The Andes Mountains of Southern Ecuador are a highly complex system of mountain-ridges and valleys, providing a great variety of habitats within a small geographic area. For decades, birders have recognized the region’s rich biodiversity.

This fun tour, timed for the Christmas holiday, is a fantastic opportunity to immerse in this fasincating landscape and soak in the atmosphere of beautiful, relaxing lodges. Treat yourself to delicious meals, incredible birding, and good camaraderie on our inaugural Christmas in Ecuador tour.

“Andrea was an excellent guide and did a very good job finding the birds ... I enjoyed the trip and really like Ecuador and would travel there again – still lots of birds to see.” — Kim Withers, 2023 Traveler

Tour Highlights

  • Experience Cotopaxi National Park and its towering, snowcapped volcano
  • Relax for two nights at Inca House, an ancient Inca fortress and Augustinian monastery through the years
  • Stop at the Quitsato Solar Clock and Equator museum
  • Enjoy three nights at a restored 17th Century estate, home to 50 species of birds, including Golden-rumped Euphonia, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Giant Hummingbird
  • Explore Cuicocha Crater Lake, home to Silvery Grebe, Plumbeous Sierra Finch, Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, and more
  • Watch for Andean Condor, Black-faced Ibis, Andean Lapwing, and Andean Hillstar at Antisana National Park
  • Relax and soak in the Termas de Papallacta hotsprings, a perfect ending to the tour

Trip Itinerary

Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.

Thurs., Dec. 19     Arrivals in Quito

Welcome to Ecuador! Your hotel is a short distance from the Quito airport. Many have dinner on the plane tonight, but if you arrive earlier in the day, you can enjoy dinner at the hotel at your leisure.
Accommodations at the Mercure Alameda

 Fri., Dec. 20     Drive to Mashpi Lodge

 The stunning Mashpi Lodge is located in the heart of the 7,000 acre Mashpi Reserve and Choco Bioregion. The reserve is home to over 400 species of birds, 36 of which are endemic to the region. Highlights include Blue-tailed Trogon, Flame-faced, Glistening-green, and Blue-necked Tanagers, Black-tipped Cotinga, Choco Poorwill, Purple-crowned Fairy, Choco, Yellow-throated, and Plate-billed Mountain Toucans, and Crimson-rumped Toucanet. Monkeys, peccaries, and pumas are some of the 96 species of mammals in the reserve. There is also a butterfly farm at the reserve, which breeds 21 of the 200 species that can be found here, as well as an above-canopy observation tower and fun “sky bike”. Multiple waterfalls are on property.

 Tonight we enjoy exquisite dining from various regions of Ecuador using native ingredients.
Accommodations at Mashpi Lodge (B,L,D)

Sat., Dec. 21     Mashpi | Local Birding | Chocolate Farm

We spend the morning birding the Mashpi Reserve. Walk the extensive trails around the lodge, spend time at the Hummingbird Garden, stop into the butterfly nursery, and simply soak in the wonder of Mashpi.

After lunch at the lodge, we have an afternoon visit to the Mashpi Chocolate Farm. We learn about the process to make organic chocolate bars with a walk through the cocoa plantation. We end our tour the best way, with a chocolate tasting.
Accommodations at Mashpi Lodge (B,L,D)

Sun., Dec. 22 & Mon., Dec. 23     Sachatamia Lodge & Local Birding

Mindo is one of the most popular areas in all of Ecuador for nature enthusiasts. It’s a mountain town, and our lodge offers great bird and butterfly watching, as well as wonderful meals, and a cozy fireplace to gather around in the evenings. It is nestled in the valley of the Rio Mindo, a remarkable locale, home to over 360 species of birds. The ridges, slopes, and steep ravines to the north, west, and east of the village are cloaked in pre-montane cloud forest with a dense understory that includes Guadua bamboo. Much of the land around the village has been cleared for pasture, but small patches of secondary growth remain.

We arrive in time to settle in and look for Violet-tailed Sylph, Empress Brilliant, Tawny-bellied Hermit, Green-fronted Lancebill, Purple-throated Woodstar, White-bellied Woodstar, Green-crowned Woodnymph, Brown and White-collared Incas, Western Emerald, and more at feeders surrounding the dining area.

