Pack your binoculars and your sense of wonder for this 15-day journey from the Ecuadorian Andes to the Amazon rainforest and back. Start in Quito to discover its rich history and culture, then head to Yasuní National Park to observe biodiverse jungle life at a rainforest lodge. Continue to the cloud forests of Mindo, where avid bird-watchers can spot some of its 550 species alongside monkeys, butterflies, and waterfalls, then return to the capital to wind down with some relaxed city sightseeing.


  • Explore Quito's significant attractions and learn of its rich colonial past and history
  • Venture into the depths of the Amazonian jungle at Yasuní National Park
  • Discover waterfalls, butterflies, birds, and chocolate in the cloud forests of Mindo
  • Become a bird-watching specialist at Chocó Andino Biosphere Reserve

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Quito Quito
Day 2 Colonial Quito City Tour & Mitad del Mundo Monument Quito
Day 3 Transfer to Cosanga via Papallacta Hot Springs  Cosanga
Days 4-5 Bird-Watching at San Isidro Lodge Cosanga
Day 6 Transfer to Yasuní National Park via Coca Yasuní National Park
Day 7 Cury Mullo Observation Tower, Rainforest Hike & Night Canoe Ride Yasuní National Park
Day 8 Parrot Clay Lick Excursion & Jungle Hike Yasuní National Park
Day 9 Bird-Watching, Shipati Warmi Project & Caiman Canoe Trip Yasuní National Park
Day 10 Transfer to Mindo via Coca Mindo
Day 11 Morning Bird-Watching & Afternoon Activities in Mindo Mindo
Day 12 Day Trip to Mindo's Spectacular Natural Reserves Mindo
Day 13 Morning in Mindo & Return to Quito Quito
Day 14 Free Day in Quito Quito
Day 15 Depart Quito  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Quito

Basilica of the National Vow, Quito
Evening skies and volcanic clouds over Quito

Welcome to Ecuador! Upon arrival at Quito's airport, a private driver will greet you and transfer you to your hotel in the city center. At 9,350 feet (2,850 m) above sea level, Ecuador's capital is one of the highest cities in the world. Built following the 1533 Spanish conquest, majestic Andean peaks, including the restless Volcán Pichincha, surround it.

You'll have the afternoon free, allowing you some downtime to adjust to the altitude or set out to explore the city's plazas organized among Andean peaks. Head to Panecillo Hill for skyline views, then as the sun sets, find a restaurant for dinner and check out the city's vibrant nightlife.

Day 2: Colonial Quito City Tour & Mitad del Mundo Monument

Colonial Quito City Tour & Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) Monument
Check off the highlights of Quito's colonial Old Town on today's tour
On today's walking tour through Quito, you'll see why its historic center bears the distinction of UNESCO World Heritage Site. Start in Independence Square to visit La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, a 17th-century volcanic-rock, cedar, and gilt-decorated church. Next, stop by La Basílica y Convento de San Francisco, considered Ecuador's most important church for its scale and history. Stroll on La Ronda, a pre-Columbian walking trail now brimming with cafés, live music, and boutiques.
Later on, you'll transfer north of the city to see the monument commemorating the discovery of the point where the Northern and Southern Hemispheres divide at the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo ("Middle of the World City"). Spend some time visiting the nearby planetarium, a scale model of Quito, several museums, an old train station, and a small chapel.

Day 3: Transfer to Cosanga via Papallacta Hot Springs 

Papallacta Hot Springs
Break up today's drive with a soak in the famous hot springs of Papallacta

It's time to leave Quito and head southeast into the Ecuadorian Amazon. On the way, you'll make a stop at the hot springs at Papallacta. Enjoy a couple of hours in the thermal springs, relaxing in the natural pools. Decompress and breathe in the fresh air as you enjoy the beautiful Andean scenery. You could also treat yourself to a massage. Afterward, continue your journey until reaching your lodge, where you'll stay for two nights. Nestled in the lush green forests close to Cosanga, it's an ideal place for bird-watching and relaxation in the wilderness.

