Bird and nature lovers can observe wildlife like never before on this 12-day trip through the Ecuadorian Andes and Amazon. Start in Quito to learn about its rich culture, then head for fresher air in the bird-watching heaven of Mindo's cloud forests, where you'll hike and spot the most elusive feathered creatures in the rainforest. Cross the highlands to hike Cuicocha Lagoon and Cotopaxi National Park, then journey into the rainforest as you explore Archidona's canyons, rivers, and waterfalls.


  • See the most impressive sites of Quito, Ecuador's high-altitude capital
  • Go bird-watching in the cloud forests of Mindo and spot rare birdlife
  • Stroll the bustling market of Otavalo and explore Cotopaxi National Park
  • Spot rainforest flora and fauna in Archidona before a dip in Papallacta hot springs

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Quito, Guided City Tour Quito
Day 2 Visit the Mitad del Mundo, Free Afternoon in Quito Quito
Day 3 Transfer to Mindo, Hike in Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve Mindo
Day 4 Observe the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock & Spot Hummingbirds Mindo
Day 5 Day Trip in the Chocó Andino Biosphere Reserve Mindo
Day 6 More Bird-Watching in Mindo, Return to Quito Quito
Day 7 Day Trip to Otavalo Market & Cuicocha Lagoon Quito
Day 8 Day Trip to Cotopaxi National Park Quito
Day 9 Transfer to Archidona via Antisana Reserve Archidona
Day 10 Free Day in Archidona, Gateway to the Amazon Archidona
Day 11 Transfer to Quito via Papallacta Hot Springs Quito
Day 12 Cable Car to Pichincha Volcano, Depart Quito  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Quito, Guided City Tour

Basilica of the National Vow, Quito
An evening view of Quito and the distant Cotopaxi volcano

Welcome to Quito! Upon arrival at the airport, meet your driver for a ride to Quito's downtown and your hotel. After settling in, you'll head out to stretch your legs and explore the city on a guided tour.

At 9,350 feet (2,850 m), Ecuador's capital is one of the highest cities in the world, with plazas organized among dramatic Andes peaks. Within its UNESCO-listed historic center, you'll see the Baroque church of La Compañía de Jesús with its gold-covered interior and admire the intricate carvings of the neo-Gothic La Basílica del Voto. Take a walk down La Ronda, one of the oldest streets in the city, then head to Panecillo Hill for skyline views.

Day 2: Visit the Mitad del Mundo, Free Afternoon in Quito

Hop between hemispheres at Quito's Mitad del Mundo monument
Start this morning with a trip to the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) to see the monument that marks the divide between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, 656 feet (200 m) north of the equator line. Take photos of the spot, see the various exhibition halls, and have fun jumping from one hemisphere to the other. Next door, visit the Intiñan Museum to learn about Ecuadorian culture.

In the afternoon you can explore more of Quito on your own, walking through the city center or visiting a new neighborhood such as Guápulo on the northeast hillside, where you can follow the curvy road of Camino de Orellana. Take a stroll or rent a bike to see Cumbayá, a neighborhood on the city's outskirts, and work up an appetite for lunch at Mercado Centrale, trying local street food such as empanadas de viento (cheese-filled), hornado (slow-roasted pork), or cevichochos (tomato and bean soup). 

Day 3: Transfer to Mindo, Hike in Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve

Spot creatures like the kinkajou on an evening walk through Mindo's cloud forests
Your driver will pick you up at your hotel early in the morning for a two-hour drive northwest of Quito to the temperate cloud forests of Mindo. Enjoy the shifting landscapes and ever-changing vistas en route, eventually climbing a dirt road that leads to the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve Lodge, perched at the top of the Tandayapa Valley. Upon arrival, you'll be greeted, checked in, and then have breakfast with stunning views of the valley below. Afterward, take a discovery hike into Bellavista Reserve's forest, recognized as one of Ecuador's Important Bird Areas (IBA) and located within the Chocó Biogeographic Region.
Plan your trip to Ecuador
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
This bio-region is considered one of the world's biodiversity hotspots due to its high levels of endemic species. During the next four days, your guides will choose the best trails and hike options according to your group size and the weather. After lunch at the lodge, you can set out again in the afternoon to learn more about the ecology of the cloud forest or take a birding-specific stroll. If you're lucky, may get your first sighting of the forest's charming animal residents, such as the raccoon-like olinguito or the fuzzy, long-tailed kinkajou.

Day 4: Observe the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock & Spot Hummingbirds

The resplendent cock-of-the-rock is native to the Andean cloud forest

If you want to spot one of the cloud forest's most emblematic and often elusive bird species, you're going to have to rise early. Armed with your camera, leave the lodge before dawn and head to a lek within a local reserve in Mindo. A lek is a communal area where male birds come together often to compete with one another for breeding with females. With your guide, you'll learn about the magnificent Andean cock-of-the-rock as you keep an eye out for its unmistakable red-orange plumage. Return to the lodge in time for breakfast and another guided hike in Bellavista.

Enjoy some free time in the afternoon, when you'll have the option to discover some trails on your own or with the help of a trail map. You're also free to join a guided hike. Here in the land of the hummingbird, these tiny iridescent wonders will take your full attention. Large numbers hover constantly around the feeders at the lodge, and it's easy to identify over 10 species at very close range. If you don't feel like leaving the lodge to bird-watch, just sit and chat with other guests as you observe the feeders at a close distance.

