Day 1: Arrival in Quito and overnight
Today is set aside as an arrival day, and after touching down at Mariscal Sucre International Airport, you will be driven to our accommodations for the evening which are located in the historic portion of the city of Quito (please note that the airport is located outside of the city and drive time is between 45 minutes and 1 hour depending on traffic).
Here you will meet other members of the group, and will enjoy dinner tonight in the company of your ORYX Photo Tour leaders.
Day 2: Drive Quito to the Cloud Forest and overnight
After an early breakfast this morning, we will depart Quito, and head west into the Choco Biome. Our drive will take us through mountainous terrain with steep Andean Mountains as a backdrop, and as we descend in altitude, so the number of species of bird, mammal, reptile and frog increase. Our destination today is located in the “Choco” Cloud Forest.
This area is found on the west slope of the Andes, is shared between north-western Ecuador and Colombia (with an ever so slight spill over into Colombia’s northerly neighbour, Panama). It is extremely biodiverse, and is home to a number of endemic species as well. Our lodge is a wonderful base from which to explore the surrounding forests.
Tonight we will embark on our first night walk in the rainforest. Night time is a completely different experience to that of daytime photography, and is a great time to search for those nocturnal species which having hidden during daylight hours become active as it becomes dark. In addition to falling light levels, temperatures in the evening are lower, and conditions are typically better for frogs and thus they are often more easily found. Various snakes and spiders may also be encountered – this is a great time to work on macro photography under the instruction of your ORYX leaders who are experienced in this field.
Day 3: Choco Cloud Forest area
Our morning will begin with a visit to the local hummingbird and fruit feeders. Hummingbirds are typically very fast moving birds that are well known for the incredible rate at which they can beat their wings; this coupled with the dexterous nature of their wings, allows them to hover and change direction in a most dramatic fashion. We will attempt to photograph these birds using multiple-flash setups, allowing us to artistically portray these often colourful avians as they come in to feed on artificial nectar (typically a diluted sugar solution). There are also fruit feeders, and we will photograph the species attendant at these feeders as well. What will become apparent is despite the overwhelming green wall that one is met with when staring at the forest, small pockets of colour will enliven our viewfinders as we photograph a myriad of colourful rainforest birds and other fauna. Our afternoon activity will be decided on closer to the time.
Day 4: AM Choco Cloud Forest, onward to Mindo area and overnight
We will start the day with a quick shoot in the vicinity of the lodge, before heading to the “Dragonfly”. This is a cablecar, which will allow us wonderful views of the forest, and with luck, we may photograph a few canopy dwelling bird species as we travel through the forest. It is a wonderful way to gain an aerial perspective of the rainforest, after our many hours of photographing at ground level will be a welcome treat.
We then head to the celebrated Mindo area, where our afternoon will be spent around the productive fruit and hummingbird feeders.
Today we will visit and blind that offers chances to photograph the handsome Plate-billed Mountain Toucan – one of the “holy grails” of the Andean Cloud Forest of Ecuador and Colombia. This species can be difficult to see in the mossy, misty forests that characterise neotropical Cloud Forest, however strategically placed feeders have meant that this species can now be reliably seen and photographed.
Our afternoon will be spent photographing “hummers” (hummingbirds) at our wonderful accommodations. The gardens are home to a huge assortment of hummers, this being in part due to the altitude, which happens to be in a zone that has a particularly good for hummingbirds. Your ORYX leaders will assist in setting up multiple flash setups for the hummers, and some of the targets include Empress Brilliant, Booted Racket-tail, Purple-bibbed Whitetip and Velvet-purple Coronet (the latter a stunning Choco endemic hummingbird), not forgetting beauties such as Flame-faced and Blue-necked tanagers, which are quite partial to banana placed on a the feeders. Your ORYX leaders will ensure that there are opportunities to photograph species on perches that yield natural looking pictures.
Day 6: Mindo area: Cock-of-the Rock lek, and fruit + hummingbird feeders
We have an early start today, as we drive a little ways away from our accommodation to an area that is renowned for its Andean ***-of-the-rock lek. This spectacular species belongs to a family known as the cotingas, which are restricted to the neotropics. ***-of-the-rocks are noisy, brightly coloured birds – males are quite large and are gaudy orange. The area is also famous as a site that can provide excellent opportunities for a number of shy, attractive birds, including Giant Antpitta, Dark-backed Wood-Quail, Crimson-rumped Toucanet and Blue-winged and Black-chinned mountain-tanagers. Our afternoon will be spent back at our lodge focusing on hummers and tanagers.
