NEW for 2023!
As one of the birdiest countries in the world, Ecuador has long been a hotspot for birding and nature tours. Now Ecuador’s mammals are becoming more visible as more eco-lodges spring up in the country’s biodiverse Amazon region. The recent discovery of a new racoon, the Olinguito, helped inspire this dedicated bird and mammal-watching tour, bringing together the best of the Amazon and Andes regions.
We search for the Olinguito in the subtropical forests of northwestern Ecuador before heading to the eastern cordillera where we look for Spectacled Bear, Mountain Tapir, and other mammals in the high grasslands, native forest and bogs at the Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve around Papallacta. Traveling down the eastern Andean slope, we next lodge at Cabañas San Isidro in the picturesque Quijos Valley. We conclude our tour with a boat ride down the Napo River for the final four nights of the tour at Napo Wildlife Centre, encircled by pristine upper Amazon rainforest within Yasuní National Park. Here we look for Golden-mantled Tamarin, White-fronted Capuchin Monkey and White-bellied Spider Monkey, along with sloths, marmosets, Red Brocket Deer, and the elusive Monk Saki.
- Seek Spectacled Bear, Mountain Tapir, Giant Anteater, and Tayra in the heart of the Ecuadorian Andes
- Watch for stunning Giant River Otter and many monkeys plus sloths
- Search for the recently discovered Olinguito in forests of north-west Ecuador
- Arrive by motorized canoe at Napo Wildlife Center and enjoy a four-night stay
- Take on excursions to look for Giant River Otters, Hoatzin & Agami Heron
- Enjoy watching a wealth of birds attracted to gardens at Cabañas San Isidro Look for iconic mammals in the Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve
Sun. Nov. 5: Arrivals in Quito
Many flights from the USA arrive in Quito in the evening; you are met on arrival and transferred to our convenient airport hotel. We enjoy our time in Quito, one of South America’s most attractive colonial capitals. Nestled at the foot of the volcano Pichincha, Quito enjoys bright sunshine during this time of the year and, on a clear day, stunning views of towering Andean peaks. Quito means ‘Eternal Spring’ in the ancient language of Quechua, and we enjoy the glorious climate. Quito is the second highest capital in the world at 9,000 feet above sea level. Settle in and relax; dinner tonight is at your leisure but you are welcome to get together with the rest of the group for a casual evening meal.
Accommodations in Quito
Mon., Nov. 6 & Tues., Nov. 7: Bellavista
Driving up out of Quito we pass over the western ridge of the Andes, dropping down onto the Pacific slope along the Tandayapa Road. This forested valley has earned its impressive reputation for the quality and number of birds seen along its length, including Toucan Barbet, Plate-billed Mountain-toucan, Masked Trogon, White-capped Dipper, Cinnamon Flycatcher, and many tanagers and hummingbird species. We expect to arrive at Bellavista Cloudforest Lodge in the late afternoon, in time to enjoy the hummingbird feeders before the sun sets, watching for clouds of Violet-tailed Sylph, Collared Inca, Velvet-purple Coronet, Empress Brilliant, Brown Violetear, Booted Racket-tail, and the evocatively named Gorgeted Sunangel all jockeying to ‘fill up their tanks’ before nightfall.
We settle into our rustic accommodation, where we stay for the next two nights. Our goal here is to witness the recently discovered Olinguito, a small, carnivorous red-furred mammal whose nocturnal wanderings in dense, cloudforest fog helped them evade detection by the scientific community until recently. Or rather, the Olinguito had been detected and even collected, but nearly two dozen preserved skins and skulls were misidentified as close relatives in US museum collections! There’s even evidence that one individual lived in several American zoos during the 1960s frustrating zookeepers by refusing to breed with the Olingos, which it was mistaken for. New species of insects and amphibians are discovered fairly regularly, but a new mammal species is rare, particularly with carnivorous mammals. The Colombian Weasel, found in 1978, is the most recent find in the Western Hemisphere. With the help of our expert local guides, who keep a watchful eye on its whereabouts, we have great chances to see it in spotlighting sessions after dark. An optional field trip to Angel Paz’s Refugio Paz de las Aves, offers great birds, among them many antpittas, including Yellow-breasted and Giant, and also spectacular Andean Cock-of-the-rock.
