The Andes mountain range, the backbone of the American continent, reaches an altitude of 6297 metres at its highest point in Ecuador: Chimborazo volcano. It stretches from north to south, dividing the country in two. The western and eastern cordilleras, some 400 kilometers long, are home to the Inter-Andean Valley, where most of the major cities are located. These surprisingly varied landscapes of volcanic origin, cradles of ancestral native populations, are for the most part easily accessible and home to a large number of different ecosystems and private and state nature reserves. These same ecosystems have been and continue to be the field of study for many biologists, ecologists and other scientists. We invite you to follow in the footsteps of those who have built and will continue to build the pillars of neotropical science.

Ecuador
8 days
From 1490 US$
Scientific travel in South America Scientific travel in South America

Your travel expert

Dorian Noël

Naturalist and scientific travel expert

Dorian Noël
nature@ecuador-experience.com
Contact our expert
8 8 days

Day 1: Quito, explorers' headquarters

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Accompanied by the famous botanist Aimé Bomplant, Alexander Von Humboldt arrived in Quito in January 1802. He began systematically exploring the Andes and climbing every volcano within his reach. The capital of the time, the Royal Audience of Quito, was to become his main base. Quito scholars such as Carlos Montufar were lucky enough to accompany him on some of his expeditions. In those days, Quito was a multifaceted city, full of surprising stories, mysteries and hidden corners. But above all, we were at the beginning of major popular events which, a few years later, would lead to liberating historical events. To make sure you don't miss out on any of these complex and fascinating stories, we invite you to join our historian guides on a journey into the past and present of Ecuador's capital. An immersion in republican history and the cultural mix of the capital's old and unknown neighborhoods and colonial culture. Traditional lunch in a restaurant. We'll have time to talk about the various milestones in the city's history, such as the visits of various European explorers, while we take a leisurely stroll through some of the city's landmarks, such as the Santo Domingo convent, the Plaza de la Independencia or the La Compañía church.

We'll round off our Quiteña encounter with scenes from everyday life and artistic, anthropological and cosmological interpretations.

Dinner optional (self-paid).

Day 2: Mysterious cloud forests

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Early in the morning, your guide will pick you up at your hotel to take you to the north-western Andean region. The road from the Ecuadorian capital to the Pacific coast crosses many different altitudinal gradients and ecosystems of the Andean Chocó. As we descend through these varied forests, we'll gain a better understanding of the importance of Andean topography and its multiple effects on the region's great biodiversity. At around 1h30, we’ll arrive at the confluence of the Alambi and Tandayapa rivers, where we’ll make our first stop. This is the site of one of the region's oldest hummingbird gardens. Several dozen species have been recorded in this small garden, where the floral arrangements and watering holes are a major attraction for observation and photography. We'll have lunch with the instigator of the project, who will tell us about his experience. In the afternoon, we begin our ascent along the Tandayapa valley towards the cloud forests of the Bellavista reserve. Most of this private conservation area, nestled in the foothills of the Andes, is a vast cloud forest populated by astonishing, photogenic flora and fauna: tree ferns, reptiles, nocturnal mammals, heliconias, amphibians and a multitude of birds. After dinner, we'll sit quietly in front of the observation area, where curious and stealthy nocturnal mammals such as Opossum, Coati, Tayras and the newly described Clouded Olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina) come every night.

Overnight in a charming lodge.

Specialized guide, transportation, reserve entry fees

Day 3: Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve

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Before breakfast, we'll have a chance to start discovering the avifauna of these atypical forests. Early in the morning, a multitude of insectivorous birds gather around the huts to feed on insects exhausted by so much fluttering in the lodge lights. We spend the rest of the day exploring the reserve's various trails, ridges and ravines. A visit to the scientific station will help us better understand the importance of studying and conserving these subtropical rainforests, interpreting the ecological system of this complex Upper Chocó ecosystem. We will have the opportunity to observe and photograph a large number of birds such as Toucans, callistas, Tanagers and Trogons. Being at a higher altitude, we'll be able to observe around 15 different species of hummingbird and perfect our photography techniques around waterholes. In the evening, we'll head off in search of insects, amphibians, birds, reptiles and mammals.

