This naturalist safari will allow you to explore the richest ecosystems in northern Ecuador. Spectacled bears, Mountain Toucans, grey-headed martens, three-toed sloths, Sword-billed Hummingbirds and pink dolphins are just some of the representatives of the wildlife of this small Andean country on the menu for this exceptional tour. Suitable for both budding explorers and seasoned photographers, the many shades and colours of this trip will enable you to take some extraordinary shots and make some unusual observations off the beaten track.

Ecuador
16 days
From 3295 US$
Naturalist trips in South America Naturalist trips in South America
Photographic safaris in South America Photographic safaris in South America

Your travel expert

Xavier Amigo

Responsible for naturalist, botanical and ornithological travel. Responsible of fixing and profesional contact.

Xavier Amigo
xavier@ecuador-experience.com
Contact our expert
16 16 days

Day 1: Arrival in Quito - Pululahua volcano

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After arriving at Quito international airport (2,400 metres above sea level), where you will be met by your English-speaking naturalist guide, you will take a transfer of around 1 hour to reach the Cordillera Occidental, where you  will arrive at your first hotel. After settling in, you’ll be given a short briefing of the journey ahead, during which your guide will begin to tell you about the country's special features. The Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve will be an excellent opportunity for your guide to talk to you about Ecuador's topography and volcanic origins, and  to explain why this country is proportionally the most biodiverse in the world, in relation to its surface area. The rest of the day will be free for you to relax after the long flight and enjoy the facilities of your hotel, situated on the rim of one of the largest and most impressive inhabited craters in the world. For the more experienced, a walk along the reserve's steep paths will surely give you your first sightings of some neotropical species. The scrubland and altoandine forest ecosystems of the Pululahua volcano caldera are home to numerous species of hummingbirds, jays and orchids.

Dinner and overnight stay in a charming hotel in Pululahua.

English-speaking welcome and transfer

Day 2: Cock of the rock - Tandayapa Valley

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At dusk, we leave our lodge and head west. After a 40-minute drive we arrive to the Paz de Las Aves Sanctuary. A short trail will take us to a Cock-of-the-rock arena, where we will witness a unique spectacle of nature. Here, these extraordinary Cotingas parade for an hour to attract females, a totally unforgettable spectacle rich in colour, movement and sound. Afterwards, we'll follow our local guide along the reserve's various trails to explore the rare and unique local birdlife. During the brunch served on the reserve's terrace, we'll take a moment to chat with the owners about the history of this fabulous family project, which has made it possible to conserve almost 150 hectares of high subtropical forest. After that, we'll head up the outer slopes of the Cordillera Occidental in a private vehicle, through a variety of lush and diverse altitudinal gradients, until we enter Tandayapa valley. We’ll settle into our new accommodation, built right in the heart of the mythical western cloud forest. Our first hike will take us into this ecosystem, rich in orchids, bromeliads and other epiphytes, where Tangaras, Toucans, Quetzals and a large number of mammals live. After dinner, you can go out at night to observe amphibians and reptiles.

Dinner and overnight at the Bellavista lodge.

Private transport and specialised English-speaking guide

Day 3: Cloud forests

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Today we'll be exploring the reserve's many trails in search of the region's most emblematic species. We'll start at dawn with a nature spotting session around the lodge, where a large number of insectivorous species come in the early hours to feed on moths and other insects, exhausted from their twirling dances around the lights. We then continue by exploring the higher areas of the reserve. A walk along the various forest paths will give us the opportunity to understand a little more about the ecological dynamics of these fragile ecosystems. For those with a keen eye for photography, we'll be looking for the most aesthetically pleasing textures and colours to complement our Portfolio: tree ferns, anoles, centrolenes, epiphytic orchids, heliconias, orthopterans and so on. We'll take advantage of the late afternoon to perfect our photographic techniques around the watering holes, where here too, an incredible diversity of hummingbirds squabble in a very open, bright space (Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Collared inca, Gorgeted Sunangel, White Booted Raquet-tail). After dinner, we can set off in search of several nocturnal mammals, including the Misty Olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina), the first new species of carnivore to be identified on the American continent for 35 years. These nocturnal, tree-dwelling animals hide around the lodge making it possible to take some superb shots.

