Your Dream Bird Photography Tour

Explore the West and East Slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes

Love photographing birds? This trip is for you!

Ecuador is famed for its extraordinary biodiversity and its superb variety of habitats, making it a premier destination for photographing birds in their native environments.

This trip will include the best of the Ecuadorian Andes: the popular West Slope from Tandayapa Valley to Milpe and the spectacular East Slope from Papallacta to the Amazon Basin. The trip also includes a visit to the high paramo to photograph Ecuador’s national bird, the Andean Condor.

Your guide, Alejandro Valenzuela, has almost two decades of experience in the field with personal access to the best bird photography lodges and nature reserves.

He has handpicked locations that allow for easy photography in both native habitats and well-designed gardens that attract colorful and normally difficult-to-photograph species. Fantastic feeder set-ups allow for a heavy focus on the jewels of the Andes, the hummingbirds! At least half the time will be spent photographing birds that visit feeders or eat insects that were attracted by the lights during the night.

Additionally, there will be ample opportunity to photograph other colorful tropical birds, including multiple species of tanagers, toucans, trogons, woodpeckers, and even the incredible, vivid scarlet Andean Cock-of-the-Rock.

Alejandro may modify the itinerary on any particular day based on weather, feeder activity, recent sighting information, newly opened sites, or other factors. For that reason, there is a certain amount of flexibility built into the trip.

This tour runs year-round. Please scroll below to see the full itinerary.

Isla del Sol, Bolivia | ©Angela Drake
Isla del Sol, Bolivia | ©Angela Drake
Isla del Sol, Bolivia | ©Angela Drake
Packages start at $2950 per person


Yanacocha & Alambi Reserves

Day 1 – Quito to Tandayapa

Sword-billed Hummingbird

Sword-billed Hummingbird; Yanacocha Reserve | ©Angela Drake

Alejandro will pick you up at your hotel in Quito for an early morning arrival at the Yanacocha Reserve. This high altitude cloud forest is home to the Scarlet-bellied Tanager, the Black-chested Mountain-Tanager, the Shining Sunbeam, the Great Sapphirewing, the Sword-billed Hummingbird, and the Yellow-breasted Brush-Finch, all of which readily come to feeders. Several Tawny Antpittas may also make an appearance. We will enjoy a picnic breakfast among the birds.

After this fantastic beginning to our day, we will drive along the old Nono-Mindo Road, also known as the Hummingbird Route or Paseo del Quinde, arriving for lunch at a small, local cafe with strong connections to the local birding community.

After lunch, we will visit the Alambí Reserve, a private home with acreage along the Alambí River. More than 20 species of hummingbirds visit a wide variety of feeders in a colorful garden that provides an excellent backdrop for photos. The most common hummingbird is the outlandish Booted Racket-tail with its bizarre tennis-racket-like tail feathers. Other regulars include a number of iridescent species like the Violet-tailed Sylph, the Purple-bibbed Whitetip, the Western Emerald, and the Purple-throated Woodstar.

After our visit to Alambí, we will continue along the Hummingbird Route to The Birdwatcher’s House, an exclusive eco-lodge designed to provide excellent photography backdrops at every turn.  Our hosts will provide a wonderful homemade dinner before we retire for the evening.

Tandayapa Valley to Pacto

Day 2 – Birdwatchers House and Guaybo Verde

Plate-billed Mountain Toucan perches on a branch next to a red bromeliad

Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan | ©Vinicio Perez, Birdwatchers House & Lodge

Birding begins early at The Birdwatchers House. Using well-situated blinds, we will enjoy photographing birds hunting insects in the early morning light. Then, after a delicious breakfast, we will photograph several species of colorful tanagers and other birds that often pose at fountains and other various water features on the property.

Our prime target will be a regular visitor, the spectacularly colored Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan. Also, many species of hummingbirds visit the hummingbird garden including the Collared Inca, the Gorgeted Sunangel, and the Speckled Hummingbird.

