mega diversity on the east Andean slope and Amazon




"Just a quick email to thank you very much indeed for a really great trip. As I'm sure you realise, we both thoroughly enjoyed it and felt it was a real 'lifetime experience'.

We very much enjoyed your company and calm, relaxed leadership style"......  Mr and Mrs W, Edinburgh







click here for a pdf version of this destination write-up  -  easier to print  -  no photos




The east slope of the Andes, descending into the Amazon basin, is one of the most biologically rich regions on the planet. From the high peaks to the lowland rainforest, every change in altitude brings a corresponding change in birdlife. This includes some of the most endangered birds in the Neotropics, almost entirely due to human pressure on the land.


Just ten years ago a trip like this would have been very challenging, with long journeys on bumpy roads and poor accommodation. An improvement in the infrastructure makes the logistics easy now. Short journeys on excellent roads between beautiful lodges, under the expert guidance of outstanding local guides combine to make this a bird-filled holiday second to none.


Having arrived in Quito, we will head straight for Guango Lodge, birding for two days in temperate forest, polylepis forest and paramo. The hummingbird show in the garden is unsurpassed. We will then drop down to San Isidro, where a beautiful lodge is surrounded by cloud forest in the subtropical zone. After three nights here we descend further to Wild Sumaco, an outstanding new lodge built by birdwatchers. Situated in the foothills, the forest here is full of colourful tanagers, and time spent on the verandah is worthwhile, with a dozen or more hummingbird species visiting. Finally, we will travel into the lowlands, visiting the internationally important Yasuni National Park. Staying at the perfectly situated Napo Wildlife Centre Lodge, we will have five days to immerse ourselves in the diversity of the Amazon rainforest.





Our daytime flight arrives at Quito’s new airport late in the afternoon. This brand new hub has been built in the right place to get us quickly away from the city. In no time we will cross the Papallacta Pass and head down to Guango Lodge at 2700 metres. The smallest of the lodges that we will visit, Guango has masses of birds in its grounds and is also perfectly situated to visit the polylepis forest and paramo at Papallacta. Hummingbirds in the lodge garden include Sword-billed, Mountain Velvetbreast, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Tourmaline Sunangel and Glowing Puffleg. Forest around the lodge holds Grey-breasted Mountain-toucan and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager, whilst Torrent Ducks play in the adjacent river. Higher up, stunted polylepis forest, looking like an enchanted forest from a fairy story is home to some very special birds: Giant Conebill, Black-backed Bush-tanager and Masked Mountain-tanager. Birding is relatively easy here since the trees don’t grow tall and many birds are rather indifferent to our presence. Overhead, Carunculated Caracaras may be seen, along with the chance of Andean Condor, whilst Spectacled Bear is occasionally found. The journey to San Isidro is just 90 minutes, allowing us almost two full days in the Guango area.



Late on day 3 we will transfer to San Isidro, a drop in altitude of about 700 metres. We will be in the heart of the subtropical zone, a riot of life where luxuriant vegetation competes for sunlight and every available niche is occupied by one avian gem or another. San Isidro is perhaps best known for the ‘San Isidro’ Owl, an anomalous bird which has defied classification. It looks somewhat like a Black-banded Owl, but there appear to be slight differences and that species only occurs at lower altitudes. We can expect good views of it above our cabins as we walk to or from dinner.


On the first morning, the bird show caused by insects attracted to the lodge lights is a real treat. Jays, oropendolas, flycatchers, woodcreepers, trogons, quetzals and warblers all come flocking out of the forest to this buffet breakfast which the lodge unwittingly provides. After our breakfast, we can explore the trails or do some roadside birding, searching for the mixed flocks which are so characteristic of the area. Elusive ant-pittas are enticed into view by the offer of a juicy worm; the rare Peruvian Antpitta was the star last year. Handsome Flycatcher, Golden-headed Quetzal, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Rufous-crowned Tody-flycatcher and Black-eared Hemispingus add variety. On an evening we might be lucky to find Andean Potoo, Oilbird and Rufous-bellied Nighthawk. An excursion to the Huacamayo Ridge will add yet more birds, including Black-billed Mountain-toucan, Green-and-black Fruiteater and perhaps Greater Scythebill.



