Southern Ecuador

South America
Land Tour


  • High concentration of small-range Endemics
  • Visit the innovative conservation reserves that were established by the Jocotoco Foundation
  • Spectacular bird, animal and plant species

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Tour Overview

Join us on a birding and conservation tour of southern Ecuador. Famous for the Galapagos, mainland Ecuador can lay claim to one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity in the world including well over 1600 species of birds in an area a third the size of Ontario.

Many of Ecuador’s species, especially those found west of the Andes and in the dry Tumbesian regions of the south, are rare, small-range endemics, found nowhere else in the world. Our tour will focus on visiting these beautiful regions of the country to see these specialized endemics. Along the way, we will see many other spectacular bird, animal and plant species.

While our trip will be focused on seeing as many birds as we can, our aim will be to provide an enjoyable introduction to tropical ecology and the efforts being taken by Jocotoco and others to protect the incredible biodiversity in Ecuador. We will also seek out migrant birds to highlight the ecological connections between North America and Ecuador. This trip will highlight and support the conservation work of the Jocotoco Foundation.


More about the Jocotoco Foundation
Our tour will focus on visiting the innovative conservation reserves in Southern Ecuador that were established by the Jocotoco Foundation to protect critically endangered species not otherwise protected within Ecuador’s extensive national system of protected areas (about 26% of the country).

The foundation was formed in 1998 to buy the last remaining habitats of the newly discovered Jocotoco Antpitta a spectacular bird that lives in highly specialized bamboo habitats around Cerro Tapichalaca. Since its founding, Jocotoco has established 12 reserves comprised of close to 20,000 ha of land purchased for conservation. Of these reserves five (Buenaventura, Tapichalaca, Jorupe, Utuana, and Copalinga) are located in the southern part of Ecuador. Each reserve protects a unique biodiversity “hot spot” where there are concentrations of small range endemic species. As there is very little tourism infrastructure in southern Ecuador, Jocotoco built lodges in the reserves to encourage and facilitate tourism in the south. The lodges are built inside the reserves so that visitors can see most of the wildlife or access trails simply by stepping out of the door of their cabins!


Day 1: Arrive in Quito

Our Southern Ecuador birding tour begins in Quito. When you arrive in Quito, you will be met at the airport and taken to a hotel close to the airport in order to take an early flight south the next morning. We meet for an evening meal to discuss the adventure ahead.

Day 2: Santa Rosa to Buenaventura

After a short flight to Santa Rosa, we will spend the morning in La Tremladera wetlands and Santa Rosa coastal mangroves. Lots of great wetland birds to see here, possibly even a Horned Screamer.

We will arrive in Buenaventura in the late afternoon, but will arrive in time to perhaps see the nesting Pacific Royal-Flycatcher and enjoy the dozens of hummingbirds at the feeders.
Buenaventura is an important reserve in Ecuador as it protects one of the last remaining large patches of forest in a region where over 80% of the forest has been removed. The reserve encompasses an isolated mountain ridge with a localized high rainfall resulting in also a globally significant bio-diversity hotspot of endemics. Two highly endangered birds species are protected here, the El Oro Parakeet and the Ecuadorian Tapaculo. Recent studies have found locally endemic frogs, snakes, and many plant species – all new to science with in the last 20 years. The conservation work of Jocotoco has reforested over 1500 ha over the last 20 years with stunning results. Local and regional governments have acknowledged the reforestation work as a model for community water protection. You'll hear more about that on our trip. Night in Umbrellabird lodge.

Day 3: Morning in Buenaventura – lower elevations.

We will spend a second day at Buenaventura birding the lower elevations looking for Pacific Royal-Flycatcher, Gray-breasted Flycatcher, Rufous-headed Chachalaca, and Pale-mandibled Ariacari. If we are very lucky, we might see Buenaventura's resident Ornate Hawk Eagle, a species that seems to have returned with all the reforestation. Night in Umbrellabird lodge.

Day 4: Morning in Buenaventura - upper elevations

At first light of dawn, we will go to the lek of the Long-wattled Umbrellabird – this means getting up early, but it is worth it! The Ecuadorians call this bird "Pajaro del Toro" "The bird of the bull" because of it's amazing cow-like call! After breakfast, will head to the upper elevations of Buenaventura to look for the El Oro Parakeet and the Ecuadorian Tapaculo. While these birds are uncommon and difficult to find, during our search we are sure to see many other great birds like Pacific Tuftedcheek, Gray-backed Hawk, Rufous-throated Tanager, Club-winged Manakin, and many others. Night in Umbrellabird lodge.

Day 5: Buenaventura to Jorupe Reserve.

