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Choco-Andes: Western & Eastern Slopes

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Choco-Andes: Western & Eastern Slopes

Duration: 11 Days / 10 Nights

Approximate number of species seen during the trip: 250 to 300


Educational features

  • Lecture in Quito for an Introduction to the Birds of Ecuador given by recognized members of the Ecuadorian Association of Ornithology.
  • Site Lecture at Mindo Cloud Forest foundation: Bird’s conservation efforts by local NGO’s.
  • Visit to a local young birdwatchers club.
  • Visit a Biological Station to learn about the current research projects related to birds, butterflies and amphibians.


Choco-Andes: Western & Eastern Slopes: Program Overview

Ecuador’s Choco lowlands has the greatest concentration of restricted-range endemic species in the world; supporting 30 of these species. The Mindo Valley is one of the best known birding sites in Ecuador with a range of habitats that holds more than 300 species. The drive to the high elevation Páramo also provides the opportunity to bird some high elevation scrub habitat with good chances to admire the impressive Andean Condor.

At the Eastern Slopes most of the birding takes place along public roads. The surrounding forest from Guango has over 130 recorded species while at San Isidro and surroundings the bird list surpasses 320 species. Ecuador has recorded more than 1,640 species of birds (a world record per square meter) becoming the fourth country in the world with the highest diversity of birds.


Altitude Range

Northeastern Andean slopes starting at 2890m/9480ft (Quito) going all the way down to 350m/1150ft (Silanche). Andean Valley and Northwestern slopes starting at 3900m/ 12800ft (La Mica Lagoon) going all the way down to 2200m/7217ft (Cosanga)

Trail Conditions

Easy to Moderate / One trail Moderate to Difficult.

Travelled area (Habitats)

  • Temperate Forest, Polylepis Forest, Elfin Forest,
  • Upper, Middle and Lower Montane Forest.
  • Chocó lowland Rain Forest.
  • Foothill Forest.
  • Andean Montane Scrub and Grassland Páramo.


The program operates all year round. During the rainy season (Jan to May) some places can be restricted due to accessibility; however this can be replaced with visits to other reserves in the area.

Itinerary – Day by Day

Day 1: Arrival in Quito. Greeting at the airport and transfer to your hotel.

Day 2: Introduction to Ecuadorian birding – Acclimatization day.

Trail Conditions: Easy Early in the morning visit the Parque Metropolitano de Quito. Enjoy a short hike in the area to watch some birds like the Plain-breasted Hawk, Tufted Tit-Tyrant and Black-tailed Trainbearer. The Parque Metropolitano de Quito has registered approximately 70 species of birds, including 10 species of hummingbirds. Enjoy also wonderful sights of Quito’s surrounding valleys. Return to the hotel for breakfast. Depart from your hotel, to Discover Quito! A city of mixed cultures with a rich artistic legacy. Its historical center is a great example of the Baroque style which is a fusion of Spanish, Moorish Flemish and Indigenous art. Visit the Independence Square where important buildings are located such as the Presidential House, the Bishop Palace, and the Cathedral. Visit La Compañía church, considered one of the most beautiful churches in America with a marvelous gold covered interior. You will also visit the San Francisco church and convent; one of the oldest churches in the city and a trade center during pre-Hispanic times. Enjoy lunch in a local restaurant and return to the hotel to freshen up and be ready for an educational evening. Enjoy at the hotel an informative lecture about the Birds of Ecuador given by a local expert. (Meals: B, L)

ecuador-hummingbirdDay 3: Yanacocha – the Eco-Road to Mindo.