Dinner and overnight at the Bellavista lodge.

Private transport and specialised English-speaking guide

Day 4: Tandayapa - Tulipe - Cuicocha

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This final morning of observation will allow us to add to our long list of species seen in these cloud forests. We have our last breakfast in Bellavista before heading off to the northern Andes for a radical change of vegetation, climate and atmosphere. The rest of the day will be devoted to Andean history and culture. During the journey, we'll make a number of stops, including one at the Tulipe archaeological site, the base of the extinct Yumbos civilisation. They inhabited the region between 800 and 1660, before the great volcanic eruptions of the Cordillera Occidental, which included Pululahua and Pichincha. The site boasts some 2,000 Tolas (ceremonial mounds) and a complex of multi-purpose pools. It was a key crossing point for trade between the Pacific, the Amazon and the Andes. The long road up the Andes passes through a variety of agricultural landscapes before entering Quechua territory. In the middle of the afternoon we'll reach the Cuicocha lagoon (3064m), where we'll take a walk. This crater lake with its sparkling blue waters, nestling at the foot of the Cotacachi volcano, is home to a variety of flora (orchids, elephant ears, etc.) and a unique panorama.

We will arrive at the end of the day to our new accommodation, a charming hacienda steeped in history.

Private transport and specialised English-speaking guide

Day 5: Cuicocha - San Pablo - Mirador del Oso

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Accompanied by our host, we'll take a moment over breakfast to immerse ourselves in the history of the region. We will then take the mythical Panamericana Norte. This road, shared by the vast majority of the continent's Andean countries, crosses Ecuador from south to north, skirting the Andes mountain range and a vast array of varied landscapes, villages and traditional settings. We'll linger for a while along the San Pablo lagoon to try and spot some species of waterfowl and enjoy the Imbabura volcano that towers above it. Continuing northwards, we will pass through vast expanses of xerophytic vegetation, sugar cane plantations, arid valleys and a large number of Afro-Ecuadorian communities, giving this part of the Andes an air of Little Africa. We will then continue our ascent towards the small village of Pimampiro, on the outskirts of which we will spend the night. Here we will meet Danilo, who over the last few years has set up one of the most unusual private conservation areas in the country, with the aim of protecting the Spectacled Bear, our target for the next few days.

Dinner and overnight  in mid-range accommodation.

Private transport and specialised English-speaking guide

Day 6: Mirador del Oso - Cayambe

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During this day in the heart of this very special biotope, we will follow the owner of the reserve to a special lookout to wait for one of the rarest and most difficult mammals on the continent to pass by: the spectacled bear. At the bottom of this steep-sided valley, the local inhabitants, guided by Danilo, have done everything possible to gradually restore the original vegetation and provide this large omnivorous plantigrade with a suitable habitat for its breeding cycle. It's not uncommon to see young cubs clumsily trying out their new arboreal spaces, as South America's only ursid bear is mainly arboreal in this part of the Andes. Depending on what we see, we will spend several hours enjoying the presence of these rare animals, before exploring the rest of the region in search of some of the bird species typical of the area, including Isidore's Eagle, Quetzal and Tanagers. In the afternoon, we'll make our way to our next stop. We will cross the inter-Andean valley to the foot of the Cayambe volcano, the third highest peak in the country, on the edge of the Cordillera Oriental.

Dinner and overnight stay in a charming hacienda at the foot of the volcano.

Private transport and specialised English-speaking guide

Day 7: Cayambe - Coca reserve

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An early start from our accommodation will allow us to reach the entrance to Cayambe Coca National Park at the best time of day, to climb the difficult slopes of this giant of the Andes by 4x4. Reaching a height of 5,790 metres, this active volcano is one of the highest in the country, and one of the least visited, despite its unique scenery. We will climb part of its southern flanks to reach the first glaciers. A few Magellanic foxes occasionally roam around the refuge. A few Ecuadorian Hillstars (Chimborazo sub-species) flutter about in the high bushes a little lower down, gathering nectar from the Chuquiraga flower. With its incredible adaptation, this hummingbird has the highest altitudinal distribution in the world. We will then continue our exploration of this enormous nature reserve along an isolated road that leads from the Quechua village of Oyacachi, through areas of super-humid peat bogs and páramos, to the Papallacta thermal baths. Here, we'll make several stops to enjoy some of the most exceptional views of these vast, untouched expanses of the northern cordillera, and to look out for some of the area's most difficult species: the mountain tapir, the northern pudu, the Andean deer and the spectacled bear. At the end of the day, we’ll arrive at the Papallacta thermal baths, where we can bask in the warm waters.

