Birding Tour Ecuador: The North, with Optional Extension to the Amazon January 2020

Tour Details

Duration: 15 days
Group Size: 4 – 8
Date Start: January 06, 2020
Date End: January 20, 2020
Tour Start: Quito
Tour End: Quito

The dates for the Amazon extension are 19 – 25 January 2020.

We ask you to look for flights that arrive in Quito in the afternoon and depart late in the evening. If you arrive early in the morning on the first day you might have to wait at the hotel until check-in, which is at 16:00. We will arrive in Quito back from Wildsumaco on the last day at about 17:00, and you have to be at the airport three hours before the flight.

Quito is located 2850 meters above sea level (9350 feet), and the highest places of the tour are Antisana at 3100 meters above sea level (10170 feet) and the Papallacta Pass at 3300 meters (10826 feet).

Most of the birding is from the road, but we have to explore several steep trails throughout the trip, which can go from easy to moderate.

Gareno Lodge provides basic service with rustic, wooded cabins with private bathroom, but neither electricity nor hot shower. The food is also very simple. We will bird by the road and along the trails. Some of the trails might be a bit steep for people who have walking difficulties. However, birding is extremely good, and we decided to stay two nights to see as many species as possible, including Rufous Potoo. For those for whom luxurious or comfortable accommodation is an important factor on their holiday, this place might not be the best choice.

Galo Real will lead the main trip as well as the extension. Those of our clients that are not joining the extension will be escorted by a staff member from Wildsumaco on the last day on their transfer from Wildsumaco back to Quito.

Tour Costs

Price: Main tour: US$6,876 / £5,593 / €6,385 per person sharing (6 – 8 people),
US$7,103 / £5,778 / €6,596 (5 people),
US$7,961 / £6,475 / €7,393 (4 people);
Extension: US$3,478 / £2,829 / €3,230 per person sharing (6 – 8 people),
US$3,519 / £2,862 / €3,268 (5 people),
US$3,776 / £3,071 / €3,506 (4 people).

Single Supplement: Main tour: US$1,222 / £994 / €1,135,
Extension: US$1,434 / £1,167 / €1,331

* Please note that currency conversion is calculated in real-time, therefore is subject to slight change. Please refer back to the base price when finalising payments.

Main tour:

Price includes:
Accommodation (hotels and lodges)
Private guide
Private vehicle
Admission fees
All meals (except where indicated)
Water supply during the tour
Transfer to and from the airport

Price excludes:
Any activity or service on day 1 (if arriving in the morning)
Dinner the first day in Quito and the last day in Quito
Hotel in Quito on Day 15 if necessary
Personal insurance
Drinks and personal expenses
All flights


Price includes:
All ground and boat transportation
Domestic flight ticket from Coca to Quito
All accommodation at Gareno and Napo Wildlife Center lodges
Private guide
Admission fees
All meals (except where indicated)

Price excludes:
Drinks at the lodges
Additional night in Quito on the last day
Dinner the last night in Quito
Personal expenses

Galo's BioGalo's Bio

Ecuador – the North, with optional extension to the Amazon 2020

Ecuador has the highest bird species diversity per square kilometer on the planet and offers some of the best birding of South America. Due to the short distances to drive, good tourist infrastructure, and wonderful lodges and other facilities for birders, including a multitude of hummingbird and anpitta feeder stations as well, Ecuador is perhaps the most obligatory destination on the continent.

Our Birding Tour Ecuador offers the best of the country: The west and east slopes of the Andes together make for an exciting 15-day tour.

We will start birding at higher elevations in the Yanacocha Reserve near Quito, where species like Sword-billed Hummingbird, Tyrian Metaltail, Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, Rufous Wren, and Rufous and Tawny Antpittas are expected.

We will continue birding the renowned old Nono-Mindo Road along the Tandayapa Valley and the town of Mindo, spending four nights at our favorite Septimo Paraiso Lodge as our base to explore different reserves in the area, like the famous Angel Paz Reserve, where we have excellent chances to have close-up views of four anpittas in one morning, namely Giant, Yellow-breasted, Moustached, and Ochre-breasted Antpittas, and with luck even the secretive Rufous-breasted Antthrush and Ocellated Tapaculo. We will also enjoy our first view of Andean Cock-of-the-rockand of a good number of fruit-eating birds like Crimson-rumped Toucanet and several flocks of tanagers. For one night we will stay at the famous Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve to maximize our chances for Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, Ocellated Tapaculo, and the mythical Tanager Finch.

