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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
Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.
Sun. Nov. 5: Arrivals in Quito
Many flights from the USA arrive in Quito in the evening; please take the shuttle to your 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.
Arrival and Departure Airport: Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO), Quito Ecuador
Arrival Details: Plan to arrive November 5, at your leisure
Departure Details: Plan flights to depart November 18 after 8:00 PM We have a 45-minute flight back to Quito after a leisurely morning at the lodge. Most flights leave Quito around midnight so please check the flight dates carefully.
Travel Tip: If you would like to arrive early and rest up from your travels you can book an early night at our first night tour hotel, the Holiday Inn Quito Airport.This is a modern airport hotel very close to the airport with a pool, restaurant, bar and spa. It has an airport shuttle. If you want a location with birding, if available we recommend the Puembo Birding Garden, a small bed and breakfast about 20 minutes away. Another nearby hotel with birding in Puembo is the San Jose de Puembo Hotel. The airport is out of the city, and it is about 45 minutes into the city (pending traffic) so if you wish to explore Quito you may want to base there and return for the start of the tour. There are any number of small boutique hotels and B&B’s, from economical to elegant. You can also explore the city by day without going in to stay there. If you wish to stay in the downtown area, there is plenty to do! A visit to El Panecillo, a small volcanic hill located on the south side of Old Town, is worth it for the views of Quito and nearby volcanos on a clear day. Calle La Ronda, a cobbled pedestrian street in Old Town, is lined with galleries, traditional shops, and cafes. The Basilica del Voto Nacional is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas and one of many churches in Quito with stunning architecture. These sites and many others are a short taxi ride from the downtown area or walkable from the Old Town area. If staying downtown sounds appealing, we would recommend: La Casona de La Ronda Mercure Alameda Quito
Browse below for trip reports and species lists from past versions of this and other tours from this destination.
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 & Wildlife FULL See our June departure!May 30 - June 6, 2024
Yellowstone: Birds, Bears & WildlifeJune 7 - 14, 2024
Brazil’s Pantanal: Jaguars! And More…September 9 - 19, 2024, w/Atlantic Forest extension
Ultimate Patagonia October 16 - 30, 2024
Birds & Mammals of Ecuador's AndesNovember 2 - 15, 2024
- Yellowstone: Birds, Bears & Wildlife
Xavier Muñoz's background is in tourism business administration and he also is also a professional bird-naturalist guide. Co-founder of Neblina Forest in 1994, Xavier collaborates with his peers in Ecuador and the USA, including Fundacion Jocotoco and Rainforest Trust; for Xavier, ecotourism and conservation walk together. Xavier has worked with Naturalist Journeys for more than six years, leading tours in Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, and Trinidad & Tobago. He lives in Ecuador with his family and horses.
Photo credit: Demis Bucci Fotografia
Other trips with Xavier Muñoz
Essential Information +
This information is important for being prepared for your journey; we want you to have the best experience possible. If you only read one section, this one is key!
Ahead of Your Tour
- Make sure your passport will be valid at least six months after the date of your scheduled return to the U.S. No Visas are required for U.S. citizens for stays less than 90 days in Ecuador. If you are from another country, please contact the Embassy of Ecuador’s website for guidelines.
- Please check current CDC recommendations for travel to Ecuador and consult with your doctor about general travel vaccinations you should have as precaution for travel. See the “Health and Inoculations” section below.
- Travel insurance in case of serious medical emergency is strongly recommended. Full health coverage and repatriation is available through Allianz Travel Insurance, agent ID F028775.
- Plan your international flight reservations to Quito Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO). Send a copy of your itinerary to the Naturalist Journeys office please.
- Soft sided luggage/duffel bags are easiest for packing the vans. Pack essential medications in your carry-on luggage, as well as one day of clothing and optics in case of luggage delay.
Arrival into Quito (UIO)
When you arrive at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO), look for the Holiday Inn Quito Airport Shuttle or call the hotel for the shuttle. We will have your arrival time and will reconfirm with your guide. If you are delayed in travel, please refer to your emergency contact list and contact your ground operator first, then our office.
