Quito birding trip planner

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Text by: Ilan Greenfield

Photos by: Jorge Vinueza, Dušan Brinkhuizen (DB) & Murray Cooper (MC)

Quito is the ideal gateway for adventurous bird enthusiasts… (and the not-so adventurous, since the tourist infrastructure here is good, if not excellent). That is why many bird lovers return time and time again, and why some have even decided to call Ecuador home after a a mere week’s tour! The following are just a handful of options that blow the mind of so many Quito-bound birders.

– Rumiloma, a mountain niche nestled in Mount Pichincha’s forest-laden gullies –

Half a day

Quito Botanical Gardens: This flowery corner of the city in the heart of Parque La Carolina is an open invitation to birds both local and vagrant, since it is excellent for migratory birds and always alive with the colorful species of the city proper. The doors open at 8 am.

Hacienda Rumiloma: The Pichincha gullies, known as quebradas, still have some healthy forest within them and are a magnet for many memorable species; but these places are not always easy to access. Rumiloma takes us to the heart of a real Pichincha ravine, complimented by a restaurant and a beautiful viewpoint of the city and the Andes…

If you have half-a-day, a day, five days, a week or a month, Quito has enough to fill your eyes with the most eye-popping birds

– A bird celebrity for sure… the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, worth waking up early for… –

1 Day

For a day of intense birding, with top-rate experiences, we recommend the following

“Refugio Paz de las Aves” and return via the “Eco route”

The closest thing we know to a birders’ amusement park, this visit ranks as one of the most exciting experiences birding can muster… Yes, we mean in the entire world. Ángel Paz, the owner, puts on his bird show that includes some very special species indeed (some very, very rare), which come to eat from his hand! Then connect with the “Hummingbird Path”, aka Eco-route, back through Nono into Quito, stopping first at Rolando’s house in San Tadeo and lunching at Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge.

From Quito to the reserve: 1 hour 15 minutes

The visit begins at 7 am

– Antisana, a bird sanctuary for highland species –

Antisana, páramo at its best

From the capital, you can visit Cotopaxi (full of wonderful water birds at Limpiopungo Lake) or hike out from the Pichincha cable car station for some great highland birds. But of three páramo experiences, the Antisana Ecological Reserve, and its journey to the Laguna La Mica, is special. Cliffs with condor nests, extensions of grassland dominated by Buff-throated Ibises and Andean Lapwings, caracaras, ducks and grebes… and spectacular views. Stop at Hacienda Guaytara or Tambo Cóndor for a bite (these sites also offer overnights).

Arrival time to Antisana Ecological Reserve from Quito: 1 hour and 15 minutes

The reserve closes at 4 pm.

– Yanacocha offers a beautiful stroll amid a virgin elfin forest… –

Head to the mysterious elfin forests of Yanacocha

Visit the Yanacocha Reserve and discover a dream-like habitat, with leaves larger than humans and the opportunity to see the spectacular Sword-billed Hummingbird. This is a world that seems to float above the clouds, with a fantastic view of Pichincha’s slope when it clears and a forest of low “elfin” trees that eventually transitions into treeless páramo. The walk is very pleasant (with a true precipice at your feet used by the ancestral communities to collect rainwater); also visit the newly implemented interpretation center.

Arrival time from Quito: One hour (the last stretch is on a winding dirt road).

2 Days (1 night)

– The rosy-cheacked Rose-cheeked Parakeet, common in lower elevations of the Metropolitan District (DB) –

– The Common Potoo, its plummage and posture make it look like a tree stump (DB) –

Mashpi

If you want absolute immersion, in a remote place where few have been, the road to Pacto and the Mashpi area is great. You can spend the night at luxurious Mashpi Lodge, or the very friendly Mashpi community (where you can also visit the neighboring Reserva Amagusa) which takes us to the lowest elevation area within the Metropolitan District of Quito, with several special birds not found at higher elevations.

Nanegalito – Los Bancos

Between Mindo and Los Bancos, the cloud forest area to the northwest of Quito is a true hotspot for birds, full of places to stay, which make good operation-centers for a medium or long stay. You can visit the Milpe Bird Sanctuary (10 minutes from the Mindo exit), a small protected forest where it is not unusual to find toucans posing in the trees at the entrance, spectacular feeders and a Club-winged Manakin lek…

Travel time from Quito: 1 hour 30 minutes.

Papallacta

Spend the night at the delicious thermal baths… Termas de Papallacta offers a magnificent stay, but there are also more economical hotels leading up to it. Find beautiful high montane forest at the Cayambe-Coca National Park entrance and visit the Papallacta Pass to find the one and only Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe (a very rare bird), which can all be combined with a quick visit to the special riverside Guango Lodge.

Travel time from Quito: 1 hour.

Quito es el portal de los sitios más espectaculares de Ecuador como la Amazonía o Galápagos

3 Days (2 nights)

– Blending ecology and luxury, Mashpi Lodge takes ecotourism to new heights.

Go west… Mindo-Milpe-Río Silanche River and a selection of excellent sites in the surrounding area, including Refugio Paz de las Aves, Bellavista, the Eco-route, Pacha Quinde, Alambi Cloud Forest Lodge. Do not forget to try La Mecha’s pizza in Mindo and get your cheese fix at Pueblo Nuevo (km 182 on the Calacalí-La Independencia route)… birding here is exceptional.

Go east… to Cabañas San Isidro, with stops in Papallacta, Guango Lodge and several sites near the Cosanga area on a quick descent towards the Amazon Basin. San Isidro is less than 3 hours from Quito.

Mashpi Lodge: For a luxury stay in the middle of the jungle, with trips on the intriguing SkyBike (a bicycle that takes you through the treetops) and much pampering.

5 days to a week

– The bird variety in the Amazon Basin is unparalleled in the world. –

Dedicating an entire week to birds in any of these areas is a transformative experience. You can travel to the northwest and include all the classic sites mentioned above (Yanacocha, Eco route, Bellavista, Mindo, Milpe, Tandayapa, Silanche River, Mashpi and Amagusa). You can stop at the archaeological ruins of Tulipe and stay at the comfortable Séptimo Paraíso, Bellavista or El Monte, as well as the Mashpi community or Mashpi Lodge for a night of pampering.

You can also venture to the nearby Amazon Basin and include the spectacular forests of Wildsumaco, Cabañas San Isidro, the Hollín River, Guango Lodge, Papallacta Hot Springs and the Antisana Ecological Reserve.

Or why not? Just head out deep into the Napo River, and experience the exhilarating lowland Amazon overnighting in fabulous lodges in or close to Yasuní and Cuyabeno National Parks.

And if you want to extend your stay in Ecuador

Perhaps organize a trip to the Galápagos Islands, where birdwatching is inevitable. If you love birds, Galápagos is a must. You will never stand closer to them.

Bird photographs courtesy Murray Cooper (mc) y Dusan Brinkhuizen (db)

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