Ecuador is famed for its extraordinary biodiversity and its superb variety of habitats, making it a premier destination for photographing birds in their native environments.
This trip will include the best of the Ecuadorian Andes: the popular West Slope from Tandayapa Valley to Milpe and the spectacular East Slope from Papallacta to the Amazon Basin. The trip also includes a visit to the high paramo to photograph Ecuador's national bird, the Andean Condor. Please scroll below to see the exact itinerary.
Your guide, Alejandro Valenzuela, has almost two decades of experience in the field with personal access to the best bird photography lodges and nature reserves.
He has handpicked locations that allow for easy photography in both native habitats and well-designed gardens that attract colorful and normally difficult-to-photograph species. Fantastic feeder set-ups allow for a heavy focus on the jewels of the Andes, the hummingbirds!
Additionally, there will be ample opportunity to photograph other colorful tropical birds, including multiple species of tanagers, toucans, trogons, woodpeckers, and even the incredible, vivid scarlet Andean Cock-of-the-Rock.
We will see birds in the lowlands, foothills, and higher slopes on both sides of the Andes, crossing terrain as low as 1,150 feet (350 meters) to as high as 12,300 feet (3750 meters).
Most Ecuadorian birding trips focus on the West Slope. However, Alejandro's 10-day itinerary allows for exploration of the lesser-visited East Slope, maximizing the chances to photograph different variations of the same species like the Booted-Rackettail Hummingbird.
Also, there are birds that can only be seen on the East Slope, like the fabulous Wire-crested Thorntail and the Long-tailed Sylph, a near twin of the West Slope’s Violet-tailed Sylph.
On the journey between slopes, we will encounter many different microhabitats from cloud forests to high paramo. Weather can change in an instant but we always hope for some clear views of the spectacular snow-covered peaks of volcanoes like Cotopaxi and Antisana. This ever-changing environment makes for challenging but satisfying photography.
Most of our days are spent in the cloud forest where the weather is usually very pleasant, mostly 55°-75°F, 13°-24°C. Some rain can be expected, especially in the afternoons and evenings. Good rain protection for yourself and your gear is essential.
We may experience colder temperatures at both Guango Lodge and the Yanacocha Reserve. It is usually very cold near Antisana, possibly near freezing.
Temperatures will be warmer at Suamox and hot & humid at Laguna Cube and Laguna Paikawe. We will truly experience a variety of microhabitats!
Our overall pace will be relaxed with a few times when we may need to push on to take advantage of good weather or available light.
All days will include ample time to enjoy the local cuisine of each region.
Most days will include time to relax or download photos. This will often be in the late afternoon when the light may be poor and when it is more likely to rain.
The tour will involve several hours of driving. Except for early morning departures before sunrise, we only drive during daylight hours.
Our tours run year-round.
While the climate has been unpredictable in recent years, the driest months on average are June-August, the wettest months are March-April, and the other months are in between.
Bird activity is slower when it is very dry. However, even in the dry season, some rain can be expected and some birds can be observed.
Rainy season tours are usually the most productive. Fortunately, most mornings during the rainy season are dry. Furthermore, the increased cloud cover means diffused light rather than harsh sunlight.
Please contact Alejandro to confirm availability at the time you would like to book your trip.
All accommodations will include private, en-suite bathrooms, full-time hot water, and 24hr electricity except for Laguna de Cube where accommodation and food will be comfortable but very basic; electricity is provided by a generator that is turned on for limited hours, but it provides sufficient time to charge camera batteries and devices.
For your arrival night in Quito: please book the place of your preference; hotel reservation sites such as Hotels.com or Booking.com offer excellent options. After booking your hotel for the night of your arrival in Quito, please inform us of your flight details and the name of the hotel. This is important so we can meet you at the airport and transfer you to the hotel.
Alejandro provides personalized travel experiences at the lowest rates by working closely with his partners, especially those working in wildlife conservation.
ALL bird photography locations visited during this tour are private conservation efforts focused on preserving native forests. All practice sustainability to the point possible for their locations. Furthermore, all aim to provide fair employment opportunities to the surrounding communities.
Therefore, your trip directly supports these conservation efforts, empowering local communities to thrive and further develop tourism opportunities that will protect Ecuador’s endangered species.
This is a Bird Photography Tour.
It is not a hardcore birding trip. Nor is it a photography workshop.
Nevertheless, we will see a remarkable number of amazing birds and catch their essence and beauty through your camera lens.
All levels of photographers are welcome!
On the tour, at least half the time will be spent photographing birds that visit feeders or eat insects that were attracted by the lights during the night.
The remainder of the time, we will target birds along roads or short tracks and trails.
We recommend bringing equipment that you are comfortable using and have ample practice with. A full-frame camera is best for bird photography but not necessary. For hummingbirds, a 300mm lens is sufficient. For most other birds, it is convenient to have a 500mm or 600mm lens. We recommend a shorter lens for scenic views and a macro lens with a ring flash if you are interested in photographing flora in its native setting. Tripods should be as lightweight as possible. A warning: flash photography of birds is not permitted at some locations.
Alejandro may modify the plan on any particular day based on weather, feeder activity, recent sighting information, newly opened sites, or other factors. For that reason, there is a certain amount of flexibility built into the itinerary.
The number of photography stops will depend on the location and time limitation. Nonetheless, there will be sufficient time for many photographic opportunities.
Alejandro follows all health and safety protocols including masking while in vehicles and close proximity to others. All locations we visit also follow these guidelines.
If you have a particular concern, please let Alejandro know!
For the best value, invite some friends or another couple to join you on this trip. Alejandro will arrange the best and most affordable combination of rooms to fit your group all while providing excellent guiding services.
If you are traveling as a couple or as an intimate group of friends, Alejandro will arrange the best and most affordable combination of rooms to fit your group all while providing excellent guiding services.
Prefer to travel as a single customer? Alejandro is ready to be your personal guide.
Alejandro will pick you up at your hotel in Quito for an early morning arrival at the Yanacocha Reserve. This high altitude cloud forest is home to the Scarlet-bellied Tanager, the Black-chested Mountain-Tanager, the Shining Sunbeam, the Great Sapphirewing, the Sword-billed Hummingbird, and the Yellow-breasted Brush-Finch, all of which readily come to feeders. Several Tawny Antpittas may also make an appearance. We will enjoy a picnic breakfast among the birds.
After this fantastic beginning to our day, we will drive along the old Nono-Mindo Road, also known as the Hummingbird Route or Paseo del Quinde, arriving for lunch at a small, local cafe with strong connections to the local birding community.
After lunch, we will visit the Alambí Reserve, a private home with acreage along the Alambí River. More than 20 species of hummingbirds visit a wide variety of feeders in a colorful garden that provides an excellent backdrop for photos. The most common hummingbird is the outlandish Booted Racket-tail with its bizarre tennis-racket-like tail feathers. Other regulars include a number of iridescent species like the Violet-tailed Sylph, the Purple-bibbed Whitetip, the Western Emerald, and the Purple-throated Woodstar.
After our visit to Alambí, we will continue along the Hummingbird Route to The Birdwatcher’s House, an exclusive eco-lodge designed to provide excellent photography backdrops at every turn. Our hosts will provide a wonderful homemade dinner before we retire for the evening.