Overnight in a charming lodge.

Specialized guide, transportation, reserve entry fees

Day 4: Tulipe stones - Cock of the rock lek

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This last morning of observation will enable us to complete our long list of species spotted in these cloud forests. We’ll enjoy 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 dedicated to Andean history and culture. Along the way, we'll make a number of stops, including one at the Tulipe archaeological site, home to the extinct Yumbos civilization. They inhabited the region between 800 and 1660, before the great volcanic eruptions of the Cordillera Occidental, to which Pululahua and Pichincha belong. 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 goes through a selection of agricultural landscapes, before entering Quechua territory. In the mid-afternoon, we’ll arrive at the La Victoriana reserve. Here, twice a day, up to several dozen Cock-of-the-rocks (Rupicola peruviana) gather in the parade arenas called "Lek", to engage in a frenetic competition to attract females with their songs and dances, strategically positioning themselves in the light of the rising sun to show off their bloody plumage. In the afternoon, we rejoin the main road for a leisurely return to the city of Quito. Depending on the weather and time of day, we can stop off in the xerophilous vegetation of the Inter-Andean Valley or in the upper part of Pululahua, the world's third-largest inhabited volcanic crater.

Overnight in a charming hotel in the Inter-Andean Valley.

Specialized guide, transportation.

Day 5: In the footsteps of Humboldt

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Despite Alexander Von Humboldt's writings about possible fumaroles and ash from the Antisana volcano, this massif, located in the Cordillera Oriental, just 1h30 from the Ecuadorian capital, is extinct. Motivated by his studies and his thirst to conquer all the volcanoes that crossed his path, the German naturalist settled at the foot of this captivating mountain in March 1802 to try and unravel its secrets. Between climatic measurements, plant collections and sketches, he climbed the volcano and wrote: "On Antisana, we were able to reach heights to which no man had ever climbed before".

Early departure from Quito for the inland foothills of the Cordillera Oriental. During the day, we'll cross the Andean steppes in search of the Andes' most emblematic bird. We'll also be on the lookout for the White-tailed Deer (ssb sustus), the Ecuadorian Culpeo Fox (ssb reissii) and the Ecuadorian Hillstar (ssp. jamesonii), one of America's highest-altitude hummingbirds. At the foot of the majestic stratovolcano, the plains of acolla vegetation are also home to the country's only population of Andean Ibis. Plant formations here alternate between gentian tapestries, herbaceous paramo, cushions, Polylepis and Pumamaqui (Oreopanax) groves and wetlands, from which you can hear the song of marsupial frogs (Gastrotheca sp.). The Mica Lagoon, at the end of the road, is one of the Ecuadorian capital's largest water reserves. Lunch is an opportunity to observe some of the high-altitude hummingbirds and perhaps the rare spectacled bear.

Return to Quito in the afternoon.

Specialized guide, transportation.

Day 6: Andean culture and volcanoes

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When Alexander Von Humboldt is mentioned, his name is quickly associated with the Andes. And it's precisely through the Andes that this 3-day itinerary will take us. The Pan-American Highway, heading south, passes through indigenous villages, valleys and fragmented landscapes, ravines and crops, following the famous Avenue of the Volcanoes. After a 2-hour drive, we arrive at the small indigenous village of Zumbagua, where we’ll visit the traditional market, partly preserved from the ravages of modernity. Here, tradition mingles with color and flavor. In this semi-arid valley, the inhabitants still use llamas as beasts of burden to transport native tubers or tropical fruits freshly harvested on the western slopes. You'll then climb up to the turquoise Quilotoa lagoon. From the sharp ridges of the crater, the lights compete with each other in color, plunging the landscape into a magical atmosphere. Possibility of descending the 200 meters to the lagoon's shores, accompanied by herds of sheep and llamas. We'll take advantage of the light of the sunset to make a few photographic stops to capture landscapes of crops and scenes of daily life.

Specialized guide, transportation.

