We recently went on a trip to Ecuador. After considering many options for where to go on vacation, we chose Ecuador on a whim, and what a great choice that turned out to be. My husband & I love bird watching, hiking, plants, reptiles, mammals or anything natural.
After deciding on Ecuador as a destination, we started researching where to go for great bird watching and jungle hiking. We checked a lot of websites and kept coming back to San Jorge Eco Lodges. They have a representative in Connecticut named Cheryl who was great at answering all of our questions and making recommendations. We decided to book the 12 day bird watching trip. It offered lot of options for seeing different areas and habitats. I have to point out that we are intermediate bird watchers and had no idea what to expect. We were amazed.
We read some terribly outdated and incorrect information in guide books and on internet sites that there is a huge crime problem in Ecuador and that driving is dangerous and the roads are terrible. We took this into consideration in choosing San Jorge since they would be taking care of transporting us from place to place. Although it turned out to be unnecessary from a safety standpoint, it was nice to have them driving us since we were not familiar with the country and Quito would have been a challenge to navigate. The other factor is that renting a car in Ecuador is a considerable expense and having the benefit of someone else driving lets you look around and enjoy your surroundings instead of attempting to navigate. Also, we got to where we were supposed to be without getting lost!! We felt completely safe at all times while we were there. Also the roads are new and very nice. We definitely plan to go back and would choose San Jorge Eco Lodges for our bird watching tours. They also offer lots of other activities that we would like to try.
We started our trip in Old Town Quito for 3 nights to get acclimated to the altitude and to see the city. It was a great way to start our trip, although the altitude did not cause a big problem. The old part of the city was built by the Spanish in the 1500’s and many of those buildings are still there. There are lots of beautiful old churches throughout the old part of the city and most are within easy walking distance. Being in the city feels like you are in Europe.
We were picked up at our hotel in Quito to begin our bird watching tour by George, the owner of the lodge who told us a lot of the history of Ecuador and what to expect on the trip. Our first destination was the lodge in Quito, which was a great place to start. There were lots of birds on the deck outside of the restaurant and on the walkway up to the rooms on the upper level, which had a great view. We were able to walk around the grounds the first afternoon and see several birds and a nice waterfall. Delicious meals were prepared and served by Vicente and his wife with a delicious soup, lots of local vegetables and fruits and grilled or lightly fried meats or fish and dessert. Everything was very fresh and prepared in a healthy way.
For the bird watching tours, we started each day with local coffee and a great breakfast and then bird watching in different environments, which was awesome. There were trails in the mountains at Yanacocha where we saw lots of birds including several antpittas . We stopped in small village squares and along roadsides near rivers, where birds are known to be seen. Our favorite places were Tandayapa and Milpe, which were at the lower elevations. Being from Louisiana, which is at sea level, we had to take our time at the higher elevations. At Tandayapa there were feeders next to the eating area where we saw lots of toucanets, tanagers, barbets, motmots, and lots of species of hummingbirds including the long tailed sylph. Along the trail we saw the Cock of the Rock, which was incredible. New sections of Milpe have recently been completed and it is so beautiful with glass walls where you wake up to the birds right outside your room. There is also a great observation deck where we could sit in the afternoon. We saw lots of toucans and aricaris and so many other birds, we had trouble remembering them all. On the trails we saw the Plate Billed Mountain Toucan that was so beautiful it did not look real, then a Quetzal, which is a real treat. Our next place was the lowland tropical rainforest along a river with lots of birds. We then went over Papallacta Pass, which was impressive and saw birds that could only be seen there. On our way to Borja, where we were to spend 2 nights, we stopped in a town to buy a machete to bring home and I tripped on a sidewalk and hurt a toe. It got progressively worse with the hiking and I ended up having to get medical treatment for a dislocated toe. By that time the other members of our group had left since they signed up for a shorter trip, so only my husband and I were left. I was not able to hike, so had to miss the bird watching on the schedule, but George Cruz altered the schedule to fit our needs and took us places where I could hike more easily and to some markets and botanical gardens that we loved almost as much as the bird watching. We also went into Quito on the day of a World Cup qualifying soccer match that was being played in Quito and had an opportunity to experience the excitement of such an event, then watch it in a local bar with the Ecuadorians. Unbelievably great! At the end we were taken to the airport for a sad departure. We had such a great time and loved all the people that made this trip so wonderful, George, his wife Irina, his son Jorge, Vicente and Stalin, who cooked for us and were also guides. We are looking forward to going back to experience more of Ecuador. San Jorge offers all types of tours to fit different interests, so there is something for everyone.
Being intermediate bird watchers, we have not listed or noted the incredible number of birds we saw on our tour. We have been to Costa Rica a few times, and saw so many more birds in Ecuador on this tour with almost no people encountered to scare off the birds. For anyone interested in seeing birds at any level seriousness, we highly recommend a tour with San Jorge Eco Lodges.
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