This beautiful new lodge offers access to an area which was previously difficult to visit. Just 2½ hours further down the road we drop another 1000 metres and find ourselves in the heart of tanager country. Golden-eared, Orange-eared, Paradise, Magpie, Spotted, Green-and-gold and Golden Tanagers all compete for honours. A dozen or more hummingbirds come to feeders and flowers by the verandah, including Napo Sabrewing, Wire-crested Thorntail, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Gould’s Jewelfront, Violet-fronted Brilliant and Ecuadorian Piedtail. The lodge protects important forest which is home to Military Macaw, Gilded Barbet, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Lined Antshrike, Ornate Antwren, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Blue-rumped Manakin and Golden-collared Honeycreeper. After three nights here we will head down to Coca in the Amazon basin.



From the busy port of Coca we will take a motorised canoe downstream for 2 hours. From there we take a side channel and paddle along the Ananguyacu stream to the lodge. Before we arrive at the lodge we can expect the first of many Hoatzins, and perhaps even a family of Giant Otters.


The discovery of oil in the Amazon has put great pressure on the indigenous communities. The Anangu tribe has resisted the easy money that oil would bring and instead has built a world class lodge on its land. All hunting has been banned and every local person is a stakeholder in this project, which aims to improve their lot whilst maintaining a relatively traditional way of life and protecting the forest. What they have achieved is nothing short of miraculous. It is such a privilege to spend five nights here. This is the minimum time needed to appreciate the amazing diversity, unsurpassed on the planet.


During our time here we will make morning and afternoon excursions along the various channels by boat as well as exploring the seasonally flooded varzea forest and high-ground terra firma. NWC has perhaps the best canopy tower in Ecuador, 36 metres up in a giant Kapok tree. We can spend all morning watching Bare-throated Fruitcrows, Spangled Cotingas, Blue-and-Yellow Macaws, and a multitude of other canopy birds and mammals. There are just too many birds to list in this area. Some 600 species have been recorded within NWC’s boundaries, but to whet your appetite we can mention Black-necked Red Cotinga, Zigzag Heron, Agami Heron, Blue-throated Piping Guan, Grey-winged Trumpeter, Ladder-tailed Nightjar, Great-billed Hermit, Yellow-billed Jacamar, Black-fronted Nunbird, Long-billed Woodcreeper, Castelnau’s Antshrike, Black-faced Antbird, Rusty-belted Tapaculo, Screaming Piha, Lawrence’s Thrush, Fulvous-crested Tanager and Opal-rumped Tanager. We can expect a good diversity of mammals too, from Giant Otter to Red Howler Monkey and the unbelievably cute Golden-mantled Tamarin.


Five nights will give us plenty of time to explore the area, as well as allowing time to wander around the gardens of the lodge, photographing butterflies or simply soaking up the atmosphere of this beautiful place


Finally, on day 14 we will take the boat back to Coca, connecting with a short flight back to Quito then our international flight home.



On most days breakfast will be at 7am, giving us plenty of time in the productive morning period. In the Amazon, breakfast will be at 6am since the mornings there are particularly important. There will be free time after lunch to rest. The climate is temperate or sub-tropical in the Andes, making the birding a pleasure. In the Amazon it can be hot and humid. In high altitude areas the pace will be very slow. During the rest of the trip, the pace will be fairly easy; there are so many birds that there is no need to rush around.



Full board accommodation is provided, with two nights at Guango Lodge, three nights at Cabanas San Isidro, three nights at Wild Sumaco Lodge and five nights at Napo Wildlife Centre. All have en suite bathrooms and hot water. Guango Lodge is fairly simple, but clean. All other lodges are very good/outstanding. Lunch will normally be at the hotel.



All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local guides, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 19th, ending with breakfast on 4th), soft drinks at meal times, local transport by coach, boat trips and other jungle activities, reserve entrance fees, domestic and international flights and airport taxes.



Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.



Return flight from London Heathrow to Quito (via Madrid) using the scheduled services of Iberia Airlines. Outbound flight departs early morning, return flight arrives back late afternoon. Domestic flights from Manchester and other UK airports are avaiable on this tour. See booking form for details.






14 nights including

one overnight flight:


Principal leader:


Local guide:



Maximum group size:


Cost with discount

(if you book before

6th November 2012):


Full Cost:





Single supplement:






19th Feb to 5th March 2013


Paul Willoughby


Edison Buenano

plus lodge guides


10 clients with one leader

and a local guide



£4180 per person sharing


£4330 per person sharing


A ground only price is available. Please contact our office















click here to see the photographs in our NE Ecuador Album



above is an assortment of photographs taken during our recent recce to NE Ecuador (photographs by P Willoughby)


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