You will fill out a tourist entry card for Ecuador on your flight. Visas are not needed in advance of travel. When you arrive in Quito you will first pass through immigration. You will be given a customs form on the plane to fill out. Also have your emergency contact sheet handy going through Immigration to show your destinations. Look for the shuttle or call the hotel once you exit to the main terminal area.
There is an ATM at the airport if needed (see MONEY below).
Please check the Travel Details section of this tour for additional information and updates.
Departures from Quito (UIO)
Your departing airport is in Quito at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO). There is an International Departure Tax, but this is normally now in your international ticket, and thus taken care of, just be aware that any time leaving a country, there could be notification of an increase or change. Plan your return flight in the evening. You need to be at the airport about three hours ahead of your scheduled flight on this return. Most flights leave near midnight, so please watch the days/dates carefully.
Please check the Travel Details section of this tour for additional information and updates.
Passports, Visas & Documents
You must have a passport that is in good condition and valid for at least six months AFTER your scheduled return to the U.S. You should have at least one blank page per entry stamp. The blank pages need to say “Visas” at the top. Pages marked “Amendments and Endorsements” will not be accepted. If you are from another country, please contact the Ecuador embassy website for guidelines. Information for U.S. citizens can be found at: travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-InformationPages/Ecuador.html
It is always smart to check for changes 60-90 days before tour departs but, at the time of writing, a tourist visa is not required for stays less than 90 days. Your tourist card is part of your airline ticket and you will receive inbound forms to complete on your flight. If you are issued a card at immigration, be sure to carry it with your passport at all times. You will need the card to exit the country.
The departure tax from Ecuador is now included in the cost of your flight, so you do not have to pay this separately at the International Airport before checking in for your flight.
As a precaution in the event of lost or stolen travel documents you are carrying, we highly recommend you keep electronic backup copies on your phone (either color photo or PDF scan) and/or paper packed in a separate location from the originals, as well as a copy left with your emergency contact at home. The recommended important documents to copy include, but are not limited to; your passport ID page, travel visa, the front and back of your credit card(s), vaccination records, travel and health insurance cards, and even the airline barcode on your luggage. Having these copies kept in a separate location will greatly expedite getting new ones if necessary, including evacuation if needed. We hope everyone will keep their primary travel documents close at all times (such as in an under-clothing document pouch) to reduce this risk.
General Health & Inoculations Information - Be Prepared!
We will share your health information with your guide. This information will be kept confidential but is very important as we want to be best prepared in case of medical emergency.
Vaccinations: Bring copies of your current vaccination records with you. At the time of writing there were no required vaccinations to enter Ecuador, however, the CDC recommends that all travelers be up to date with routine vaccinations and basic travel vaccines (such as Hepatitis A and Typhoid) before traveling to any destination. Please check with your doctor for recommendations at least 4-6 weeks before departing on your trip. Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage for Traveler's Health for other helpful information or reach them by phone at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).
Anti-malarial drugs are not required for any area that you visit. There are occasional reports of Dengue Fever in lower elevation areas, for which there is no vaccine. Dengue fever, Zika, and other diseases are contacted by mosquito bites so be sure to use mosquito repellant containing DEET or Picaridin, though at this time of year there should be little mosquito activity. Travelers can reduce their risk of disease by protecting themselves from mosquito bites by using protective clothing.
Prescriptions and Allergies: It is a good idea to pack any meds you take regularly in your carry-on luggage. Bring an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses. Bring an adequate supply of any prescription medications you use, a copy of the prescription and a list of generic names of your medicines as “back-up” in case it is necessary to purchase drugs while abroad. You’ll want to keep medications in their original, labeled containers. It is also recommended to carry with you an up-to-date record of known allergies, chronic medical problems and Medic Alerts so that, if necessary, emergency treatment can be carried out without endangering your health.
Common Ailments: We recommend that you bring a travel-sized first aid kit and a supply of standard over-the-counter medications for common ailments (such as upset stomach, headache, motion sickness, diahhrea, minor scrapes, bug bites, etc.).
