This page summarize our recent trip to Ecuador. The trip involved flying from Lima, Peru to Quito on August 4th and spending the next 8 nights at a hotel in Quito just east of downtown on a ridge overlooking the airport (in the distance). The main reason for the stay in Quito was to participate in the IBS (international Biogeography Society) conference and thus we did not have the opportunity to explore far from the conference venue (Universidad San Francisco de Quito).
Be sure to check out our page describing general aspects of natural history travel to Ecuador. It includes our perspectives of what is good, and what is less-good, and we offer suggestions for the ecotourism sector as well.
A summary of the main areas of our trip included the following:
Western Andean slopes: Septimo Paraiso, Milpe Bird Sanctuary, Bellavista Cloudforest Lodge area and Alambi.
Inter-Andean Valleys: Bosque Protector Jerusalem
Eastern Andean slopes: Guango Lodge
Cabañas San Isidro
Gran Selva Lodge
Papallacta Pass area
Aug 10: After the conference ended we had time to participate in a conference-organized tour to the Yanacocha Preserve on the western side of Quito. This reserve protects high altitude cloud forest on the extreme upper end of such forest on the western Andean slopes.
Our tour collected everyone from their respective hotels and we proceeded up the mountain, making a few stops along the way for birding and to see the vegetation. We arrived at the preserve entrance, which had basic information.
A small visitor center was farther in, with good exhibits about the preserve. On the top floor of the center was a restaurant – where we had lunch after our morning walk.
It was interesting to see quite a selection of hummingbird flowers at this elevation (8000 feet).
Below is an example of the posters that were on display near the visitor center and also in some of the birding feeding areas. Shown here are some of the common hummingbirds and other birds.
Below is a mosaic of some of the birds, flowers and interesting plants we saw during our visit to Yanacocha.
Of all the birds we saw the most novel one for us was the antpita, our first ever Antpita. It most have had a territory because we saw the bird on the same spot twice coming and going on our hike along the trail. It was relatively tame and unafraid of people.
Aug 11: This day we rested and prepared and organized our luggage for our vehicle rental at the airport the next morning.
Aug 12: Our rental car company did not have the high clearance Suzuki Vitara (not 4×4 however) that we wanted and gave us a standard Toyota with the promise to deliver the Vitara later that day (it was under maintenance). Thus, we proceeded towards the Mindo area. Our first lodging was at the Septimo Paraiso which was not a dedicated “birding” lodge, but did have (according to reviews) good feeders, trails and was in a forested region with its own lands.
This lodge was considerably less expensive that some of the alternatives, though it was not in Mindo itself, with its variety of restaurant, shops and normal tourist facilities. We learned that for a few dollars taxis can take you to Mindo wich is not far. The lodge also arranges transportation to visit some of the well-known birding areas in the region such as Milpe and beyond to the area where birders can see many Ant Pitas. Septimo paraiso has an excellent restaurant that can cater to vegetarians if you let them know in advance. This hotel had two swimming pools and some trails which we did not explore as we preferred to spend more time watching the feeders.
Besides offering excellent birding, Septimo Paraiso was a good place to use as a base to explore other areas nearby.
The hummingbird feeding area had many feeders and many species of hummingbirds visited all day long. Below are some of the hummingbirds we observed during our stay at Septimo Paraiso. We should mention that the staff at this hotel did an excellent job in keeping the many feeders well stocked.
Aug 13: We drove to the Bellavista Cloudforest Lodge via a very lightly traveled dirt road that was in good condition. We stopped along this road to check for birds and plants, eventually arriving at the Bellavista Lodge near xx AM.
The lodge is at nearly 8000 ft elevation and different birds were to be expected. The lodge also has a considerable reputation among birders. Bellavista Cloudforest Lodge was the first birding lodge established in Ecuador more than 50 years ago.
