President’s Pick A Birdwatchers Paradise

President's Picks | Big Five Tours

Ecuador is much more than the Galapagos. With over 1600 species of birds alone, and with a noticeable portion of the citizens being of indigenous bloodlines, there is a richness in Ecuador that truly makes it the center of the world.”                              

Ashish Sanghrajka

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President’s Picks

COUNTRIES VISITED

Ecuador & The Galapagos Islands

STARTING AT..

Price starts at 550. Land per person, per day, double occupancy.

TOUR LENGTH

14

Tour Highlights/Full Description

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  • Explore the reserves of Santa Cruz Island, home to giant tortoises with domed shells and short necks that are adapted to their island environment
  • Hike picturesque Bartolome Island with its towering cliffs and sweeping landscape and travel the coast by boat
  • Enjoy the striking contrasts of the black lava, white sand and turquoise water of Garrapatero Beach and take a swim in a tide pools on the beach
  • Discover the Amazon’s Napo River, home to a wealth of species including monkeys and bird species including herons, kingfishers, toucans, parrots and macaws
  • Climb a 12-story tower, passing through varied levels of the forest and cross onto a wooden platform to experience a thrilling bird’s eye view

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Day 1: Arrive Quito, Ecuador
Welcome to Ecuador. After claiming your luggage, you will be met by your Big Five Ecuador representative and transferred to your hotel.Wyndham Quito Airport Hotel 

Day 2: Quito / The Galapagos Islands
Today you will be transferred to the airport for your flight to Baltra Island.  Upon arrival you will be met by your naturalist guide specialized in birdwatching, who will accompany you for lunch and a complete tour of the highlands. The first stop is Los Gemelos or the Twins; two overgrown, lava tunnels that formed massive sink holes when they collapsed. The larger of the twins is 2,300 feet deep and almost 1,300 feet wide! On a short hike around the rim, your guide will point out the birds of the endemic Scalesia forest such as Galapagos doves and eight species of Charles Darwin’s finches.  From Los Gemelos the day takes you to a tortoise reserve. The reserves of Santa Cruz are home to Giant tortoises with domed shells and short necks to accommodate the environment of the island. The many trails of the highlands, including those around the camp, lead to sightings of the reluctant giants resting in ponds and slowly traversing the land. Keep a look out for short-eared owls that can be spotted in trees dotting the landscape. Elsewhere in the highlands are elaborate underground lava tubes, created centuries ago by the Santa Cruz volcano. The tubes formed when the lava at the surface cooled, insulating the molten lava underneath. As the lava flowed, it left these tubes in its wake. Some of the tunnels on Santa Cruz go for miles and are 60 feet high. Local folklore says that they were used by pirates to hideout and store supplies. Descend into the caves for a mysterious look into the island’s formation, following a lit path with your guide through cavernous ancient tunnels at least one million years. The experience can be daunting in spots where the tubes get narrow, but a worthwhile trek into the geological past of the island. After stopping for lunch, make your way back to the camp. Enjoy a sunset cocktail on our lookout, and a four-course, tapas-inspired meal in the main lodge before retiring for the evening. Galapagos Safari Camp is a 55-hectare farm in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island bordering the national park, 30 minutes from the sea. The farm is rich in birdlife with finches, warblers, mockingbirds, Galapagos doves, egrets and owls — tortoises also make frequent visits. The farm has many local species of trees, such as scalesia, guayabillo, and palo santo which are rapidly regaining a foothold after years of cattle farming. The camp has eight luxury safari tents perched on a hill, providing comfort and privacy in the wilderness. All tents have a balcony with views of the park and the ocean. They are spacious, attractively decorated, and each has a private bathroom, with hot shower and loo. Guests can gather by the fireplace in the main room to view the sunsets, taste our chef´s creative dishes that cater for the international palate in the panoramic dining room or enjoy the tranquility of the infinity pool with fabulous ocean scenery. Galapagos Safari Camp – Tent (B,L,D)