Altitude sickness may occur in travelers flying into Quito, which is almost 3,000 meters above sea level. The most general symptoms are headache and occasionally fatigue and dizziness. You’ll want to take it easy, particularly at first. These symptoms can be reduced by resting, drinking plenty of water and taking aspirin. If you have worries about the altitude, ask your physician about medications that may be right for you.
We generally follow the published itinerary but do network with other guides and may make changes if we hear of great bird sightings or a new opportunity. The joy of our travel is tremendous flexibility, and we make every effort to do the things you particularly want to do. Your guide will keep you apprised of the next day’s schedule at each evening meal, noting what to bring and what to prepare for. Questions and/or concerns are welcome.
The pace of the trip is moderate, with some early morning departures, extensive field time and some options for hikes. It is also easy to take it at a vacation pace! You can pace yourself within our typically active schedule.
Weather & Climate
In general, weather where we travel in Ecuador is quite variable. We start in Quito at 9,350 feet of altitude. Average daytime temperatures for November are 51°F, with night temperatures at 40°F. In the lower elevations, temperatures will include daily highs up to around 84° and lows down around 73°F. Rain is likely.
Annoyances & Hazards
Mosquitoes can occur, especially along the Napo River; therefore, a supply of insect repellent containing DEET is essential. At grassland or farm locations you may encounter chiggers, if so, spray your shoes with repellent, and tuck your pants into your socks; this helps a lot. When back, be sure to shower and air out your clothing. Chiggers are a part of lowland and mid-elevation habitats throughout Central and South America. Your guide should have a good read on if it has been wet enough that they are active. There can also be poisonous snakes and insects, though encountering them is rare. Do listen carefully to any advice given by your local guide. And remember the sun is strong and be prepared with proper protection.
Food & Drinks
Menus at lodges and restaurants are varied, sustainably based on the wonderful local ingredients available, and delightfully prepared in a sanitary environment. As with any case when traveling we urge you to consider what your body is used to before you eat something. Trust your common sense when consuming food and beverages. This is the best way to avoid any unwanted problems. Ask for recommendations from your hotel or refer to a guidebook such as Frommers. Meals reflect the contributions of American, European, Spanish, and local cuisines.
Bottled water will be available for field trips and drinking water is provided for you to refill a bottle. One of the many ways we strive to do our part for the environment is by trying to reduce our consumption of plastics; if convenient, we appreciate if you can bring reusable water bottles. Your guide will let you know when bottled water is preferable.
Packing, Clothing & Laundry
Dress is very informal and laundry services are available for a fee at our lodges. While some people will change for dinner, it is usually just to a drier or cleaner version of what they wore during the day.
Please, pack light. We are serious about this – we move around a lot; you just do not need many changes at these elevations! Please do not bring anything more than you must. Lay out your hopeful things to take and then do a serious paring down please!
Rain is likely, so do have good rain gear; shoes with good tread and support are essential. We recommend dressing in layers, with a good wind-breaking layer that can do double duty as raingear. Our weather will be determined by altitude, so dressing in layers works perfectly for these conditions. Please bring warm enough clothing for the higher altitude, morning, and evening temperatures.
TRAVEL TIP: Imagine NOT getting your suitcase. Please, please do not pack any essential medications, or your vital optics, in your checked luggage! Wear your most important shoes for the field and bring one day’s clothing change, including underwear in your carry-on.
Ecuador has adopted the US Dollar as their monetary unit, so there is no exchange rate. We advise you carry a mix of different types of payments, such as cash, an ATM card, and a credit card. U.S. dollars in good condition (no rips or tears) are taken as payment.
When using the ATM to withdrawal cash, keep in mind it might only accept cards from local banks or not allow cash advances on credit cards. Many U.S. banks charge a fee of $1 - $5 each time you use a foreign ATM. Others may charge you a percentage of the amount you withdraw. Check with your bank before departure. You must become familiar with how to use your ATM card and PIN number ahead of the journey.
