Belated trip report (Quito and Mindo)

Old Jan 12th, 2017, 02:09 PM
  #1  
RAC
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Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,951
Belated trip report (Quito and Mindo)

We spent 8 nights in Ecuador in the last week of August - first week in September, 2016 We spent the first two nights at El Crater Hotel and Restaurant on Pulalahua Crater/Geobotanical Reserve, followed by 5 nights near Mindo at Sachatamia Lodge, and then our last night near the international airport at Hacienda La Jimenita.

Long story short, this trip was heavily oriented around birds. Heavily, especially in the Mindo area, with the Quito area time more about relaxing. Special thanks go to artiejay and mglb for providing so many useful recommendations into getting the most out of our trip.

Day 1: Our departure is from JFK to Quito, with a connection in Panama City (which allows for some spectacular views on the descent). We arrive in the later afternoon at Quito’s international airport, and are picked up by a driver booked by El Crater. It’s a long drive, as El Crater is on the other side of Quito, and it’s not terribly pleasant, winding through slow, traffic-clogged roads, with poor air quality. Eventually we arrive at El Crater, but after sunset so there’s no chance to take in the crater view (it's also pretty foggy at this point so there'd be nothing to see anyways). Our suite is spacious and cozy, with the bed overlooking the crater and the living area overlooking the north Quito in the valley below. At night it gets chilly, windy, and foggy up here, so we decide to order room service from the restaurant and turn in early for the night, knowing that if the clouds clear we have a supposedly spectacular view to wake up to.

Day 2: We wake up around 6:00 in the morning, and WOW! That view. You can see photos of it on the hotel website, and on Tripadvisor reviews (including ours), but they really don’t even do it justice. I put a few up on Flickr and in our own Tripadvisor review. But all we did for the first 2 hours or so was just sit in bed and gawk.

We spent the first part of the day exploring the grounds of the hotel including the trails near the crater's edge, heading over to the restaurant for meals (we ate all of our meals here, which was convenient and tasty, but not cheap) and relaxing. As the day wore on clouds began rolling in through the crater backed by high winds, so much so that we saw a weird phenomenon of clouds/fog blowing straight up the sides of the crater. The temperature swings were quite remarkable—when the sun was out it got very warm, but when it clouded over, brrrr. That afternoon we strolled down to the Museo Templo del Sol Pintor Ortega Maila, which is a combination of artist’s studio, museum, spiritual center and tourist trap. We really enjoyed it, including the really reasonably priced tour and admission fee which gave us an introduction to the indigenous culture. We went back to the hotel, had our last evening meal, and prepared for our early morning transportation, who also happened to be our bird guide for the trip, Marcelo Arias.

Day 3: We’re up extra early to hit the road, and get picked up by Marcelo who’s traveling with his nephew Fernando, who works as a guide at the ultra-posh Mashpi Lodge. The plan is to hit the road and pick up some coffee along the way. Remarkably, we have a great deal of difficulty finding a place that serves fresh-brewed coffee. Finally we find a place that offers to give us hot water to put in our thermoses along with instant coffee mix to add. It’s not good, but it’s caffeine and I manage a few gulps. The lack of coffee was a constant theme in Ecuador—that nasty thermos of coffee had to last me 3 more days before we finally got a pot of fresh coffee at Recinto 23 de Junio (my wife was thoroughly disgusted at this as well as at my addiction to caffeine that drove me to drinking . Whereas most bakeries etc in places like Costa Rica will have some sort of coffee available, in Ecuador we couldn’t find it anywhere.

About an hour later we arrive at the very high Yanacocha Reserve, along the eastern slopes of Pichincha volcano. It’s a beautiful day, and the vistas as we walk along a mountainside are absolutely spectacular. We see quite a few hummingbirds, including the superstar Sword-billed Hummingbird, and a few other species, but it’s a pretty slow morning overall. We then drive for a few hours down the slope towards Mindo, stopping along the way for a few good sightings (including some spots where Marcelo had to know from previous experience there could be birds there). We arrive at Sachatamia and get checked in. While my wife catches up on some missed sleep at the cabin, Marcelo, Fernando and I hit the trails at Sachatamia for some pretty good birding for the rest of the afternoon, and then we part ways with an agreement that Marcelo will be by around 4:30 in the morning for our next morning’s hike. We enjoy a good meal at Sachatamia’s restaurant for dinner and turn in fairly early for the night.