Accommodations at Bellavista (B,L,D)
Wed., Nov. 8: Papallacta | Guango Lodge
Bellavista’s hummingbird feeders enliven the morning once again over breakfast. We take a leisurely drive back to Quito today with stops to watch for any birds we may have missed over the past two days. We next head up the ridge of the eastern cordillera toward Papallacta. As we gain in altitude and near the Andean continental divide, we may see species such as Black-chested Buzzard-eagle, Viridian Metaltail, and Buff-breasted Mountain-tanager. We watch Guango’s hummingbird feeders both before and after lunch for species such as Tourmaline Sunangel, Sword-billed Hummingbird, and White-bellied Woodstar.
We check in this afternoon for four pleasant nights at beautiful Guango Lodge.
Accommodations at Guango Lodge (B,L,D)
Thurs., Nov. 9 – Sat., Nov. 11 : Birding from Guango Lodge
We have three full days to explore the starkly beautiful Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve, a windswept landscape of high grassland and bog known as paramo, with a few patches of native forest clinging to its slopes. The habitat around Papallacta could fairly be described as desolate, making us grateful for our cozy lodge! Spectacled Bear and Mountain Tapir shelter in these small forest patches, but may be seen at dawn and dusk venturing out to forage and feed. The area’s forest patches are the focal points for our patient scanning and, with expert local help, we have a good chance of seeing Spectacled Bear and a reasonable chance of Mountain Tapir. Warm and waterproof clothing is the key to enjoying this ‘hunt’, along with hardy patience! A hot soak in the local thermal baths under the stars is a fine reward for our efforts, along with fresh cooked local trout and a chilled Chilean wine.
While scanning for bear or tapir is our priority here, birds are also present and fascinating. As we scan for these special mammals, we may see Andean Condor, Carunculated Caracara, Andean Gull, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Scrub and Blue-and-yellow Tanagers, and Southern Yellow-grosbeak. On clear days, the scenery is spectacular offering superb views of the snow-capped Volcán Antisana, a particular delight to the landscape photographers among us. Birders know this area as the Papallacta Pass and with decent weather, we may see Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, Ecuadorian Hillstar, Tawny Antpitta, Many-striped Canastero, White-chinned Thistletail, Red-rumped Bush-tyrant, Black-billed Shrike-tyrant and Brown-backed Chat-tyrant, among other paramo species. We travel to humid temperate forest a short distance down the valley, a habitat characterized by stunted trees, a different climate, and another set of birds and plants.
Accommodations at Guango Lodge (B,L,D)
Sun. Nov. 12: Cabañas San Isidro
We move off the mountaintop today headed for picturesque Quijos Valley, one of the westernmost headwaters of the Amazon basin at Cabañas San Isidro, at an elevation of 6,800 feet. It was founded more than 40 years ago by the Bustamante family of Quito, during a government campaign to convert unclaimed lands of eastern Ecuador into productive farms. Despite pressure to clear the land for farming, Simón Bustamante left most of his 1,300 hectare property untouched in part to help protect the unique flora and fauna, and the area has slowly matured into an area of ecolodges and nature-focused accommodations. It is happily surrounded by some of the largest and most accessible tracts of primary subtropical forest in Ecuador. Our host, Carmen, is Simón's daughter, who has managed the lodge for the last 20 years. We settle into superb lodgings here for the next two nights.