We suggest you have more than one card available, if possible. You may want to bring more than one brand of card (VISA and Mastercard are commonly accepted; American Express is less common). You can use credit cards at lodges to pay your bar and gift tabs. Not every shop will accept every card. Some smaller shops and restaurants or taxis require cash, so it is always a good idea to ask before making a purchase. Also, we recommend that you advise your bank or credit card company that you will be traveling abroad to avoid questions, card freezes, or charges. If you have a choice of cards, bring one with no foreign exchange fees.
Traveler’s checks are not widely accepted. They can be difficult to exchange. We do not advise you use them
Tipping is optional and completely at your discretion. If you would like to show your appreciation to your guides, lodge and hotel staff, or anyone associated with this tour, it is entirely appropriate. Know that they appreciate anything you care to give and of course you can do more if you wish! Lodges normally have a box for tips that the staff share, and at hotels you would just tip the maids as you do at home. We hope that you will be pleased with all professional services.
Here is a standard suggestion for tipping on birding trips:
- Birding tour guide: US $10.00 - $15.00 per day per guest
Note: If there is more than one guide, this can be split among them, so that is a total, per person, per day
- Tour driver if different from guide: US $5.00 - $7.00 per person/day
- Lodge staff: US $6.00 - $10.00 per day per guest
- Transfer (airport shuttle) driver: US $2.00 - $3.00 per person
- Hotel & international airport bellmen: US $1.00 per suitcase
You may wish to bring small gifts for local people that you meet and enjoy (this is totally optional!). T-shirts, school supplies like pens and small notebooks, inexpensive watches, and baseball caps are always popular. Your guides can pass along school supplies to a local school if you bring them. They also love any nature books/coloring books.
Cell Phones & Internet Service
If you plan on using your cell phone on this trip, please check with your wireless provider to see if your phone and service will work in your destination country. Ask for “international roaming” to be turned on for your phone. Or you can buy a local SIM card at the airport and insert this in your mobile phone (just make certain your phone can accept one). Renting an international phone may also be an option.
If your phone can connect to Wi-Fi, you may be able to make voice and video calls free of charge. Please contact your cell phone provider for further details. Another option if you have access to Wi-Fi is to use smartphone apps like Skype, WhatsApp, or Viber to send text messages, and make voice calls, or video calls. Many smartphones, tablets, or laptops come with one of these apps pre-installed or you can download for free. If bringing a laptop or tablet, get a good dustcover to protect it at all times.
Make sure if you do NOT want to use your cell phone that you turn off your cellular data. You could incur huge charges if you are not on Wi-Fi. Putting your phone in airplane mode if you mainly use it for photos will save the battery as well.
Your hotels and most local restaurants provide Wi-Fi at least in their common areas. Although it is generally a reliable service, it can be affected by adverse weather conditions due to the remote locations.
Please refrain from taking or making cell phone calls in the vehicles when traveling with other passengers unless it appears to be an emergency. This disrupts other guests; plan on cell phone calls on your own time.
The standard in Ecuador is the same as in the United States: 110-120 volts AC (60 cycles). Plugs are set up in the same style. However, three-pronged outlets can be scarce, so it's helpful to bring along an adapter for a two-prong outlet. If your appliance plug has a different shape, you may need a plug adapter. More information can be found at www.power-plugs-sockets.com .
Ecuador is on Ecuador Time, which is the same as U.S. Eastern Standard Time. (Ecuador does not have Daylight Savings Time.) A great website for someone calling you to check the time is www.timeanddate.com.
Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone at our office: (520) 558-1146 or toll free: (866) 900-1146 if you have any questions. Many thanks for traveling with us and we hope you enjoy your journey!
Pace & Protocols +
Pace of the Tour & What to Expect
You will receive a Schedule-at-a-Glance and list of hotels (our eContact List) a few weeks before your departure. This will serve as an outline for each day and alert you to any recent changes made in the schedule or to our hotels, if needed.
Our journeys are set up to follow the rhythm of nature. Our focus is on birding and nature; we offer full, well-planned field days and often get up early for that magical time around dawn. We generally follow the published itinerary, but we stay flexible to the weather, wildlife opportunities and the interests of the group. Your guide will keep you apprised of the next day’s schedule at each evening meal, noting what to bring and what to prepare for. Questions and/or concerns are welcome.
