Cloud Forests, Birding, Adventure...

Together the northwest slope of the Ecuadorian Andes – the cloud forests and Tandayapa Valley – form the most diverse and rich region for flora and fauna in Ecuador.  Located just 90 minutes west of Quito, and several thousand feet lower in elevation, the area is perfect for day trips, or longer visits (we, of course, prefer a longer stay when possible). 

High above Quito a quiet mountain pass crosses the Andes near the Yanacocha Reserve.  Visiting as the first rays of the morning sun begin to warm the Andes the birding is exceptional, with good chances of such species as the Sword-billed Hummingbird, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, occasionally the Black-breasted Puffleg, Tawny Antpitta, and a variety of high altitude tanagers.  Descending west pass though 3 distinct vegetation zones, past rushing streams (possible Torrent Ducks, White Capped Dipper, Torrent Tyrannulet), patchwork farms, and the old village of Nono, before reaching the Tandayapa Valley floor at 5,000 feet.  As you would expect in a small area with such diversity, the birding can be spectacular. 

The Tandayapa Valley is a birder’s paradise with myriad species possible (the greater area has won the highest24 hour bird count in 2006, 2007, and 2008 in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count for the Americas, with over 340 species).  A series of private reserves and preserves protect great swaths of habitat here.  The valley and banks of the Rio Alambi enjoy a pleasant year-round climate.  The birding is extraordinary.

The cloud forest region, on the slopes above the valley, has an almost whimsical quality to it; in addition to the largest diversity of epiphytes; the trees are festooned with a veritable profusion of bromeliads, orchids, mosses and more.  Especially at the lodges hummingbirds are so plentiful, and remarkably tame, that you will likely grow used to the sounds of being “buzzed!”  Besides a dozen or more species of hummingbirds (Violet-tailed Sylph, Gorgeted Sunangel, and Booted Racket-tail being some of our favorites), keep an eye out forPlate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Toucan Barbet, Masked Trogon, Tanager-Finch, Sickle-winged Guan, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Streak-necked Flycatcher, White-tailed Tyrannulet, Turquoise Jay, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, and much much more – the list is extensive!

Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan by Tui De Roy

Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan by Tui De Roy

Cloud Forest & Tandayapa Valley - natural history focus

Full-day natural history tour (daily: 6:30am-5:30pm) 

Experience two wonderful private reserves in one-day on this small-group tour.  A morning transfer from several hotels in Quito has guests at the Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge in time for breakfast.  Here near the top of the famed Tandayapa Valley this 1,800 acre private reserve is magical.  As many as 15 species of hummingbirds frequent the lodge feeders affording visitors great views!  An extensive network of trails fan out from the lodge; some easy while others may be more challenging.  Natural history guides will discuss options for small group walks both this morning and immediately following lunch.  Next we visit the Alambi Reserve located on valley floor near the banks of the Rio Alambi, where the trees attract colorful mixed flocks of tanagers as well as toucans and often quetzals. 

2-day natural history tour (daily: 6:30am on day 1 – 5:30pm on day 2)

Similar to the 1-day tour, group transfer between Quito and the Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge early the first morning.  Nestled snugly into the cloud forest, the Lodge will be your home base for adventure.  Built in a rustic forest style, the lodge is a series of buildings, including standard and superior cabins, a 4-storey, thatch roofed, geodesic dome, situated to take the best advantage of the setting and spectacular views within this 1,800 acre reserve. 

Naturalist guides at the lodge will lead optional morning and afternoon small-group forest walks.  These explorations will help you understand more about Cloud Forest ecology, getting to know how the incredibly diverse cloud forest ecosystem functions!  Birds, orchids, strange insects and more…  An expansive network of trails fans out from the lodge, crisscrossing the reserve.  As enticing as that trail network is, for many visitors it is hard to tear oneself away from the lodge itself, between enjoying the views and forest birds from the elevated decks, or hummers at the feeders. 

One of the best things about being at the lodge overnight is the magical sunset and sunrise hours.  At night keep an eye open for the Olinguito (in the raccoon family, and the first new mammal to be discovered (in 2013) in the Americas in decades), as it comes to raid the feeders.  Your wakeup call the second morning will likely be the sounds of the surrounding cloud forest greeting a new day.  Guides at the lodge will lead an early morning bird walk that is always productive, as birds take advantage of the insects that have collected during the night. 