Day 3: The Galapagos Islands 
Bartolome Island holds a diverse mix of stunning natural sights within its borders and startling displays of wildlife along its shores. It was named after Sir Bartholomew James Sullivan, a second lieutenant on the HMS Beagle and a friend of Charles Darwin. After a wet landing, your day starts with a hike up a 1969 foot-/600-meter wooden boardwalk and stairway through ancient red, black, orange, and green lava fields to the highest point on the island. The journey to the top takes you through the different stages of the island’s formation. Free standing lava cones dot the landscape, and eroding tubes form channels descending from the island’s peak into black volcanic sands. The surface of the interior is covered in volcanic ash, blown over from Santa Cruz centuries ago. The view from the lookout surveys the iconic Pinnacle Rock in the forefront, Sullivan Bay in the distance, and Daphne Major and Minor towards the horizon. Pinnacle Rock is the result of an underwater volcanic eruption, and takes it shape partly due to target practice from US planes during WWII. After the hike, enjoy a dingy ride along the coastline amidst Galapagos penguins and hawks resting on the cliffs. Bartolome Island is one of the most picturesque in the Galapagos and exploring the coast by boat gives you an engaging perspective of the towering cliffs and sweeping landscape of the shoreline. Enjoy lunch served on the yacht and spend the afternoon at the bay, where sea lions, Sally Light-Foot crabs and marine iguanas greet you on the beach. This is a great place to snorkel and swim around Pinnacle Rock, discovering the colorful underwater world of the islands amongst playful Galapagos penguins, reef sharks, and rays. A short hike takes you to a second, southern beach where reef sharks and rays are often spotted in the shallow waters. The beach is off limits for swimming and snorkeling but seeing the underwater wildlife of the area from shore is worth the trek. Please note that the itineraries to Bartolome vary depending on the day of the week. The Saturday trip takes you to Bartolome in the morning and to Sullivan Bay off the nearby James Island in the afternoon to snorkel. The Sunday trip explores Bartolome’s interior in the morning, and reserves the afternoon for snorkeling around Pinnacle Rock and exploring the island’s two beaches. Galapagos Safari Camp – Tent (B,L,D)

Day 4: The Galapagos Islands
Journey to North Seymour Island and Las Bachas on Santa Cruz after breakfast with a drive to Canal Itabaca, where you board a boat for a 45-minute journey over water to the Seymour’s shores. Depending on the time of the year, North Seymour plays host to blue-footed booby and frigate mating colonies. Land iguanas also frequent the area, seen along the 2-mile trail that circumvents the island. The trail is relatively flat due to the way that the island was formed; pushed up from the seabed by lava eruptions. On the way inland, nests of blue-footed boobies skirt the trail, and Galapagos mockingbirds and yellow warblers are often spotted before flying off for higher ground. As you draw near the frigate colony, the remarkable birds take over the landscape, appearing around every bend. Males inflate their red, basketball-sized pouch to attract mates, an awe-inspiring sight that is as stunning as it is beautiful. Mosquera islet in the channel between Baltra and North Seymour is another fun sight to explore on the island. The flat, rocky section of land in the water plays a host to a large sea lion colony, full of activity and a natural sanctuary worth seeing. This is an ideal spot to search for pups, bulls and females in different stages of growth. Back on-board the yacht, lunch is served as the day continues to Las Bachas Beach, on the northern coast of Santa Cruz. The white sand hideaway is a welcoming sight for those who want to stroll along the coast, snorkel, or swim. The coralline beach is a nesting grounds for sea turtles at night, and caution is needed to avoid the protected areas. After drying off and a final walk around the beach and nearby lagoons, the boat sets sail back to camp where sunset refreshments and a gourmet dinner await. Galapagos Safari Camp – Tents (B,L,D)