Our hosts will provide an enjoyable homemade lunch. In the afternoon, we will drive to Pacto. Our lodging and meal for the evening will be provided by the owners of Guayabo Verde, a rural farm with comfortable cabins and tasty local food.

Pacto to Mindo

Day 3 – Mashpi-Amagusa Reserve and Oilbirds

Glistening Green Tanager perched on mossy branch

Glistening Green Tanager; Mashpi-Amagusa Reserve | ©Vinicio Perez

An early morning start will get us to the Mashpi-Amagusa Reserve, a privately-owned forest in the new protected important bird area (IBA) Mashpi-Pachijal. This 130-hectare reserve protects the last foothill forest directly connected to the lower subtropical western forest of Ecuador.

The unique location makes it particularly attractive for photographers and birders looking for Choco-endemic birds like the Glistening-green Tanager, the Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager, the Golden-naped Tanager, and the Moss-backed Tanager. There are also many fantastic species of hummingbirds like the Empress Brilliant, the Velvet-purple Coronet, the Violet-tailed Sylph, and the White-whiskered Hermit. With so many birds to photograph, we will enjoy breakfast and lunch at this unique spot.

Later in the afternoon, we will also see Oilbirds, a nocturnal species of birds that roost during the day. Next, we will arrive at our hotel in Mindo, a small town famous for its excellent access to the outdoors and nature. That evening, we will choose between a few good restaurants for dinner.

Mindo to Western Lowlands

Day 4 – Rancho Suamox and Laguna de Cube

Black-cheeked Woodpecker on branch

Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Rancho Suamox | ©Bill Pohley

With an early morning arrival at Rancho Suamox, a private farm in the lowlands, we will start our day at the fruit feeders photographing tanagers, woodpeckers, and more. A few of the species we might see are the Golden-olive Woodpecker, the Black-cheeked Woodpecker, the Rufous Motmot, the Dusky-faced Tanager, the Flame-rumped Tanager, the Silver-throated Tanager, the Ecuadorian Thrush, the Buff-throated Saltator, the Thick-billed Euphonia, and the Orange-bellied Euphonia. Additionally, hummingbird species that are only found in the lowlands will visit several hummingbird feeders. We hope to see the Green-breasted Mango, the Violet-bellied Hummingbird, the Purple-crowned Fairy, the Stripe-throated Hermit.

Following this productive photo session, we will drive to our next spectacular destination, having lunch en route at a local cafe. We will arrive mid-afternoon at Laguna de Cube, a year-round lake (despite the lagoon reference) located at the southeastern limit of the Cordillera Mache-Chindul, just south of the Chocó Bioregion. 

Our lodge at Laguna de Cube will be very basic. However, the fauna, flora, and landscapes will be unforgettable!  We will enjoy a simple dinner made with local produce before heading out for a nocturnal photography session by the lake.

Laguna Cube to Milpe

Day 5 – Laguna de Cube and birding en-route to Milpe

After breakfast, we will enjoy our second photography session at Laguna de Cube. This glorious lake is part of a delicate ecosystem that includes anhingas, herons, bitterns, grebes, ducks, jacanas, and more! The lodge also offers several hiking trails full of stunning flora & fauna, an excellent opportunity for some macro photography.

We will lunch at the lodge before heading out to Milpe, stopping along the way to photograph birds in their native environment. After a long day of taking photos and traveling, we will dine at our hotel, located very near our next day’s photography site.

Milpe Reserve to Mindo

Day 6 – Milpe Reserve and Mindo Cloudforest Foundation

Choco Andino Toucan, black bird with yellow face, white upper tail, and beak that is yellow on top with black lower beak.

Choco Toucan; Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, Milpe | ©Angela Drake

We will have an early wake-up but a very short drive to a small reserve run by an Ecuadorian non-profit called the Mindo Cloud Forest Foundation. This small reserve protects the montane evergreen forest of the Andean foothills. The terrain offers a different suite of birds than the nearby Tandayapa Valley.

