Ecuador birdwatching tours, ornithology trips in the Andes, Choco & coast

Sample birdwatching tour itinerary

A birding hotspot, Ecuador offers some of the best and easiest birding in the world. A country only twice the size of England, Ecuador contains over 15 % of the worlds bird species with 1600 bird species recorded to date. But it is not just the numbers and exotic families that make this an undiscovered Mecca; the birding is EASY with a huge range of possibilities close to Quito to make even a short birding trip very productive and hassle free.

Day 1 - Quito

International flight and transfer in to San Jorge Ecolodge just 20 min. from the Quito airport.

Day 2 - Quito at San Jorge Ecolodge

Enjoy a full day of birdwatching with early morning outings at the 200 acre private San Jorge Botanical reserve located just outside of Quito. Enjoy virgin nature and Ecuadorian tradition at our 18 th Century Ecuadorian Hosteria while you explore the many birding possibilities that the surroundings of Quito has to offer. (Request a bird list). We will overnight at San Jorge Ecolodge, after birdwatching and enjoying the nature trails we can wind down at the spa.

Day 3 - San Jorge Ecolodge - Tandayapa valley - Bellavista

Today we head out early towards the Tandayapa valley. Tandayapa is found in the upper Choco Endemic Bird Area (EBA) of northwest Ecuador. Here you will find lovely rivers and spectacular, panoramic 360 degree views of the lower Tandayapa Valley. You will also visit the Cock of the Rock Lek where you will have a chance to gaze upon the male congregation of the brilliant Andean Cock of the Rock.

We will make our way up to the Bellavista cloudforest reserve and delight ourselves with the several species of resident hummingburds including the booted raquet-tail. There are several private trails to explore. We will spend the night at the Bellavista lodge within the reserve.

Day 4 - Bellavista - Maquipucuna reserve

We will spend a full day exploring the surrounding trails at Bellavista cloudforest lodge.

After lunch we depart on offroad vehicles towards the Maquipucuna reserve 
which is a 6,000-hectare privately owned and managed nature reserve, surrounded by 14,000 hectares of “protected forest.” Eighty percent of Maquipucuna consists of steeply-sloped, undisturbed cloud forest. Covering four different life zones ranging from 1,000 to 2,800 meters above sea level, the Reserve houses a tremendous diversity of flora and fauna. In fact, it is located within the Choco-Andean Corridor, one of the planet's top five "biodiversity hotspots."

We will spend the night at Maquipucuna lodge within the reserve.

Day 5 - Maquipucuna reserve - La Florida cloudforest reserve (Intag valley) 

Today we continue to explore the pristine Maquipucuna Reserve, located in the heart of Ecuador’s cloud forest—a place of beauty and serenity. A unique opportunity of experiencing exotic species of birds, moths and butterflies, and flowers in bloom such as orchids and bromeliads. More than 350 species of birds, including the golden-headed Quetzal, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Violet-tailed Sylph, Broad-billed Motmot and the active “Andean Cock-of-the-Rock” lek.

From Maquipucuna we continue offroad deeper into the upper choco at the Intag Biological Reserve through dense cloudforest and finally into sub-tropical vegetation at Nangulbi.This is an area described by Conservation International as one of the world’s 25 “biological hotspots” and an area where the rainforest is under a direct threat from mining companies and where responsible tourism is being used a weapon against the destruction of the environment. Full birding on the way. Box lunch en route. Afternoon arrival to La Florida Hacienda, whithin the private La Florida reserve (350 hectares) and surrounding reserves giving the area thousands of hectares of protected forest. Accommodations at the Hacienda. Dinner, briefing about the species found and review the checklist, overnight. Some of the species found are: Golden-eared Tanager, Cock of the Rock, Golden-headed Quetzal, Toucan Barbet, Blue-winged Mountain Tanager, Golden Tanager amongst others. A total of 350 species of birds are registered in the area.

Day 6 - La Florida - Cuicocha - Otavalo 

A full morning of birding in the Florida cloudforest reserve starting just before sunrise, at midday we hit the road again and climb the Andes as we pass through several cloudforest reserves and birdwatch along the way.

After lunch we explore the Cotacachi -Cayapas reserve in its mountain region by the Cuicocha lake "guinea pid lake", we take a short boat ride to view the Andean ducks and other birds that inhabit the waters of this crater lake. 

In the late afternoon we will make a short stop at the Otavalo indigenous market where you can shop for souvenirs, the market is famous for the ponchos and other colorful textiles offered. Overnight at a country inn by San Pablo lake at the foot of Imbabura volcano.

Day 7 - Otavalo - Condor  Park - Tundaloma

Today we will visit the majestic Condor of the Andes. Birdwatch Interandean forest remnants at the eastern slopes of the Imbabura Volcano. Visit Condor Park a reproduction and reintroduction project for this endangered species.

After visiting dry valleys near Otavalo our trip route will take us to the biodiversity richness of the Choco Rain forest, we will continue north and take the road towards San Lorenzo, a scenic drive with great views of the majestic Andes and enjoying the transition in vegetation as we approach the coastal plains. Mangroves and marshes of the North west of Ecuador, all these areas are easily accessed by staying at the Tundaloma Eco Resort at 80mts above sea leavel. Tundaloma is located strategically near all the main birding areas in this region, La Chiquita, Yalare Reserve and Mangroves.