The pace of our Naturalist Journeys tours is moderate; to fully participate you should be able to get in and out of vehicles several times a day, and walk 1-3 miles over uneven terrain. It is important to participate with a flexible attitude as adjustments may be made in our schedule to make the most of our time in the field or for other purposes at your guide's discretion. We are not a “listing” bird company that drills down on target species, but at times we do wait for those special species unique to the places we visit. During the day, we take time to stop for photos and for educational opportunities to learn about conservation projects, landscapes, and geology. We appreciate other taxa as well as birds, with mammals often the biggest draw but plants and butterflies are also very popular. Our clients often lend their own expertise to the mix.
We like to make meals a fun and memorable part of the experience, too. Breakfasts are often at hotels, and we carry snacks, fruit, and water in the vans each day. Lunches are a mix of picnics in the field (weather dependent) and a chance to dine with locals at small cafes and restaurants. For dinner, we pride ourselves in our homework to keep up with the best choices for dining, choosing restaurants with atmosphere that specialize in local foods. On occasion we keep dinner simple to go back out in the field for sunset wildlife viewing or night walks. In some remote locations, our choices are limited. If you are tired, room service for dinner may be an option you can choose.
Naturalist Journeys International Trips: Guide Role
Naturalist Journeys supports ecotourism and the development of excellent local guides. Once we know our international partners and guides well, we can send out small groups working directly with these trusted partners, adding a Naturalist Journeys guide to assist the local expert when we have a group of 6-7 or more. This helps us keep your costs down while retaining tour quality. The local guide is your main guide. You can expect your Naturalist Journeys guide to be well-researched and often they are experienced in the destination, but their role is not to be primary, it is to help to organize logistics, help you find birds, mammals, and interesting other species in the field, keep reports, help facilitate group interactions, and to keep the trip within Naturalist Journeys' style. Local guides live in the countries we travel to, know the destinations intimately, and are often the strongest force for conservation in their countries. They open many doors for us to have a rich experience.
Smoking is not permitted in any vehicle or in any situation where the group is participating in an activity together, such as a vehicle excursion or a guided walk. Please respect all designated smoking areas at hotels and restaurants.
As a courtesy to each other, we ask that all travelers please rotate seating. On international trips we may all be in one small bus, on some trips we are in vans, particularly the roomy Sprinter Vans when available. Some areas require us to be in smaller 4-wheel drive or safari vehicles. Rotation allows you to sit with different drivers and alternate front and back seating.
Photo Release & Sharing
We take many group photos and will share photos with the group. And after your tour, we will organize a chance to share photos via Dropbox or Google Photos. Please note that this is our policy and if you prefer to be excluded, we need to know ahead of your tour.
By registering for this tour, you agree to grant to Naturalist Journeys and its authorized representatives’ permission to record on photography film and/or video, pictures of my participation in the tour. You further agree that any or all of the material photographed may be used, in any form, as part of any future publications, brochure, or other printed materials used to promote Naturalist Journeys, and further that such use shall be without payment of fees, royalties, special credit or other compensation.
You are traveling in remote areas. Naturalist Journeys strongly recommends you have full medical and evacuation insurance from a company such as Allianz, for all international travel. If you do not have medical coverage or evacuation coverage on your existing travel insurance policy or for some reason elected not to take that out, we advise getting an evacuation plan with Global Rescue, World Nomads, Medjet, Allianz (they can do evacuation only) or a similar company. These plans are typically $300-$400 for a year for multiple destinations. This coverage may be a part of a larger Travel Insurance policy but can also be purchased on its own.
Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at email@example.com or telephone our office: (520) 558-1146 or toll free: (866) 900-1146 if you have any questions. Many thanks for traveling with us and we hope you enjoy your journey.
Packing List +
Please Pack Light!
Please reconfirm your airline’s baggage weight and size restrictions about a week or so before departure.