The reserve hosts an excellent hummingbird garden outside its tiny cafe where we will eat both our breakfast and lunch. The lush forest provides the perfect backdrop for photos. These species of hummers will complement the ones found at higher elevations. They include the Green Thorntail, the Green-crowned Woodnymph, the  Green-crowned Brilliant, and the White-whiskered Hermit.

The area also offers other photo opportunities at the fruit feeders which often attract colorful tanager species, euphonias, motmots, and toucans. For those who don’t mind a short hike, it is sometimes possible to observe the outlandish Club-winged Manakin’s courtship display.

After this awesome day, we will have dinner at a local restaurant and spend the night in Mindo.

Mindo to Northwest & Dry Valley

Day 7 – San Tadeo Gardens and birding en-route to Quito

An early 5 am departure will allow us to arrive at the San Tadeo Gardens before dawn in order to observe and photograph the bright scarlet forms of several displaying Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks. This spectacular forest performance is only the beginning of our wonderful day in this cloud forest setting.

We will eat an ample breakfast before exploring this efficiently laid out private residence which features two different feeder set-ups. We will photograph several species of tanagers like the Black-capped, Beryl-spangled, and Golden-naped, as well as other birds like the Pale-mandibled Aracari, the Red-headed Barbet, and the Crimson-rumped Toucanet.

After visiting San Tadeo, we will drive to Quito, stopping en-route at a local cafe for lunch while also taking the opportunity to observe and photograph several bird species that are restricted to the dry valley ecosystem outside of the capital city. We will arrive at our hotel around 5 pm where we enjoy dinner and a peaceful evening.

Antisana to Quijos

Day 8 – Antisana Wildlife Reserve and Tambo Condor

Sparkling Violetear Hummingbird, Tambo Condor, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake

Sparkling Violetear Hummingbird; Tambo Condor | ©Angela Drake

Another early morning departure at 5:30 AM will bring us to the open grasslands surrounding the enormous Antisana Volcano. In order to take advantage of the early morning light, we will have breakfast al fresco in the Antisana Wildlife Reserve Many visitors have voted this location as their favorite destination.

The Antisana Volcano is impressive with a large snow-covered top and dramatic rocky sides. The páramo (grassland) is interspersed with rocky outcrops and scenic high altitude Andean lakes dotted with waterfowl. Indeed the scenery itself may be our biggest photo asset in this location.

The upper páramo is carpeted with Carunculated Caracaras, a striking pied raptor that occurs here in impressive numbers. Black-faced Ibis patrol these high plains as do Andean Lapwings and large flocks of Andean Gulls. The Antisana Volcano is also home to the impressive Andean Condor.

After our visit to the Antisana Wildlife Reserve, we will drive to Tambo Condor, a rural cafe that specializes in local cuisine. We will eat lunch with several species of high altitude hummingbirds including the Sparkling Violetear, the Tyrian Metaltail, the  Black-tailed Trainbearer, and the Shining Sunbeam. From Tambo Condor, we will drive to Quijos Valley and lodge at a comfortable hotel. We will have dinner at a local favorite, Gina’s Cafe.

Quijos Valley to Eastern Foothills

Day 9 – Wayra Reserve, Laguna Paikawe, and Cabañas San Isidro

Hoatzin, Upper Cuyabeno River, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake

Hoatzin, Upper Cuyabeno River | ©Angela Drake

After an early wake-up in Quijos, we head to the Wayra Reserve, a family-operated nature reserve protecting the evergreen montane forest of the Andean East Slope. Our hosts will provide a traditional, regional-style breakfast. We will set up shop in their beautifully designed garden that attracts many species of hummingbirds including the Many-spotted Hummingbird, the Golden-tailed Sapphire, the White-tailed Hillstar, the Wire-crested Thorntail, and others.