Dinner at leisure and overnight in a charming hotel.

Private transport and specialised English-speaking guide

Day 8: Papallacta – Guango – Lago Agrio

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This morning, while the cool temperatures still flood the páramo, we'll be strolling through the areas of Altoandine vegetation, made up mainly of Asteraceae and Poaceae, to understand the co-evolutionary process between these flowering plants and their pollinators. We will no doubt have the opportunity to continue our observations with several new species of birds of altitude as well as many orchids. In the early afternoon, we'll head off to the Guango hummingbird garden for lunch in front of a unique spectacle of a wide variety of these flying gems. With a bit of luck, the most emblematic of the group - the Sword-billed Hummingbird - will make an appearance. During the rest of the descent, along the eastern foothills of the Cordillera, towards the Amazon basin, your guide will explain the crucial role of this ecosystem as a water reservoir. As we descend, we will be able to see the changes in vegetation and climate, until we arrive at Lago Agrio, the gateway to the northern Amazon basin.

Dinner and overnight in a mid-range hotel.

Private transport and specialised English-speaking guide

Day 9: Cuyabeno reserve

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This morning it's time to continue our descent into the lower reaches of Ecuador's Amazon basin. After breakfast, it'll be a 2 hour journey by private bus to the bridge over the Cuyabeno River, from where we'll board a motorised canoe and cruise down the river, heading through a veritable tunnel of vegetation towards the Laguna Grande. This is our first contact with this extremely diverse ecosystem. During the descent, we will have the opportunity to observe our first Amazonian species: Hoatzins, freshwater turtles, primates, tegu, sloths and caimans. We’ll arrive at the lodge, located on the edge of one of the region's most beautiful and rich oxbow lagoons. This is a very rich area, where the white waters meet the black waters of the Cuyabeno river, providing abundant prey for the Amazonian pink dolphins, or sotalies, as well as a large number of predators. After settling into our cabins, we'll meet the lodge team, who will tell us more about how the accommodation works. Your local guide will give you a briefing on the richness of this part of the Amazon basin.

Overnight at Siona Lodge.

Private transport and specialised English-speaking guide

Day 10: Undergrowth dwellers

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Before breakfast, at dawn, we'll set off in a canoe to enjoy the animal activity during the early hours of the day: monkeys, toucans, sloths, dolphins... each day will be different but rich in encounters! Then, after breakfast at the lodge, we'll set off on a hike through the forest. Our native guide will share all his knowledge with us, not only about the use of plants, but also about the ecology and biology of the species of animals and plants we'll come across along the way. Lunch at the lodge, followed by a rest during the hottest hours of the day, when there is very little wildlife activity. At around 4pm, we'll set off in a canoe with our guide to explore the narrow tributaries in the area. We'll be able to get up close to several species of bird that thrive in these environments (Hoatzin, Cacique, Guan, Parrot, Macaw, Toucan, etc.) as well as several of the 9 species of monkey found in this part of the Amazon (squirrel monkey, woolly monkey, saki, etc.). We'll also be on the lookout for one of the Amazon's most impressive inhabitants, the Paiche (Arapaima gigas), the largest freshwater fish in this part of the world. After dinner, we'll set off on a night-time excursion in search of colourful reptiles and anurans.

Dinner and overnight at Siona Lodge.