Day 7: Mindo area: Hummingbird feeders & low-angle hide
Today we will journey back toward Mashpi, spending some time at the hummingbird feeders near the entrance, while in the afternoon, we will look at photographing at a low-angle hide. This will allow us to get into position to try for interesting images of a few species; additionally, we may photograph beauties such as Gorgeted Sunangel, Buff-tailed Coronet, Collared Inca and Violet-tailed Sylph.
Day 8: Depart Mindo, and head to Quito, city tour, cathedral shoot
We leave Mindo today, heading east back to Quito, where we will overnight. We will be staying in the “Old Town” part of the city, and will embark on a city tour to learn more about this beautiful high-altitude dwelling and soak up the sights of the majestic colonial architecture - some of the most spectacular in South America. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the basis of having some of the best preserved historic centres in all of Latin America. A highlight will surely be a visit to the Compañía de Jesús, a Jesuit Church completed in 1765, and that is one of the most spectacular sights in Ecuador. The interior of this church is ornately adorned, with an overriding usage of gold leaf resulting in a resplendent glow. We have dinner arranged at a lovely restaurant – a great way to end the day in style!
Day 9: Flight from Quito to Coca, transfer onto boats and head into the Amazon
Departing our accommodations in the city, we head to the airport where after we fly over the Andes and east to Coca, a town that lies on the edge of the Amazon in the Orellana Province in eastern Ecuador. The town has a bit of frontier feel, being a major hub for various oil companies who exploit the toxic “black gold” in various concessions in the region, and also for ecotourists wanting to explore the Amazon rainforest.
After landing, we will head to the Napo River, and boarding a boat, will motor downsteam to our wonderful lodge (travel time on the river is about 2 hours or so). We have time to settle in to our accommodations before embarking on our first excursion.
Days 10 and 11: Amazon Rainforest
We have two full days to explore the riches of this area, photographing on foot and from the water. One of the privileges we have in this area is to photograph at clay licks.
Two of the most accessible clay licks in the Amazon are located in the area, and they are typically active at different times in the morning. The “dry” clay lick is usually active earlier in the morning (some time around 07h00), and we will photograph this from a boat as the lick is alongside the Napo River.
The “wet” clay lick is located inside the forest, and we have a walk of about 30 minutes to get to the hide. We will wait at the hide for the birds to descend to consume mineral rich water and mud, and it is important to bear in mind that although unlikely, mammals do on occasion visit the clay lick and include Tapir, Tayra (the latter a small mammal related to weasels) and there are reports of the mighty Jaguar stopping by during daylight hours! Bird species that predominantly visit this lick include Orange-cheeked Parrot, Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet, Cobalt-winged Parakeet and two macaws in the form of Scarlet and Red-and-Green.
Canoe trips will allow us to photograph various flycatchers as well as the bizarre Hoatzin. While on the water, our local guides will keep their eyes peeled and ears attuned to the strange calls of the Giant River Otter.
We will also embark on night walks where the focus will be on macro subjects, and in order to give us a different perspective of the area, we will also photograph from the observation tower, which will give us a canopy level perspective of the rainforest. At 36 metres in height, it is a significant distance above ground level and will allow us to gaze out over the seemingly endless (but imperiled) Amazon rainforest.
Day 12: Morning visit to clay lick, return to Coca and flight to Quito
After a further visit to the clay licks, we will sadly depart the Amazon and head back upstream to Coca, where we will board a flight bound for Quito. We will overnight in Quito at a hotel strategically based close to the airport, enjoying our last dinner together in this incredible country as we relive the amazing experiences of the last week and a half!
Day 13, 3rd June: Quito and depart
Our Amazon photography tour comes officially to an end after breakfast, as we say our goodbyes and make our ways back to Mariscal Sucre International Airport for departure.
**Please note: The Galápagos Islands can be included as a private extension to this tour – please let us know if you are interested in this, and we will arrange a quote for you**