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Biologically, South America is therichest of the Earth's continents. ItsAmazon Basin holds the largest andmost diverse tract of tropical rainforest onthe planet, while its major mountain range,the Andes, harbours an astonishing varietyof ecosystems that range from the tundra-like páramoand epiphyte-ladencloudforest to rain-shadow valleys anddeciduous deserts. To sample these richesthere is no better country in which to startthan Ecuador. In this small country anastonishing diversity of birdlife may befound (the greatest for its size in SouthAmerica), and with a welcoming people,relatively short travel distances and goodaccommodation, birdwatching here is truly a delight. We begin our holiday with a thoroughexploration of the western slope of theAndes, focusing first on the well-knownand spectacular Nono-Mindo road. Thislong, winding road heads west from theoutskirts of Quito at the base of VolcánPichincha. We pass through near-páramohabitat before working our way down thewestern slope through excellent temperateand subtropical forest. Here we mayencounter such species as Plate-billedMountain Toucan, Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Toucan Barbet, Crimson-mantledWoodpecker, Booted Racket-tail and more.During the afternoon we will arrive at acomfortable birders' lodge in a valley ofpristine cloudforest just outside Mindo, our accommodation for the next threenights. It is a delight to lie back in one ofthe hammocks and watch up to 12 species feeding on the sugar-water from one of the feeders. Mindo is a small town surrounded byhillside after hillside of lush verdantcloudforest. Many of the western endemicbirds may be found here. We will alsohave the chance to walk to a Cock-of-the-rock lek where the males dance andflaunt their stunning scarlet plumage. Alsofrom Mindo we will devote some time tothe Chocópatch of Pedro VicenteMaldonado, home to many sought-afterand highly localised endemics which areextremely hard to find without localknowledge.The next leg of our journey takes us on ashort flight over the Andes and down tothe Amazonian lowlands. Here we willtravel down the mighty Napo River bymotorised canoe for an exciting 5-day stay at Sacha Lodge, one of the bestrainforest lodges in the world. The lodgeitself enjoys a wonderful location by theside of a secluded and peaceful oxbowlake, deep within virgin rainforest. One ofthe many highlights of our stay here will be the 50-metre tower that gives ussplendid access to the forest canopy. Anearly morning spent in the tower is anunforgettable experience offering thechance to enjoy some superb mixed-species feeding flocks of tanagers,toucans, parrots, macaws, euphonias,flycatchers and birds of prey. On otherexcursions we will paddle through beautiful flooded creeks in traditionaldugout canoes. For those preferring atemporary break from the birding, amorning spent in the company of one ofthe local indigenous guides is fascinating.Their knowledge of medicinal plants, localtools and weapons and their overall junglecraft is remarkable. Mammals in therainforest are notoriously difficult to spotbut at Sacha there is a great chance ofseeing up to six species of monkey.Sloths, deer, anteaters and even wild cats can be seen with some luck, whileSpectacled Caiman and Side-neckedTurtles are common in the surroundingblackwater lagoons. After our flight back to the capital, we haveone full day to explore Yanacocha. Theslopes of Volcán Pichincha harbour some ofthe most accessible and undisturbedtemperate forest in all of northern Ecuador.Highlights may include Andean Guan,Rainbow-bearded Thornbill, Black-chestedMountain-tanager and a whole spectrum ofhummingbirds. To finish our tour we move up towards theeastern cordillera of the Andes, looking enroute for Giant Hummingbird and Red-crested Cotinga. The windswept grassypáramoon the Papallacta Pass holds manyinteresting high-elevation birds and, aftercrossing the pass, lush vegetation soonbegins to blanket the valleys, with the greenhillsides around Papallacta being particularlygood for hummingbirds and tanagers. Wewill spend two nights in delightfulaccommodation at the hot thermal springsin Papallacta, the best in Ecuador. There isno better way to end a day's birding thanwith a bottle of wine, fresh locally caughttrout and a long soak in the hot thermalsprings beneath the equatorial stars! Ecuador - The Andes & AmazonA 15-day birdwatching tour of the threatened western cloudforests, the spectacular high páramo and the Amazon Basin.Wednesday 7th November - Wednesday 21st November 2012 Cost: £3,495Wednesday 7th August - Wednesday 21st August 2013 Cost: £3,795Wednesday 6th November - Wednesday 20th November 2013 Cost: £3,495Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationQUITOMINDOYANACOCHASACHALODGECOCAPAPALLACTAECUADORCOLOMBIAPERUPACIFICOCEANOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Quito.Day 2/5Mindo.Day 6/10Amazon lowlands.Day 11Yanacocha.Day 12/13Papallacta, High Andes.Day 14Depart Quito.Day 15Arrive London.AccommodationComfortable lodges and hotels withprivate facilities.FoodAll included in the price exceptmain meals in Quito.GradingGrade A. Easy day walks only,although some over steep terrain.FocusBirds.LeaderByron Palacios or AlejandroSolano, plus local guides.Single room supplement£495.ExtensionsMany optional extensions areavailable. Some suggestionsinclude Loja, Cuenca and theGalápagos. Please call for our helpand suggestions.Web quick search: ECU08203CloudforestHoatzin and chick

204Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryEcuador, bisected from north to southby the mighty Andes and from eastto west by the equator (after whichthe country is named), offers wonderfulbotanising amidst magnificent scenery.Once part of the Inca Empire thatstretched from Chile to Colombia, andlater a Spanish colony until it gainedindependence during the last century,Ecuador possesses an extraordinary range of environments, and harbours thehighest biodiversity for an area of its sizein South America. In fact, its orchid list is the longest of any country in the world, regardless of size, with over 3,700 species!On this holiday we will visit many of themain montane habitats along the centralspine of the country. We will tiptoe aroundfragile alpine cushion plants near thesnow-line, search for orchids and tree-sized flowering mistletoes in cold, moss-covered temperate forests, marvel at thelushness of the rich subtropical forests onthe lower slopes of the mountains, andreach the edge of Amazonia with a visit tothe extremely diverse transition zonebetween rainforest and cloudforest. Thediversity of plants (not to mention thebirds!), welcoming people, short traveldistances and good accommodation makea natural history holiday here a delight. We begin our journey by driving southalong the 'Avenue of the Volcanoes', thearid central plateau of the country. If theweather is clear we will have fantasticviews of the highest active volcano in theworld, Cotopaxi. Further on, from Baños, ineast-central Ecuador, we will have views ofanother active volcano, Tungurahua, andperhaps witness one of its frequent smalleruptions. Past volcanic activity hassculpted a tortuous landscape here, withgeologically recent lava flows covered withdesert-like vegetation. The mostconspicuous element of this semi-arid florais the Puya, an imposing terrestrialbromeliad. Two rare amaryllis relatives(Phaedranassa schizantha var. ignea and P.viridiflora) can also be found here and lavaflows host many orchids, mostly withinconspicuous flowers. If we are lucky, wemay even find a flowering plant of thestrange 'slipperless' lady's slipper orchid,Phragmipedium lindenii, with its stringypetals up to a foot long.The hills to the east of Baños are coveredby extremely wet cloudforest (from whereover 40 new orchid species have recentlybeen described!). We will spend the nexttwo days exploring this area from the lovelyhotel above Baños called Luna Runtun(Fortress of the Moon). The forests here areheavily clad with orchids and bromeliads,and the scenery is spectacular, withwaterfalls on all sides. The slopes arecovered with big purple Sobraliaorchidflowers and forests full of endemic species,many still awaiting discovery.We next fly south to Loja, a tranquil cityofficially founded on 8th December 1548by the Spaniard Captain Alonso deMercadillo. Loja is one of the oldest citiesin Ecuador, its age evident in the richcolonial architecture and narrow streets.The city is situated at 2,100 metres abovesea level in the Cuxibamba Valley andenjoys a temperate, spring-like climate allyear round. Well off the beaten tourist trail,the province of Loja offers a uniquecombination of breathtaking vistas,indigenous markets, an amazingecological diversity, colonial architectureand unparalleled hospitality.Loja is an ideal base from which to explorehigh-elevation cloudforests in thePodocarpus National Park. Stunning alpinegrasslands are evident here, rich inericads, bromeliads and orchids, and theenvironment is very picturesque; we canbe absolutely sure that we will be the onlybotanists on the mountainside!There is also an extraordinary cold, windyand wet páramonear Loja, called CerroToledo. We will visit this botanically uniqueenvironment, rich in endemic species,although the climate is often so severe thatwe may not stay at the top for long!Next we head back to Quito and east,along a route first used in the 16th centurywhen Francisco de Orellana led hisexpedition from Quito down into Amazonia.Papallacta, a small village perched up onthe tree-line, is famous in Ecuador for itshot thermal springs and it really is anAndean paradise. The road affordssplendid views of several snow-cappedpeaks as it winds its way over the 4,000-metre Papallacta Pass and, with goodluck, we may find an Andean Condorsoaring over the crags. Here we willexamine curious clumps of moss-likedwarf gentians and other plants withstrange growth forms, highly adapted forlife in this extreme environment. We willalso visit the enchanting Polylepisforestswith their twisted branches and papery redbark, growing at the upper altitudinal limitfor woody plants. Lower down we will bebased at the delightful San Isidro Lodgewhere we will explore moss-coveredcloudforests full of yellow Odontoglossumorchids and other colourful flowers -afitting finale to the tour.Andean Flora of Ecuador An exciting and pioneering 16-day holiday in search of the orchids and other special plants of this beautiful Andean country.Tuesday 25th September - Wednesday 10th October 2012 Cost: £3,395Tuesday 24th September - Wednesday 9th October 2013 Cost: £3,595Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Quito.Day 2/4Baños.Day 5Quito.Day 6Loja.Day 7/8Vilcabamba.Day 9Loja.Day 10/11Papallacta.Day 12/13San Isidro.Day 14Quito.Day 15/16Fly London.AccommodationA variety of excellent hotels andlodges, all with private facilities.FoodAll included in the price, exceptevening meals in Quito.GradingGrade A. Easy walks only, althoughsome at altitude.FocusPlants, particularly alpine plantsand orchids.LeaderGustavo Cañas.Single room supplement£375.Web quick search: ECU01QUITOCOTOPAXIVILCABAMBAPODOCARPUSNATIONAL PARKLOJABAÑOSBAEZASAN ISIDROPAPALLACTAECUADORCOLOMBIAPERUPACIFICOCEANAntisana Volcano from PapallactaLepanthes sp.