Day 5: Day Trip in the Chocó Andino Biosphere Reserve

Spot species like the sword-billed hummingbird in the reserves around Mindo

Venture into one of the many other exceptional natural reserves around Mindo today for more bird-watching. Within the UNESCO-listed Chocó Andino Biosphere Reserve, you'll find a wide range of altitudes and habitats, and you can tailor your day depending on the species you'd like to spot. Focus on the Yanacocha Reserve for black-backed grosbeaks, sword-billed hummingbirds, black-breasted pufflegs, and Andean condors, or opt for Silanche to search for purple-chested hummingbirds, Pacific parrotlets, and scarlet-backed woodpeckers.

Day 6: More Bird-Watching in Mindo, Return to Quito

Take a final hike through the cloud forest this morning
Savor your final morning in Mindo with an early-morning hike to listen to the cloud forest come alive with the sound of birdsong. You'll have until lunchtime to enjoy your surroundings however you'd like—embarking on further hikes and bird-spotting excursions, or simply relaxing amid the comforts of the lodge. Following lunch, appreciate a few last breaths of mountain air as your driver picks you up for the transfer back to Quito. You'll reach the city by early evening, allowing you time to check into your hotel and relax a bit. If you feel like seeing more of the city this evening, soak up its vibrant nightlife with a visit to some of its many bars, restaurants, and clubs.

Day 7: Day Trip to Otavalo Market & Cuicocha Lagoon

Cuicocha Lagoon's islands were formed by a volcanic eruption

Leave Quito today and head into the northern Andes, more precisely into the Imbabura Province, still home to a large Indigenous population. Start the day by visiting the famously colorful market of Otavalo, where you can find beautiful tapestries, local paintings, hand-knitted wool sweaters, socks and gloves, wood carvings, silver jewelry, embroidered blouses, and straw hats. Dive into the narrow passageways with all your senses and get lost in this overwhelming labyrinth as you shop for bargains alongside the locals.

Afterward, leave Otavalo and drive a bit farther north until reaching the beautiful Cuicocha Lagoon at the foot of the Cotacachi volcano. It was formed by a massive eruption approximately 3,000 years ago and contains two forested islands in the middle of the lake. If you feel like a challenge, hike the crater rim trail that leads to various scenic viewpoints. After a day full of new and unforgettable impressions, head back to Quito in the late afternoon.

Day 8: Day Trip to Cotopaxi National Park

Cotopaxi Volcano
Morning mist over the snowcapped Cotopaxi volcano

Your adventure takes you into the Cotopaxi National Park today. Cotopaxi is one of the highest active volcanoes on earth, and its perfectly-shaped, snowcapped cone is an iconic symbol of the country. The park is also home to wild horses, which can sometimes be spotted grazing across its distinctive páramo (Andean grassland) landscape. With a bit of luck, you might even glimpse an Andean condor. After a walk around Limpiopungo Lagoon, you can trek upwards to the refuge Jose Rivas at 15,748 feet (4,800 m) and even further to the base of the glacier. In the afternoon, return to Quito. 

Day 9: Transfer to Archidona via Antisana Reserve

Antisana Reserve & Transfer to Archidona
Cut through the Andean landscapes of Antisana on today's drive south
Leave Quito behind again today as you transfer just 60 miles (100 km) southeast to explore the Antisana Ecological Reserve, a vast protected area on the edge of the eastern Andes. Stop to see the mystic Mica Lagoon, a high-altitude lake, and keep an eye out for field rabbits, white-tailed deer, dwarf deer, condors, and Andean gulls. You'll also spot groves of the ancient polylepis, a tree that once covered a vast part of the Ecuadorian Andes and is now endangered.
Stop for a hike and follow the path up to Condor Viewpoint, from where, on a clear day, you will have a great view of the Antisana volcano. Then it's time to get back on the road and continue your journey south to reach your base for the next two nights in Archidona, a small town known as the "gateway to the Amazon."

Day 10: Free Day in Archidona, Gateway to the Amazon

Free day in Archidona
Hike to waterfalls along the Río Hollín near Archidona
Spend today exploring Archidona's lush, rainforest surroundings at your own pace. See more of the Upper Amazon area with a bird-watching excursion into the dense jungle, or learn about the region's culture as you meet members of the local Indigenous community and gain insight into their daily life and traditions. For a sweet treat, learn how cacao pods are transformed into chocolate and try your hand at making your own. If you're looking for action, set off down one of the nearby rivers on a kayaking or rafting expedition. 

Day 11: Transfer to Quito via Papallacta Hot Springs

Hot springs of Papallacta
Break up the drive north with a dip in the Papallacta hot springs

After a final walk through your Archidona lodge's beautiful gardens, your driver will pick you up and you'll set off north into the highlands. Along this three-hour drive, you can make a stop at Papallacta to soothe tired muscles in its natural hot springs. Unwind in the thermal waters against a stunning backdrop of the Andes, or treat yourself to a massage before continuing your journey. You'll arrive in Quito in the late afternoon, where you have the rest of the evening free.

Day 12: Cable Car to Pichincha Volcano, Depart Quito

Ride the cable car to the slopes of Pichincha for a final view over Quito

Your Ecuadorian adventure draws to a close today. Depending on your flight time, you could spend your morning seeing more of the capital with a ride up the cable car to the eastern slopes of Pichincha volcano. Once you've reached the top, you'll be rewarded with views across Pichincha's highest peaks, Wawa Pichincha and Ruku Pichincha. You can also go for a walk through the páramo high-altitude ecosystem, following a path that leads to the Ruku Pichincha summit as far as you'd like, then returning to the cable car station for a ride back down to Quito.

When the time comes, say your goodbyes to Ecuador as your driver transfers you to Quito Airport for your departing flight. Safe travels!

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Map of Ecuador's Wildlife, Volcanoes & Rainforests - 12 Days
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