Then we will explore the Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary, looking for some low-elevation and Chocó specialists like Orange-fronted Barbet, Dusky Pigeon, Choco Trogon, Rose-faced Parrot, Blue-lored Antbird, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Red-headed Barbet, Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, Red-faced Spinetail, Double-toothed Kite, Toucan Barbet, and many more.

The Milpe Bird Sanctuary will provide species such as Yellow-collared Chlorophonia, Club-winged Manakin, and Moss-backed Tanager, while a visit to the Rio Palenque Reserve may yield Rufous-headed Chachalaca, Barred and White-whiskered Puffbirds, Ecuadorian Trogon, Scarlet-backed, Guayaquil, and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, Scarlet-browed Tanager, Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner, Dot-winged Antwren, Chestnut-backed Antbird, and Black-headed Antthrush. Finally, birding the Mashpi Reserve might provide views of Indigo Flowerpiercer, Glistening-green Tanager, Rufous-throated Tanager, and Grey-and-gold Tanager.

After a week of birding the western lowlands we return to Quito and from there continue our trip, exploring Antisana National Park in search of Andean Condor, Carunculated Caracara, Andean Ibis, Paramo Pipit, Paramo Ground Tyrant, Andean Tit-Spinetail, and Ecuadorian Hillstar among other high-Andes specialists. Before descending into the eastern lowlands we will explore the famous Papallacta Pass, where we will search for the highly-prized, endemic race of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe.

Next we will explore the cloudforest mountains, visiting famous Cabañas San Isidro, where we will look for White-bellied Antpitta, the mysterious “San Isidro Owl”, Andean Motmot, Masked Trogon, Spillmann’s Tapaculo, and others.

Further in the upper tropical forests the fine Wildsumaco Lodge will be a delightful place to stay, looking for species like Fiery-throated and Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater, Yellow-throated Toucan, Many-banded Aracari, Coppery-chested Jacamar, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Golden-collared Honeycreeper, Orange-eared, Paradise, and Green-and-gold Tanagers, Plain-backed Antpitta, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, Roraiman, Tropical, and Rufescent Screech Owls, Band-bellied Owl, and several species of hummingbirds on the feeders, including Gould’s Jewelfront, Booted Racket- tail, and Wire-crested Thorntail.

Finally, we have an extension tour to the Amazon basin to explore Gareno Lodge, which is probably the best place to see Rufous Potoo, and Napo Wildlife Center, where we have chances to see the most beautiful and representative Amazon species such as Blue-and-yellow, Scarlet, and Red-bellied Macaws, Black-necked Red Cotinga, Agami Heron, Hoatzin, and forest skulkers like Banded Antbird.


Itinerary (15 days/14 nights)

Day 1. Arrival in Quito

After arrival in Quito, a city surrounded by volcanoes and the high Andes, you will be transferred to your hotel near the airport.

Overnight: Garden Hotel San Jose Aeropuerto, Quito

Day 2.  Yanacocha, Nono-Mindo Road, and Bellavista

We will have an early start leaving Quito and driving towards the Yanacocha Reserve. Here at this high-elevation reserve we will have our breakfast and enjoy hummingbird feeders with species like Sword-billed Hummingbird, Great Sapphirewing, Shining Sunbeam, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Tyrian Metaltail, Sapphire-vented Puffleg, and Golden-breasted Puffleg, and if we are extremely lucky the seldom-seen Black-breasted Puffleg. Other birds at Yanacocha include Rufous Antpitta, Rufous Wren, Pearled Treerunner, Spectacled Whitestart, Blue-backed Conebill, Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Streak-throated Bush Tyrant, Cinereous Conebill, and more.

Later we will drive along the famous old Nono-Mindo Road, which is considered one of the best birding destinations in the world. We will look for the impressive Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, Turquoise Jay, and Sickle-winged Guan, before we’ll arrive at Bellavista Lodge.

With patience, persistence, and a little bit of luck we may be treated to views of that most enigmatic of tropical Andean birds – the elusive Ocellated Tapaculo and of Tanager Finch.

Overnight: Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge

Day 3. Birding Bellavista, transfer to Mindo

We will spend the whole day around the Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge, looking for the kaleidoscopic Toucan Barbet, Green-and-black Fruiteater, Masked Trogon, Blue-and-black Tanager, Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Cinnamon Flycatcher, White-winged Brush Finch, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, and Grass-green Tanager.