A hint to be most comfortable here: Bring easy-to-slip-off shoes, as you go in and out of the lodge in search of birds. (Ecuadorian custom is to remove shoes to protect their beautiful wooden floors!)

We visit the farm of Angel Paz, famous for great views of two often difficult-to-see species: Giant Antpitta and Andean Cock-of-the-rock. Meet the family, walk the trails, and learn the story of how they started in conservation and make close acquaintances with these species a highlight of the tour.

After an amazing morning and brunch, we leave the farm and drive up to Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, a private 1,000-acre nature reserve that encompasses a mix of primary and secondary forest. The botanical wonder here is something to behold! One of the top birding locations in Ecuador, the reserve is known for its diverse hummingbird species (at feeders for close-ups), as well as a colorful array of toucans and tanagers. At 5,000–7,000 feet we encounter spectacular cloud forest on the steep slopes above us. Here we may find a number of bird species with limited range, including the Tanager Finch.

The forest and gardens are draped with orchids and bromeliads, and butterflies abound. Some of the most beautiful birds of the forest include the Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, Toucan Barbet, Golden Tanager, and Flame-faced Tanager. Lunch and the choice of hiking or birding fill our afternoon at Bella Vista.

We also hope to visit the lower elevation reserves at Milpe Reserve, where we hope to find a number of Chocó Region endemic birds. Some of these display fascinating social behavior. We hope to see White-bearded and Club-winged Manakins on their leks, while other species include Maroon-tailed Parakeet, Tri-colored Brush Finch, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, and others.

On past trips we’ve had great luck finding mixed flocks of tanagers that include Glistening-green, Rufous-throated, Golden-hooded, Moss-backed, and Ochre-breasted members of this colorful clan. The organization and behavior of members of the mixed flock has attracted a great deal of research in the Neotropics, which we discuss.
Accommodations at Sachatamia Lodge (B,L,D)

Tues., Dec. 24       Exploring en route to Cusin Hacienda

Today we drive to Otavalo with a stop at Quitsato Solar Clock and Equator museum to understand a bit more about the Equator. We then enjoy a snack tasting in the best bizcocho’s bakery (a sweet cake or bread) of Cayambe. Arriving to la Plaza de los Ponchos in Otavalo we have the chance to see one of the biggest handicrafts markets in Latin America, here we have time to shop or just enjoy the colors of the stands and the people from this community. We switch landscapes to a new volcano today, the Taita (father) Imbabura.

Our accommodations for the next two nights are a restored 17th Century estate surrounded by beautiful gardens and home to 50 species of birds, including Golden-rumped Euphonia, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Giant Hummingbird, Blue-and-yellow and Blue-and-black Tanagers, and more.

If time allows, we may drive to Cuicocha Crater Lake, where we take a short, 30 minute hike. Birds we could see here include Silvery Grebe, Plumbeous Sierra Finch, Glossy-black Thrush, Yellow-breasted Brushfinch, and the stunning Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager. Then another short drive to Cotacachi, the most known leather works town of the country. Our next stop is to a master weaver’s workshop, to see how special the hand weaving of these fine textiles is and why they are so hard to find nowadays. We enjoy junch in cabañas del lago enjoying the nicest view of Lago San Pablo and birds like Subtropical Doradito, Azara's Spinetail, and Blue-black Grassquit; we also scan the skies for Andean Condor and the lake for Torrent and Masked Ducks, White-cheeked Pintail, Stilt Sandpiper, and Southern Lapwing. On our way back we stop in the village of Zuleta to visit a local family and see the well-known embroideries made by these amazing women.
Accommodations at Hacienda Cusín (B,L,D)

Wed., Dec. 25       Christmas at Cusin Hacienda

Feliz Navidad! On Christmas we enjoy a slow day today, taking in the different cultural traditions of this holiday, and exploring our beautiful hacienda, famous for their perennial gardens. Five acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, where bougainvillea, jasmine, agapanthus, hydrangeas, begonias, poppies, geraniums, dahlias, primroses, orchids, magnolia, Aztec lilies, and more, host more than 50 species of birds, including Vermilion Flycatcher, Golden Grosbeaks, Tyrian Metaltail, Undulated and Tawny Antpittas, Andean Pygmy Owl, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, and more!