Checked luggage: Soft luggage is much easier for us to pack than a more rigid hard sided piece, so if you have the choice, please use your soft luggage. Be sure to have your name and address on the inside of the bag, as well as on the luggage tag on the handle. It is our hope that you can pack in one checked suitcase that does not exceed 45 pounds. If lighter, all the better!
Carry-On: Be sure to pack your personal medication, airline tickets, passport, binoculars, camera, and other essential items in your carry-on bag. You will want a day pack for field trips, so this is an ideal carry-on.
Weather & General Guidelines
We start in Quito at 9,350 feet of altitude. Average daytime temperatures for November are 51°F, with night temperatures at 40°F. Papallacta Pass will be about ten degrees colder but may feel cold if windy or you have rain, so layers work well. The Napo River is lowland rainforest and temperatures will be more like 73-84° and lows down around 65°F. Rain is likely despite it being one of the drier months in Ecuador, so do have good rain gear; shoes/boots with good tread and support are essential. We recommend dressing in layers, with a good wind-breaking layer that can do double duty as raingear. Our weather will be determined by altitude, so dressing in layers works perfectly for these conditions.
Clothing & Gear
Dress is comfortable and informal throughout the trip. Dressing in layers is the best way to be comfortable. Lightweight long sleeve shirts and long pants make ideal field clothing as they are more protective from sun and vegetation. But if you like to wear shorts, by all means bring some. Also, choose clothing you don’t mind getting dirty or muddy and things that are easy to launder. Loose clothing discourages insects and is very cool.
Note on clothing colors and insect repellent: We recommend muted colors of tan, brown, khaki, grey or green, as they are spotted less easily than white or bright colors; though camouflage clothing is not recommended. It is possible to purchase field clothing permeated with insect repellent such as the Craghoppers Insect Shield collection. Another approach is to purchase Permethrin spray (online or from REI) to treat your field clothing and socks before your departure.
- Lightweight long pants, 2-3 pair
- Lightweight long sleeve shirts, 2-3 (if open buttons, may be layered with short- sleeved or sleeveless t-shirt to keep cool in the lowlands). Loose fitting keeps you cool.
- T-shirts, short-sleeved or equivalent (1-2)
- Personal underclothing (consider what dries quickly if you plan to wash) and nightclothes
- Socks – lightweight and easy to wash and dry, and long enough to tuck your pants to help protect from chiggers in the lowlands
- Comfortable walking shoes (such as tennis shoes) and lightweight hiking boots – 2 pair. Please note that forest trails will be on uneven terrain and may be muddy – bring shoes with good support and firm grip tread.
- Field vest (optional) a great source is Big Pockets
- Good quality raincoat and pants (recommended) or poncho
- Fleece jacket or sweater for highlands and Quito evenings
- Comfortable clothes for evening (a cleaner version of your field clothes)
- Comfortable sandals or light shoes for evenings, travel days
- Hat with broad brim; warm hat for Papallacta Pass
- Scarf, light gloves, light hat for cold evenings (you want to go owling!)
- Bandana (optional, great for cooling off when hot and sweaty)
- Bathing suit if you enjoy swimming
Equipment & Miscellaneous
- Passport, visa (if required), health and travel insurance info, current vaccinations, money & credit cards.
- A secure pouch to carry the items above on your person (such as a secure, under-clothing money pouch)
- As a backup: copies of all the above (phone and/or paper) packed in a separate location than on your person, plus a set given to your emergency contact at home as a backup. For passport, copy of the ID and entry stamp pages.
- Airline tickets or e-ticket verification
- Small daypack to carry gear while hiking and in vehicles
- Walking stick (optional but recommended if you have one)
- Umbrella – compact and not brightly colored
- Flashlight or headlamp with fresh batteries (important – cabins may be up the hill from our dining areas). Make sure this is in good working order. Extra batteries.
- Alarm clock (yes, you’ll hopefully be inspired to get up early!) If you use your phone for this learn how to turn off data roaming.
