Photo: Neblina Forest
Trip Number: 13785A
Staff: Carol Dienger
- Experience one of the world’s most acclaimed birding destinations,
- Explore montane cloudforest, Amazon lowlands, Tumbesian dry-scrub areas,
high altitude páramo and Polylepis forest
- Stay at unique lodges designed for bird watchers and nature lovers
- All lodging, tips and meals (except one dinner in Quito)
- All on-trip transportation including in-country flights and riverboats
- A master bird guide to accompany us on the entire trip
Photo: Carol Dienger
In a way Ecuador could be called the center of the western world. It spans
the equator and is draped over the continental divide at the Andes. On this
19-day trip, we will focus on birds. Jewel-like hummingbirds, flamboyant tanagers,
raucous parrots and macaws, soaring raptors, exotic umbrellabirds, and shy antpittas
will be some of the star attractions. Expect to be dazzled by the amazing diversity
of tropical birds as we explore this new itinerary featuring the south of Ecuador.
After two nights in Quito, we will fly to a remote area in the Amazonian lowlands
on the Napo River for four nights. We return to Quito before flying south to
spend three nights in Cuenca to explore Cajas National Park and the colonial
city of Cuenca. We move on to spend seven days visiting Yunguilla Reserve, Saraguro,
Podocarpus National Park at Bombuscaro, and Buenaventura Reserve. We fly back
to Quito to conclude our trip.
Bird guide and master naturalist, Carlos “Charlie” Gomez, is scheduled
to be with us throughout the trip to help locate and identify the many secretive
and challenging birds of the tropics. Although our trip will focus on birds,
we will keep an ever-watchful eye for resident mammals of the montane forests,
including the Puma, South American Tapir, and the rarely seen Spectacled Bear.
In the lowlands we will surely see Black Caimans and several species of monkeys,
and there is always the possibility of seeing rare Giant Otters.
Photo: Carol Dienger
Day 1: Arrival in Quito. Most flights from the U.S. arrive
in Quito in the evening. You will be met at the airport and transferred to Hotel
Sebastian. Now at over 9,000 feet, it is time to get a good night’s sleep
at our very comfortable hotel. The trip officially begins with your overnight
at the hotel and includes your transfer from the airport to the hotel.
Day 2: Day trip to Antisana Reserve. Today will be a day trip
to Antisana Reserve just to the east of Quito. Snow-covered Antisana, the fourth
highest volcano in Ecuador, is surrounded by beautiful high-elevation páramo
and grasslands. This will be a leisurely day to view the spectacular landscape
and see several birds unique to these highlands, such as the Black-faced Ibis,
Carunculated Caracara, Silvery Grebe, and Andean Condor. In the evening we gather
for our welcome reception and dinner.
Day 3: Flight from Quito to Coca and river trip to lodge on
Napo River. At an almost leisurely hour we will fly by jet from Quito to the
town of Coca, an oil "boomtown" on the Napo River in the "Oriente."
This town gives you a firsthand look at the consequences of oil development
mixed with rain forest. In Coca we board a large, motorized, covered riverboat
for a scenic 2.5-hour trip down the muddy, brown Napo River, one of the major
tributaries of the upper Amazon. When we arrive at the river entrance, we will
switch to smaller, dugout canoes paddled by our hosts, as they take us up a
creek to a blackwater lake, and our lodge. The paddle could take several hours
as we look for Hoatzins, jacamars, kingfishers, macaws, and several species
of monkeys along the way. We arrive in the late afternoon for a four-night stay
at luxurious Anangu Lodge, an extraordinary place for bird watching in Amazonian
lowland rain forest. This lodge is owned and operated by the indigenous Quichua
community of Anangu. Logging, market hunting, and oil extraction are all actively
destroying local forests, but the income from this lodge allows this community
to continue to resist these pressures and provides virtually all of Yasuni National
Park’s tourism income.
Photo: Mary Deutsche
Days 4-6: Full days at lodge on Napo River. We’ll spend
our days walking forest trails around Napo Wildlife Center and in surrounding
Yasuni National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. We will also canoe creeks
and classic cochas (oxbow lakes), always on the lookout for Giant Otters. Birding
is in terra firme (upland) and varzea (seasonally flooded forest) where we expect
to find such regularly occurring species as Great Tinamou, Marbled Wood-quail,
Great Potoo, Crested Owl, and this just begins the long list.
