If you enjoy the natural world, Ecuador should be at the top of your “must see” list and Neotropical your tour guides. Communication with Maria Zambrano, Operations Manager, as we tried to decide what full day-tours to take was prompt, friendly, helpful and ever-courteous. We had intended to do a single day of touring, but after one day with Santiago Salazar, we quickly booked a second. Santiago, a guide with a great wealth of knowledge, is both a passionate nature enthusiast and patient teacher. He answered every question we had on birds (he knows them all!), the native vegetation, history and culture of the area. His attention to our needs and hopes in exploring the area never waned. We couldn’t have felt more fortunate and well taken care of!
Within several hours of Quito, a busy city of 2 million people, are a surprising number of nature reserves. Driving into the spectacular Andes mountains and these reserves is like moving onto another planet, or planets, the vegetation associated with the numerous microclimates providing an ever-shifting palette of texture and color. At the Antisana Ecological Reserve, we had the heart-stopping experience of seeing condors, the largest bird on the planet. We lingered at length watching not only the condors (both adults and a chick), but variable hawks and carunculated caracara, as they floated over the stunning cliffs of the reserve. It was absolutely magical and Santiago was very patient with our desire to stay and watch, pointing out various smaller birds as they flitted around our lookout point, as well as the movement of the raptors.
The condor, as most folks know, is an endangered species, and Neotropical is committed to working in tandem with locals to promote ecotourism as a livelihood that can be both financially profitable (indeed, more profitable than clearing ground to raise cattle) and valuable to the country and planet as a whole. Their goals include preserving the vital ecosystems that support not only condors, but over 1600 species of birds, many of them with the colorful plumage that makes this subtropical area a spectacular place to bird and/or photograph.
Our goal on this trip was to see birds, (although Ecuador boasts over 350 species of mammals as well as the illusive jaguar). And after 20 years of guiding, Santiago had IDed particular areas within each of the reserves and access roads where various bird species have been found. With Santiago’s guidance, we saw 45 species on our first day into the reserve including a red-crested continga, spectacled redstart, and the giant hummingbird, a miracle of avian engineering!
In every way, our two days with Neotropical was satisfying. Next time we head for Ecuador, we hope to take part in a ten-day tour in search of wildlife and into the Amazon. I highly recommend these folks. They are the whole package: competent, professional, knowledgeable, and with an excellent command of the English language. Tour with Neotropical Nature and Birding Trips and discover the beautiful and fascinating world of Ecuadorian nature. I promise you won’t be disappointed!