Private transport and specialised English-speaking guide

Day 11: Varzea and terra firme

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This morning, we'll be doing another forest observation walk in two different ecosystems: Varzea and Terra Firme. During the morning, we'll have the opportunity to observe a number of species native to these ecosystems. We'll be looking at a range of subjects, including ethnobotany, geology, herpetology and ethnology, to gain a better understanding of the social workings of Indian communities. After lunch, a short rest will be in order before a canoe ride through the flooded forest covered with abundant epiphytic plants. After dinner, we'll take a final trip by torchlight in a dug-out canoe, in search of numerous nocturnal species as well as Black and Spectacled Caimans.

Dinner and overnight at Siona Lodge.

Private transport and specialised English-speaking guide

Day 12: Lago Agrio – San Isidro

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We'll be up at dawn for a final session of birdwatching, including Maroon-tailed Parakeet, Red-headed Cardinal, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Orinoco Goose. After breakfast, we'll take our motorised canoe back up the Cuyabeno River to the exit of the wildlife reserve. On this trip, we sometimes come across the emblematic and mythical fierce Harpy Eagle, the most powerful eagle in the world. Our vehicle will take us to Lago Agrio for a leisurely climb towards the eastern foothills of the Cordillera to the cloud forest areas where we will spend the night. Once we've settled in, we'll head out in search of the San Isidro Owl. This species, as yet undescribed by science, will give us an opportunity to consider the process of describing species and the complex issue of speciation.

Dinner and overnight at the San Isidro reserve.

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Private transport and specialised English-speaking guide

Day 13: San Isidro

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We'll have the whole day to enjoy the San Isidro reserve. At dawn we'll enjoy a photographic session or simple birdwatching around our cabins, where a large number of insectivorous species gather in search of lepidopterans and other insects exhausted from their eventful night around the lights of the lodge. The proximity of the Motmots, Wrens, Tyrants, Trogons and other feathered representatives of this bio-region, which has been considered number one in the world for the last 6 years in the Audubon society's Christmas count, is simply astonishing. There's also the chance of spotting ash agoutis and red brocket deer. After breakfast, we'll take a walk along the reserve's trails to spot certain species in the undergrowth and complete our observations. After dinner, we'll take a moment to wait patiently for the mountain tapir, one of the most enigmatic species of large mammal in this part of the tropical Andes.

Dinner and overnight at the lodge.

Private transport and specialised English-speaking guide

Day 14: San Isidro - Antisana

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We can start the day with a first observation session enjoying the jerky dance of the White-bellied Antpitta. Virtually nothing is known about the life of this graceful bird. Then it's time to hit the road again, leaving the tropical ecosystems behind us to set off on the assault on the high Andes. Our first stop will be the small La Brisa reserve, where we'll take in some birdlife. Higher up, the Papallacta virgin site on the edge of Cayambe Coca park, which we will explore, will give us another opportunity to admire the majestic avenue of volcanoes and go in search of new high-altitude species. We’ll arrive in the late afternoon at our new accommodation.

Dinner and overnight in a charming mid-range hacienda, close to a Condor roost.

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Private transport and specialised English-speaking guide

Day 15: Antisanilla and Antisana

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The Antisanilla private reserve next to our hacienda is one of the best places in the country to see the Andean Condor. Depending on the time of year, the climate and the light, the spectacle of flight from the top of the basalt cliffs of this gorge can be simply sublime for observing and photographing the passage of this emblematic bird. But it's also an exceptional site for spotting the spectacled bear.

Mid-morning we continue our journey towards the rest of the Antisana reserve. We'll be on the lookout for the many Andean deer that roam these rolling steppes in the breeze. The páramo that covers these vast expanses are teeming with life, making for some great bird photos: Caracara, Andean gulls, the now rare Andean Ibis, the American kestrel and the Aplomado Falcon. In the middle of the afternoon, we climb through sumptuous landscapes to await the return of the Andean condors to their resting and nesting area.

Dinner and overnight in a mid-range hacienda, close to the Condor roost.

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Private transport and specialised English-speaking guide

Day 16: Wikiri - International departure

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For some years now, Ecuador has been moving towards organic trade. This alternative combines economic, scientific and conservation aspects in an attempt to transform the foundations of local development. This final morning will be an opportunity to visit the Jambatu centre, one of the most daring local initiatives, where numerous species of Ecuadorian frogs are bred in exceptional conditions, with a view to studying their biology, reintroducing these declining species into their original environments and marketing them worldwide to combat illegal trafficking. Here you will have the opportunity to discover the most colourful and emblematic species, but above all to meet the key players in this revolutionary project.