Enjoy a special dinner tonight at the hacienda.
Accommodations at Hacienda Cusín (B,L,D)

Thurs., Dec. 26      Birding to Quito

Today is primarily a repositioning day as we bird our way back to Quito. We overnight tonight at San Jose de Puembo just outside of the city and enjoy this historic colonial-style hacienda, with lush grounds, perfect for birding.
Accommodations at San Jose de Puembo (B,L,D)

Fri., Dec. 27        Antisana National Park

We drive to Antisana National Park. Here we explore the high paramo, a tundra-like terrain with the stunning and snow-capped Antisana Volcano in view. Vistas here are on a grand scale, and several large lakes and ponds attract a variety of species. Our eyes are peeled for Andean Condor, very much at home here. We also look for Black-faced Ibis, Andean Lapwing, and a high-elevation hummingbird, the Andean Hillstar, as well as Giant Hummingbird. Black-chested Buzzard Eagle and Carunculated Caracara are two birds of prey we can study, and we also note plant life that exhibits adaptations required to survive in these high elevation grasslands. With luck we may even see Spectacled Bear.

Enjoy lunch in a local restaurant before driving to Termas de Papallacta, well known for its natural thermal springs.
Accommodations at Termas de Papallacta (B,L,D)

Sat., Dec. 28        Hot Springs | Guango Lodge Hummingbird Garden

This morning we have time to relax and enjoy the hot springs and spa at our lodge. Late in the morning we make the short drive to Guango Lodge for lunch and to explore their hummingbird garden where we can see the amazing Sword-billed Hummingbird, as well Mountain Velvetbreast, Tourmaline Sunangel, Golden-breasted and Glowing Pufflegs, Mountain Avocetbill, and White-bellied and Gorgeted Woodstars. Other birds include Turquoise Jay, Torrent Duck, Andean Guan, Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Scarlet-bellied, Lacrimose, Buff-breasted and Hooded Mountain-Tanagers, Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager, Black-headed, Black-capped, and Black-eared Hemispingus and Slaty Brush-Finch just to name a few!
Accommodations at Termas de Papallacta (B,L,D)

Sun., Dec. 29       Departures

We return to Quito today for flights home. (B)


  • Birding Ecuador, Bird watching Ecuador, Ecuador, South American Birds, Naturalist Journeys, Wildlife Tour, Wildlife Photography, Ecotourism, Specialty Birds, Endemic Birds, Birding Hotspot

    Rufous Motmot

  • Birding Ecuador, Bird watching Ecuador, Ecuador, South American Birds, Naturalist Journeys, Wildlife Tour, Wildlife Photography, Ecotourism, Specialty Birds, Endemic Birds, Birding Hotspot

    Cuicocha Crater Lake

  • Birding Ecuador, Bird watching Ecuador, Ecuador, South American Birds, Naturalist Journeys, Wildlife Tour, Wildlife Photography, Ecotourism, Specialty Birds, Endemic Birds, Birding Hotspot

    Squirrel Monkey

  • Birding Ecuador, Bird watching Ecuador, Ecuador, South American Birds, Naturalist Journeys, Wildlife Tour, Wildlife Photography, Ecotourism, Specialty Birds, Endemic Birds, Birding Hotspot

    Yellow-rumped Cacique

  • Birding Ecuador, Bird watching Ecuador, Ecuador, South American Birds, Naturalist Journeys, Wildlife Tour, Wildlife Photography, Ecotourism, Specialty Birds, Endemic Birds, Birding Hotspot

    Rose-faced Parrot by Ruth Guillemette

  • Birding Ecuador, Bird watching Ecuador, Ecuador, South American Birds, Naturalist Journeys, Wildlife Tour, Wildlife Photography, Ecotourism, Specialty Birds, Endemic Birds, Birding Hotspot

    Spectacled Bear

  • Birding Ecuador, Bird watching Ecuador, Ecuador, South American Birds, Naturalist Journeys, Wildlife Tour, Wildlife Photography, Ecotourism, Specialty Birds, Endemic Birds, Birding Hotspot

    Dramatic Antisana Volcano

  • Birding Ecuador, Bird watching Ecuador, Ecuador, South American Birds, Naturalist Journeys, Wildlife Tour, Wildlife Photography, Ecotourism, Specialty Birds, Endemic Birds, Birding Hotspot