- Sunscreen/lip balm
- Sunglasses with neck strap
- Insect repellent (something containing DEET, and sulphur powder or equivalent for chiggers)
- Toiletry articles: shampoo and conditioner, dental supplies, razor, emery boards, hairbrush/comb, tweezers, hand lotion, feminine hygiene, deodorant, pain reliever
- Sink stopper, soap for hand laundry (the new detergent sheets are super handy!)
- Binoculars (a hotel shower cap is great to cover these when it is raining…)
- Spotting scope and tripod (optional – guide will have them)
- Camera and extra batteries, digital chips etc., lens cleaning supplies and your instruction manual. Do a good check for all this before leaving, battery chargers may be hard to find! (optional)
- Adapters for three prong electronic equipment
- Water bottle (can easily be bought in the airport and refilled daily). We love the Life Steam bottles that have an internal filter, making it possible to fill from the tap and be safe – VERY handy!
- Notebook or journal and pen (optional)
- Field guides (optional)
- Small bottle of antibacterial hand soap/hand sanitizer
- Small bottle or bag of laundry soap (or the new detergent sheets, super handy!) sink stopper
- Washcloth (optional)
- Earplugs (optional)
- Rechargeable power bank (optional)
- Steri-Pen or other UV water treatment device to help cut down on the use of plastic bottles (optional)
WE DO NOT RECOMMEND TRAVELING WITH PRECIOUS OR VALUABLE JEWELRY – don’t tempt anyone and don’t bring things you’d regret losing - your mind will be at ease!
Medical & First Aid Items
- Current vaccination record
- Health insurance card
- Personal medication (and copy of vital prescriptions, including glasses)
- Motion sickness preventatives if likely to be needed on bus, van, drives, etc.
- Personal first aid kit including medications for general and stomach ailments (Imodium or Lomotil, antihistamine cream or tablets, eye drops, Band-aids etc.)
- Foot powder, lotions, general “comfort” items
- Extra pair of eyeglasses or contacts
- Altitude sickness medication (optional)
Donations & Gifts
We enjoy interacting with local people. Why not bring a small photo album or load your tablet with some photos of your life to share? Or some small lightweight gifts – hair ties, costume jewelry, memory sticks or flash drives, etc. Be creative here. Also for kids, school supplies – marking pens, activity cards such as number cards, small notebooks, and pencils are a bit hit, we can surely find a home for these in the smaller rural villages. Children’s books are a treat, especially if they are in Spanish.
Guides at the lodges are often isolated. They always enjoy a current newspaper, nature magazine, and books. If you have an old USA field guide you are not using, these are great for them to see some of the migrants and birds from another area.
Suggested Reading List +
There are many titles of interest for Ecuador; the following are a few that we have enjoyed that can get you started.
Other Field Guides
General Reading: Nature
General Reading: Culture
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Useful Links +
Ecuador – Encyclopedic Overview
Free, printable maps of Ecuador
Nature, Wildlife & Biology
Ecuador Birding Overview
Ecuador Bird Checklist
Dragonflies of Ecuador (photos)
Butterflies of Ecuador
Neotropical Butterflies (book & photos)
Giant River Otter
Mammals of Ecuador
Recently Discovered Olinguito
Frogs (Ranas) of Ecuador (Latin names)
Conservation, Parks & Reserves
The Nature Conservancy in Ecuador
World Wildlife Fund Strategic Plan Ecuador
Andes Amazon Fund
Napo River Basin
Cayambe Coca National Park
Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve
Geology & Geography
National Geological Map
Geography of Ecuador
History & Culture
History of Ecuador
Culture of Ecuador
Cuisine of Ecuador
Speaking Spanish in Ecuador
Helpful Travel Websites
Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO)
National Passport Information Center
U.S. Department of State International Travel Information - Ecuador
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
U.S. Embassy & Consulate in Ecuador
Homeland Security Real ID Act
Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Ecuador
Canadian Travel Advice and Advisories - Ecuador
Travel Health Pro (UK) – Ecuador
Foreign Exchange Rates
Electricity and Plugs - Ecuador
Date, Time, and Holidays - Ecuador
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)