Following lunch on the second day the transfer back to Quito will include a visit to the Alambi Reserve in the Tandayapa Valley.  Situated near the banks of the Rio Alambi the gardens of the reserve are planted with fruit trees such as lemons, mandarins, banana, papaya, avocado, and guayaba.  These trees attract colorful mixed flocks of tanagers as well as other birds from the forest, in addition to being home to 10 or more different species of hummingbirds. 

Tour includes accommodations at Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge, meals from breakfast on the first day through lunch on the second day, transfers from Quito, and group outings at the lodge.  6:30am departure from Quito the first morning. Standard and deluxe cabins available.

Buff-tailed Coronet, photo courtesy Bellavista Lodge

Buff-tailed Coronet, photo courtesy Bellavista Lodge

Birding the Northwest slope of the Ecuadorian Andes

Birding: 1-day tour (daily: 5:30am-6:00pm) 

For serious birders this tour is highly recommended!  Visit reserves at 11,500, 7,400, and 5,000 feet in the Andes for three distinct vegetation zones and the best variety of birds in a single day.  A 5:00am pick up by your private birding guide in Quito will have you atop the Andes as the morning rays begin to warm the air.  Visit the Yanacocha Reserve prior to starting down the old Nono-Mindo Road.  The old cobbled road will traverse terraced fields, take in scenic vistas, and pass small villages while descending to the Tandayapa Valley.  As you would expect in a small area with such diversity, the birding can be spectacular.  A hint of what you might see includes Tanager Finches and Giant Antpittas (both with a very limited range), Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager, Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager, Metallic-green Tanager, Masked Trogon, Turquoise Jay, Great Thrush, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Torrent Duck, Toucan Barbet, Plate-billed Mountain Toucan, and Red-billed Parrot. 

Lunch and early afternoon will be at the Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge and Reserve, known for its diverse hummingbird species.  Before returning to Quito we will also visit the Alambi Reserve in the Tandayapa Valley.  Next to the Rio Alambi the gardens attract mixed flocks of tanagers as well as toucans and more.   Tour includes touring with a private birding guide, private transportation, breakfast, and lunch. 

Buff-tailed Coronet.  photo by Daniel Mideros, courtesy Bellavista Lodge

Buff-tailed Coronet.  photo by Daniel Mideros, courtesy Bellavista Lodge

Birding – focus on Hummers: 1-day tour (daily: 5:30am-5:30pm)

Whether you are more of a “bird fancier” or specifically interested in Hummingbirds (160 species in Ecuador!), this is a wonderful day in wild places.  Similar to the standard birding day, this tour is more focused on the hummingbirds and scenery, and less so on spotting forest birds that you might not get a good view of. 

Following an early morning pick up by your private birding guide we ascend the spectacular Nono-Mindo Road.  Near the village of Nono we stop at Villa Doris; a country home with many high altitude hummingbirds at feeders… easy for photography and easy access in the garden. Expect the Sword-billed Hummingbird here!  From here we continue down towards the Tandayapa Valley, stopping to enjoy the views and a bit of birding, maybe including the White-capped Dipper in the rushing stream that accompanies the road.  Lunch at the Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge and Reserve.  Here myriad hummingbirds greet you in the main lodge area, where one could easily spend hours.  Among the beautiful avian jewels you might anticipate Buff-tailed Coronet, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Violet-tailed Sylph, Booted Racket-tail, Gorgeted Sunangel, and more.  Depending on your interests there should be time for a short forest walk here as well, possibly garnering glimpses of forest birds like the range-restricted Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan.  Departing by 2:30pm we visit the Alambi Reserve on the way back to Quito (via a faster/more direct road).  At Alambi the birding is “easy” with mixed flocks of tanagers  and another flurry of hummingbirds at and around the feeders, including Green-crowned Woodnymph, Purple-throated Woodstar, White-necked Jacobin and more.  Tour includes breakfast, lunch, private transportation, and a birding guide.

Olinguito photo by Favioso, courtesy of Bellavista Lodge

Olinguito photo by Favioso, courtesy of Bellavista Lodge

Birding lite: 2-day tour

Pair either of the one day birding tours with an overnight at the Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge.  Built in a rustic forest style, the lodge is a series of buildings, including standard and superior cabins, a 4-storey, thatch roofed, geodesic dome, situated to take the best advantage of the setting and spectacular views within this 1,800 acre reserve. 