Day 8 - Tundaloma - Kumanii

Today we will explore the coastal lowlands of Ecuador within the Choco region, we will view several habitats in search of rare and exotic species found in the tropics. The Choco area is characterized by wet forest, where, with up to 16,000 mm of rain per year in some areas, it is probably the wettest place on earth. The Choco has one of the world's richest lowland biotas, with exceptional richness and endemism in many groups of plants and animals. Dozens of Choco endemic bird species live in the area, of which the Long-wattled Umbrellabird is one of the most spectacular. The area is also home to Jaguars and Baird's Tapirs. After a productive morning of birdwatching we will continue to the nearby river town of Borbon (about 25 min. from the lodge) here we will begin a new adventure into the deep forests that surround the Cayapas river.

We depart on a motor canoe navigating up the Cayapas river, on both shores we will admire the dwellings of both Chachi and Afro-Ecuadorian peoples. We will reach Kumanii late in the afternoon, just in time to explore our surroundings and spot resident species such as the rufus-tailed hummingbird, Lemon breasted tanagers amongst others. Kumanii Lodge will be our home for the next few days.

Days 9 & 10 - Kumanii Lodge in the Choco rainforest - Rio Verde

We cannot say enough about the rich biodiversity of the northern Choco, it is one of the worlds 10 biodiversity hotspots. In the surrounding areas of Kumanii lodge we have recorded some 274 species of birds of which the Long-wattled Umbrellabird is one of the most spectacular. We will explore several trails maintained by local communities and will enjoy viewing the many birds that hang around the lodge grounds.

After exploring the area for the last time on our tenth day we will depart downriver back towards Borbon. Here we will join the coastal road that will take us along the beachside to our resort Pura Vida at Rio Verde, here we will enjoy a full day by the sea relaxing before we continue with our productive ornithology trip.

Day 11 - Rio Verde - Rio Palenque

Today we will have a full morning by the beach, we can enjoy the sand and the sea. Optional activities include birding (of course) in the nearby forests, watersports, moutain biking or just lying by the beach.

After lunch we will head south on the coastal highway passing banana plantations and many small lowland towns. We will reach Rio Palenque This natural reserve has approximately 100 hectares, however recent studies have increased the number of identified plants to more than 1200 species, over 360 species of birds have been observed, and more than 350 species of butterfly species have been collected and identified. Also, there exists a great variety of species such as frogs, bats, iguanas, rodents, and insects. Rio Palenque is considered as the last remaining patch of wet forest in coastal Ecuador (Myers, 1984); reason why it is an ideal location for the observation and study of tropical ecology. In general, a variety of altitudes, wind streams, rain patterns, and several other environmental factors make this a luscious and exotic place.
Rio Palenque has a system of trails and observation stations where visitors can appreciate the distinct species of fauna and flora, within the forest and along the river bank. It also keeps nurseries with a variety of ornamental, medicinal, and wood plants, one bamboo and two orchid collections.

We tonight we will stay at Rio Palenque lodge within the reserve.

Day 12 - Rio Palenque - Guayaquil

This morning we will work the very bird-rich Rio Palenque through lunch looking for several species Dusky Pigeon, Little Cuckoo, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Orange-fronted Barbet, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Slaty-winged Foliage-Gleaner, Western Slaty-Antshrike, Pacific Antwren, Sooty -headed and Brown-capped Tyrannulets, Scarlet-browed Tanager and the seasonal Crimson -breasted Finch.

Mid afternoon we move on south to the coastal town of Guayaquil, Ecuador´s main port and the economic centre of the country, there are some nice birding spots just outside of Guayaquil with quite a few rarities, we will visit both Cerro Blanco and Ecuasal. We will spend the night at small boutique hotel.

Day 13 - Guayaquil - Cerro Blanco - Ecuasal - Guayaquil

Today we will visit Cerro Blanco reserve which has 3,450 hectares of tropical dry forest. This is a private reserve managed by Fundación Pro-Bosque. Though it is not a very big area, it has over 200 bird species, famous site for the great green macaw and a large number of Tumbesian birds, including White tailed Jay and Black-capped Sparrow. Around 35 different species of mammals including jaguars, monkeys, ocelots and peccaries amongst others. And, over 90 species of trees, as well as beautiful views of the tropical dry forest and mangroves. Considered to be the best remaining example of tropical dry forest.

Leaving Cerro Blanco, continue westwards to the Ecuasal pools—salt evaporation ponds near Salinas that provide habitat for large numbers and a wide variety of water birds and seem to be magnets for rarities. Numerous water and coastal birds are resident and breeding, notably Grey-hooded and Kelp Gull, Gull-billed Tern, and Snowy Plover. Chilean Flamingos are usually here as well.

Return to Guayaquil and overnight at your small boutique hotel. 

Day 14 - Guayaquil - ?

Transfer out for your international flight. You also have the option to extend your trip and search the birds of southern Ecuador, or take a Galapagos birdwatching trip or a birding tour of the Amazon.

The above is a sample itinerary prepared for a birding society. It can be customized to fit the needs and special interests of your travellers.