At Bellavista we walked one of the trails – there is an extensive network. We didn’t see anyone else on the trail we walked. We also watched the feeder birds for a little while. The feeders were not as extensive as at Septimo Paraiso, but there were a few different f birds (e.g. Blue-winged Mountain Tanager) or birds that we saw on the trail (e.g. Ocellated Tapaculo, White-throated Quail Dove) that we hadn’t seen at Septimo Paraiso.
Aug 14: Based upon comments we heard and internet readings we decided to drive to the Milpe Bird Sanctuary. This is only about 20 minutes west of Septimo Paraiso and is at 3800 ft elevation. Only about 1 km off the main road to the lowlands, the information center was nice and had a variety of books and touristic nature materials. The person in attendance was very knowledgeable and she could identify the birds and or help with id using some of the books they have in the office. Afterwards we walked only a few feet farther to an outdoor small restaurant with hummingbird and fruit feeders very close by. The hummingbirds were mostly those we had seen at Septimo Paraiso but were very numerous. More dramatic were the birds we saw at the fruit feeder in front of the restaurant. In the course of about an hour watching, we saw three different Toucans, a handful of Tanagers we hadn’t seen elsewhere, and some other new birds.
We took a short trail at Milpe and the forest was different from that at Septimo Paraiso. Parts of the trail were obviously in a state of regeneration, but other parts were steep and more closely represented a probable climax forest for this location. We came across a species of frog, that we later identified with help from the Milpe Center personnel.
For the birds that we saw and the ease of arriving to the site – along with the trails to explore and the very modest entrance fee, we would highly recommend the Milpe Bird Sanctuary. We spent almost 6 hours there, but barely sampled the trails. We also learned that for no extra charge they allow you to come in for the sunset and early evening appearance of the bats and maybe owls. You have to let them know you are returning. We also learned that they have a small number of rooms that you may be able to rent if they are available. There are researchers and students that use this facility. If available they offer a room and 3 meals for a very reasonable price per person. You would have to contact them in advance.
Aug 15: Our plan was to leave the western slope forests and travel towards the paramo near the Colombian border to see the Espeletia “forests” found there. We had seen Espeletia in Venezuela and wanted to see them on the reserve in Ecuador containing forests of this species. First, we planned to visit a local restaurant and bird feeder just off the highway known as the Alambi Reserve; they have some rooms for rent and a small restaurant. This facility is owned by someone who started out as a birding guide. He still guides on request but now he and his family have also opened this facility. I appears that the day visitors are fairly numerous at this site. Some visitors were part of birding tours, some were there on their own and others were local tourists. There were bird guide books and posters displaying some of the more common birds. The owner was attentive and tried to point out birds as they came to the nectar or fruit feeders. There were many feeders, both for hummingbirds and fruit eaters.
After the Alambi stop, we wanted to visit the small reserve of dry forest – the Bosque Protector Jerusalem – that was en route to Ibarra, our stop for the night prior to planning to see the Espeletia on the following day. It was a lengthy uphill drive from Alambi, then down into the suburbs of Quito before heading out to the Bosque Protector. Unfortunately the road network near Quito forces one to drive nearly into Quito; a good bypass to head northward is lacking. Most tourists, traveling with a tour or via taxi would of course not have to worry about such “details”.
The Inter-Andean dry forest is a relatively uncommon vegetation type in Ecuador. It receives much less precipitation than the western or eastern Andean slopes, and its best preserved examples are on steep slopes (less suitable for agriculture) at lower elevations of the Inter-andean valleys.
We had read that the Bosque Protector was best visited on weekdays, since it became extremely crowded on weekends. Not because of the nature trails through dry forest vegetation, but because of camping, picnic possibilities and play areas. We did not explore the entire Parque, but focused on the nature trail area. A large board displayed a map of the Parque and we chose of of the trails to explore. This was a self-guided trail, with plaques explaining features along the way. Unfortunately, the plaques did not focus on nature topics, but rather historical and archaeological aspects of the area. The trail led to a small lookout that provided a nice view of the terrain. Unfortunately, the Bosque Protector lies under the flight path of aircraft landing or taking off (depending on the wind direction) from the new Quito airport so it can be less quite than it might otherwise be.