Accommodations at Cabanas San Isidro (B,L,D)
Mon. Nov. 13: Cabañas San Isidro
We are surrounded by some of the largest and most accessible tracts of primary subtropical forest in Ecuador in San Isidro. Red-tailed Squirrel and Black Agouti are both easily observed here, while Spectacled Bear, Mountain Tapir, Giant Anteater, and Tayra are frequently photographed and occasionally seen, along with other mammals. A wealth of birds flocks to its gardens, and should mammal-watching prove quiet are a pleasant diversion. From our cabin doorsteps, we may see White-capped Parrot, Powerful Woodpecker, Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher, Pale-edged Flycatcher, Smoky Bush-Tyrant, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Inca Jay, Black-billed Peppershrike, Andean Solitaire, and Saffron-crowned Tanager. Nearby forests, accessible by trail or road, offer mixed understory and canopy flocks that seemingly drip from the foliage. Fruit-eaters of all sizes raid trees and bushes and more furtive birds may be found in the shade of low vegetation. We hope to see Sickle-winged Guan, Crested and Golden-headed Quetzals, Masked Trogon, and Highland Motmot here. A dazzling array of hummingbirds have their own dedicated garden here, and are also spotted from the lodge’s front porch. Some 18 of the known 30 hummer species of the area are either resident or seasonal visitors to the feeders: Sparkling Violetear, Speckled Hummingbird, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Bronzy and Collared Incas, Buff-tailed (the rare eastern flavescens race) and Chestnut-breasted Coronets, Tyrian Metaltail, Long-tailed Sylph, and Gorgeted Woodstar are year-round residents. Species found more seasonally and in smaller numbers include Rufous-vented Whitetip, Violet-fronted Brilliant, White-tailed Hillstar, Mountain Velvetbreast, Wedge-billed Hummingbird and White-bellied Woodstar.
The hummingbird garden is a great place to relax after a hike or during a rainy spell. The majority of the forests here are idyllic: large hardwood trees draped with lush mosses supporting orchid and bromeliad species in impressive numbers. Indeed, our mid-elevation habitat here is a paradise for orchids and other flamboyant epiphytes and photographers will no doubt be pleased! Our action-packed day is rewarded with a comfortable and superbly located lodge to come home to.
Accommodations at Cabanas San Isidro (B,L,D)
Tues. Nov. 14: Napo Wildlife Center
We leave early from San Isidro headed down to the base of the Andes and eastwards across the vast Amazonian floodplain to Coca, a port town where it is warmer and more humid. We head to the Napo River, Ecuador’s main Amazon tributary, where a covered motorized canoe takes us on our 2½ hour, 50-mile voyage downstream to the Napo Wildlife Center.
Roughly a third of a mile wide, the river’s waters are sediment-rich and huge sandy beaches are exposed during the dry season. We search there for various herons, kingfishers, and raptors as we move downstream. We switch to smaller, dugout canoes at the NWC Reserve, relying on the paddling of our local guides in the black water creek to the lake and lodge. The prohibition against motors in the lake and creek benefits wildlife. We may see many things during our journey of one to three hours depending on how many times we stop. Giant Otters, potoos, kingfishers, Hoatzin, jacamars, hawks, and monkeys are all possibilities. We enjoy a picnic lunch in our canoes, arriving at the lodge by late afternoon.
Our backyard for the next four nights, Yasuní National Park, is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and the largest, best conserved, and most diverse tract of Amazon rainforest in Ecuador. Built on the shore of tranquil Añagu Lake, Napo Wildlife Center is a comfortable rainforest lodge inside a 82 square-mile private nature reserve, an ancestral territory of the Añangu community, which co-owns the center. An abundance of wildlife viewing keeps us hopping near the lodge, including amazing parrot and mammal clay-licks, a resident family of Giant River Otter, stunning endemic monkeys, and a huge list of over 565 bird species, among them many hummingbirds like stunning Sparkling Violetear. The lodge also boasts two solid towers that bring us into the rainforest canopy at dawn to witness flocks of colorful tanagers and other species, which are difficult to see from the rainforest floor.
