Day 1: Arrival in Quito
Our Ecuador photo tour begins with an evening orientation at our hotel and dinner. Night in Quito.
Days 2 - 3: Tandayapa Valley
We head downslope from Quito to our lodge at a cool 2000m above sea level in the cloud forest. This area is part of an extensive tract of protected forest in a highly diverse part of the Andes. We’ll familiarize ourselves with the basic techniques of tropical photography then get right into it.
Bellavista lodge is ideal for photographing approachable trogons and jays that frequent the grounds, while hummingbirds such as the Buff-tailed Coronet and Violet-tailed Sylph provide easy subjects as they perch at the feeders. We'll visit other feeder set-ups lower down in the world-renowned Tandayapa valley, where over a dozen common hummers can be found in one spot, including Booted Racket-tail, Empress Brilliant, Long-tailed Sylph and the wonderful Velvet-purple Coronet. It will take a long while before we get our fill of photographing these amazing birds. We’ll be on the lookout for other colourful jewels such as Blue-winged Mountain Tanager and Red-headed Barbet as well as non-feeder birds like Beryl-spangled and Golden-naped Tanagers, Beautiful Jay and Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan. Indeed, we never know which of the hundreds of species in this area will land on a branch in front of our lenses. Nights at Bellavista.
Days 4 - 5: Mindo and Milpe
Today we relocate to a lower elevation that will provide an entirely new array of tropical birds and other animals to photograph. The area around Mindo is world famous and Milpe has some great surprises. Our lodge sits at 1100m altitude and we’ll stay here for two nights.
We will have a plethora of subjects, from Golden-headed Quetzal to Masked Trogon to several different manakins and the chance at Long-wattled Umbrellabirds. We’ll visit the amazing Refugio Paz de Aves for Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and some habituated antpittas (Giant, Moustached, Ochre-breasted and others) that, in other places are nearly impossible to photograph let alone see. Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Sickle-winged Guan, Dark-backed Wood-Quail and Lyre-tailed Nighjar are other potential subjects here. In Milpe, we even have a good chance at the mythical Banded Ground-Cuckoo up close! Incredible butterflies and other insects are here in abundance, and we might be able to photograph some mammals such as tayra, tamandua, spectacled bear and even ocelot. Of course, frogs and even snakes might put on a show too! We can do a night walk to see what we can capture with some flash set-ups. Nights in Milpe.
Day 6: Rio Silanche
This morning we drop even further downslope to the lowest elevation of the tour at Rio Silanche reserve to experience the rainforest canopy. Here, a whole new suite of species from the Chocó endemic zone flourishes. When a mixed-species flock passes in front of the observation tower we should be prepared for eye-level shots of Choco Toucan, White-tailed Trogon, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Orange-fronted Barbet and Chocó region tanagers such as Blue-whiskered, Gray-and-Gold, and Scarlet-browed. We’ll spend most of the morning in this diverse area before moving back upslope.
After lunch we’ll continue to another lodge on the western slope with a different set of birds at the feeders and gardens. These may include Pale-legged Hornero, Collared Aracari, Rufous Motmot and Pacific Parrotlet. Night at Tinalandia Lodge.
Days 7 and 8: Cotopaxi National Park
We leave the lowlands ascending a spectacular highway into the Andean highlands, this time to the south of Quito. The countryside hints at the potential for dramatic landscape photography. With this in mind, we continue upward to Cotopaxi National Park, the jewel in the crown that is Ecuador’s extensive reserve system. Upon arriving, we’ll expect the park’s namesake Cotopaxi volcano and its glaciers to be obscured by afternoon clouds so instead we’ll focus on the volcanic landscape, páramo flowers and birds including the dazzling Ecuadorian Hillstar, both Green and Black-tailed Trainbearer and Carunculated Caracara. Wild horses roam the landscape and with luck we’ll spot a condor soaring overhead. Our cozy lodge at the base of the volcano will be ideal for reviewing some of our trip photos around the fireplace, while anticipating a clearing sky overnight.
In the morning we set out for wide-angle shots of Cotopaxi’s perfect cone draped in alpenglow-lit glaciers. Surely one of South America’s most dramatic vistas, this landscape will help us create a more all-around trip portfolio. We might even add some indigenous culture to it, if we encounter any gauchos on the mountain plateau or pass through a local market. After lunch we’ll commute to another volcano—one with potentially more bang for the buck. Nights in Cotopaxi National Park and Baños.
Day 9: Baños
Tungurahua Volcano is a 5000-metre peak in the Andes that long sat dormant until it awoke in 1999 and continues to erupt sporadically. After settling into the quaint mountain town of Baños the previous night we’ll go up to a viewpoint for some night photography of the volcano. Even if not erupting the beautiful peak may provide for dramatic imagery. In the morning, we’ll go up to another closer viewpoint on a sparsely forested ridge to capture some side-lit drama.
Birds in the area may include Superciliaried Hemispingus, Lacrimose and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers and probably Swallow-tailed Kite soaring close-by. We could find a White-capped Dipper or Torrent Duck on some of the creeks that have carved out impressive canyons in the volcanic rock. This lends to the usual waterfall scenery, but one in particular is worthy of a quick stop as we leave town on the way into the Amazon basin. Night at Wildsumaco Lodge.
Days 10-11: Amazon Foothills
We wake up to the sounds of the Amazon, perched at 1500m on the eastern slope —specifically, the Napo River basin. It’s back to bird photography and this time the diversity is even higher with the potential for new species at every corner. Trails and feeder set-ups await, serving up all sorts of birds and even nectar-feeding bats! Napo Tamarins visit banana feeders and other mammals are always a possibility here, including five species of cat. Amazon slope birds are well-represented with some goodies like Black-streaked Puffbird, Napo Sabrewing, Coppery-chested Jacamar and three toucanets: Golden-collared, Southern Emerald and Chestnut-tipped. Others including Gould’s Jewelfront, Fiery-throated Fruiteater, Chestnut-fronted Macaw and Gilded Barbet keep the colours vibrant, while various antbirds, not to mention the rare and elusive Black Tinamou try to hide in the forest understory. Wildsumaco has a list of over 500 species of birds and we’ll track down as many as possible! Nights at Wildsumaco Lodge.
Days 12-13: Papallacta Pass
We climb back into the Andes on our return route to Quito but not before stopping in the cloud forest once again. This is the stronghold for the glorious Sword-billed Hummingbird and other hummers including Viridian Metaltail, Glowing Puffleg, Tourmaline Sunangel and Fawn-breasted Brilliant! Guango Lodge has an excellent feeder set-up and trails that take us down to the river for another chance of Torrent Duck and White-capped Dipper. Mixed flocks may include Pearled Treerunner, Spectacled Redstart, Turquoise Jay and numerous others.
On our last morning we’ll stop at the relaxing Termas de Papallacta for a soak and to stroll around for more chances of Sword-bills plus other great birds like Shining Sunbeam, Giant Hummingbird, Golden-crowned Tanager, Red-crested Cotinga and Rufous, Tawny and (if lucky) Crescent-faced Antpittas. If very lucky, we have a chance of photographing the range-restricted Masked Mountain-Tanager.
Our final stop is the high-elevation Papallacta Pass that could add a dozen new species to our photo list only hours before the end of the tour. Some of these may include Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, Andean Tit-Spinetail, Rainbow-bearded and Blue-mantled Thornbills and even Giant Conebill! Eventually, we’ll have to depart and return to Quito. Nights in Guango Lodge and Quito Hotel.
Day 14: Departure
Our tour concludes after breakfast back in Quito.