Next, we will drive to Laguna Paikawe, a small, pristine lake with an adjoining 13 hectares of primary Amazonian forest in the Napo province. The owners, the Aguinda family, recently received recognition for their conservation efforts and were awarded an official government designation as the Misahualli Wildlife Center.

During a one-hour canoe trip, we will see prehistoric-looking Hoatzins, many colorful tanagers, stately kingfishers, and the large-beaked Greater Ani. A highlight will be the Spider Monkeys, especially if they hang from the tree branches near the water’s edge, and the harder to see Tamarin Monkeys that often scurry along tree trunks. Lunch will be in the river town of Misahualli where we will enjoy local fare.

After this pure Amazon adventure, we will drive to the San Isidro Andean Reserve and Lodge, one of the first designated Private Protected Areas in Ecuador. San Isidro’s montane humid forest is home to the famous Mystery Owl, a yet unidentified species. Many are hopeful that it is altogether a new species of owl. We hope to get some good shots of this unique bird. Dinner will be at the lodge which offers one of the finest cuisines to be found in Ecuador.

San Isidro to Quito

Day 10 – San Isidro, Las Brisas, and Guango Lodge

Chestnut-breasted Coronets, Cosanga, Ecuador

Chestnut-breasted Coronets, Cabañas San Isidro

We will begin our day at 6 AM at the light traps where we will photograph tanagers, caciques, jays, hummingbirds, and flycatchers eating their morning meal. At 7.30 AM, we will visit the White-bellied Antpitta feeding station followed by a short walk back to the main lodge where we will enjoy a delicious breakfast buffet.

The morning makes a great time for photography in the San Isidro hummingbird garden where the Long-tailed Sylph, the Fawn-breasted Brilliant, the Chestnut-breasted Coronet, and others sip from feeders and native flowers.
Late morning, we will drive to Las Brisas in order to add more hummingbirds to our gallery! We will see the East-slope “version” of the stunning Booted Racket-tail, an often hard-to-find bird!

Around noon, we will drive to Guango Lodge and enjoy even more hummingbirds attracted to feeders hanging in a naturalized forest setting. These will include extravagant species like the  Sword-billed Hummingbird, the Collared Inca, the White-bellied Woodstar, and the Tourmaline Sunangel. The hummingbird feeders are also a target for other local birds, most notably the indigo-blue Masked Flowerpiercer, a tempting subject for our cameras. 

The temperate forest that overhangs this comfortable Andean lodge also attracts passing flocks of birds, some of which are approachable and photogenic, including the cerulean-blue Turquoise Jay. We will enjoy lunch and early afternoon here before our return to Quito, arriving about 5 p.m.

At this point, Alejandro can drive you to a hotel in Quito that you have already reserved or he can drop your party at the Quito International Airport for your evening flight. Please make these arrangements prior to booking your trip.

I am grateful to share with you the natural wonders of my country, Ecuador, including its amazing diversity, breathtaking landscapes, and wonderful people. ~Ale
Mission and Purpose

Alejandro provides personalized travel experiences at the lowest rates by working closely with his partners in wildlife conservation.

ALL bird photography locations visited during this tour are private conservation efforts focused on preserving native forests. All practice sustainability to the point possible for their locations. Furthermore, all aim to provide fair employment opportunities to the surrounding communities.

Therefore, your trip directly supports these conservation efforts, empowering local communities to thrive and further develop tourism opportunities that will protect Ecuador’s endangered species.


We will see birds in the lowlands, foothills, and higher slopes on both sides of the Andes, crossing terrain as low as 1,150 feet (350 meters) to as high as 12,300 feet (3750 meters).

Most Ecuadorian birding trips focus on the West Slope. However, Alejandro’s 10-day itinerary allows for exploration of the lesser-visited East Slope, maximizing the chances to photograph different variations of the same species like the Booted-Rackettail Hummingbird.