Day 7: Giant Chimborazo

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Long considered the highest peak in the world, Chimborazo was more than just an explorer's challenge for Humboldt. It wasn't just for glory or achievement that he wanted to conquer its flanks. His intentions were in fact complex. He wanted to measure atmospheric pressures, altitudes, temperatures and chemistry, collect plants, mosses and rocks, draw landscapes, test hypotheses, draw maps and observe the unknown face of volcanoes from high above. Following in the footsteps of these explorers, we'll follow the different altitudinal gradients of the "colossus of the Andes" across the sandy steppes to the foot of the glacier. Cross-sections of the route will enable us to interpret the region's geological and volcanological past. We'll be on the lookout for the flora and fauna typical of these ecosystems, perfectly adapted to the sun's rays, extreme temperatures and winds. In particular, we'll be on the lookout for the Chimborazo Hillstar hummingbird, the endemic subspecies of Paramo fox, the stealthy Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe and plenty of vicuñas. Lunch at the first refuge. For the more athletic, we'll climb to the second refuge (5000m).

Dinner and overnight stay at the same hosteria.

Specialized guide, transportation.

Day 8: Cotopaxi - Quito

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After a hearty traditional breakfast, it's a 2-hour drive through a mosaic of traditional crops: quinoa, amaranth and all kinds of legumes and tubers, to reach Cotopaxi National Park. Its emblematic volcano is the country's second-highest peak (5987 metres) and one of the most closely watched active volcanoes in the world. A short hike around the Limpiopungo lagoon, with a backdrop of Cotopaxi, Rumiñahui and Sincholagua volcanoes at over 3800 metres, will allow us to explore high-altitude Andean flora and very special landscapes. Weather permitting, you can hike up to the first refuge at over 4800 metres, where you can get up close to the glacier. For the more adventurous, we'll also have the chance to hike along the grassy moors on the slopes of Rumiñahui. Lunch in a high-altitude lodge opposite Sincholagua.

Return to Quito in the late afternoon.

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Specialized guide, transportation.

Dates of the next departures

Departures are possible all year round. Contact us for the best periods to suit your priority study topics.

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

Prices per person

Price per person depends on the size of your group. Please contact us for more information.

2 travelers 4 travelers 6 travelers 8 travelers
2,560 US$ 1,790 US$ 1,490 US$ 1,350 US$

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

Included

All transfers as mentioned.

Bilingual English-speaking naturalist guide.

24-hour assistance

Accommodation in double room, private bathroom except at standard lodge.

Meals as mentioned, picnics on some hikes.

Not included

International flights. (Please consult our list of tour operators offering  flights only).

Excursions and activities indicated as optional in the program.

Certain dinners (please allow between US$8 and US$15 per meal).

Single room supplement.

Soft and alcoholic drinks at all meals.

Personal expenses.

Personal insurance.

Bank commission on payments (4% if paid by credit card).

Payment and reservation terms

To book your tour, please confirm your agreement in writing to your local agent.

  • A deposit of 30% of the invoice amount is required at the time of booking.
  • The balance must be paid no later than 45 days before arrival in Ecuador, in the same way.

The agency declines all responsibility for the provision of confirmed services in the event of non-compliance with the above payment terms.

Important note

Itineraries may be subject to last-minute changes due to natural disasters or changes in domestic legislation. The operator therefore reserves the right to make any changes necessary to guarantee the safety and integrity of travelers and to comply with current legislation. Hotels are subject to availability at the time of booking. In the event of unavailability, a hotel of the same category will be offered whenever possible.

Formalities

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

Vaccines: You are advised to be vigilant when traveling, especially 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 center of the country are not affected by malaria. In fact, very few areas are actually affected by these parasitic diseases. The majority of these high-risk areas are not in the zones we visit on our itineraries. However, if you decide to take a course of treatment, beware: some people react badly to it. Although no vaccinations are compulsory, we advise you to consider vaccinations against tetanus and hepatitis A and C as essential. We also recommend that you consult your GP before departure, and take out insurance to cover medical expenses and repatriation.

Your guide for this trip

Xavier Amigo

Xavier Amigo

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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.

Characteristics of the trip

Travel theme

Scientific trip to the Ecuadorian Andes

Accompaniment

Specialized bilingual guide

Arrival city

Quito

Departure city

Quito

Accomodation

Hotels, charming haciendas and standard lodges

Transport

Private transport

Physical condition

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