After breakfast, we will drive to Jorupe Reserve and Urraca Lodge, about a 4 hour drive. The lodge is located in Tumbesian lowland deciduous forest. This forest is characteristically hot with a rainy seasons commencing in November through March and a very dry season from May through October. Characteristic species include Henna-hooded Foliage-Gleaner, Olivacious Siskin, Pacific Elaenia, Black Becard, Grey-backed Hawk, Pale-browed Tinamou, and Whilte-tailed Jay. Night at Urraca Lodge.

Days 6 & 7: Utana

In the mornings we will head up to Utuana where there is Tumbeasian subtropical cloud forest. This forest has many similar characteristics than the lowland deciduous forest, but as it is located at higher elevations, it is cooler and is has more cloud cover. The forest is also older and there are numerous old-growth trees remaining on the property. There is more moisture and epiphytes and many of the trees retain their leaves longer than the lower elevation forests. Characteristic species include the Gray-headed Antbird, Rusty-breasted Antipta, Pirua Hemispingus, and Jelski's Chat-tyrant. Specialties we will look for include the Black-crested Tit-Tyrant, the Purpule-troated Sunangel and the Rainbow Starfrontlet. This will be one of the few places we will visit with old-growth trees.

On one afternoon we will visit the Peru border to look for Comb Duck and other open country birds. Nights at Urraca Lodge.

Days 8: Utana to Tapichalaca

In the early morning we will linger around Urraca Lodge watching the White-tailed Jays, Pale-browed Tinamous and White-tailed Orioles as we enjoy some coffee or tea before our drive to Tapichalaca. Night in Casa Simpson.

Day 9: Low Elevation / Upper Maranon Valley.

We will start at lower elevations perhaps as far as Palanda. OK, this is list padding and a chance to get warm! Many species from the Maronon Valley occur at the upper limits of their range here. Many birds are common, but some like the Straw-backed Tanager are hard to see throughout their range in South America. If we have time and our group has interest, we can stop at Palanda which has one of the oldest known archeological sites in the Amazon basin. Night at Casa Simpson.

Day 10: Jocotoco Trail to see the Jocotoco Antpitta.

This trail is located in Upper Elevation (>2100 m) East Slope very wet temperate forest. This region is characterised by significant amounts of rain, often falling as a continuous light drizzle over many days. Owing to cloud cover and rain, the area is often surprisingly cool. The configuration of the mountain slopes has created a localized wetter area favoured by the Jocotoco Antpitta and numerous other endemics like the Tapichalaca Glass Frog (known only from two small watersheds) and Bromeria logipes – a plant discovered in the mid 1800s and not found again until it was discovered by Jocotoco researchers. Characteristic species include: Jootoco Antpitta, Golden-plumed Parakeet, Grey-breasted Mountain Toucan, Orange-banded Flycatcher, Andean Potoo, Olivacous Piha, Plushcrown, Occellated Tapaculo and many others. If we are lucky, we may see Mountain Tapir – with the cessation of hunting, Tapichalaca is now one of the best places to see this and other mammals. Around the lodge you will be charmed by a variety of hummingbirds including the Collared Inca, the Amethyst-throated and Flame-throated Sunangels.

In the afternoon we will head downslope to Lower Elevation (below 2000 to 1200 m) wet subtropical forest. Found along the lower slopes of Cerro Tapichalaca these forests are heavily degraded and recovering. Most characteristic species are still found here and seem to be increasing due to the Jocotoco's reforestation efforts. Characteristic species here included: White-breasted Parakeet, White-winged Brush-Finch, White-capped Tanager, Red-crested Cotinga. Night at Casa Simpson.

Day 11 & 12: Tapichalaca to Copalinga

In the morning we will drive to Loja. On arrival in Loja, will look for Pacific Parrotlet and Red-breasted Meadowlark around the airport and then head into Loja for breakfast. From there will be about a 3 hour trip to Copalinga.

On arrival in Loja, will look for Pacific Parrotlet and Red-breasted Meadowlark around the airport and then head into Loja for breakfast. From there will be about a 3 hour trip to Copalinga. The grounds around the lodge are great for hummingbirds like Wire-crested Thorntail, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Violet-fronted Brilliant, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, and Spangled Coquette. We will see flocks of tanagers and other east slope birds, but our main effort will be to try to see the Gray Tinamou! At night, hopefully we will see Blackish Nightjar and the Band-bellied Owls that are in the trees around the lodge. Nights at Copalinga Lodge.

Day 13: Copalinga to Quito

In the morning we will walk the forest trails close to the lodge and find many dazzling birds like Paradise Tanager, Blue-necked Tanager, Andean Motmot, Red-headed Barbet as well as more specialized local species including White-breasted Parakeet, Foothill Elaenia, Olive Finch, Equatorial Graytail, and Ecuadorian Piedtail.
We will fly to Quito and spend the night.