    Blue-black Grassquit

  • Birding Ecuador, Bird watching Ecuador, Ecuador, South American Birds, Naturalist Journeys, Wildlife Tour, Wildlife Photography, Ecotourism, Specialty Birds, Endemic Birds, Birding Hotspot

    Cotopaxi National Park

Cost of the Journey

The cost of the main tour is per person based on occupancy: $5390 DBL / $6180 SGL, from Quito. This cost includes: all accommodations; all meals as stated in the itinerary; ground transportation within Ecuador; professional guide services; park, preserve, and other activity fees; and miscellaneous program expenses. This cost does NOT include: Roundtrip airfare to and from Quito or items of a personal nature such as tips, laundry, porterage, telephone charges, or alcoholic beverages.

Travel Details

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 flights to arrive December 19 at your leisure.

Departure Details:  Plan to depart December 29, after 2:00 PM. After breakfast we have an hour drive to the airport in Quito. Many flights leave Quito around midnight so please check the flight dates carefully.

Travel Tip:  If you would like to arrive early you can book an early night at our first night tour hotel, the Mercure Alameda Quito. This is a modern hotel located in the downtown area of Quito, approximately 45 minutes from the airport (pending traffic). There are many shops, restaurants, and attractions in this area. There are also many small boutique hotels and B&B’s from economical to elegant. You can also explore the city by day while staying elsewhere. If you want a location with birding,we recommend the Puembo Birding Garden, if available, a small bed and breakfast about 20 minutes away. Another nearby hotel with birding in Puembo is the San Jose de Puembo Hotel. If you wish to explore around Quito, 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 you want to arrive early and rest up at an airport hotel, we recommend: Holiday Inn Quito Airport

Entry Requirements: See "Essential Information" section under the "Know Before You Go" tab.


Browse below for trip reports and species lists from past versions of this and other tours from this destination.


Map for Christmas in Ecuador

Essential Information +

This information is important for being prepared for your journey; we want you to have Read more

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. See "Passports, Visas & Documentation" section below for details.
  •  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.
  • Plan your international flight reservations into and out of 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 Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO), Quito, Ecuador

Our first night is near the airport at a hotel with a shuttle from the Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO). We have your arrival information and will convey that to the hotel. If you know you will be delayed and can email, text, or phone your guide or local operator, they would appreciate it. Both numbers can be found in your contact list. Detailed meet-up plans will be sent ahead of your journey with your Schedule at a Glance.

You will fill out a tourist entry card for Ecuador on your flight. 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. Meet your guide 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 tab of this tour for additional information and updates.

Departures from Quito Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO), Quito, Ecuador

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 to leave after 2 PM. You need to be at the airport about three hours ahead of your scheduled flight on this return. 

Please check the Travel Details tab of this tour for additional information and updates.

Passports, Visas & Documents

Guidelines and regulations can change. It is always advisable to double-check the country’s documentation requirements 60-90 days ahead of traveling. Information about travel to Ecuador for U.S. citizens can be found at If you are from another country, please contact the tour destination’s embassy website for guidelines.

Passport: 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. 

Visa: At the time of writing, a tourist visa is not required for the length of our stay (<90 days in a 12 month period). 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.

As a precaution for lost or misplaced documents you carry on your person during travel, we highly recommend you keep hard and digital backup copies on your phone (either photo or PDF scan), as well as a hard 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), the airline barcode on your luggage. This will greatly expedite getting new ones if necessary – we hope everyone will always keep travel documents close so that losing them will not be an issue.

General Health & Inoculations Information - Be Prepared!

Health requirements for entry to any country can change. It is always advisable to double-check the country’s health requirements and recommendations 60-90 days ahead of traveling. A helpful website for planning is CDC'S website for Ecuador or by phone (800) CDC-INFO or (800) 232-4636.

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.

Mosquito born illnesses: Travelers can reduce their risk of mosquito born disease by protecting themselves from mosquito bites using protective clothing, insect repellant (containing DEET, Picaridin, OLE, etc.) and prophylactics where applicable. For repellent permeated clothing, see Packing List for our recommendations.

Prescriptions: 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. 