Highlights of our stay will include birding from a 120-foot tower high in the
forest canopy and visiting some of the most accessible parrot and macaw clay
licks in Ecuador. From the tower we’ll be able to spot some of the canopy
birds and animals that are virtually impossible to see from the forest floor
far below; among the birds are some of the most colorful in the tropics: tanagers,
cotingas, honeycreepers, toucans, and parrots. Some genuine rarities that we’ll
hope to spot are Collared Puffbird, Rufous-headed Woodpecker, and the Amazonian
Umbrellabird. Blinds near some of the clay licks allow birders to watch gatherings
of hundreds of colorful parrots and macaws. Locals knew of the clay licks of
western Amazonia long before they gained the attention of scientists in 1984.
Parrots and macaws live by eating nuts from a variety of trees; some of these
nuts contain toxins for self-protection against predation. The birds seemed
to have evolved their own response to the toxins by eating certain clays to
neutralize the effects of the toxins.
Day 7: Return from Napo River to Quito. After an early morning
departure for the return boat trip up the Napo River we will catch our plane
for the short flight to Quito, arriving in time for lunch. The afternoon will
be available for shopping, a museum visit, or even a nap. Hopefully we can schedule
an evening at the Ballet Folkforico.
Day 8: Flight from Quito to Cuenca. This day may bring another
early morning departure, this time for an hour-long flight over the snow-covered
volcanoes of the Andes to Cuenca (8,301 feet). This beautiful colonial city
was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. It is a classic example of
a “planned Renaissance town in the Americas” with narrow cobbled
streets, balconied homes, interior courtyards, and an abundance of churches.
It was founded by Spaniards in 1557 and built over the ruins of the Inca city,
Tomebamba. We will divide our two and a half days in Cuenca between birding
and exploring the city and its surroundings.
Photo: Carol Dienger
Full days at Cajas and Cuenca. Most of these two
days will be in Cajas National Park (9,842-15,764 feet), only 45 minutes from
the city of Cuenca. One of the most beautiful wilderness areas in Ecuador, this
is a landscape of craggy hills and glacier-scoured valleys, glittering lakes,
swirling mists, and superb hiking. On the continental divide, the park includes
páramo, high grasslands, and dense humid cloudforest. Some of the unique
birds to look for are the Andean Snipe, Titlike Dacnis, Gray-breasted Mountain-toucan,
Giant Conebill, Sword-billed Hummingbird, and Violet-throated Metaltail (a hummingbird
endemic to the Cajas region). Rains often come to the high country in early
afternoon, so when it happens we will return to Cuenca for city sightseeing.
Day 11: Cuenca to Saraguro by way of Yunguilla Reserve. Departure
this morning will be very early to get to the Reserve at Yunguilla (2,500-3,000
feet) in a small dry valley with Tumbesian influence; this is the home to the
entire population of the rare and endemic Pale-naped Brush-finch, protected
in this Jocotoco Foundation Reserve. We will end the day in Saraguro (approximately
9,500 feet), home of a distinct group of indigenous people whose forebearers
originally came from the altiplano region of Titicaca, Bolivia. Relocated in
Saraguro by the Incas, they still maintain many of their traditions as well
as their very distinctive clothing. Our lodging will be near the central plaza
of Saraguro where pleasant strolls await.
Day 12: Saraguro to Zamora. Before we leave the Saraguro area
we should look for several mountain tanagers, Red-crested Cotinga, Bar-bellied
Woodpecker, and possibly the rare Crescent-faced Antpitta. Driving east we will
pass through some very “birdy” cloud forest (to 9,190 feet) on the
"old Loja-Zamora road." When we have had our fill of highland birds,
we will climb on board our bus to descend to the lowland portion of eastern
Podocarpus National Park where we will stay at a lovely lodge in Zamora (2,900
feet) for three nights.
Days 13-14: Full days at Zamora and environs. We will have
two full days for Bombuscaro, the eastern entrance to Podocarpus National Park.
In this wonderfully diverse area we can look for some bird species of narrow
distribution such as White-breasted Parakeet, and Coppery-chested Jacamar, as
well as Lanceolated Monklet, Black-mandibled Toucan, Foothill Antwren, Blue-rumped
Manakin, and the fabulous Paradise Tanager. Hiking in the low montane forest
along the river at Bombuscaro is delightful.
Photo: Carol Dienger
Day 15: Zamora to Buenaventura Reserve. This will be our last
chance to look for our share of the more than 50 species of both hummingbirds
and tanagers that are on the bird list for Podocarpus National Park. As we leave
Zamora we will continue to bird along the roadside and in the dry areas of the
Catamayo Valley. In this region of dry scrub vegetation we can hope to find
more specialties, such as Long-tailed Mockingbird, Pacific Parrotlet, Peruvian
Meadowlark, Saffron Finch, Croaking Ground-dove, and Elegant Crescent-chest.
Our destination is the Umbrella Lodge (approximately 3,000 feet) at the Buenaventura
Reserve of the Jocotoco Foundation.
Days 16-17: Full days at Buenaventura Reserve and environs.