One of the best things about being at the lodge overnight is the magical sunset and sunrise hours.  Don’t forget to listen for the night birds, and keep an eye open for the nocturnal Olinguito (in the raccoon family, and the first new mammal to be discovered (in 2013) in the Americas in decades). 

Your wakeup call the second morning will likely be the sounds of the surrounding cloud forest greeting a new day.  Guides at the lodge will lead an early morning group bird walk that is always productive, as birds take advantage of the insects that have collected during the night. 

The staff naturalists will offer optional morning and afternoon small-group forest walks.  These explorations will help you understand more about Cloud Forest ecology, getting to know how the incredibly diverse cloud forest ecosystem functions!  Birds, orchids, strange insects and more…  An expansive network of trails fans out from the lodge, crisscrossing the reserve.  As enticing as that trail network is, for many visitors it is hard to tear oneself away from the lodge itself, between enjoying the views and forest birds from the elevated decks, or hummers at the feeders.  Mid-afternoon return to Quito via the “fast road” on Day 2.

Tour includes accommodations at Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge, meals from breakfast on the first day through lunch on the second day, touring with a private birding guide on Day 1, and group activities closer to the lodge on Day 2, taxes andreserve entrance fees. 5:30am departure from Quito the first morning.

Optional birding for day 2:
An optional half-day visit can also be booked for the Angel Paz Reserve.  A 5:00am departure for the Angel Paz Reserve, where the goal is the fantastical male Cock-of-the-Rock flocking and displaying at first light.  The reserve is also one of the best places to see various species of Antpittas, often seen at very close quarters, in addition to hummers, toucans, and much more.  Return to Bellavista in time for lunch, before returning to Quito.    

sample deluxe room

sample deluxe room

sample standard room

sample standard room

Birding Extravaganza: 3-day tour
This custom 3-day private birding tour is designed for the serious birder.  Travel by private transportation with an expert local birding guide, visiting multiple reserves between 11,000 feet and 5,000 feet on the northwest slope of the Ecuadorian Andes, including Yanacocha, Nono, Alambi, Bellavista, Tandayapa Valley, Angel Paz, and Milpe.  As you might expect with this great range of habitats the birding will be extraordinary!  Possibly no where else on Earth has the same concentration of species in such a small geographic area.

Day 1: We focus on the Yanacocha Preserve high in the Andes as the early rays of the sun warm the mountains.  From here we bird our way down to the slopes above the Tandayapa Valley, stopping to visit the Alambi Reserve.  Day 2: Today we focus on birding the rich cloud forest trails surrounding Bellavista.  Day 3: Starting before sunrise we visit the Angel Paz Reserve for the emblematic Cock-of-the-Rock.  Following a morning here we visit the Los Bancos and the Milpe Reserve area.  Return to Quito this afternoon.

The possible species list is far too numerous to note here, but a few likely sightings might include: Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Torrent Ducks, White Capped Dipper, Torrent Tyrannulet, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Toucan Barbet, Masked Trogon, Tanager-Finch, Sickle-winged Guan, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, White-sided Flowerpiercer, Streak-necked Flycatcher, White-tailed Tyrannulet, Turquoise Jay, Beautiful Jay, Yellow-bellied Chat-Tyrant, Cock-of-the-Rock, Giant Antpitta, Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Moustached Antpitta, Dark-backed Wood-Quail, Rufous-breasted Antthrush, Golden-headed Quetzal, Plumbeous Forest-Falcon, Glistening-green Tanager, Chocó Trogon, Club-winged and Golden-winged Manakin.   In addition it is common to see upwards of 30 species of hummingbirds, including Sword-billed Hummingbird, Violet-tailed Sylph, Gorgeted Sunangel, and Booted Racket-tail (the latter being our favorite).  At night keep an eye open for the Olinguito (in the raccoon family, and the first new mammal to be discovered (in 2013) in the Americas in decades). 

Overnight accommodations are at the Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge.  Accommodations are in cabins, with private baths.  At the lodge meals are served in a native styled forest house with spectacular views to the verdant valleys below.  Program includes a private birding guide 3 days, 2 nights accommodations, all meals are included from breakfast on the first day through lunch on the third day, private transportation, taxes and reserve entrance fees.  

Sword-billed Hummingbird by Tui De Roy

Sword-billed Hummingbird by Tui De Roy