Day 5: The Galapagos Islands
Located on the eastern highlands of Santa Cruz Island, Cerro Mesa is a private reserve, rich in endemic flora and bird life; with six subspecies of finches, mockingbirds, and short-ear owls. The area is also home to Galapagos tortoises, endemic to Santa Cruz. The trip is a short drive from the camp. In the morning, you can explore the trails at the reserve and end the circuit at the lookout where you can contemplate the lush landscape of Santa Cruz and the nearby islands on a clear day. After lunch, you will make your way to Garrapatero Beach. Depending on your level of energy you can hop back in your vehicle or take a gentle eight-mile bike ride for the rest of the way. The striking contrasts of the black lava, white sand, and turquoise water of Garrapatero Beach catch many by surprise. Nearby, dense mangroves play host to all of the Galapagos ground finches, including the cactus finch, which feeds off the Opuntia cacti that dot the trail on the 15-minute hike to the area. As the beach comes into sight, watch out for the Manzanillo trees along the path. The small apples on their branches are inviting but poisonous, and even the sap touching your skin can cause burns and rashes. Other creatures above and below the waterline that call Garrapatero Beach home are marine iguanas, sea lions, blue-footed boobies, rays, and sea turtles. Through the mangroves skirting the sand is a freshwater lagoon where you can often spot flamingos, white-cheeked ducks and black-nested stilts in the morning or in late afternoon. Just past the tide pools on the beach, clear waters offer a secluded spot for swimming. We can also arrange kayaking off the beaches’ shores in search of sea turtles; a great way to actively explore the bay. On your way back to the camp you will visit to El Trapiche Ecológico, a working farm in the highlands that produces sugar cane liqueur and Galapagos coffee. Learn about the different methods used to refine sugar cane, including the use of a mule-driven press. There is also a demonstration of how artisan coffee is produced, from picking the berries to roasting the bean. As the day winds down, you head back to the camp for a relaxing drink or dip in the pool before an inviting dinner and some independent stargazing if it is a clear night. Galapagos Safari Camp – Tent (B,L,D)

Day 6: The Galapagos Islands / Quito / Tandayapa Valley
Tandayapa Valley on the west slope of the Andes northwest of Quito. The valley is one of the most accessible and popular birding destinations in Ecuador. The best birding is in the protected forest owned by Tandayapa Bird Lodge. The lodge is situation on a ridge above the main road

Enjoy the serenity that Galapagos Safari Camp has to offer. Relax, walk, or enjoy the sunrise from the observatory before departure to the airport to board your flight back to Quito. Upon your arrival, your guide and driver will meet you and will start driving along the Calacali – Nanegalito road with colorful landscapes and ever-changing vistas all the way. Somewhere on the road you turn left on to the secondary road which for about 30 more minutes will take you to Bellavista Lodge, perched on top of the Tandayapa Valley. Bellavista Cloud Forest is a dream come true, both for the team members, and for bird and nature lovers in their abundance. Those whose imagination is stimulated by this strange concept of “Cloud Forest”. Bellavista has become a renowned full-service eco-lodge, and protected area, that reflect the passion for this special forest and sincere desire to provide a comfortable visitor experience for everybody. Arrival at Bellavista. Your guides will greet you here and will show you your room and facilities before going for dinner. Settle in after dinner and then meet your guide at an appointed place in the lodge for a short briefing before setting out on your night hike. Your guide will choose the best trails and hiking options according to the group size (no more than seven hikers), weather and trail conditions. Bellavista Lodge (B,D)

Day 7: Tandayapa Valley
Today you have the option to go on an early morning bird hike. Your guide focus on the birds of Bellavista around the lodge. Enjoy breakfast, before meeting and chat about your next hike. Different trails every time, perhaps this time you will go and discover waterfalls along the adventurous Yumbo / Immersion Trail. After breakfast, meet your guide to chat about your next adventure, which might be to the waterfalls along the adventurous Yumbo/Immersion Trail. Enjoy lunch before taking the opportunity to explore trails on your own, along the guided trail or with the aid of a trail-map. You can join your guide this afternoon on a hike or simply relax and watch the feeders at close quarters where you may see as many as a dozen different species of beautiful hummingbirds. Bellavista Lodge (B,D)