Accommodations at Napo Wildlife Center (B,L,D)
Wed., Nov. 15 – Fri., Nov. 17 : Napo Wildlife Center
We wake up to the sounds of rainforest dawn chorus, with three full days in front of us to explore this fabulous habitat. We connect today with a native Añangu guide, also an official Yasuní Park Ranger, who shares information with us on the rainforest’s medicinal and otherwise useful plants. With an eye on the weather, we maximize field time at the highest peaks of activity, with early morning excursions. Breaking for lunch and a siesta, we head out again in the afternoon and evening. Exciting night-time excursions are optional but recommended, because that is when the forest really comes alive, with a concert of natural sounds flooding the air.
Early morning parrot clay-licks are among the highlights of a stay at NWC, which hosts two of Ecuador’s most accessible spots, featuring sturdy and comfortable hides. Expect great photo and video opportunities of many species, including: Mealy, Blue-headed, Yellow-crowned, Orange-winged and Orange-cheeked Parrots, Cobalt-winged, Dusky-headed, Maroon-tailed and White-eyed Parakeets, along with occasional rarities like Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet and Scarlet Macaw. In dry and sunny weather, some 800 individual birds of different species may be spotted, and even on rainy days, dozens of birds may still congregate.
There is a 60-foot high observation tower that sticks out from the surrounding foliage for great views of Mealy Amazons and Blue-headed Parrots, Cobalt-winged Parakeets (and also the lake and lodge). Active resident birds can be seen nesting and feeding from the tower, and a family group of beautiful and rare Golden-mantled Tamarin often forages close by.
The main 125-foot Canopy Tower is impressive. We walk about 35 minutes from the lodge to reach it, built adjacent to a giant Kapok tree, where an ample platform provides space for more than 15 guests and their cameras, scopes, and tripods. Ascending at dawn, we find the birding outstanding and mammal enthusiasts may see troops of Red Howler Monkey, White-fronted Capuchin, Monk Saki, or Black Spider Monkey in the surrounding forest. On a clear day, views stretch to the high Andes and Volcanoes Sumaco, Antisana, and Cayambe. Imagine standing in humid lowland forest and looking out to snowcapped Andean peaks! Active mixed flocks forage diligently in the vicinity of ‘our’ tree and with nearby fruiting trees to entice, we may see more than 100 species in a single morning. The possibilities are mind-boggling: toucans, macaws, colorful tanagers, raptors, flycatchers and many more.
NWC has a large lake with two streams and a quiet guided paddle down one of them is an ideal way to locate troops of even more monkeys, including Squirrel Monkey, Saddle-backed Tamarin, and White-fronted Capuchin. Less likely but possible are Monk Saki, Spider, Woolly, and Golden-mantled Tamarin Monkeys. Napo is home to 11 species of monkey, and you can hope to see the majority of them during our time here. Ecuador’s four species of native caiman are all found at NWC as well. The largest, Black Caiman, lives in the main lake and groups of them are often seen during night-time canoe rides, when flashlights reflect in their eyes. The creeks are home to other species, including a resident family of Giant River Otter, a magnificent Anaconda in an area of flooded forest, White-lipped Peccary (wild pig), and serene Three-toed Sloth.
Trails branching out from the lodge lead us through a variety of forest ecosystems. Look closely and you will see bizarre and well camouflaged insects, along with monkeys, lizards, tortoises, frogs, army and leafcutter ants, in addition to a dazzling display of birds. Bird diversity is highest here in the forest, where many of the antbirds and ovenbirds are cryptically colored/patterned and reclusive. Our expert local guide recognizes them by their calls and help us to find them. We are always happy to see an ant swarm, and its attendant specialist antbirds, a mind-boggling experience!
We would be very lucky to see Jaguar, Puma, Brazilian Tapir, Giant Anteater, and Giant Armadillo, though have all been recorded in this area. For the best chances for the most species, make sure to join the night walks!
Accommodations at Napo Wildlife Center (B,L,D)
Sat. Nov. 18: Quito | Departures
We bid a wistful farewell today, taking one final walk along the boardwalk to the River Napo, for our journey upstream to Coca. From Coca we board a 45-minute flight back to Quito where (depending on flight times) we are picked up for a change of clothes and refreshments before transferring to the airport and our flights home.