We also will enjoy more hummingbird feeders with species like Buff-tailed CoronetGreen Violetear, Collared Inca, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, and Gorgeted Sunangel. We will give extreme priority to the most-wanted Tanager Finch and look also for the secretive Ocellated Tapaculo and White-throated Quail Dove. We will visit some more feeders in the area too, looking for White-tailed Hillstar.

Then we will descend somewhat from the mountains and explore the famous Mindo Valley, where we will be based for a few days of mind-boggling birding. Our first destination will be the comfortable El Septimo Paraiso lodge, where we will find different species like Red-faced Spinetail, Ecuadorian Thrush, Lemon-rumped Tanager, Red-headed Barbet, Blue-lored Antbird, and Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner. The hummingbird feeders here may provide great views of Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Velvet-purple Coronet, Empress Brilliant, Brown Inca, Booted Racket-tail, Andean Emerald, Green Hermit, and Green-crowned Woodnymph.

At night we will try for Mottled Owl, Colombian Screech Owl, and Cloudforest Pygmy Owl around the lodge grounds.

Overnight: El Septimo Paraiso, Mindo

Day 4. Birding the Angel Paz Reserve and Mindo

An early start will see us make our way to the famous Angel Paz Reserve. Angel pioneered the technique of showing birders members of the elusive antpitta family through his innovative feeding strategy. The mega Giant Antpitta is a possibility, as are Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Moustached Antpitta and Ochre-breasted Antpitta, and if we are lucky we might have views as well of Rufous-breasted Antthrush and Ocellated Tapaculo. Weather permitting, we may also enjoy an Andean Cock-of-the-rock display at the lek and be treated to sightings of that tricky endemic, Dark-backed Wood Quail. Other birds here include Olivaceous PihaPowerful Woodpecker, and Narino Tapaculo, among others

In the afternoon we will bird the Mindo – El Cinto Road and the surroundings of Mindo, looking for Sunbittern, White-capped Dipper, Band-backed Wren, Bay Wren, Masked Water Tyrant, White-edged Oriole, and Ringed Kingfisher, and we’ll visit some feeders, where Purple-crowned Fairy and Stripe-throated Hermit can be seen. If we find fruiting trees there is a good chance for Choco Toucan at this location. At dusk we will try for Lyre-tailed Nightjar.

Overnight: El Septimo Paraiso, Mindo

Day 5. Birding Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary and Rio Palenque Reserve

Today another early start will see us heading for Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary, situated at low elevations in the western foothills. We have chances to add more Chocó species to our list with birds like Yellow-throated Toucan, Rose-faced Parrot, Orange-fronted Barbet, and Dusky Pigeon, while we may be treated to the elegantly-graceful Swallow-tailed Kite flying overhead. Other impressive birds here include Choco Trogon, Olivaceous Piculet, Band-backed Wren, Striped Cuckoo, Choco Warbler, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Dusky-faced Tanager, Scarlet-browed Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Blue-whiskered Tanager, Black-winged Saltator, Ornate Flycatcher, and Pacific Antwren.

Then we will drive further west to the Rio Palenque Reserve, which is a privately-owned reserve with excellent possibilities for Rufous-headed Chachalaca, Barred and White-whiskered Puffbirds, Ecuadorian Trogon, Scarlet-backed, Guayaquil, and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner, Dot-winged Antwren, Chestnut-backed Antbird, and Black-headed Antthrush.

Overnight: Palenque Field Station

Day 6. Birding Rio Palenque Reserve and El Septimo Paraiso

We will spend the full day birding the Rio Palenque Reserve and its surroundings. Birds we hope to encounter today are Ochraceous Attila, Lesser Greenlet, Whiskered and Stripe-throated Wrens, Purple-crowned Fairy, Red-billed Scythebill, Dusky Antbird, Cinnamon Becard, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Crimson-breasted Finch, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Spot-crowned Antvireo, and others. In the afternoon we will return to El Septimo Paraiso.

Overnight: El Septimo Paraiso, Mindo

Day 7. Birding Milpe Bird Sanctuary and Mindo

The Milpe Bird Sanctuary, a private reserve, will keep us busy the whole morning looking for species like Yellow-collared Chlorophonia, Moss-backed Tanager, Yellow-throated Toucan, Bronze-winged Parrot, Ruddy Pigeon, Orange-billed Sparrow, Ornate Flycatcher, Russet Antshrike, Slaty Antwren, Rufous-rumped Antwren, Zeledon’s Antbird, and colorful flocks of Tanagers with species like Golden, Golden-naped, and Silver-throated. Other birds include Golden-headed Quetzal, Yellow-bellied Siskin, and with luck Club-winged Manakin.