Photos from El Crater, Yanacocha, and the Ecoruta between Yanacocha and Mindo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/312673...57671001669833

Overall impressions of Sachatamia: gorgeous, lush cloudforest grounds. Tons of hummingbirds everywhere and plenty of gorgeous tanagers, toucans etc at the feeders. The main outdoor terrace/pavilion has incredible, sweeping views over the entire Mindo valley. The architecture seems to have a heavy dose of traditional European features, which works in an odd way. Very cozy both at the main building and at our decent-sized cabin as well, which features a large bay window overlooking the grounds. There’s only limited wifi by the restaurant and lobby areas, none near the cabins. Personally, I think this is for the better. The service is very friendly and eager, but for a bird-oriented lodge they don’t quite do things the way we would expect. The restaurant isn’t open for breakfast until after a time when most birders will have left. They do offer a boxed breakfast of juice, water, banana and I believe some kind of roll, but no coffee. In fairness, they do offer to open the restaurant up early for us to have breakfast before we leave, but we don’t want to make everyone fire up the kitchen hours early just for us. Also, IMPORTANT for those staying at the lodge: if you’re going to be out for dinner past 8:00 or so at night, make sure to tell the people at the hotel so they can leave the front gate open for you when you drive/get a cab back from town. We came back one night from dinner in town, only to have to honk horns, bang on the gate, yell until the night watch man came to let us in.

Pictures from Sachatamia:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/312673...57677798466416

Days 4,5,6,7:

The next four and a half days are dedicated to birding the heck out of the Mindo area. Birding is what it is—getting up early, walking around to look at birds and take pictures, etc. Rather than going through the daily grind I’ll summarize the sites:

Rio Silanche—about 1.5 hours west of Mindo, a lowland destination that’s got a ton of birds and includes a platform/tower to see them at the tree top level. Didn't have great weather, so the photos were a bit less than I had hoped, but the birds were as promised.

Photos from Rio Silanche:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/312673...57675050444645

Bellavista—about 40 minutes from Sachatamia, higher elevation and incredibly beautiful highland valley. Also a well-known ecolodge here that looks very enjoyable. We saw quite a bit here too. On a separate day we went out early to just bird the road here and got quite a few nice sightings. Interestingly enough, none of the guests at the lodge we ran into were birders, just general nature enthusiasts.

Photos from Bellavista:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/312673...57673873940381

San Tadeo Birdwatching/Aviturismo: This is a small place with hummingbird and fruit feeders near the turn-off for the road to Bellavista from Mindo. But, these feeders draw some spectacular birds--at one point there were 5 different Crimson-rumped Toucanets at one point. Highly, highly recommended if you're looking for a lot of really gorgeous birds without investing much time or effort.

Photos from San Tadeo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/312673...57675147128566

Recinto 23 de Junio/Umbrellabird Reserve. As a birder, probably the highlight of the trip was to see (and photograph) several of the rare and super odd Long-wattled Umbrellabirds there. This is semi-converted agricultural land where the owners stopped deforestation and started engaging in preservation in order to run it as an ecotourism destination. Very well worth the time, and by visiting one helps preserve habitat for those spectacular and endangered birds.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/312673...57675214745266

Milpe Bird Sanctuary and Gardens: Another very lovely place probably most famous for its organized mating ritual (lek) of Club-winged Manakins (check out a Youtube of them—it’s awesome), which was certainly the highlight of the visit.

Photos from Milpe:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/312673...57671842117453

Mindo Waterfall road—the entire area around Mindo is beautiful, and this is no exception. This area is also popular with tourists and local familes who go tubing there, but is quite deserted and tranquil once one gets past the put-in location.

Photos from the Mindo waterfall road:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/312673...57676722832376

Refugio Paz de Aves: Probably the most famous of the birding locations in the Mindo area, it features a lek (mating ritual) site for the Andean Cock of the Rock as well as a chance to see several species of antpittas, a group of birds that are generally both rare and extremely reclusive. Definitely a highlight of our trip, and the breakfast they served there was probably the best meal we had in Ecuador. We visited here on our last morning in the Mindo area, and proceeded from there to Quito for our final night’s stay.

Photos from Paz de Aves:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/312673...57674934895624

Day 8: After departing Paz de Aves, we drive back via the main highway through Quito, with a brief stop at the airport pond to see if any good birds were there (answer is no) until getting to our lodging for the final night, Hacienda La Jimenita. Our driver has asked us if I’d like to go out birding the next day in some areas nearby, but I insist the last 24 hours or so are all about spending time with my wife (who does not have my obsession with them). This is a great place, an old hacienda that feels like a bunch of smaller buildings kind of cobbled together. It just oozes character—not a straight line or right angle in any walls, everything is stone, brick or timber. You get a sense of the place’s personality right away—the entrance is completely blocked by a wall with a gate and tower. You need to pull a rope that rings a bell at the top of the tower in order for someone to open the gate. We had the Imperial Suite here, which was huge, complete with a large balcony with volcano view and a working fireplace (which we couldn’t get to work because the firewood was too soggy). Before long, the rainclouds rolled in and we were treated to a thunder and lightning show. Good opportunity to just enjoy the room and catch some down time.