Interandean temperate zone – subtropical high / low zone Trail Conditions: Easy to Moderate Depart from Quito early in the morning and follow the road that will take you through Yanacocha and the Quinde Eco-route, one of the most important natural routes in the area considered a bird watchers paradise. One of the reasons why this area is considered a hot spot for bird watching is their different ecosystem and micro climes. Arrive to Yanacocha, a moss-clad temperate forest and Polylepis woodland at the side of Volcán Pichincha located at an altitude of approximately 3000 Mt. / 9850 ft. Yanacocha is the last refuge of the emblematic bird of Quito; the black breasted puffleg (categorized as critically endangered), among other birds seen in the area are; the Black-chested and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, the Golden-breasted and Sapphire-vented Pufflegs, the Great Sapphirewing and Sword-billed Hummingbird. Enjoy lunch at Nono, a nice town mostly dedicated to cattle but with an amazing amount of hummingbirds buzzing around. Continue through the Eco-route, there will be several stops to watch some of the birds like the Toucan Barbet, The Plate billed mountain Toucan and the Beautiful Jay. While you are heading down to a lower altitude you will be getting into the subtropical forest and see some other birds like the Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager and White-winged Brush-Finch. Continue in the Mindo area for check in, dinner and overnight. (Meals: B, L, D)

choco-andes-ecuadorDay 4: Milpe cloud forest reserve – Rio Blanco.

Trail Conditions: Easy Early departure from the lodge with a packed breakfast towards Milpe cloud forest reserve and Milpe Garden, a Chocó-Andean foothills reserve. This Bird Sanctuary covers an altitudinal range from 1020-1150m (3350-3770 ft). Birding guides consider this area one of the finest birding sites in Ecuador and many of the most spectacular Chocó Endemics occur here: Plumbeous Forest-Falcon, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Glistening-green Tanager, Chocó Trogon, Club-winged Manakin and Long-wattled Umbrellabird to name just a few. This site is also known for having the rare Moss-backed Tanager. Continue to El Mirador Del Rio Blanco in San Miguel de Los Bancos for lunch, this restaurant is very special as it is also a great place to see birds up close while you eat. Some of the birds seen at this place are tanagers, woodpeckers and hummingbird feeders. Enjoy at Milpe Reserve a Site Lecture given by a representative of the Mindo Cloud Forest foundation; learn about their hard work and conservation efforts to support the Mindo Nambillo Protected Forest. Return to the hotel for dinner and overnight. (Meals: B, L, D)

Day 5: Chocó-lowland Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary.

Trail Condition: Easy Depart early from the hotel for an approximately 1 hour drive to Pedro Vicente Maldonado where the Rio Silanche reserve is located. This important site is one of the last remaining accessible forest remnants found in this key life-zone. It is situated in a hilly lowland forest at an altitude between 300-350m. The main feature at Río Silanche is its incredible birding: mixed species foraging flocks, packed with many important Chocó regional endemic species. Many of these bird species are otherwise difficult to find without arranging a logistically far more complicated expedition to Esmeraldas province or even Colombia: Purple-chested Hummingbird, Chocó Trogon, Double-banded Graytail, Moustached/Griscom’s Antwren, Stub-tailed Antbird, Black-tipped Cotinga, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Scarlet-breasted Dacnis, Scarlet-and-white Tanager, Blue-whiskered Tanager. Enjoy a visit to one of the local birdwatchers clubs in the area to share your experiences with local people and encourage them to keep preserving this wonderful environment. Return to the hotel for dinner and overnight. (Meals: B, L, D)

Day 6: Paz de las Aves Bird Reserve – Mindo – Nambillo Protected Forest – Chillos Valley.

Trail conditions: Moderate to Difficult Early in the morning depart towards Refugio Paz de las Avez located near Nanegalito (20 kilometers northeast of Mindo). Angel Paz is the owner of this magical place, he is a resident of the Nanegalito area who decided to protect his property and convert it into an Antpittas and Cock of the rock sanctuary. In the last 4 years this place has become very known as it is easy to spot at least three species of Antipittas as close as you can imagine. Great, Yellow-breasted and , Mustached Antpitta. Other birds seen in the area are The Crested and Golden-headed Quetzals. Continue through the Mindo-Nambillo Protected Forest, which stretches out over 19 200 hectares, between an elevation that ranges 1 180 m to 4 780 m. Hundreds of bird species (400 species) have been recorded here like the Sunbittern Spotted Woodcreeper. Packed lunch en route. In the afternoon continue towards the cloud forest to the Andean valley, arrive to a Hacienda Style hotel where you will spend the night and prepare for tomorrow excursion. Enjoy dinner and overnight. (Meals: B, L, D)

choco-andes-birdingDay 7: Antisana Ecological Reserve – Northern Western slopes – San Isidro Reserve.