We have two full days to bird and explore Buenaventura Reserve and possibly
look for additional Tumbesian species in El Oro Province. Leisure time will
be filled watching the hummingbird feeders at the Umbrellabird Lodge. The reserve,
which became famous by the recent discovery of the El Oro Parakeet, was created
especially to protect eight threatened species of birds. Of course, we will
search for that famous parakeet as well as the lodge’s namesake, the Long-wattled
Day 18: Buenaventura to Quito by air. We will drive to a nearby
airport for our flight back to Quito. Depending upon flight schedules, we may
have time for morning birding, or more likely, we will have a little time in
Quito for last-minute shopping. Our last meal together will be a farewell dinner
in the evening.
Day 19: Departure from Quito hotel. Transfer to the international
airport for flights departing to the U.S. or plan a post-trip adventure on your
own or with the help of our friends at Neblina Forest. Most flights to the U.S.
leave early in the morning, but if the hotel dining room has opened before you
leave, breakfast will be provided.
Photo: Carol Dienger
Your passport should be valid for at least six months from the starting date
of this trip. No visa is required for holders of U. S. passports. Travelers
from the U.S. can choose from a number of airlines. Most flights from the U.
S. arrive in the evening and this is anticipated in planning the itinerary.
Return flights generally leave in the morning, sometimes very early. Participants
should arrive no later than Sunday, October 20. Return flights can be scheduled
anytime Thursday, November 7 or later.
Quito, the nation’s capital, sits at the northern end of the country
in a high Andean valley 14 miles south of the Equator. Culturally, Quito provides
a fascinating mix of colonial and aboriginal. Colorful native markets and fiestas,
pre-Columbian artifacts, and historically impressive 16th-century Spanish colonial
architecture mingle with modern glass-and-steel buildings. This centuries-old
city lies in an arid, intermontane valley between north-south cordilleras, and
is surrounded by breathtaking scenery. On clear days you can view the majesty
of snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano from Quito.
When you make your plans for travel you should consider a few extra days before
(to get used to the altitude and rest from the long flight) or after the trip
to visit the artesania (folk art and crafts) center in Otavalo, to check out
a few museums, galleries, and the botanical garden, to experience the equator,
or to extend your trip bird list with a visit to one of the Mindo lodges.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Carol Dienger
This is not a camping trip, but it is not a luxury trip either. Our accommodations
vary from extremely pleasant lodges to a very comfortable hotel. Rooms are double
occupancy, and roommates will be assigned for those traveling solo. Single rooms,
when available, may be requested for an additional cost. At Saraguro, some rooms
will be multiple-occupancy. Most rooms have private baths, hot water, and electricity.
Windows are screened in warmer regions. Food will vary with each location; vegetarians
can be accommodated. (Please let the leader know in advance if you have special
diet needs.) Water should be bottled or boiled.
To enjoy this trip you need to have a strong interest in birds. You must be
in reasonably good health and you should be able to walk up to possibly three
miles each a day at a "birder’s pace," sometimes over irregular,
muddy, even steep trails. You can count on early morning starts each day to
take advantage of those precious hours when birds are most active. When birds
are resting in the early afternoon, we may also rest, but when the rain or heat
of the day is over, we will be birding again, sometimes until well after sunset.
It is not a strenuous trip and could be classified as leisurely, except that
days will be very full and we will often be in the field from dawn to dusk.
Stamina is important. A good-humored and flexible attitude toward traveling
in Latin America is required. Weather happens. Surprises are the rule. Plans
are made, and plans get changed, often resulting with a fine reward.
Activities will include considerable walking, some hours sitting in a riverboat,
some standing around while searching for birds, and a climb of a 120-foot tower
(optional, but highly recommended). A good sense of balance will be needed while
boarding and disembarking the dugout canoes. Elevation gain and loss on our
hikes will be minimal, but we will be birding above 9,000 feet on several different
days, and on two days we will actually be above 12,000 feet for a few hours.
The heat and humidity in the lowlands may bother those not used to it. While
all hikes are optional, the trip will be more satisfying to those physically
able to participate in all activities and willing to enjoy the wet weather expected
in the equatorial tropics.
Photo: Carol Dienger
No vaccinations are required, although inoculation for Yellow Fever is strongly
recommended for travel in the Amazonian lowlands. Be sure your Hepatitis A and
Tetanus are up-to-date. While Malaria and Typhoid are not a high risk, each
visitor to the Amazon should consult with his personal physician regarding precautions.
If you are prone to discomfort at high altitudes, you should also discuss this
issue with your doctor. Diamox, when taken prior to sudden exposure to high
altitude (arriving by air in Quito at 9,200 feet, for example), can be helpful
for most people.