Although we enjoyed our visit to the Bosque and then proceeded northward, we ran into heavy traffic along the secondary highways. A combination of frustrating traffic and the realization that our Espeletia destination was too far in distance and time for the time we had allotted forced us to abandon this goal. We decided to cut our losses and look for another hotel closer to our route eastward through Papallacta Pass. We were able to make the arrangements via cell phone and internet contacts and found a hotel very close to the airport. This hotel had large grounds and we were even able to bird before dark and the next morning.
Aug 16: Travel to Guango Lodge
We discovered the previous day that heavy snow and ice had closed the road to the orient via the Papallacta Pass. We contacted our birding lodges and they told us that the road should soon be open – and later that morning we received word that the road was open. However, the road was closed just east of the Guango Lodge by a landslide that had been under repair for several months. The road was only open to traffic for select times of the day.
While we did see some small amounts of snow along the road, it was not substantial by North American standards. Apparently only a small amount, plus the freezing nighttime conditions, were sufficient to cause dangerous conditions during the night and following morning. But it had melted enough by mid-day to become safe.
Fortunately, we were able to make it to the Papallacta Pass and also beyond to the lodge, but only after showing guards our reservations so that we could pass the landslide area.
Aug 17: The Guango Lodge is at a relatively high elevation, about 9200 ft, and is immersed in high altitude cloud forest. It is very close to the main Quito-orient highway and thus road noise is substantial. Fortunately, the road was closed due to the landslide during certain hours and thus this traffic noise was less than normal during our stay.
Another aspect of the lodge environment is that it lies close to a rapidly flowing river that adds a steady background roar. While suitable for possible Torrent Ducks, it made for difficult birding if you were trying to hear any birds. Closer to the lodge and highway the river noise was less – but the traffic noise more.
This lodge has rustic look with stone and wood elements. The food was very good and abundant. The rates are per person and include 3 meals. A bit cold at night they provide warm rubber bottles and can also provide a heater upon request.
Feeders line the trail that leads from the parking lot to the lodge. There are posters depicting the area’s hummingbirds.
Early this day we met the lodge bird guide and manager to visit the ant pita feeding station. He has learned to imitate their call and has trained them to come for warms. He spent almost 15 minutes calling before they came. They arrived, ate and left fairly quickly but we managed to get good views of them. The afternoon we arrived we were offered a free guided (Spanish only) walk. The guide was knowledgeable and we spent almost 3 hours on the trails. The river was very loud and was impressive.
In the afternoon we we explored the trails on our own. A worthwhile place to visit, they can arrange for transport to pick you up at the airport and drive you to the lodge. For a fee they can arrange for a bilingual birding guide to meet you at the lodge.
Aug 18: We traveled to Cabañas San Isidro. The drive to Cabañas San Isidro was relatively short and we were able to make it by lunchtime. Parts of the route were very scenic and the forest was impressive, unfortunately there were very few places to stop. The Cabañas, being farther off the highway than the Guango Lodge, and also being lower in elevation, had a somewhat warmer and quieter atmosphere. As it was, most of the heavy truck traffic to the orient went eastward from the town of Baeza, and not south to Tena, and the traffic past the Cabañas turnoff was thus also much less than past Guango.
The owner of this lodge is the sister of the owner of Guango lodge. Cabanas San Isidro offers individual cabins as opposed to a communal lodge as Guango does. The cabin was very modern and comfortable and had a covered porch from which we could see birds. There were trails and rubber boots were available free of charge. These were useful given the muddy trails. In the end we concluded that many birds can be observed from the lounging area near the restaurant and walking around the cabins. The lodge has an area where you can see the cock of the rock, but the trail is long and muddy and you have to go with a guide.
Aug 19: Cabañas San Isidro
Aug 20: Gran Selva Lodge in lowland forest
Aug 21: Gran Selva Lodge in lowland forest
Aug 22: Papallacta Spa
Aug 23: Return car and night at Quito Hotel
Aug 24: Fly out early in AM