Ecuador 2020

From enchanting cloud forests to the steamy jungles of the Amazon basin, join us on a two-week exploration to discover the rich biodiversity and ecosystems of Ecuador.

Discover the Extraordinary Nature of Ecuador with Naturalist Experts

Well-known as one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, Ecuador is home to an astonishing array of plants and animals including more than 1600 species of birds and over a thousand species of reptiles and amphibians. Much of Ecuador’s biodiversity owes its presence to the fact that the country spans both sides of the Andes mountains and thus encompasses a wealth of unique habitats.

With an itinerary that has been tailored for an in-depth look into Ecuador’s natural ecosystems, our journey will take us across the country and provide opportunities to explore, encounter and photograph the unique species found in each.

This exploration of the rich biodiversity and ecosystems of Ecuador is co-led by naturalist-photographer Chien Lee and local experts Lucas Bustamante and Frank Pichardo.

Naturalist Wildlife Photographer Sarawak
Explore Ecuador with photographer & naturalist extraordinaire, Chien Lee, and his friends.

Itinerary

March 1 ARRIVAL in Quito
Pick up from Mariscal Sucre International Airport and transfer to our hotel in Quito where we will have a trip orientation and dinner.
Accommodation: Holiday Inn Express
Meal: Dinner

March 2–4 Mindo Cloud Forest
Located on the western side of the Andes, the cloud forests of Mindo are constantly bathed in mist and the trees are laden with bromeliads and mosses. We will spend several days and nights exploring the forests searching for a number of specialties including many endemic birds (antpittas, Cock-of-the-rock, various toucans), glass frogs, and unusual reptiles.
Accommodation: Septimo Paraiso
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

March 5 Guango
Driving across to the eastern side of the Andes, we will make a stop enroute to view the unique alpine páramo habitat. From there, our route now descends into lush montane forests. Situated between steep valleys and cascading streams, the area around our lodge is home to variety of amazing frogs and birds, including the Sword-billed Hummingbird, the only bird with a bill length longer than its body.
Accommodation: Guango Lodge
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

March 6 –7 Sumaco
The warmer mid-elevation rainforests around Sumaco National Park are essentially a transition zone between the Andes and the Amazon, and are some of the most biodiverse in Ecuador. We will spend our time here exploring the network of forest trails, searching for the region’s abundant wildlife.
Accommodation: Wild Sumaco
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

March 8–13 Yasuni National Park
Surrounded by rich rainforest, teeming with incredible diversity, Yasuni National Park–where we will spend the next six days at two different lodges–offers a glimpse into one of the largest remaining tracts of the Amazon rainforest. Our days will be spent exploring the area for possible encounters with jaguars, giant otters, and harpy eagles.
Accommodation: Yarina Lodge & Napo Wildlife Center
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

March 14 RETURN to Quito
We bid farewell to the Amazon as we depart for Coca to catch a 30-minute flight back to Quito.
Accommodation: Holiday Inn Express
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Trip details
  • Dates: 1 – 14 March 2020
  • Group size: max. 8 people
  • Fitness level: Easy
  • Trip cost: USD $6175 (twin-share); please enquire for single supplement
  • Deposit: USD $1900
  • Start/End point: Mariscal Sucre International Airport, Quito
  • Includes: All accommodation, all meals (except for beverages), in-country transport, park entrance fees, and local guide fees.
  • Not included: International airfare, visa fee, bottled water & other drinks, personal tips & expenses (eg. laundry & souvenirs), special camera fees.
  • Trip extension: an optional 4-day trip extension to the Galápagos Islands is available. Please write in to enquire.

A glimpse of the rich biodiversity and ecosystems of Ecuador:

rich mammal biodiversity of Ecuador
Nothing quite encapsulates the spirit of the forest the way a wild cat does. Caught on his daily hunt for prey, this male Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) stalked through my camera trap on the very last morning of a 10-day setup in the Chocóan cloud forest of Mashpi Lodge in Ecuador, his pelt so vibrant that it nearly appears photoshopped in the dark green of the forest understory. One of six species of wild cats in this region, the shy and seldom-seen Ocelot is a predator of small animals including birds, rodents, and reptiles. Sadly, even around this protected area several Ocelots have been killed for their pelts.
unique mammal of Ecuador
Somewhere along the gradient between a teddy bear and the grim reaper lies the heart-melting Silky Anteater (Cyclopes didactylus). Smallest of all the anteaters, these shy mammals are seldom seen because they spend their life high in the rainforest canopy, much of the time curled up as indistinguishable balls of fluff. They have no teeth and can only defend themselves by means of their razor sharp sickle-like fore-claws, which are usually used for tearing open ant nests. Females bear a single youngster at a time, which is carried on their back until large enough to feed on its own. While photographing this pair in Canandé Reserve of Ecuador’s Chocó rainforest we could hear the constant sound of logging trucks in the background, a reminder that this is one of South America’s most endangered habitats.
rich bird biodiversity of Ecuador
A jewel of Ecuador’s high-elevation cloud forests is the spectacular Plate-billed Mountain Toucan (Andigena laminirostris). Unlike the more familiar toucans of lowland rainforests, these birds inhabit the coldest and wettest mountains of the Andes. Despite their predilection for these remote habitats, they are threatened by both habitat loss and capture for the pet trade.
unique bird of South America
A male Andean Cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruvianus) gathered at their lek site for competitive displays. These spectacular birds are like the South America’s version of the Birds-of-paradise, and both are classic example of sexual dimorphism.
rare frog of Ecuador
This young frog – a Babbling Torrenteer (Hyloscirtus alytolylax), had recently emerged from the stream waters and ventured into its forest home for the first time in its life. A Near Threatened species, this tree frog is restricted to the higher elevation pacific rainforests of Ecuador and Colombia.
rich frog biodiversity of Ecuador
Hidden in the dense leaf litter of the rainforest floor, an Amazonian Horned Frog (Ceratophrys cornuta) lies in wait for its next meal. With a mouth wider than the length of its body, and a voracious appetite to boot, these frogs can consume prey as large as small reptiles and rodents. This species is widely distributed in the Amazon Basin, but nowhere particularly abundant.
intriguing insect mimicry
Although cryptically disguised as a dead leaf when at rest, the Peacock Katydid (Pterochroza ocellata) packs a big surprise for its secondary defense. When disturbed, it raises its wings to expose strikingly colored eyespots, which can be enough to startle a potential predator away. This large katydid exhibits a great deal of intraspecific variation such that the wings patterns and camouflage of no two individuals are ever the same, and entomologists at one time had described over a dozen species that are now attributed to P. ocellata. These variations in coloration help to prevent any predator from learning a search pattern to recognize this species and its defense.
rich insect biodiversity of Ecuador
The shady understory of the Ecuadorian rainforest hosts a great diversity of butterflies that are adapted specifically for this dimly lit ecosystem. Although we often rank butterflies on how gaudy and beautiful their wings patterns are, among the most remarkable of the understory are those that bear transparent wings, such as this Glasswing Butterfly (Dulcedo polita). When perched under the right conditions they can appear almost invisible.

(This initiative to discover the rich biodiversity and ecosystems of Ecuador, and all photos by: Chien Lee)