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.
The Falkland Islands provide one of the most unusual and enjoyabledestinations in the Naturetrekprogramme. Lying some 450 kilometresfrom the coast of South America, amid therich fishing grounds of the South Atlantic,the islands are inhabited by huge numbersof seabirds during the breeding seasonwhich extends from October to March. Thespectacle of these great assemblies ofpenguins, albatrosses, cormorants andterns is reason enough to visit the Falklandsbut the islands are so much more than justa haven for seabirds. The scenery is oftenreminiscent of the Scottish islands, butthere are many unique aspects to life in theFalklands and visitors are constantlycharmed by this blend of familiar andunfamiliar. In many ways the islands areessentially British in character but the South Atlantic exerts its own influences andthe sight of huge Elephant Seals hauled out on sandy beaches, or Giant Petrelsgliding along the Stanley shoreline, remindus that Europe is thousands of kilometresaway and that the wildlife has more affinitieswith Antarctica!Formerly the remoteness of the islandsmade them extremely difficult to visit butthe construction of Mount Pleasant airfield,combined with the provision of comfortabletourist accommodation on a number ofislands, has made the Falklands accessibleto an ever-increasing number of travellerswishing to enjoy the remarkable naturalhistory and fascinating way of life in thisvery special archipelago.As we drive to Port Stanley from MountPleasant after the long flight from England,flocks of Upland Geese grazing by theroadside and Long-tailed Meadowlarksforaging in the heather indicate emphaticallythat we have entered a very different world.A walk along the Stanley waterfront from ourcomfortable hotel will underline this as RockCormorants fly to their nests on an oldshipwreck in the harbour, Steamer Ducksdabble in the shallows, and Giant Petrelssquabble with Dolphin Gulls over titbitsdiscarded from fishing boats. Although the islands occupy an arearoughly the size of Wales, the population istiny, and even the capital, Stanley, is barelythe size of a large English village. Isolatedsheep farms and remote settlements aresurrounded by great expanses of wild peatmoorland, through which numerousstreams carve their way to the sea,providing refuge for impressively largetrout. Magnificent sandy beaches, the equal of any in the tropics, are invariablydeserted except for loitering Elephant Seals or Sea Lions, and in some places areutilised as landing strips by the light aircraft which serve as a lifeline betweenthese widely scattered islands. Trees arescarce, but ubiquitous thickets of gorseadd a vivid splash of colour to eachsettlement and offer a safe nesting placefor Falkland Thrushes.A day excursion from Stanley to VolunteerPoint is sure to rank among the tourhighlights as we visit the King Penguincolony at the point. The immenselyappealing young birds that parade in frontof us wearing their comical 'fur' coats ofthick down will be just the first of manyindelible memories to take home fromthese extraordinary South Atlantic islands.Port Howard, Sea Lion and Pebble Islandsconstitute the main centres for our tour andwe will be spending several days at eachlocality, travelling between islands on theFIGAS Islander aircraft which gives superbviews of the scenery en route, and willcheerfully divert from its flight path if thepilot spots a pod of Killer Whales oranything else of interest to his passengers! Two nights at Port Howard give us a tasteof life on a busy Falklands sheep farm butthe surrounding countryside is also rich inbirdlife and we will see many of the typicalWest Falkland species during our stay,including various waterbirds and a smallcolony of Gentoo Penguins at Fox Bay.Flying next to Pebble Island, we find adifferent terrain, with marshes and pools tothe east of the island and moorland andhills to the west. There are severalsignificant seabird colonies on Pebble and ithas been possible in some years to see sixpenguin species on the island. Impressivescenery, a fine sense of solitude, aprofusion of wild flowers and amazingsandy beaches make Pebble anunforgettable place. We stay next onbeautiful Carcass Island for three nightsand, if conditions permit, we will take a boatexcursion to nearby West Point where animpressive Black-browed Albatross colonywill be our principal objective, althoughthere will be plenty of other wildlife toadmire, including dolphins on the crossing.Our final destination is Sea Lion Islandwhere we stay in the comfortable touristlodge where Elephant Seal pups dozing inthe garden, and inquisitive StriatedCaracaras attempting to unpack ourluggage, give a taste of what is in store onthis superb island. Five penguin speciescan be found here, but the most numerousare the solemn Gentoos clustered togetherin their colonies, and the highlyentertaining little Rockhoppers which hurlthemselves ashore from the poundingwaves with the alacrity of circus acrobats.For the period of our stay the island is ourprivate domain, a birding paradiseinhabited by King Cormorants, Ruddy-headed and Kelp Geese, Falkland Skuas,Magellanic and Blackish Oystercatchers,Two-banded Plovers, Tussock Birds andmany other exciting species. ElephantSeals litter the beaches and, if we arelucky, we could witness Killer Whalescruising offshore. A final two days in Stanley give us anopportunity to look around this small townwhich, for a short while, was the focus ofthe world's media as the events of theFalklands conflict took place. Alsoscheduled is a boat excursion to KidneyIsland, hopefully concluding a remarkablewildlife holiday with close views of thesouthern ocean seabirds which pass justoff the shore of this undisturbed Tussac-covered island, and maybe a few dolphinsas a bonus!The Falkland IslandsAn 18-day holiday enjoying the birds and marine mammals of the Falkland Islands.Wednesday 7th November - Saturday 24th November 2012 Cost: £6,995Wednesday 6th November - Saturday 23rd November 2013 Cost: £6,995Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationWEST FALKLANDEAST FALKLAND PORT HOWARD KIDNEY ISLAND Mt.PLEASANTMt. USBORNEVOLUNTEER POINT PORT STANLEY PEBBLE ISLAND CARCASSISLANDSEA LION ISLANDFALKLAND SOUND SOUTH ATLANTIC OCEAN Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Mount Pleasant.Day 2Port Stanley.Day 3Volunteer Point.Day 4/5Port Howard.Day 6/8Pebble Island.Day 9/11Carcass Island.Day 12/14Sea Lion Island.Day 15Port Stanley.Day 16Kidney Island.Day 17Fly Brize Norton.Day 18Arrive Brize Norton.AccommodationComfortable hotel in Port Stanleyand tourist lodges elsewhere. Allrooms with private facilities excepton Carcass Island, where they areshared.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Mainly gentle birdwatching walks.FocusBirds and marine mammals.LeaderAlan Henry.Single room supplement£650.Web quick search: FLK01205Striated Caracara and Gentoo PenguinsKing PenguinsKelp Goose