Day 8: Tandayapa Valley / Amazon
Find and savor an early morning hike before breakfast, after which you are transferred to the airport for a 30 minute flight to Coca over the eastern Andes mountain range. After landing you are met by Napo Wildlife Center (NWC) staff and transferred to Port Francisco de Orellana where you embark on a comfortable covered motorboat. Here you start a canoe ride along the Napo River for about two-and-a-half hour journey by canoe along the Napo River, with a box lunch en route. Along the way birds such as herons, kingfishers and others may be spotted. After arriving at the NWC center’s entry dock, disembark for a break before enjoying a majestic and peaceful hour-and-a-half dugout canoe ride, paddling along a narrow creek that connects to the lake where the lodge is located. There are possibilities you may spot monkeys as well as large birds such as toucans, parrots or even macaws. Late this afternoon you arrive at the lodge, which features a view of the optional ride around the lake looking for Caymen (alligator) and listening to the sounds of the wild place at night. Napo Wildlife Center Amazon Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 9: Coca
You have an early wake up today in order to reach the best and easily accessible parrot clay licks in Ecuador, about an hour from the lodge.  You reach the spot just before parrot activity begins, where some 11 species of parrots, parakeets and macaws can be seen. (This visit depends on weather conditions but is usually successful.) Later, hike along the forest trail to visit to the Quichua community of Añangu. and Share time with a family and learn about their lives today. Return to the creek and hike through a Terra Firme forest for about 30 minutes until you arrive at the second parrot clay lick, where weather permitting, you are able to continue birdwatching of parrots and more parakeets and even macaws. Box lunch at the parrot clay lick observatory. Late afternoon return to the lodge.  Napo Wildlife Center Amazon Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 10: Coca
After an early breakfast, depart from the lodge to participate in a thrilling experience at a canopy tower on the Napo.  A 118-foot/36-meter high canopy tower is a great way to experience the life above the forest floor. This is the second tower at the Napo Wildlife Center (the first is attached to the dining hall and allows great views of the lake). The canopy tower is located about 20 minutes from the lodge deep within the terra firme forest. As you ascend the 12-story tower, you pass through different levels of the forest and emerge on top of a huge Ceiba tree.  Here you cross onto a wooden platform that is built into the tree. Experience views formerly reserved for the birds. The metal tower itself was constructed to the highest standards, galvanized, and carefully inspected by engineers. Safety is the priority. The platform in the top of the tree was constructed by tree platform specialists brought from EcoEcuador’s Peruvian partner organization Perú Verde. From top to bottom, there is no finer canopy experience in Eastern Ecuador. Flocks of colorful tanagers pass right through the canopy of the tree, Blue-and-yellow macaws fly past, in nearby trees spider monkeys search for fruit, two species of large toucans call in the early mornings and afternoons, and the life of the forest canopy opens before you. Birds that are virtually impossible to see from the forest floor far below are suddenly right beside you, oblivious to your presence. The canopy tower opens a whole new world to you. Lunch is served at the lodge followed by an afternoon visit to a terra firme trail.  Hike along primary forest to discover the forest interior, and possibly spot lizards, colorful manakins or the unique and endemic golden mantle tamarin monkeys. After the hike, explore the lake and creeks by dugout canoe with great possibilities of running into a giant otter family on the way.Napo Wildlife Center Amazon Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 11: Coca / Quito / Mashpi
Please Note: This is a sample itinerary subject to change due to weather conditions, safety and particular interests of guests and groups. Changes and additions are made in order to maximize wildlife viewing and wilderness enjoyment, cultural interaction with local people, and all possible time at the richest rain forest in Ecuador: the Yasuni National Park.

Today is an early departure with one last excursion canoeing back to the Napo River.  The creek may reveal new sights of giant otters, monk saki monkeys and rare birds. Return to the entry dock for a short break before embarking on motorized canoes to return to Coca in time to check in for the flight to Quito. Your driver will be waiting to transfer you to Mashpi. Head towards to the North to the Cloud Forest where you will spend the next days. As you pass the equator you climb out of dry valleys before gently descending towards the Pacific, the vegetation around you becoming ever-more verdant and abundant with every turn of the road. You are quickly surrounded by forest and tumbling mountains on all sides as the road winds downhill towards the private reserve of protected forest. Mashpi Lodge was designed as the ideal springboard for exploring the biodiversity of the reserve. It combines the highest standards of comfort, service, guiding and cuisine that today’s most discerning travelers expect.  The Mashpi experience is about discovering life in the treetops trekking along trails, listening to animal calls, bathing in pure waterfalls simply relaxing with a view of clouds playing hide and-seek with the forest. The Mashpi Lodge (B,L,D)