Allergies: To be prepared for environmental triggers to allergies or breathing difficulties, please bring your allergy and/or asthma medication(s).  If you have severe allergies talk to your doctor about carrying an EPI pen and notify your guides. 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 prevention or treatment of common ailments (such as diarrhea, constipation, stomach upset, cough, congestion, head or body aches, insect bites and sunburn); as well as ointments, moisturizer, sunscreen, oral rehydration salts, band-aids, moleskin for blisters, cotton swabs, nail clippers, and tweezers, etc.

Altitude illness: According to the CDC's website, day trips to high-elevation destinations less than 8000 ft. with an evening return to a lower elevation are much less stressful on the body, depending on the time provided for your body to adjust. However, higher altitudes on day trips overnights can have more adverse affects on your body and you should be informed about altitude illness and Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) (see The most general symptoms are headache and occasionally fatigue and dizziness. You’ll want to take it easy, particularly at first. The likelihood of these symptoms can be reduced by resting, drinking plenty of water, avoiding alcohol, taking aspirin and optimize acclimatization by adjusting itineraries to avoid going “too high too fast." If you have worries about the altitude, ask your physician about medications (such as Diamox) that may be right for you. 

Daily Itinerary

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 December are 51°F, with night temperatures at 40°F. Otavalo and Cotacachi run about 6-8 degrees warmer. Rain is likely.

Annoyances & Hazards

We are at pretty high elevations, so mosquitos, midges, and chiggers should be rare; however, a supply of insect repellent containing DEET is recommended. If exposed to insects, be sure to shower and air out your clothing. Your guide should have a good read on what insects might be active. There can also be poisonous snakes and insects, though encountering them is rare, especially at elevation.  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. 

Spending Money

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

Your guide is well connected and can help if any urgent communication need arises. However, it is highly recommended that you travel with a CELL PHONE, if only as a precaution for the unfortunate occurrence of a medical emergency during an outing and needing swift accessibility to critical personal or medical contacts. 

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 .


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


Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at 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 Read more

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.

Travel Insurance

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 RescueWorld 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 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! Checked luggage: Soft luggage is much easier for us to pack than a Read more

Please Pack Light!

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 December are 66°F, with night temperatures at 50°F. The Otavalo area should be much the same, and Papallacta Pass will be colder, with an average of 55 degrees (though wind chill and rain if present can make it seem colder). Rain is likely, though intermittent, so do have good rain gear; shoes/lightweight 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.

Packing List:

  • Lightweight/Medium weight long pants, 2-3 pair
  • Tights or lightweight long underwear to layer under your pants could come in handy at Papallacta Pass; these and rain pants are a great combination
  • Medium weight long sleeve shirts, 2-3
  • Casual clothing for travel days and evenings
  • Personal underclothing (consider what dries quickly if you plan to wash) and nightclothes
  • Socks – lightweight and easy to wash and dry; at least one pair of warm socks for colder days
  • Comfortable walking shoes (such as tennis shoes) for travel days and evenings and lightweight hiking boots for field days. Please note that forest trails will be on uneven terrain and may be muddy – bring lightweight boots with good support and firm grip tread.
  • High quality raingear, we suggest a jacket and pants combination
  • Fleece jacket or sweater (note, woolen goods are readily for sale in Otavalo on your tour route)
  • Bathing suit if you enjoy swimming – there are hot springs at Papallacta
  • Scarf, light gloves, light hat for cold evenings (you want to go owling!)
  • Hat with broad brim for sun
  • Field vest (optional); a great source is Big Pockets