Days 4-5: Bird-Watching at San Isidro Lodge

Inca Jay
Iridescent hummingbirds at play in San Isidro
Spend the next two days bird-watching in this one-of-a-kind region. Situated at about 6,561 feet (2,050 m) above sea level, the lodge at Cabañas San Isidro and its immediate surroundings boast a bird list of about 330 species, many of which are more easily found here than anywhere else in the country. You'll follow trails lead through habitats from 7,874 feet (2,400 m), dropping to 6,233 feet (1,900 m), making this an ideal base to observe Andean birds from the upper reaches of the temperate zone down into the heart of the subtropical zone. 
Plan your trip to Ecuador
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Quietly stroll through the jungle trails and forested roads, spotting the hundreds of different bird species that call this spectacular landscape home. Birds such as highland tinamou, bicolored antvireo, and Peruvian antpitta are some of the exciting rarities that live within walking distance from the lodge. The white-faced nunbird might even appear, as it has been seen at San Isidro more in recent years than at any other site on the eastern slopes of Ecuador. 

Day 6: Transfer to Yasuní National Park via Coca

Travel down the Río Napo to reach your rainforest lodge in Yasuní National Park

Get ready to be enchanted as you make your way to Yasuní National Park, one of the most biologically diverse spots on Earth. This massive rainforest is part of the Amazon river basin in northern Ecuador, and rare and resplendent amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds, and insects flourish in this protected area where the Andes meet the Amazon. Your driver will pick you up from the lodge in Cosanga this morning and take you to Coca, the closest town to Yasuní. Here you'll be welcomed by the crew of your lodge and join the rest of your small group.

From Coca, you'll take a motorized canoe deep into the jungle, where you can enjoy the first impressions of the rainforest and settle into your comfortable lodge accommodations. You'll be greeted with a refreshing juice, snacks, and a short briefing with general information about your stay over the next four days, followed by an introductory hike into the rainforest. When you return, sit down to a delicious dinner at the lodge and be lulled to sleep by the soundtrack of the rainforest.

Day 7: Cury Mullo Observation Tower, Rainforest Hike & Night Canoe Ride

The Yasuní National Park is home to hundreds of bird species
Look up to spot playful squirrel monkeys in Yasuní

Enjoy breakfast at the lodge before setting on today's excursion to the Cury Mullo Observation Tower. After a 20-minute walk, the 120-foot (50 m) tower will come into view. Climb high above the forest canopy with your guide to spot the colorful birds of the Amazon and maybe even some playful primates. On the way back from the tower, there is the option of taking the Tucaneta Trail, where you'll see some of the medicinal plants still in use today and learn fascinating facts about the ecology and natural history of the Amazon.

After lunch, follow the Charapa Trail, which goes on for about an hour, beginning at the lodge and ending by a lagoon's edge. Along this loop, various mammals, including monkeys and birds, can be seen as they flock to the lagoon in search of food. After dinner, with the help of a flashlight, your guide will take you around the lagoon by canoe in search of nocturnal wildlife. This is also an excellent opportunity for stargazing under clear skies free of light pollution.

Day 8: Parrot Clay Lick Excursion & Afternoon Hike

Observe the colorful spectacle of a rainforest clay lick today
Today you will make your way back to the Río Napo and take a motorized canoe ride to the clay licks, one of the most captivating displays in the bird-watching world. Hundreds of parrots and parakeets flock here to eat the mineral-rich soil, an important part of their diet. Binoculars are essential to capture the moment in all of its splendor. After the clay licks, you'll have the chance to meet some of Yasuní's local residents, as Indigenous Amazonian Kichua women welcome you to their community center to share stories about their way of life in the rainforest. 
After lunch, hike the Coto Trail. This fantastic walk starts from the lodge and continues to the edge of the Garzacocha Lagoon. With the sun on your back most of the time, this walk offers an amazing experience and the perfect opportunity to enjoy the marvelous light reflected in the forest. Groups of black-mantled tamarin monkeys can be spotted on this walk, and possibly tapirs too!

Day 9: Bird-Watching, Shipati Warmi Project & Caiman Canoe Trip

Meet the local women of the Providencia community and help them prepare lunch

Start your last day in the biodiverse Yasuní National Park with some more bird-watching. Of the incredible 1,600 bird species registered in Ecuador, 600 (37 percent) have been seen at the lodge. That's almost seven percent of the species found in the entire world! Meet up with a specialist birding guide who knows the best spots for hard-to-find species and can quickly identify species by both sight and sound. Explore a variety of habitats where mixed flocks are common, beginning before sunrise to take full advantage of the morning peak.

Later, visit the Shipati Warmi Project, an initiative run by the women of the Providencia community of Yasuní. Learn about their day-to-day lives, such as drying clothes in the jungle and the challenges of getting to school, before helping to prepare and taste some traditional food. After dinner, take a night-time expedition to look for caiman, an alligator-type reptile. As you canoe out onto the water in the darkness, lit only by glittering stars, the caiman's eyes will glow red in your flashlight as the amphibious creatures float along the swampy shallows.

