Ecuador’s Wildlife Wonders
Ecuador’s incredible biological diversity can keep you busy for months. Travel through terrain teeming with wildlife: quetzals in the cloud forest, howler monkeys in the Amazon, and giant tortoises in the Galápagos Islands.
In Quito, whet your appetite at the Botanical Gardens and New Town’s Vivarium as well as the Quito Zoo in nearby Guayllabamba. To get an early start on birding, stay at the Hostería San Jorge in the Pichincha foothills.
Western Andean Slopes
Head up to the Mindo area in the cloud forest for some world-class bird-watching. Stay either in Mindo or nearby comfortable lodges such as Tandayapa and Bellavista that cater to birders. Reserves such as Maquipucuna and Yanacocha are also packed with life.
Book a day tour up into the foothills of the Antisana Ecological Reserve, where the South American condor—the largest flying bird in the world—still soars. Alternately, visit Cotopaxi National Park for another chance to spot this magnificent creature.
Take a four-day or preferably five-day tour of the Amazon. Stay at a lodge such as Napo Wildlife Center and experience the incredible diversity of the rainforest: pink dolphins, parakeets, alligators, and anacondas. Get the adrenaline pumping at night with walks to tarantula holes and canoe rides to spot the eyes of caimans peeking from the water.
The Galápagos Islands
What could possibly beat the Amazon forest for wildlife enthusiasts? One of the few places on earth is the Galápagos archipelago. Naturalists and photographers are thrilled because the species have no fear of humans: Whether you take a land-based tour with day excursions or a cruise, opportunities to get up close and personal with wildlife are all around, including snorkeling with sea lions off Floreana, scuba diving with sharks at León Dormido on San Cristóbal, and grumbling with giant tortoises at Charles Darwin Station on Santa Cruz.
Head up to Machalilla, where you can hike in the coastal dry forests, watch whales off the coast (June–September), or simply relax on the beach at Los Frailes. If you haven’t had your fill of bird-watching, head to Isla de la Plata to see blue-footed boobies or farther up the coast to the mangroves around Bahía de Cáraquez, which are teeming with frigate birds.
© Ben Westwood and Avalon Travel from Moon Ecuador & the Galápagos Islands, 5th Edition