Overnight: El Septimo Paraiso, Mindo

Day. 8. Birding Mashpi Amagusa Reserve and transfer to Quito

The Mashpi Amagusa Reserve only appeared on the birders’ map in the last few years, renowned as a possible site for the rare and range-restricted Indigo Flowerpiercer. However, Mashpi can also provide many other good species, such as Orange-breasted Fruiteater, Rufous-throated Tanager, and Glistening-green Tanager, among other common western lowlands species. We will spend the whole morning here and then transfer back to Quito. On the way will try some arid Andean valleys, where we will be looking for Black-tailed Trainbearer, Common Ground Dove, Purple-collared Woodstar, Giant Hummingbird, and Blue-and-yellow Tanager.

Overnight: Garden Hotel San Jose Aeropuerto, Quito

Day. 9. The high Andes of Antisana National Park and Termas de Papallacta

We will drive to and then spend a full morning exploring the high Andes at the Antisana National Park. At the base of the Antisana massif we will look for Tawny AntpittaAndean Tit-Spinetail, Paramo Ground Tyrant, Plumbeous Sierra Finch, Chestnut-winged Cinclodes, Stout-billed Cinclodes, Black Flowerpiercer, and Ecuadorian Hillstar.

However, the main target for many people would be Andean Condor, which is often seen soaring above the mountains, and also Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Carunculated Caracara, and Andean Ibis.

The lake holds some waterfowl like Yellow-billed Pintail, Andean Duck, Andean Coot, and Silvery Grebe.

Later we will transfer to our comfortable hotel in Papallacta. If time and weather permit, we will look around the property for species like Agile Tit-Tyrant and Red-crested Cotinga.

Overnight Termas de Papallacta

Day 10. Birding the Papallacta Pass, Guango Lodge, and San Isidro

We will explore the patches of temperate Andean mountain forest along the Papallacta Pass, looking for Brown-bellied Swallow, Great Thrush, Tawny Antpitta, Red-crested Cotinga, White-chinned Thistletail, Blue-backed Conebill, Superciliaried Hemispingus, White-banded Tyrannulet, Shining Sunbeam, Glossy Flowerpiercer, Golden-crowned Tanager, and Black-chested Mountain Tanager. On the way to the top of the mountain we will look for Many-striped Canastero and the big target for the day, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe.

After birding Papallacta we will make a brief stop at the Guango Lodge feeders to look for Sword-billed Hummingbird, Tourmaline Sunangel, and Mountain Velvetbreast.

Then we will transfer to Cabañas San Isidro. Here the hummingbird feeders provide species like Bronzy Inca, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Long-tailed Sylph, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Collared Inca, and Gorgeted Woodstar.

Just before dusk we can try for the seldom-seen Andean Potoo and Rufous-bellied Nighthawk, and with luck a couple of Oilbirds might be flying above the road at night.

Overnight: Cabañas San Isidro

Day 11. Birding Cabañas San Isidro and surrounds

Having an early start, we will be ready for the morning’s avian activity with species such as Masked Trogon, White-throated Toucanet, Andean Motmot, Subtropical Cacique, Inca Jay, Glossy-black Thrush, Montane and Olive-backed Woodcreepers, Black-billed Peppershrike, White-tailed and Sulphur-bellied Tyrannulets, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Beryl-spangled Tanager, and many others. All these species are normally seen around the clearing.

After breakfast we will check the worm feeder for White-bellied Antpitta, which is seen here almost daily. We will also try for Russet-crowned, Citrine, and Black-crested Warblers, Blackish Tapaculo, Black-eared Hemispingus, and Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher. Some difficult skulker species include Plain-tailed Wren and Spillmann’s Tapaculo

We will also spend some time looking for Torrent Duck along the Cosanga River and at night try for the mysterious “San Isidro Owl”.

Overnight: Cabañas San Isidro

Day 12. Transfer to Wildsumaco Lodge

Today we will make our way towards the Wildsumaco Wildlife Sanctuary and its idyllic Wildsumaco Lodge – one of those places one never forgets. Wildsumaco is remotely situated on a ridge that overlooks the Sumaco Volcano and the intimidating peak of Antisana in the distance.