Day 10: Transfer to Mindo via Coca

Yasuni Fauna
The cloud forests of Mindo are home to species like the blue morpho butterfly

Savor a final morning in the rainforest, then it's time to say goodbye to Yasuní National Park! You will return to Coca by canoe, and from there, it's a seven-hour drive west to Mindo, passing through Quito. Once you reach Mindo, you'll find a completely different ecosystem. With higher altitudes and cooler temperatures, this lush cloud forest teems with diverse life. After settling in, start exploring the forest with its numerous bird species, butterflies, and rare orchids. This afternoon you could opt to ride a cable car over the Río Nambillo, follow trails to local waterfalls, and even take a zipline through the forest. 

Day 11: Morning Bird-Watching & Afternoon Activities in Mindo

Cock of the Rock
The Andean cock-of-the-rock, or tunki, is one of the cloud forests' most spectacular specimens
Kick off the day with bird-watching expedition! Just around the corner from your hotel, native cloud forests with hundreds of bird species wait to be explored. Mindo is famous for its staggering biodiversity, and you'll be sure to spot many of its most colorful species today to add to your photo collection. In the afternoon you're free to choose from a range of activities. If you fancy a hike to the waterfalls, head for the outskirts of Mindo, where you can ride a tarabita cable car across a canyon. From there, hike at your own pace to reach waterfalls of all sizes. Go for a swim and then continue exploring the cloud forest.
Later on, visit the butterfly farm of Mariposario de Mindo with your guide. Learn about butterflies, their habitats, and their different stages of life. Look out for hummingbirds and other colorful residents as you explore the gardens. Or join a chocolate-tasting session and learn how cocoa beans are processed into chocolate bars and other products. See the bean's transformation, grind cocoa by hand, and taste chocolate in its many forms—ranging from bitter to sweet.

Day 12: Day Trip to Mindo's Spectacular Natural Reserves

Toucan barbet
Venter farther afield today to spot more rare species like the toucan barbet

Today you have the option of embarking on a day trip into one of the many remarkable natural reserves around Mindo, each home to its own unique species and ecosystems. Opt for the newly UNESCO-listed Chocó Andino Biosphere Reserve, a real hotspot of biodiversity covering a wide range of altitudes and habitats, or visit the Yanacocha Reserve, where you'll find excellent birding with avian species such as black-backed grosbeaks, sword-billed hummingbirds, black-breasted pufflegs, and Andean condors.

Silanche, located 1,500 feet (450 m) above sea level in the Pedro Vicente Maldonado area, offers prime bird-watching as you explore its forests and palm plantations, while in Milpe you can visit the trails of the Mindo Cloud Forest Foundation, where keen-eyed visitors might spot the chestnut-mandibled toucan, chestnut-throated antwren, and the crested owl.

Day 13: Morning in Mindo & Return to Quito

The beautiful Morpho butterfly
Get in your final hours of birding this morning before returning to Quito

Rise early to get the most out of your final morning in Mindo, using the early light to spot more beautiful, colorful birds up close. After breakfast, you're free to relax at the lodge, take a laid-back tubing trip down the river, or embark on a hike to a local waterfall. Following lunch, enjoy a few last breaths of mountain air as you meet your driver for the trip back to Quito. You'll reach the city by early evening, allowing you time to check into your hotel and relax a bit. Settle back into city life and soak up the vibrant nightlife by visiting some of the Old Town's many bars, restaurants, and clubs.

Day 14: Free Day in Quito

La Compañía Church
The colorful interiors of Quito's La Compañía de Jesus

Feel free to explore the city on your own today. Stroll through the narrow streets of Quito's historic city center, visit one of the many interesting museums, or do some souvenir shopping. For the foodies out there, check out traditional Ecuadorian dishes in typical restaurants or on the streets—such as empanadas de viento, fresh fruit juice, hornado, or cevichochos. If you are up for some walking, take the cable car TelefériQo and enjoy spectacular views of the city and surrounding mountains from the eastern slopes of Pichincha at 13,000 feet (4,000 m).

Day 15: Depart Quito

Hasta pronto!
Hasta pronto!

Time flies, and it's already time to say goodbye to the natural wonders of Ecuador. Your driver will pick you up at your hotel and accompany you to Quito's airport, where you'll catch your departing flight. Safe travels!

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Map of Ecuador Wildlife & Bird-Watching Adventure: Cloud Forest, Rainforest & Andes - 15 Days
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