Equipment & Miscellaneous

  • Airline tickets or e-ticket verification
  • 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) Note: Ecuador is discouraging single-use plastic bags, such as ziplock-types. Please consider an alternative.
  • 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.
  • Cell phone and charger
  • Small daypack to carry gear while hiking and in vehicles
  • 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)
  • Tablet/laptop for personal use and/or transferring photos, USB stick, USB cord and charger (optional). If bringing a laptop or tablet, bring a good dustcover to protect it at all times.
  • Adapters for three prong electronic equipment
  • Walking stick (optional but recommended if you have and use one)
  • Umbrella – compact and not brightly colored
  • Flashlight or headlamp with fresh batteries (important – cabins or rooms 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, remember to turn off data roaming.
  • Sunscreen/lip balm with SPF
  • Sunglasses with neck strap
  • Insect repellent (this itinerary should not have many insect concerns, but just in case!)
  • Toiletry articles: shampoo and conditioner, dental supplies, razor, emery boards, hairbrush/comb, tweezers, hand lotion, feminine hygiene, deodorant, pain reliever
  • Water bottle (can easily be bought in the airport and refilled daily)
  • Notebook or journal and pen (optional)
  • Field guides (optional)
  • Small bottle of antibacterial hand soap/hand sanitizer
  • Small bottle or bag of laundry soap
  • Washcloth (optional) and sink stopper
  • Earplugs (optional)
  • Rechargeable power bank (optional)
  • Water bottle to cut down on use of plastics, we love the LIFESTRAW bottles that allow you to drink water from your tap and feel secure. Or consider a Steri-Pen, again to save on plastic bottles.


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? It’s the holidays, you may wish to bring some small lightweight gifts – hair ties, costume jewelry, playing cards, thumb drives, etc. Be creative here. Also for kids, school supplies – marking pens, activity cards such as number cards, small notebooks, and pencils are a big 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 Read more


There are many titles of interest for Ecuador; the following are a few that we have enjoyed that can get you started.

Top Picks

Merlin App – Ecuador Pack. A phone-based birding app from Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. Before departing the U.S., download the app for free, then from within the app, download the “pack” for Ecuador.

Birds of Ecuador

Wildlife of Ecuador: A Photographic Field Guide to Birds, Mammals, Reptiles and Amphibians

 Field Guides

The Birds of Ecuador: Field Guide

Fieldbook of the Birds of Ecuador

Travelers’ Wildlife Guides Ecuador and the Galapagos

Natural History

Ecuador: Andes & Amazon

The New Neotropical Companion

Tropical Nature. Forsyth and Miyata

History & Culture

Insight Guide Ecuador and Galapagos

Portrait of a Nation: Culture and Progress in Ecuador 

Ecuador - Culture Smart! The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

The Panama Hat Trail

Latin American Spanish: Phrasebook & Dictionary 

Ecuador and Galapagos Map

There is a good selection of books available for sale at visitors’ centers, and your guide will also have a selection of reference books and materials for participants to share. As an Amazon Associate, Naturalist Journeys earns from qualifying purchases, and may get commissions for purchases made through links on this page at no added cost to you.

Useful Links +

Learn more about your destination at these external websites, carefully researched for you. Read more


Overview of Ecuador

Quito - Capital of Ecuador


Hacienda Cusín

Sachatamia Lodge

Free, printable maps of Ecuador

Nature, Wildlife & Biology

Ecuador Birding Overview

Ecuador Bird Checklists

Guango Lodge Hummingbird Garden

Birds and Mammals of Imbabura

Conservation, Parks & Reserves

Antisana National Park

Quitsato Sundial

Taita Imbabura

Cuicocha Crater

Mashpi Chocolate Farm - Learn about Conscious Cacao & Chocolate

Geology & Geography

Geology of Ecuador

Geography of Ecuador

History & Culture

History of Ecuador

Culture of Ecuador

Indigenous peoples

Cuisine of Ecuador

Arts of Ecuador

Speaking Spanish in Ecuador

Helpful Travel Websites

Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) in Quito, Ecuador

National Passport Information Center

U.S. Department of State International Travel Information - Ecuador

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Ecuador

Canada Travel Advice and Advisories - Ecuador

Travel Health Pro (UK) - Ecuador

Foreign Exchange Rates

ATM Locator

Electricity and Plugs - Ecuador

Date, Time, and Holidays - Ecuador

Photo credits: Banners: Yellow-rumped Cacique (NJ Stock), Green-crowned Woodnymph (courtesy of Neblina Forest), Cotopaxi National Park (NJ Stock), Green Honeycreeper (NJ Stock) Thumbnails: Andean Condor (NJ Stock), Red-headed Barbet (NJ Stock), Black-tailed Trainbearer (NJ Stock), Golden-rumped Euphonia (NJ Stock), Turquoise Jay (NJ Stock), Giant Hummingbird (NJ Stock), Silvery Grebe (NJ Stock), Blue-and-yellow Tanager (NJ Stock)


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