That evening, we head to the cozy dining room for dinner and a waitress begins to take our order. But then, the entire building begans to shake violently and the power goes out. Earthquake! The staff response is very impressive—they have battery-powered, hand-held spotlights in hand immediately as they evacuate everyone from the building (whose lack of straight lines begins to make more sense). It turns out to be a relatively weak, but very local, earthquake—we can see Quito from the grounds and all of Quito’s lights were still on. After getting the all-clear, we go back inside and the waitress takes the remainder of our order, and we begin to enjoy a candlelit dinner. We’re a bit disappointed when the power is restored and the lights come on, but only a bit. The meal is very good, and we turn in early for our last night in Ecuador. We do not, however, get a chance to take our scheduled tour of the archaeological tunnels beneath the lodge building and grounds, for obvious reasons.

Day 9: I had promised my wife that today would be all about spending time together and not about birding. I do go out early to do explore the grounds and look at some birds, and I run into the owner/manager Diego who is very proud to show me the bird feeders he has set up along the trails in the Hacienda’s private reserve. He and I hike together for a while, and then he heads back as I meander a bit to see more birds. I head back after about 90 minutes and meet Amanda for breakfast. As we’re sitting down, Diego eagerly asks me what else I saw and goes over the birds that can be seen there, his efforts to get the lodge’s reserve official recognition as a nature or wildlife refuge, etc. My wife kind of rolls her eyes even as I give her the "I did my best" expression, probably never having fully believed that I’d be able to spend any significant amount of time in Ecuador not devoted to birds. We do eventually get to have breakfast and pack up our room before leaving our luggage near reception so we can explore the grounds together and just soak it in. It’s a beautiful day, and the grounds are lovely with a number of places to sit and gaze at the views (I do have my camera and binoculars with). We fit in a tasty lunch at the hacienda’s restaurant, and then after a bit more walking around the grounds, we get picked up by a very personable driver (who tells us in Spanish that her entire family are professional drivers) who takes us to the airport for our flight home.

Pictures from Hacienda La Jimenita:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/312673...57678755335565
RAC is offline  
Old Jan 12th, 2017, 02:57 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2005
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Hi RAC I had already been enjoying your photos. Glad it worked out so well.. other than the coffee, LOL..I met Marcelo's nephew during one of our in-town excursions.

Any where notable for dinner in Mindo?

When your wife is ready to let you visit another cloud forest lodge you could do Owlet Lodge in the north of Peru.

If you include Tarapoto and Chaparri at either the end it's not all cold.

Transportation can be tricky to arrange crossing the provincial boundaries. Provided you can manage that there are good local guides at Owlet and at Chaparri..and at the latter your wife can see the spectacled bear, not just birds.
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Old Jan 12th, 2017, 03:30 PM
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RAC
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I can definitely sell her on the Spectacled Bear (probably could also sell the Olinguito at Bellavista).

Nothing terribly notable for dinner in Mindo--did the Firefly one night (lovely ambiance, food was okay, service needs work) and twice at El Tigrillo for pizza. We had planned to go to Fuera Babylon, but the cab drivers couldn't find it (even though it turned out to be very close to the main drag). :/

Issue with warm areas in Peru is that we have to stay away from Yellow Fever zones--my wife is immunosuppressed and can't take a live virus vaccine.

I still have to put my Plushcap photos up on Flickr (nothing outstanding, other than the fact they're Plushcaps).
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Old Jan 12th, 2017, 06:18 PM
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ay Plushcaps! I saw them but it was very foggy, not a good view, and also white-capped tanager.

Not sure if Tarapoto is YF zone.. probably if you contact Birding North Peru or one of the big birding companies they will have that info.

http://www.birdingnorthperu.com/

Chaparri is spring-like and a dry zone so I think no problem with YF.

Owlet Lodge might be one of the best places to see the tayra. They come to the banana feeder.
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Old Jan 12th, 2017, 09:00 PM
  #5  
RAC
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Couple of odds and ends:

One of the reasons we chose Sachatamia was its pool and hot tub, and it definitely was something we made use of while there. Only caveat is that you need to change into swimwear there or at least wear something over it--the climate never gets warm enough to walk around with wet hair in swim clothes.

Also, here's the photo album for the road to Bellavista, which we birded for about an hour and a half one morning (Plushcaps were probably the highlight):

https://www.flickr.com/photos/312673...57678989144536
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Old Jan 24th, 2017, 04:29 PM
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Fabulous pics, Rac, as always. Thanks so much for sharing. Sure like the looks of that last hacienda lodging. All made me want to return to Ecuador!
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Old Jan 26th, 2017, 12:56 PM
  #7  
RAC
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Thanks glover. It was a great trip, and we'd recommend any of those places. La Jimenita just drips with character and charm.
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Old Dec 6th, 2019, 12:19 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2003
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I just found this, as we're looking into a Galapagos + Ecuador trip in 2021. Great TR with good info and beautiful birds!!!!

Is this your Marcelo? Marcelo Arias Birding Guide
Thanks
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Old Dec 6th, 2019, 03:11 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2005
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That's him. He sure has a fancy website now!

Also in Mindo is Julia Patino, [email protected]

I found her English accent more difficult than Marcelo's but she's also very personable (and reliable).
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Old Dec 6th, 2019, 03:22 PM
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Thank you! Finding a good (and personable) guide is not easy
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