Most flights leave Quito for the USA near midnight tonight. Please check dates carefully before you book your flight.
Blue-headed Parrots on clay lick
Squirrel Monkey by Greg Smith
Plate-billed Mountain Toucan courtesy of Neblina Forest
Purple bibbed white-tip & Brown Violet-ear courtesy of Neblina Forest
Golden-breasted Grosbeak by Ruth Guillemette
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the tour, from Quito, Ecuador, is $5990 DBL / $6485 SGL. Tour price includes: 13 nights’ accommodations, airport transfers, and professional guide services. It includes land transportation within Ecuador, park and reserve entrance fees, pre-departure information and services, miscellaneous program expenses, accommodation and meals at all lodges, private transport, and private bilingual bird/naturalist guide.
Cost of the tour does not include your international flights to Quito or your internal flights in Ecuador (internal flights are estimated at $120), though we do book the internal flights for you. The tour cost does not include items of a personal nature such as beverages from the bar, porterage, laundry, phone calls, or gift items. We also recommend a gratuity for maid service, and for our local drivers and guides, which is left to your discretion.
Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed.
Please plan to arrive in Quito, Ecuador, to the Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO), on November 5 at your leisure. You may depart in the evening of November 18; most flights leave near midnight, so please watch the days/dates carefully.
Browse below for trip reports and species lists from past versions of this and other tours from this destination.
- November 2017
- November 2018
- November 2019
Wes Larson is a wildlife biologist who specializes in some of the most beloved and threatened species around the world. His primary research has been on polar, black, grizzly and sloth bears, but he has been lucky enough to work on conservation projects with myriad other species, including Golden Eagle, African Wild Dog, Green Sea Turtle, Elephant Seal, Spotted Eagle Ray, Burrowing and Flammulated Owl, American Kestrel, Temminck’s Ground Pangolin, and American Alligator. Wes also has a passion for wildlife conservation education, and hosted the Mission Wild series for CNN’s Great Big Story, and regularly shares his travels and field work with his large social media following. He credits his love for wild things and bears to an upbringing in Montana, where the forests and mountains are a last refuge for his favorite species, the Grizzly Bear of the Rocky Mountains. Wes’s passion for all things wild is infectious and the only thing he loves more than seeing wildlife in its natural habitat is sharing those experiences with other people.
Other trips with Wes Larson
Yellowstone: Birds, Bears & WildlifeJune 1 - 8, 2023
Yellowstone: Birds, Bears & WildlifeJune 9 - 16, 2023
Brazil’s Pantanal: Jaguars! And More…July 7 - 17, 2023, w/Atlantic Forest, Chapada extensions
Brazil’s Pantanal: Jaguars! And More…September 9 - 19, 2023, w/Atlantic Forest, Chapada extensions
Yellowstone in The FallSeptember 25 - October 2, 2023
Brazil’s Pantanal: Jaguars! And More… Closed! Sold as a private tour.October 7 - 17, 2023, w/Atlantic Forest, Chapada extensions
Ultimate Patagonia Pumas, Glaciers, Birds & MoreOctober 20 - November 3, 2023
- Yellowstone: Birds, Bears & Wildlife
Photo credits: Banners: Quito Scenic (NJ Stock), Crimson-rumped Toucanet (NJ Stock), Spectacled Bear (NJ Stock), Hoatzin (NJ Stock), Blue-and-gray Tanager (NJ Stock), Culpeo (NJ Stock), Andean Cock-of-the-rock (NJ Stock) Thumbnails: White-faced Capuchin Monkey (NJ Stock), Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager (NJ Stock), Violet-tailed Sylph (NJ Stock), Masked Trogon (NJ Stock), Andean Cock-of-the-rock (NJ Stock), Sword-billed Hummingbird (NJ Stock), Giant Anteater (NJ Stock), Plate-billed Mountain Toucan (NJ Stock)