The lodge’s breathtaking location and excellent service is only surpassed by its fabulous birdlife. Targets at Wildsumaco include Scarlet-breasted and Fiery-throated Fruiteaters, Yellow-throated Toucan, Chestnut-bellied Thrush, Ecuadorian Tyrannulet, Lined Antshrike, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, Dark-breasted, Dusky, and Ash-browed Spinetails, Buckley’s Forest Falcon, Plain-backed Antpitta, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Inca Jay, Grey-tailed Piha, Chestnut-fronted and Military Macaws, Blackish Antbird, Plain-winged Antwren, Yellow-breasted Antwren, Coppery-chested Jacamar, Black-streaked Puffbird, Chestnut-tipped and Golden-collared Toucanets, Many-banded Aracari, Orange-eared, Paradise, Spotted, and Green-and-gold Tanagers, and many others.

Wildsumaco is not only famous for its great birding, great food, and great staff, but also for its incredible hummingbird feeders. Species like Many-spotted Hummingbird, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Sparkling Violetear, and Black-throated Brilliant are among the most common species here. Some forest trail feeders can provide more secretive species, such as Napo Sabrewing, Gould’s Jewelfront, Ecuadorian Piedtail, Violet-fronted Brilliant, Violet-headed Hummingbird, and Wire-crested Thorntail.

Band-bellied Owl and Tropical, Rufescent, and Roraiman Screech Owls might be possible at night.

Overnight Wildsumaco Lodge

Days 13 – 14. Birding Wildsumaco Wildlife Sanctuary and Lodge 

We will spend two full days at Wildsumaco.

Overnight Wildsumaco Lodge

Day15. Birding Wildsumaco and transfer to Quito

After some last early morning birding at Wildsumaco we will transfer to the Quito airport to connect with your homebound flights in the evening.


Amazon Extension: Gareno Lodge and Napo Wildlife Center


Day 15. Transfer from Wildsumaco to Gareno Lodge

We will drive from Wildsumaco towards the Napo River on the way to the remote Gareno Lodge. On the way we will look for Point-tailed Palmcreeper, Sulphury Flycatcher, and Red-bellied Macaw. If time permits we will try for Tawny-bellied Screech Owl and Crested Owl.

Overnight: Gareno Lodge

Day 16. Gareno Lodge

Gareno Lodge is just small and basic (no electricity or hot shower facilities), but it has become very popular because its grounds hold several special Amazon species, including different roosting trees for the rare Rufous Potoo, making Gareno the best place in the world to see this species. We will have a whole day at Gareno, looking for very special birds like Fiery Topaz, Black-headed Parrot, Brown and Great Jacamar, Fasciated Antshrike, Pavonine Quetzal, Masked, Yellow-backed, and Opal-rumped Tanagers, Lemon-throated Barbet, and Blue-backed Manakin, and if we are lucky enough to find an army ant swarm we might see White-plumed Antbird.

Overnight: Gareno Lodge

Day 17. Transfer from Gareno Lodge to Napo Wildlife Center

After a couple of hours birding around Gareno we will drive to Coca town (officially Puerto Francisco de Orellana), from where we will get a boat to head along the Napo River to the Napo Wildlife Center Ecolodge, located within the Yasuní National Park, where we will spend the next three days.

Napo Wildlife Center is perhaps one of the finest Amazon lodges in Ecuador, and the birds are fantastic, including Agami Heron, Hoatzin, Sungrebe, Rufescent Tiger Heron, Capped and Boat-billed Herons, Blue-and-yellow Macaw, Scarlet Macaw, Many-banded and Ivory-billed Aracaris, White-necked and Collared Puffbirds, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Wire-tailed Manakin, Black-throated Trogon, Cream-colored Woodpecker, Long-billed Woodcreeper, Black-necked Red Cotinga, Black-faced Antthrush, Citron-bellied Attila, Ringed Antpipit, Orange-cheeked Parrot, White-browed Purpletuft, Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, Spot-winged Antbird, Black-faced Antbird, Silvered, Plumbeous, and Dot-backed Antbirds, Great Potoo, and much more.

Overnight Napo Wildlife Center Ecolodge

Days 18 – 20. Birding Napo Wildlife Center

We will have three full days at Napo Wildlife Center.

Overnight Napo Wildlife Center Ecolodge

Day 21 Transfer to Coca and flight to Quito, departure

After a last couple of hours birding at Napo Wildlife Center we will transferred to Coca and fly back to Quito to connect with our international flights.

Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors.

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