Day 14: Morning in Antisanilla and Antisana

In the morning, we will head to Antisanilla and Volcan Antisana. Be prepared for getting up as high as 4000 m! This spectacular high altitude paramo is one of the best places to see Andean Condor. This is also a small population here of the very rare Andean Ibis, migrant shorebirds like Baird's Sandpiper (in late August it is a stopover for the Buff-breasted Sandpiper on its way south to Argentina) and several high altitude hummingbirds including the spectacular Andean Hillstar and Giant Hummingbird! Jocotoco's Antisanilla Reserve is also the best place in the world to see wild Andean Bears – we can't promise anything, but keep your eyes out for this, and for other mammals like Andean Fox and Pumas! We will have a late lunch at Tambo Condor and then return to the hotel to get ready to return home. Night in Quito.

Day 15: Departure

Breakfast together. Our Southern Ecuador birding tour ends today as we make our flight connections home.

What's Included

Tour Price Includes

  • All accommodations
  • All meals
  • EET guide plus a local guide with 4 - 8 pax
  • Ground transportation
  • Includes two in-country flights
  • Park entry/ tour fees
  • Gratuities to local guides and drivers

Tour Price Does Not Include

  • Flights to and from Quito
  • Travel Insurance
  • Items of a personal nature

What to Expect

On our southern Ecuador birding and conservation tour, a typical day will begin with birding and exploring at daybreak. As we are staying at Jocotoco lodges, we will be in prime habitat and a lot of what we will want to see can be seen right around the lodges! The trip has been designed to avoid very early departures and every morning we will be able to enjoy our surroundings. At the Equator, first light is around 6 am so usually we will muster then. We will be visiting a number of different habitats so our approach will vary, but generally most of the best activity occurs in the morning. On some occasions we will get up extra early (to see the Umbrellabird lek and to visit the high altitude zone of Antisana).

We will be walking along forest tracks and trails and also along roadsides. Most of the Jocotoco trails have been designed without steep inclines, but remember we be visiting a very mountainous part of the world. After lunch, we may have time for a siesta or enjoy watching hummingbirds at feeders at the lodges. In the late afternoon (after 3 pm) we venture again to the forest. We will schedule optional night walks for nocturnal species. Most travel will be in the afternoon or in the late morning.

Trails may be muddy, therefore good walking footwear is always recommended. Our tour takes mainly in the west slope forests at various elevation, which are renowned for their diversity. The weather will be variable. At low elevations it can be very warm during the day. At mid-elevations it can be cool in the evenings and in cloud, or fairly warm in sun. At high elevations it can be surprisingly cold or hot (if there is full sun and no wind). At higher elevation Altitude sickness is a possibility not a trivial matter; those with heart or respiratory conditions should consult their physician.

Our tour includes two short (45 min) in-country flights and a couple of long drives of several hours duration. On most days we travel short distances with most time being spent outdoors. Birding will be mainly along quiet roads, and we enter forest areas on relatively wide and easy-to-follow trails. Accommodations vary from basic to modern, and all will be comfortable with hot water.

Weather varies greatly throughout the day and with elevation, and we should be prepared for a range of temperatures from chilliest forties to hottest eighties. Layers that you can pack in a small knapsack are ideal. A windbreaker is useful at high elevations. Be aware that many gortex jackets can make a lot of noise which can startle birds and animals– fleece and sweaters are much quieter. At all altitudes, we should remember to have adequate protection from the sun (hats and sunscreen). Drizzle and rain are likely, therefore stout, waterproof footwear, a light rain jacket and waterproof hat are recommended although many birders prefer using a small umbrella they can carry with them. Mosquitoes and other biting insects should not be a problem on this tour; however, bring insect repellant.

We enjoy excellent meals with local ingredients and character developed by Jocotoco staff and board members. Some lunches will be a lunch box in a nice setting; occasionally we dine in local eateries. In the evening, after dinner, we discuss the day’s events and sightings and list birds and other wildlife seen. Bring a refillable water bottle so we can avoid using more plastic!

Recommended Reading:
Tropical Nature by Adrian Forsyth and ken Miyata
A Neotropical Companion by John Kricher
The Birds of Ecuador by Robert Ridgely and Paul Greenfield

Featured Wildlife

Even though we cannot guarantee a sighting of the animals below, we feel quite confident that an encounter with the ones listed below is quite likely.

  • Hummingbirds (many species)
  • Tanagers (many species)
  • Andean Condor
  • Jocotoco Antpitta
  • Gray Tinamou
  • Rainbow Starfrontlet
  • Flame-throated Sunangel
  • Andean Hillstar
  • El Oro Parakeet
  • Ecuadorian Tapaculo
  • Long-wattled Umbrellabird
  • Mountain Tapir
  • Andean Bear

Past Tour Checklists

View the list of birds and other wildlife we encountered on our past tours.

Tour Reviews