Days 12-13: Cloud Forest
Spend two days enjoying this unique ecosystem through your lodge’s activities. As you enter the realm of the rainforests, you become aware of life at every step: mushrooms and “fox fire” fungi below, tree trunks festooned with orchids, lichens and mosses, giant ferns reaching up to the light, coiling vines, swirling mists and clouds of moisture. And then, from nowhere, comes the sound of rushing water, a waterfall amid this glistening, green world, where you can wade through rivers, walk along their banks, revive your senses. The two main trails are the Howler Monkey and Cucharillo (named after an oak). Both link up with the Tower #5 of the canopy gondola system. Along the trails, you learn more from both a naturalist guide and a local guide about the myriad plants, insects and animals that inhabit this biodiverse universe. The guides will enthusiastically share their knowledge of their characteristics, behavior and uses. Due to Mashpi’s mountainous topography, trails are rarely flat. The Howler Monkey runs through mainly primary forest and Cucharillo, mostly secondary forest, although short – 1.2 miles/2 km and 1,969 ft/700 m, respectively – are steep. The trails’ steepness is an advantage since the hillsides enable more light to penetrate the forest, thereby increasing the diversity of plants and animals that one can observe at each stratum. Both trails have been specially adapted to make walking easier, using embedded recycled plastic crates to create steps and firm paths. The way back uphill on both these trails can be aboard the gondola, reached by wading through the shallow river in rubber boots, and walking the connecting trail to the Cotinga Tower. Close to the lodge, the center is conceived as a place for learning and discovery, but also where guests can disconnect, where they can contemplate the views, read a book, enjoy a fresh cane juice. You can learn more about the butterflies that inhabit the region, being shown the process of these creatures from eggs to pupae to chrysalis to winged wonder. Some 200 species of butterfly have been identified to date in the reserve, with nearly a dozen observable at the center.  You learn about dozens of species of orchids, bromeliads and passion flowers. Close to the center, you visit an area used for growing medicinal plants  many varieties of bushes and fruit trees, including banana and plantain, manioc, cacao, tobacco, coffee, bread fruit and heart of palm. These attract all sorts of wildlife, from birds to rodents to mammals – making for easier observation from the comfort of the Center’s expansive wooden deck. Most of the interpretation at the center will be imparted by local guides or people involved with the project from local communities. You can sample these ingredients from the gardens in the dishes prepared back at the lodge. There are few easier or better ways to appreciate the beauty of the Mashpi Reserve’s forest and hills than climbing the Observation Tower. Here, guests are able to enjoy an exciting bird’s-eye view and the dramatic panoramas that surround the lodge from the observation tower. This is a metallic structure, with a staircase that climbs to about eight-stories high (85 ft/26 m), ideal for wildlife observation, particularly at dawn or dusk. Species that can be spotted here include toucans, woodpeckers, barbets, tanagers and parrots as well as raptors. The tower lies a 10-minute walk from the lodge.  The Mashpi forest is transformed at night, with far more activity than during the day. Optional night walks head out from the hotel after dinner to discover its nocturnal creatures and their behaviors,  ranging from moths as big as your hand, to miniature glass and tree frogs, croaking toads, birds, owls, rodents and mammals, and even fox fire, an Avatar-like luminous fungus. It’s a magical world, often astounding at the micro level, and seldom explored, ready to be discovered in expert company.

Located close to the hotel, the sky bike offers an original and exciting way to explore the forest canopy up close. Designed for two people to use at once, one person pedals the bike along a cable stretched between two points in the forest, around 200 m/655 ft apart, crossing a gorge above a river flowing between rocks and trees below. Silent, easy-to-use and fun, it’s an activity for children over 8  eight years- old accompanied by an adult, providing guests with another chance to observe the natural world close to the lodge and even spot its denizens. The forests of Mashpi boast 22 hummingbird species identified to date, inhabiting different specific altitudes, with around 16 species alone observable by guests. In order to make it easier to see these amazing creatures, a shelter with seating provides the ideal setting, feeders for the birds strung from its roof. The site is located at a natural viewpoint, which, on clear days, provides breathtaking views of the reserve’s forested hills.  Water is key to life in Mashpi, and there’s nothing like a refreshing dip at the end of a walk. Several rivers cross the Mashpi Reserve close to the hotel, many forming beautiful small waterfalls, cascades and pools. The water temperature is between 18 and 20°C (64 and 68 F).  These activities are complemented by the knowledge and enthusiasm of both the naturalists and local guides who accompany the small groups throughout their stay. In the evenings, guides give presentations and briefings for a deeper understanding of the forest’s ecosystem and biodiversity. The Mashpi Lodge (B,L,D Daily)

Day 14: Cloud Forest / Quito / Depart
Enjoy your last morning excursion in Mashpi before  you are transferred two-and-a-half hours back to Quito airport to board your flight back home (B)

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