Also, there are birds that can only be seen on the East Slope, like the fabulous Wire-crested Thorntail and the Long-tailed Sylph, a near twin of the West Slope’s Violet-tailed Sylph.

On the journey between slopes, we will encounter many different microhabitats from cloud forests to high paramo. Weather can change in an instant but we always hope for some clear views of the spectacular snow-covered peaks of volcanoes like Cotopaxi and Antisana. This ever-changing environment makes for challenging but satisfying photography.


While the climate has been unpredictable in recent years, the driest months on average are June-August, the wettest months are March-April, and the other months are in between.

Bird activity is slower when it is very dry. However, even in the dry season, some rain can be expected and some birds can be observed.

Rainy season tours are usually the most productive. Fortunately, most mornings during the rainy season are dry. Furthermore, the increased cloud cover means diffused light rather than harsh sunlight.

Most of our days are spent in the cloud forest where the weather is usually very pleasant, mostly 55°-75°F, 13°-24°C. Some rain can be expected, especially in the afternoons and evenings. Good rain protection for yourself and your gear is essential.

We may experience colder temperatures at both Guango Lodge and the Yanacocha Reserve. It is usually very cold near Antisana, possibly near freezing.

Temperatures will be warmer at Suamox and hot & humid at Laguna Cube and Laguna Paikawe. We will truly experience a variety of microhabitats!


Our overall pace will be relaxed with a few times when we may need to push on to take advantage of good weather or available light.

All days will include ample time to enjoy the local cuisine of each region.

Most days will include time to relax or download photos. This will often be in the late afternoon when the light may be poor and when it is more likely to rain.

The tour will involve several hours of driving. Except for early morning departures before sunrise, we only drive during daylight hours.

When to go

This trip is available year-round. It is possible to see and photograph birds at any time of the year.

If you would like to maximize the number of birds you see and photograph, the rainy season tends to be the best time to visit.


All accommodations will include private, en-suite bathrooms, full-time hot water, and 24hr electricity except for Laguna de Cube where accommodation and food will be comfortable but very basic; electricity is provided by a generator that is turned on for limited hours, but it provides sufficient time to charge camera batteries and devices.

For your arrival night in Quito: please book the place of your preference; hotel reservation sites such as or offer excellent options. After booking your hotel for the night of your arrival in Quito, please inform us of your flight details and the name of the hotel. This is important so we can meet you at the airport and transfer you to the hotel.

Health and Safety

We do our best to make your trip as enjoyable as possible. That means taking your health and safety into account. If you have a particular concern, please let us know!

If arriving in Quito or traveling in the Andes, please prepare yourself for high-altitude travel. That means arriving well-hydrated. If you would like to learn more about high-altitude travel, please check out our article:

While it is possible for new variants of Covid-19 to occur, our partners and their staff will mask while in close proximity to others, particularly indoors. We ask that you and your party also mask, especially with others.

For the latest updates on Covid-19 in Ecuador, please visit the US State Department website:

We require our partners to contract with drivers who are well-trained, drive well-maintained vehicles, and have been instructed to allow time to stop and enjoy the scenery. We want your trip to be enjoyable throughout, including the time spent in a car.

What’s Included?

English-speaking, specialized, licensed Tour Guide

Private ground transportation from pick-up to drop-off.

Lodging from Day 1 through the afternoon of Day 10. Upon return to Quito, Alejandro will drop you at your hotel or the Quito International Airport.

Meals from Day 1 through the afternoon of Day 10.

All entrance fees to the locations listed in the itinerary.

What’s Not Included?

Optional tip for exemplary service to your host and tour guide.

Optional tips for exemplary service to staff at hotels, lodges, and restaurants

Beverages apart from those included with meals are not included. Many lodges and hotels will offer alcoholic beverages for an additional fee.

Extra services such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items are not included.

Your hotel in Quito is not included in this itinerary.

This trip does not include travel insurance. We highly recommend purchasing a travel insurance plan that includes health care coverage and evacuation in case of an emergency.