Equipment and Clothing
You must have a good pair of birding binoculars. These should be gas filled
to prevent moisture from getting inside. This trip would be a good excuse to
treat yourself to a new, excellent pair of binoculars, but be sure you take
plenty of time to get thoroughly used to them and to test them well before the
trip. You will need good rain gear, an umbrella, a day bag, boots for muddy
trails, and clothes for a warm, humid climate; for hot, dry times; and also
for cool, damp days. It can snow at Antisana! A packing list and many more details
will be provided later.
- Ridgely, Robert, and Greenfield, Paul J., The Birds of Ecuador - Vol.
I Field Guide. New, heavy, expensive but the most complete field guide
- Roos, Wilma and Omer van Renterghem, Ecuador In Focus. Concise
and current survey of politics and history, people and culture, economics
and oil. Quite readable.
- Pearson, David L., and Beletsky, Les, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
One of the Travellers’ Wildlife Guides, it covers some more common
birds, mammals, reptiles and butterflies with discussions of family groups.
(Borrow from library for pre-trip study.)
- Forsyth, A., and K. Miyata, Tropical Nature: Life and Death in the Rain
Forests of Central and South America. An excellent introduction to rainforest
- Hilty, Steven, Birds of Tropical America. Very readable natural
history of bird life of tropical Central and South America.
- MAP: International Travel Maps, scale 1:700,000. (Available from Amazon.com)
Photo: Carol Dienger
Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation
and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished
by volunteers, aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement.
Our outings seek to empower participants toward environmentally understanding
parallel concerns at home and abroad.
With one of the densest human populations in South America and with close to
a third of its people living in poverty, Ecuador faces a host of environmental
problems and disasters waiting to happen. The list includes deforestation at
a high rate to accommodate hungry colonists in search of new agricultural fields
and cattle pastures, logging companies interested in quick profits but not in
conservation, mining, destruction of mangroves to create shrimp beds, urban
sprawl and road development, the widespread use of pesticides in agriculture,
and the introduction of domestic species (bananas and African Oil Palm) that
compete with native species. However, dominating most political decisions is
the economic power of oil.
But behind all this pessimism, there is hope. With increasing frequency environmental
awareness is being taught in schools and is being discussed on television and
in newspapers. Groups of NGOs, tourist agencies, and indigenous peoples are
working together to solidify their power and convince the government that ecotourism
is an important part of Ecuador’s future. You will see and hear of examples
of the progress in the land-acquisition accomplishments by the Jocotoco Foundation,
national parks, and at the community-owned Napo Wildlife Center. Part of our
tourist dollars is converted into land purchases by these groups and is an investment
in the Ecuadorian people.
This trip requires a $200 per-person deposit. An additional payment of $300 per person is due six months prior to trip departure. International trip prices are subject to change and are based on double-occupancy or group accommodations as described above. Single rooms may not be available or may cost more than the listed price. If you have any questions regarding double occupancy, please contact the trip leader.
See the How to Apply for an Outing
section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the
trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing
up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing
approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical
Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on
the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to
the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and
notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
The Sierra Club accurately and fairly budgets and prices our trips. However, unforeseen costs such as devaluation of the dollar compared to other currencies and fuel surcharges assessed by our international providers may necessitate adjustment in trip price. We will make every effort to mitigate and absorb these fees. If a price increase is necessary, however, you will have 14 days after announcement to cancel without penalty.
A birding enthusiast and naturalist, Carol Dienger began leading trips over 40 years ago. Beginning with backpack trips in the Sierra Nevada for Sierra Club families and for Santa Clara County Girl Scouts, she soon added leading trips to Baja, Costa Rica and Alaska for sea-kayaking, to Austria for cross-country skiing, and a whole variety of wilderness exploration trips in Alaska and Canada. For close to 20 years her trips have focused on natural history, and in particular, on birding. Retired from her work as an architectural designer specializing in solar mountain homes and from her volunteer job as the coordinator of the Club's national outing program in Alaska, Carol spends her newly gained "leisure time" gardening, woodworking, studying Spanish, enjoying the grandkids, and chasing birds wherever they may be. This will be her seventh trip to Ecuador.
Your trip leader is one of the many who have a great passion for hummingbirds. She savors the gem-like names of these iridescent little beauties: Violet-throated Metal-tail, Flame-throated Sunangel, Rainbow Starfrontlet, Mountain Velvet-breast, Wire-crested Thorntail, Shining Sunbeam, and Mountain Avocetbill. The names are almost as spectacular as these miraculous little birds, which are unique to the Americas. Most lodges that cater to birders have feeders hung to attract hummers in for close observation. It is not unrealistic to see 40 or even 50 species on this trip. A list of hummingbirds that we might expect will be provided for pre-trip study.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips