This trip is sold out.
Join trip leaders John Muir Laws and Marley Alexander Peifer for five days in the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest.
Here is a look at journal entries from a previous trip to this site.
This will be an amazing trip. We will do everything we can to take care of you and ensure an incredible experience. As important as the itinerary is the people along on the expedition. We are looking for team of excited, playful, generous, and kind people. The most important thing is kindness. We will be in close quarters on a boat together in an unfamiliar land. Though we plan and prepare, some things will not go as planned, we are all human and we will have to work together to get along and make the trip work. If you know that you tend to be irritable, have difficulty accommodating others, need lots of alone time, or have difficulty adapting to changes, this may not be the trip for you. Given these considerations, please contact me to discuss how I can be of help to accommodate your special needs.
Day 1 (Tuesday 25 July 2022): Arrival in Quito Airport from the Galapagos Islands; drive directly to Tandayapa Bird Lodge.
This lodge is located in subtropical cloudforest in the Andes at an altitude of c.1650m/5415ft. It is northwest of the capital Quito, around 70km/45miles from there (around 90 minutes’ drive directly). This elevation in the Andes, and subtropical cloudforest, specifically, is where the greatest diversity of hummingbirds is found. Tandayapa Bird Lodge itself offers a great diversity of them, but is also a great base for which to explore multiple, close sites in the area, which is peppered with a variety of reserves, making even a 4 night stay seem like barely enough. This part of Ecuador (i.e. The Tandayapa/Mindo part of the northwest of the country), is by far the most popular mainland area of Ecuador for Birders, Birders with Cameras and Bird Photographers, for several reasons. Firstly, it is very accessible, with good roads connecting this area to the Ecuadorian capital Quito, which is under 2 hours’ drive away. Secondly, it is possible to visit a large variety of reserves, at different elevations with different bird lists, while basing yourself out of one, central location (e.g. Tandayapa Bird Lodge). The Andes of western Ecuador are steep, so it is easy to access different elevations without having to drive far, unlike other countries in the Andes, and other parts of Ecuador. Thirdly, the bird reserves in this part of most closely replicate Costa Rica more than anywhere else on Earth; there are many reserves with excellent feeders, allowing close observation of a good range of species, often including hummingbirds (they are guaranteed!), tanagers, toucans, barbets, toucan-barbets, and others. Therefore, the feeders make this region very suitable and appealing to naturalist artists and “journalers” too, therefore, as proven by a regular stream of them to this Choco bioregion.
The lodge is also within this Choco Bioregion, an Important Bird Area and Endemic Bird Area, and therefore offers chances to observe many species only found in this region, which is shared with Western Colombia only. This includes spectacular species like Violet-tailed Sylph, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Toucan Barbet, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, and Glistening-green Tanager, to name but a few.
At Tandayapa Bird Lodge itself, there are both fruit feeders and hummingbird feeders, with the latter being World famous among birders and photographers due to their daily variety of species and numbers of individuals. Commonly, there are between 10-20 hummingbird species, and lots of individuals, of species like the comical Booted Racket-tail (the lodge’s logo bird), Violet-tailed Sylph, the extremely cute Purple-throated Woodstar, as well as Buff-tailed Coronet, Brown Inca, Andean Emerald, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Western Emerald, and Lesser Violetear. Meanwhile, the fruit feeders can attract Toucan Barbet, Rufous Motmot, and a variety of tanagers including gaudy Golden Tanagers and bright turquoise Golden-naped Tanagers. Sometimes too, a carnivorous Andean mammal, the Tayra, comes into these same feeders for days on end. This is somewhat like an oversized Pine Marten. The visual beauty of the Tandayapa Valley is also worth mentioning for those who enjoy being in gorgeous natural habitats. In the upper part of the valley, in particular, the cloudforest is wetter, with burnt red bromeliads decorating the moss and lichen-laden branches of the lanky Andean trees, making this a “sketcher’s” paradise. These cloudforest trees are interspersed with the open, largely moss-free, Cecropia trees that are more familiar from lower elevations, here occurring at their highest altitudes in the Andes.
Drive times: Quito Airport to Tandayapa Bird Lodge 1hr 45mins.
Flights usually arrive from the Galapagos by early afternoon; therefore we should arrive at Tandayapa Bird Lodge by late afternoon.
NOTE: This is dependent on flight schedules, which may change by the time of the tour, but this is the typical, normal situation in recent years.
- Breakfast on the Galapagos boat; lunch at the airport in the Galapagos while waiting for the flight; dinner at Tandayapa Bird Lodge.
Day 2 (Wednesday 26 July 2022): Birdwatcher’s House & the Tandayapa Valley.
This site will be visited on a morning visit from Tandayapa Bird Lodge, returning to Tandayapa Bird Lodge for lunch. Also located within subtropical cloudforest, it is higher in altitude than that lodge, where native bamboo stands dominate the understory and where numbers of bromeliads and other epiphytic plants explode. The site also has the most reliable feeders in Ecuador for one of South America’s most wanted birds, the gorgeous Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, a species confined to this Choco bioregion. The visit is timed for the period of the day when they are most frequent on these small grounds, the early morning. This is also the time when the feeders and flowers in this small reserve abound with bird activity. It is an amazing set up for nature observers at this site, with numerous blooms (as well as feeders) attracting the hummingbirds to the garden, moss-laden, native, branches providing beautiful perches for the birds attending the feeders, and even small ponds decorating the site, and providing wonderful reflections of species like tanagers and toucans attending the feeders. Among the birds we will be hoping for, aside from the star attraction (the mountain-toucan), will be Gorgeted Sunangel, the spectacular Velvet-purple Coronet, Empress Brilliant, Flame-faced, Beryl-spangled and Black-capped Tanagers, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers, and Orange-bellied Euphonia. Golden-headed Quetzal and Masked Trogon also occur on the property.
Drive times: Tandayapa Bird Lodge to Birdwatcher’s House 30-45mins.
- Breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Tandayapa Bird Lodge.
Day 3 (Thursday 27 July 2022): Reserva Amagusa, Mashpi & NEW Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek site (Tulipe, near Pacto).
Amagusa is an exciting new reserve is located at a similar elevation to Tandayapa but has elements of the same montane forest as Tandayapa (i.e. subtropical cloudforest), but also an avifauna more typical of lower elevations in the Andean foothills. The aspect of the slope here also means it is significantly more humid forest than that found around Tandayapa, and therefore offers some bird species highly dependent on that environment. The list of local specialty birds here is impressive, and many of them are very hard to find away from here. These are not only special for their rarity, but also for their looks, the feeders and forest are home to Glistening-green Tanager, Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager, Moss-backed Tanager, Toucan Barbet, Orange-breasted Fruiteater, and Rose-faced Parrot, among others. We will spend the morning at the reserve, aided by the owner and local guide in order to get the best observations we can, and also take lunch in the reserve a good feed of local, traditional food, beside the buzzing feeders.
One of the well-done activities in the reserve, surrounds the hummingbird feeders, where they use native flowers and sugar water to attract the birds to come to the flowers at close range, making for great photo/illustration opportunities.
On the route back towards Tandayapa Bird Lodge in the afternoon, we will make a visit to another, even newer site, which could well end up being one of the highlights of the Tandayapa Extension. We will visit a newly established Andean Cock-of-the-rock display site, “Gallo De La Peña, Tulipe”. While we will be visiting another display site on the penultimate morning, at Refugio Paz, this site has risen to recent fame as the best place for cock-of-the-rock viewing, due to the views obtained, and also the numbers of individuals present. This does involve a walk of around 700m/765 yards along a slippery trail (compared with a walk of around half this at Refugio Paz); but the rewards of seeing this bright scarlet bird displaying at close range are huge! After this, we will return to Tandayapa Bird Lodge once again.
NOTE: If anyone is not up to this walk, they will have another opportunity, with a shorter walk at Refugio Paz. At both sites, people can opt to stay back in the vehicle. The site visits for cock-of-the-rocks are likely to be an hour or so, as the birds only display early in the morning and late in the afternoon for a short time (usually 30 minutes or so only). We have selected this site specifically as it is permitted to visit in the afternoon when typically the light is much better than in the early morning (the Refugio Paz lek site is open in the mornings only).
This day is likely to be a later finish, as the cock-of-the-rocks typically display around 5 pm (or 6 am in the morning). We will plan to arrive by 4:30 pm, to give us plenty of time to walk to the forest blind to see the birds. By the time we have walked to and from the blind, and then driven back to Tandayapa Bird Lodge, the time is likely to be around 7:30 pm. Currently, the blind has space for only 5 people (this may well be expanded with more visitors in the coming months, but if it is not, rotation within the group may be required).
Drive times: Tandayapa Bird Lodge to Mashpi 1hr40mins.
Mashpi-NEW Cock-of-the-rock site (Tulipe, near Pacto) 40mins
Pacto to Tandayapa Bird Lodge 1hr.
- Breakfast at Tandayapa Bird Lodge; lunch in Reserva Amagusa, Mashpi; dinner at Tandayapa Bird Lodge.
Day 4 (Friday 28 July 2022): Milpe Bird Sanctuary & San Tadeo.
These two sites are located downhill from Tandayapa Bird Lodge and will be visited as a day trip from there. Both have feeders and both are at different elevations from each other, making this day varied and exciting. Milpe Bird Sanctuary is the further site from Tandayapa Bird Lodge visited on this section of the trip, some 60 minutes drive downhill from the lodge. It is located in the humid forested foothills of the west slope, at around 1100m/3610ft.
Milpe Bird Sanctuary is a humid cloudforest site, which is owned and operated by a small, but critical, Ecuadorian NGO, the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation. They run 3 reserves all located within the extremely vulnerable Choco bioregion of Northwest Ecuador, which has undergone rampant deforestation, and these reserves are home to some highly localized species confined to this region. Among the many important works that the foundation does is working to connect patches of forested lands, as it has been proven that the animal life in these can commute between these, and so greater connectivity is critical for the ongoing survival of some of the species that dwell there. One of the highlights of the morning in the reserve will be a talk hosted by one of the senior staff of the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, who will speak on conservation, the important role that ecotourism like this tour plays in this, and give some further background on the foundation, showing you how your visit brings much-needed support for this reserve and the wider goals of the organization. This talk is given for free, although a total group donation of $USD200 is suggested by the foundation for this.
The Milpe Bird Sanctuary and its neighboring property, Milpe Gardens, also now run by the foundation, there are very active hummingbird feeders, with species like White-necked Jacobin, Green Thorntail, Green-crowned Brilliant, as well as 2 specialties of the region, Purple-bibbed Whitetip and the White-whiskered Hermit.
The thick forest seen at the Milpe Bird Sanctuary entrance is a far cry from what it was when the foundation moved in, in 2004, and immediately planted native trees on the land they had purchased that combined standing native forest, but also pastureland that had encroached on this. The tall forest at the entrance were not there when they bought the land but is now home to superb birds like Choco and Yellow-throated Toucans, Collared Aracari, and Club-winged Manakin, among others. The reserve is especially famous for its Club-winged Manakin lek site (i.e. display site). A short walk from the feeders. However, it should be noted that these are seasonal to some degree, and in some years, they can be hard to find during the timing of this visit, in the dry season. Irrespective of this, there are still plenty of birds to find at Milpe Bird Sanctuary year-round, like Dusky-faced Tanager, Pallid Dove, Ochre-breasted Tanager, Blue-tailed Trogon (another regional specialty), Bronze-winged Parrot, and Golden-bellied (Choco) Warbler, among many others.
After a morning in a different bird/habitat world from the previous days, we will head back into the upper foothills of the Andes for lunch at the wonderful Mirador Rio Blanco Restaurant, in the bustling Andean town of San Miguel de Los Bancos (often shortened to simply “Los Bancos”). This restaurant is famous for its bird-friendly owners, who has fruit feeders and hummingbird feeders, and its mango chicken, amongst other cuisines! While we eat good food and wash it down with delicious tropical fruit juices, we will keep an eye on the feeders for Green Thorntails, Green-crowned Brilliant, Palm, and Blue-gray Tanagers, and maybe even a Collared Aracari, if we are lucky (their visits are erratic!) The restaurant is perched on the lip of a spectacular river valley, looking down on the roaring Rio Blanco below, famed for its white-water rafting opportunities, making this a scenic location to forage on the tour.
In the afternoon, we will visit (yet another) feeder site, this time closer to Tandayapa, and in the same subtropical forest type as that lodge. This small, private reserve has some very accessible feeders to observe birds at length, up close, with regular hummingbird visitors including 3 species of violetears, 3 species of brilliants, and the sparkling green-and-purple Crowned Woodnymph. Other onsite feeders, just minutes off of the road and from each other, often attract Crimson-rumped Toucanet, Red-headed Barbet, Ecuadorian Thrush, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Black-striped Sparrow, Black-winged Saltator, and Flame-rumped Tanager.
In the evening, we will return to Tandayapa Bird Lodge for another dinner featuring hot, tasty local Andean soups and a main dish of traditional Ecuadorian food with a fusion flare to it, at the hand of lodge chef Luis, who has become something of a local legend, and is regularly hired for catering events, countrywide!
*The visit to Milpe Bird Sanctuary will include a short speech and question and answer session with one of the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation staff about conservation and the importance of eco-tourism linked with this too.*
Drive times: Tandayapa Bird Lodge to Milpe 1hr.
Milpe to Mirador Rio Blanco 10mins.
Mirador Rio Blanco to San Tadeo 30mins.
San Tadeo to Tandayapa Bird Lodge 45mins.
- Breakfast at Tandayapa Bird Lodge; lunch in Mirador Rio Blanco Restaurant, San Miguel de Los Bancos; dinner at Tandayapa Bird Lodge.
Day 5 (Saturday 29 July 2022): Refugio Paz (Paz de las Aves) & Mariposas de Mindo (Mindo Butterfly Garden).
This site in the cloudforest of the Andes has become very famous due to the antics of the owners and local guides the brothers Angel and Rodrigo Paz, who have managed to habituate a number of rare forest birds, extremely difficult to see away from here. The Paz brothers are most famous for being able to show people wild antpittas up close, with a remarkable 5 species possible-Giant, Moustached, Yellow-breasted, Ochre-breasted, and Chestnut-crowned Antpittas all possible during this morning. However, antpittas are not the only game in town, with other birds like Dark-backed Wood-Quail, Golden-headed Quetzal, and a slew of tanagers at the feeders, if we have not observed them all by then. We will end our morning there with a great Paz family tradition, excellent local food cooked while we have been in the field by the wives of the brothers, cheese empanadas with “bolones”, (a delicious ball of plantain mixed with local herbs or chicken), washed down with local Andean coffee. (Vegetarians are always catered for here if needed, like everywhere on this tour). This will be our lunch for the day.
In the afternoon, we will make a short visit to the nearby Mondo Butterfly Garden, where we can stand surrounded by thousands of butterflies of the cloudforest, including iconic butterflies like Monarchs, Morphos, and Heliconias, among others. After this short visit (around an hour), we will make our way back to Quito, staying in a hotel near the airport, for convenience for the final morning of the tour to come… 6
(Covid tests are scheduled for this afternoon at the hotel lobby; the exact time is to be determined, but this is likely to be around 5 pm. If needed, we can have an early lunch at Refugio Paz to make sure there is enough time to visit the Butterfly Garden.
Drive times: Tandayapa Bird Lodge to Refugio Paz 45mins-1hr.
Refugio Paz to Mindo Butterfly Garden 45mins
Mindo Butterfly Garden to Quito airport hotel 2hrs15mins
Quito airport hotel 2hrs.
- Breakfast at Tandayapa Bird Lodge; lunch in Refugio Paz; dinner at Wyndham Hotel, Quito Airport.
Day 6 (Sunday 30 July 2022): Antisana (Chakana Reserve) Condor Visit.
The final morning of the tour is likely to be one of the outstanding moments of the tour, as we visit Chakana Reserve in the highlands of the Andes, where the scenery is as much center stage as the birds. Here in the high Andes, on clear days, we will be able to see the impressive results of a massive explosion of volcanic debris (known as lahar), as well as see the nesting cliffs of Ecuador’s national bird, the massive Andean Condor. We will make a special reservation to visit these in Chakana Reserve, where we are able to get up close to these giant gliders of the Andean skies, as they both perch on the nesting cliffs at eye level, and also as they effortlessly soar on motionless wings in the ever-changing Andean skies. This reserve is also home to Spectacled (or Andean) Bears, and we will search in this shrubby paramo habitat for them, as they feed among the spiky Puya plants that litter the valley sides, one of their favorite food plants. Signs of recent bear activity are often these hazardous plants impressively smashed to pieces on the slopes. We will be accompanied by a local ranger who is familiar with the resident bear individuals in the area and knows the best spots for them. While not guaranteed, by any stretch of the imagination, the bears are regular at this site, and it is natural for us to try as we search for condors and other birds in the area. At some points in this reserve, the grassy slopes are dotted with fiery orange-colored Chuquiragua blooms, the favored food plant of the purple-hooded Ecuadoran Hillstar, one of the highest dwelling hummingbirds on Earth.
Lunch will be taken at the recently restored Hacienda Antisanilla, and provided by the staff of the Jocotoco Foundation, a very active and productive Ecuadorian NGO that is helping to save the habitat of the bears, condors, and many other birds in Ecuador, with a portfolio of 16 excellent reserves now in the country. This will provide a wonderful end to the tour. In the afternoon we shall return to the airport hotel in Quito in time to re-pack, clean up and take dinner before international departures in the night.
*Day use room will be available at the Wyndham Quito Airport, for when you return from the morning activity, and before your nighttime departures back to the USA.
Drive times: Quito airport hotel to Antisana 1hr.
- Breakfast at Wyndham Quito Airport; lunch in Hacienda Antisanilla, Chakana Reserve; dinner at Wyndham Hotel, Quito Airport.
Evacuation Insurance Each of us is responsible for the cost of our own evacuation. We all must have evacuation insurance. I recommend getting it through the Divers Alert Network (DAN), a low-cost reliable provider. All you need to do is join DAN and your membership covers evacuation insurance anywhere in the world for a year. It is a great deal. Should you be incapacitated I will need your evacuation insurance information. Once you join, you can print copies of your DAN membership card from the website (click on the icon of your card). Bring two copies of your DAN membership card (or plan and access information if you have other evacuation insurance) I will keep one copy on file.
Travel insurance: All participants must have fully comprehensive travel insurance. Make sure your coverage allows you to cancel for any reason including Covid-19. Here is a link to travel insurance plans recommended by Forbes. The policy should be valid from the date that the initial order is placed so as to provide cover for any cancellation prior to departure. During travel, the insurance needs to provide comprehensive medical, evacuation, and repatriation cover. If you would like a recommend a broker, please let me know. Some of the safari partners on the ground may well ask for your policy details during travel, so please make sure you at least know the insurance company, policy number, and the 24hr contact details. If you are unable to provide these then they reserve the right to refuse to take you on that portion of the trip and any alternative arrangements will be made at your expense.
To get an insurance plan that allows you to cancel for any reason, you will need to buy the insurance right after you make your first payment for the trip. These plans allow you to cancel without any conditions and usually reimburse up to 75% of unused, non-refundable, prepaid trip costs For instance, the Diver’s Alert Network Insurance has cancel for any reason as an optional upgrade on the Elite plan if purchased within 24 hours of initial deposit. Travelx Insurance also has a plan that can be purchased with the base plan within 15 days of initial payment or deposit. With Seven Corners RoundTrip Trip Cancelation Insurance, you have a 20-day window to apply.
Airfare: Air travel to Quito International Airport and back is not included.
Tips. Our Ecuadorian Guides and staff earn a significant part of their income through tips, so it is helpful that each satisfied customer provides a tip at the end of the trip. Here are some tipping guidelines: Quito Hotel Tip .50-1 per bag for the porter and $2 for the cleaning staff, Boat Guide $15-$20 per day, Boat Crew (as a group, not individual) $10-$15 per day.
Who should apply and group norms
This adventure is going to be fun, amazing, and will blow your mind. The trip is for folks who really want to explore the Galapagos at a sketcher’s pace within a community of like-minded naturalists. If you are not into nature journaling, this is not the trip for you. The trip is open to all skill levels, you just really need to love it. We will travel from island to island by boat. This means we need to cooperate with and accommodate everyone else onboard. A big part of the success and enjoyment of the trip will depend on how we work and play together. We want people who get along well with others and are flexible and kind, even when tired. Our guiding principles are respect and kindness, for each other, for our guides and crew, for staff and community people we meet, and for the places and animals, we will encounter.
Here are some great ideas to prepare for the expedition from the amazing Marley.