the reserve around our lodge, which borders Sumaco National Park, is vitally important in protecting the species that make this area their home.

Day 10;                      September 10th  

The lodge is built on the edge of a ridge, with incredible views across the forest.  The feeders on its verandah have attracted no fewer than 26 species of hummingbird, including sparkling violetear, pale-tailed barbthroat and wire-crested thorntail, while the forest in front of the lodge is often used by family groups of Napo tamarin monkeys.  Today, in addition to enjoying the spectacle from the verandah, we can explore the trails around the lodge, looking for some of the 460 bird species, including the endangered military macaw, as well as the uncommon white-bellied spider and white-fronted capuchin monkeys.

Day 11;                      September 11th  

This morning we continue our drive to the lowland city of Puerto Francisco de Orellana, better known as Coca, set on the mighty Napo River in the upper Amazon basin.  From Coca we board a motorised longboat to take us downriver to Sacha Lodge, our home for the next four nights.  As we leave civilisation and motor along the river we look for our first wildlife.  Monkeys are often seen, including common squirrel, white-bellied spider and brown woolly monkeys.

Days 12, 13 & 14;    September 12th, 13th & 14th

We have three full days to experience everything that this area has to offer.  The lodge is only accessible by boat, and so we will spend much of our time looking for wildlife from dugout canoes paddled silently through the forest by local Añangu guides.  There is also a network of trails that we can explore on foot, where we look for families of pygmy marmosets.  The lodge has access to parrot clay licks, where a staggering 11 parrot species have been recorded, including blue-headed, mealy and yellow-crowned parrots, as well as scarlet and red-and-green macaws.  The birds come to these licks every day to eat clay which neutralises the toxins in the seeds that the birds eat.

The lodge has built a canopy tower deep in the forest, which reaches 120 feet up to the top of a mighty kapok (Ceiba pentandra) tree, as well as a spectacular canopy walkway.  From both these vantage points we watch for flocks of colourful tanagers, blue-and-yellow macaws, red howler and white-bellied spider monkeys, as well as the elusive brown-throated three-toed sloth.  At dawn or dusk the calls of birds and howler monkeys echo through the forest, creating a truly magical experience.

Day 15;                      September 15th

This morning we bid a sad farewell to this remote and wonderful area, and return to Coca.  From here we fly back to Quito, and transfer to the airport for our flights home, or to our hotel for an overnight before the Galapagos Islands cruise.


Included:

  • All accommodation
  • All transfers and transportation, including transfers to and from the airport for the designated group flight at the start and end of the tour
  • All park entrance fees
  • All meals during the tour
  • Drinking water
  • Services of Holly Faithfull and local guides throughout
  • Tips for local guides, porters etc

Not included:

  • International air fare to and from Quito
  • Beverages, other than drinking water
  • Items of a personal nature, such as phone calls, laundry etc
  • Airport departure tax
  • Trip cancellation or interruption insurance

What is the trip like?

Ecuador is an easy place to travel, with just normal good health necessary.  Flexibility, sense of humour, and open-mindedness are always required.  Wildlife viewing takes place during nature walks on rainforest trails and by boat.  The walks cover a variety of terrain and are usually on well-marked trails.   Accommodations range from comfortable hotels to luxurious lodges, all with private bathrooms, electricity, hot/cold water.  There is quite a bit of driving on this trip as it is the best way to get around and to see the country. Roads vary from excellent 2-lane paved roads to rough, backcountry roads. Rough road driving is compensated for by the beautiful scenery.

Climate

Temperature in Ecuador does not change drastically with the seasons.  Average daily temperature in Quito is around 70˚F.  Altitude is the main factor determining temperature. We are visiting during the dry season, but Ecuador is tropical and you can expect some rain at any time of the year.

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