In the afternoon, transfer to Quito international airport for your return flight.

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Private transport and specialised English-speaking guide

Dates of the next departures

You want a personalized departure date? Contact us. Request a personalized date

Prices per person

2 travelers 4 travelers 6 travelers 8 travelers
4,995 US$ 3,995 US$ 3,295 US$ 3,055 US$

You are a group of travelers and want a special rate? Contact us. Request a personalized quote

Included

  • Private transport (petrol, road taxes, parking, insurance for vehicle and passengers)
  • All transfers as mentioned
  • Bilingual English-speaking naturalist guide for the mainland section
  • 24-hour assistance
  • Accommodation in double room, private bathroom (Hotels, charming haciendas and standard lodges)
  • Meals as mentioned, picnics on some hikes
  • Entrance fees to the sites mentioned
  • Water during all trips
  • Use of a telescope with the possibility of digiscoping
  • Loan of rubber boots (up to size 45)

Not included

  • International flights. (You can consult our list of tour operators offering flights only)
  • Excursions and activities indicated as optional in the programme.
  • Certain dinners (expect to pay between US$12 and US$18 per person per meal).
  • Single room supplement
  • Soft and alcoholic drinks at all meals
  • Personal expenses
  • Personal insurance
  • Bank charges for payments

Important note

Itineraries may be subject to last-minute changes due to natural disasters or changes in national legislation. The operator therefore reserves the right to make any changes necessary to guarantee the safety and integrity of travellers and to comply with the laws in force. Hotels are given for information only and are subject to availability at the time the tour is booked. In the event of unavailability, a hotel of the same category will be offered where possible.

Formalities

Formalities: Passport valid for 6 months after your return date. No visa is currently required for French and Belgian nationals.

Vaccinations: It is advisable to be vigilant when travelling, particularly during the rainy season (when infectious outbreaks can occur) in the coastal provinces and in Amazonia. Malaria is a parasitic disease transmitted by mosquito bites, requiring the use of personal protective measures such as sprays, creams, electric diffusers and mosquito nets.... Quito and the centre of the country are not affected by malaria. In fact, very few areas are really affected by these parasitic diseases. Most of these high-risk areas are not in the zones we visit on our itineraries. If, however, you decide to take a course of treatment, beware: some people react badly to it. Although no vaccinations are compulsory, we recommend that you consider vaccinations against tetanus and hepatitis A and C to be essential. We also recommend that you consult your GP before leaving and take out insurance to cover medical expenses and repatriation.

Your guides for this trip

Xavier Amigo

Xavier Amigo

es fr ca br
A great enthusiast of the neo-tropical environment, he has now resided for more than 25 years in Ecuador, where he founded Nature Experience. A self-taught ornithologist and naturalist, he holds a diploma in Conservation Strategy and Techniques in the neo-tropical zone, an active member of several conservation foundations and a founding member of the National Bird Watch Network ( RedAvesEcuador). He will help you in the elaboration of your natural, ornithological and professional requests. He will also share with you his experience of more than fifteen years as a guide in Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil but also in Peru and the Galapagos.
Pierre Ferron

Pierre Ferron

en es fr
Pierre went on a two year adventure with his backpack and camera throughout South America but all these adventures were not enough to quench his thirst for adventure. Adventurer in soul, his passion for felines taught him the patience to observe and photograph them. Self-taught naturalist, photography enthusiast since the age of 8 years, it is with his camera that he shares his passion for nature and travels. Also instructor of scuba diving, he will guide you as well on the ground as under water. Pierre will guide you to the best viewpoints to bring out the best in your photos. He gives as well great advice on how to handle your camera equipment and how to take advantage of settings to capture the best picture.

Characteristics of the trip

Travel theme

Naturalist observation and photography

Accompaniment

Specialised English-speaking guide

Accomodation

Charming hotels, lodges and guesthouses

Transport

Private transport

Physical condition

Moderate (some walks at altitude, although slow, can be tiring)
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