Enjoying the Mists and Multitude of Species Found in the Cloud Forests of Mindo & Bellavista: Cloud forests are unique ecosystems, renowned for their biological abundance. Located less than 2 hours north of Quito, the cloud forests of Mindo and Bellavista are rich and rewarding stops for birders and nature lovers of all stripes. Over 400 species of birds have been recorded here, and experts believe the actual count is much higher. El Monte (tel. 09/3084-675; www.ecuadorcloudforest.com) and Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve (tel. 02/2116-232; www.bellavistacloudforest.com) are two excellent lodges from which to base your bird-watching expeditions of this area.
Spotting Some of the More Than 600 Species in Podocarpus National Park: This remote national park runs from a high of 3,700m (11,139 ft.) down to some 1,000m (3,281 ft.) above sea level, and contains ecosystems that range from high paramo to cloud forest and rainforest. The most common jumping-off points for visiting here are Loja and Vilcabamba. If you're looking for an excellent personal guide, contact Jorge Luis at Caminatas Andes Sureños (tel. 07/2673-147).
Catching Sight of Hundreds of Species in El Oriente: The mid-elevation and lowland rainforests of Ecuador's El Oriente are prime bird-watching areas. Many lodges in this region have on-site bird-species lists that number 400 or more. Several species of macaws frolic overhead, while the prehistoric hoatzin inhabits the low branches of riverside trees. Just about any of the lodges in El Oriente can be considered top bird-watching destinations, but I recommend the Napo Wildlife Center (www.napowildlifecenter.com), which has a couple of parrot licks right on their grounds, where as many as several thousand mixed-flock parrots may gather on any day to extract minerals and nutrients from an exposed clay riverbank.
Seeing Endemic Species on the Galápagos Islands: What can you say? From the 13 species of Darwin's finches, to the only subtropical penguin, to the unique flightless cormorant, the Galápagos provide the greatest one-stop spot to check off a whole host of once-in-a-lifetime birds from your life's list. In fact, around half of all the bird fauna on the Galápagos is endemic, meaning you can only see them here.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.