Trail conditions: Easy Visit the Antisana Ecological Reserve, located on the edge of the Amazon prairie making it a corridor or nexus between the Ecological Reserve of Cayambe-Coca and the Sumaco Napo Galeras National Park. It’s approximately 120,000 hectares, are a bird watchers paradise due to its various ecological zones ranging from páramo (a high elevation Neotropical ecosystem) to the lowland rainforest with more than 70 bird species, including the endangered Andean Condor, Giant hummingbirds, Corunculated Cara Cara, Black faced ibis, Speckled Teal, Andean Duck, Silvery Grebe and Slatecoloured Coot, Andean Gull, Andean Lapwing and the Aplomado Falcon among others. Continue on the road that boards the Cayambe – Coca reserve and arrive to the Quijos Valley, one of the westernmost headwaters of the Amazon basin, here you will spend the next 2 days exploring the area that holds a beautiful cloud forest with a good number of birds, mammals, amphibians, insects specially butterflies, moths, and beetles. (Meals: B, L, D)

Day 8/9: San Isidro Reserve– Cosanga River

Trail conditions: Easy to Moderate The San Isidro Reserve is surrounded by its forest. Its immediate surroundings now boast a bird list of about 310 species, many of which are more easily found here than anywhere else in the country. This is the only place where the San Isidro Owl can be seen. The San Isidro Lodge is situated at about 2050 meters above sea level, but the trails lead through elevational gradients that pass through habitats from 2,400 meters all the way down to 1,850 meters. What this means for birders is an ideal base to observe Andean birds from the lower reaches of the temperate zone down into the heart of the subtropical zone like the Black Billed Peepershiryke, Subtropical Cacique and Russet Backed Oropendola. Drive towards Las Caucheras, an area near the Cosanga river where we got to see the Black billed mountain toucan, the sulfur bellied Tyrannulet, White tailed Tyrannulet, and some other species. During your stay at San Isidro you will enjoy a visit to the Yanayacu Biological Station to learn about the different research projects held at the station, mostly related to birds, butterflies and amphibians. Dinner and overnight at Cabanas San Isidro. (Meals: B, L, D)

Day 10: Guango Lodge – Papallacta – Quito.

Trail conditions: Easy Check out San Isidro and continue to Guango lodge located about 1 hour away from San Isidro. Guango lies at a higher elevation (about 2,700 meters) on the Ecuador’s eastern slope, only 11 kms down the main Interoceanica Highway from the town of Papallacta. This area is centered in a zone classified as humid temperate forest, a habitat distinctly different from San Isidro and characterized by its more stunted trees (and thicker canopy), cooler climate, and different bird and plant composition. Continue to Papallacta which has a type of ecosystem known as the Elfin forest where there is a good possibility of seeing the Masked mountain tanager, the Golden crowned tanager and the Black backed bush tanager. Enjoy Lunch at the Thermal springs hotel and have some free time to enjoy the hot springs. In the afternoon continue to Quito. (Meals: B, L)

Day 11: Departure

Transfer to the airport for the flight back home or to your next destination.

Operational details

  • Program starts and ends in Quito.
  • Program operates with minimum 2 participants and maximum 10.

The program includes

Private transportation, expert birder local guide, accommodation (double share) & meals according to itinerary detail (menu meals), visit and entrance fee to mentioned places.

The program does not included

International airfare, personal expenses, insurance and gratuities.

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