Coke Smith Photography & Travelogue

Expedition to Ecuador: Andes & Amazona

Masked Boobies off the coast of the Galapagos.


Ecuador truly is the jewel of South America.  With the tropics of its Amazona region to the gorgeous Andes and volcanos, Ecuador has always been one of my favorite travel destinations.  In 2001, I visited Ecuador for the third time and once again followed the below itinerary, which I personally designed in 1996 for La Selva.  I also had the unique pleasure of spending an additional week with the Kapawi tribe in Amazona.  Living with and experiencing the culture of these fascinating people is an experience I will cherish always.


Click the links below to see more images from the Galapagos and South & Central America

Animals of South & Central America

Birds of South & Central America

South & Central American People & Places



A spectacular Amazon sunset deep in the Ecuadoran Amazon.



DAY 1 (Thu): QUITO: Arrival transfer from the States. Accommodations Hotel Sebastian including buffet breakfast.

DAY 2 (Fri): GALAPAGOS ISLANDS / BALTRA / TURTLE COVE: Departure transfer to airport for flight to the Galapagos. We board our beautiful boat to begin our Galapagos expedition. We visit Baltra, which has unique Opuntia and Cereus cacti as well as Palo Santo trees and numerous annuals. We will also visit turtle cove to see the massive Galapagos tortoises.S (BLD)

The visits are taken to the islands in a smaller boat launched from the mother ship to the beach or dock. All excursions are assisted by a professional naturalist guide for an in-depth experience, with detailed lectures in the evenings. Seasonal changes in the itinerary may occur due to weather patterns or national park regulations at the moment of the cruise.

DAY 3 (Sat): SOUTH PLAZA / SANTA FE (BARRINGTON): South Plaza was formed by uplifted lava-fault blocks and contains land iguanas, Audubon's shearwaters, red-billed tropic birds, brown pelicans, sea lions swallow-tailed gulls, just to name a few. Here we see the large Opuntia cacti and a striking, red succulent, Sesuvium. On Santa Fe Island, we experience land iguanas, the Galapagos mockingbird, the brown noddy, the brown pelican, magnificent frigate birds, and several species of Darwin's ground finches. In the cove we may spot manta rays, parrotfish and the occasional sea turtle.

DAY 4 (Sun): ESPANOLA (HOOD): Punta Suarez is simply packed with wildlife! Here we will see marine iguanas, sea lions, swallow-tailed gulls, lava lizards, finches, the endemic long-billed mockingbirds, both blue-footed and masked boobies, oystercatchers, and breeding waved albatrosses (April to December). We may have a chance to swim with the playful sea lions and relax at the spectacular white-sand beach at Gardner Bay.

DAY 5 (Mon): FLOREANA (CHARLES): Here we can leave our letters as the whalers did over 100 years ago at the wooden barrel mailbox on Post Office Bay. We will visit a flamingo lagoon behind Point Cormorant's olivine beach and snorkel at the mysterious Devil's Crown, an eroded, submerged volcanic cone.

DAY 6 (Tues): PUERTO AYORA / DARWIN STATION/HIGHLANDS: We will visit the world-famous Darwin Research Station at Puerto Ayora. In the nearby highlands, we will see the lush humid zone with its characteristic Miconia bushes, Scalesia trees (of the sunflower family) and extinct volcanic cones covered with lush growth. Santa Cruz Island has more endemic flora that any other island in the Galapagos.

DAY 7 (Wed): SANTIAGO (JAMES) / BARTOLOME: Santiago Island demonstrates the volcanic forces that formed the islands very clearly. It is a twisted world of lava cones and craters. At Puerto Egas, we can swim with the Galapagos fur seals in their native habitat. Bartolome has an incredible 350-foot cinder cone surrounded by spectacular lava formations providing a moon-like landscape.

DAY 8 (Thur): GENOVESA (TOWER): Here we will see colonies of red-footed and masked boobies, lava gulls and frigate birds all nestled in the area surrounding Darwin's Bay. To the east, we can see red-tailed tropic-birds and storm petrels as well as more boobie nesting sites. We will also have a chance to do some snorkeling in the majestic waters here.

DAY 9 (Fri): NORTH SEYMOUR / BALTRA/RETURN FLIGHT: This submarine lava formation contains the largest gathering of magnificent frigate birds in the region. We can also visit nesting colonies of blue-footed boobies and swallow-tailed gulls. Arrival transfer from Galapagos. Overnight at Hotel Sebastian (BL).

DAY 10 (Sat): QUITO: Full-day excursion in Quito. Accommodations in Quito (BL).

DAY 11 (Sun): PAPALLACTA THERMAL SPRINGS / SAN RAFAEL CLOUD FOREST: The group departs Quito for the Papallacta thermal springs for paramo life zone exploration, and eventually down to San Rafael Cloud Forest Reserve. On the eastern side of the Cordillera Real, the cool, moist atmosphere of the cloud forest, combined with the ample light filtered through the trees creates a luxuriance of flora that is hard to imagine. By special arrangement, we visit this private reserve which is packed with orchids and hundreds of bird species. Surrounded by towering mountains, the lodge serves hearty meals and very comfortable lodging. Accommodations by special arrangement at lodge adapted for guests (BLD).

DAY 12 (Mon): SAN RAFAEL CLOUD FOREST: Full-day field trips on various nature trails to explore this unique habitat, with great opportunities for bird watching and botany. Some of the possible activities include swimming in invigorating thermal springs, treks to the Vista Real Birding Trail down to the Rio Coca basin where it may be possible to see the elusive "cock of the rock". Trekking through he primary Polilepis forests to the falls is simply spectacular. Accommodations at lodge (BLD).


Trekking the flooded forests of the Cuyabeno can be a challenge but it is rewarding!


DAY 13 (Tue): SAN RAFAEL - CUYABENO RESERVE: The group leaves San Rafael for the Cuyabeno River Lodge region, with important stops along the way to study the changing habitats and ecosystems in relation to human and wildlife adaptation. Accommodations at Cuyabeno River Lodge (BLD).

DAY 14 (Wed): CUYABENO RESERVE: Perhaps the greatest diversity of life on earth exists at Cuyabeno, which is tucked away in the remote Upper Amazon basin. Activities will include canoeing the narrow rivers and inlets and expansive lakes, easy walks through thick rainforest, discussions and in-the-field demonstrations of sustainable utilization of natural resources, including herbal medicines, Indian construction methods, as well as birdwatching.

DAY 15 (Thu): CUYABENO RESERVE: Activities continue at this wonderful virgin wilderness. Animals in this region that we may be able to see include fresh-water dolphins, manatees, piranha, arapaima, many species of primates, and hundreds of species of birds. The forest is rich with orchids, ferns and bromeliads. At night we will search for caymans, agouti, paca and other night-roaming animals. Accommodations at Cuyabeno River Lodge (BLD)

DAY 16 (Fri): CUYABENO RESERVE - QUITO: The group departs Cuyabeno for Quito at mid-day by air with afternoon free for relaxing. Accommodations in Quito. (B)

DAY 17 (Sat): OTAVALO: The group heads to the Otavalo market and region, with important sites along the way. The Otavalo market is where we may sample the artistry of the Otavalo Indians. Their talents include weavings, walnut and cedar carvings, leather wear and "bread-dolls". Accommodations at indigenous-run complex (BLD)

DAY 18 (Sun): OTAVALO: We will spend time in the Otavalo region exploring such sites as the pre-Inca ruins of Cochasqui and travel through many forgotten Indian villages surrounding the haciendas of La Esperanza and Zuleta, where the women wear intricately embroidered color on their blouses and pleated skirts (BLD)

DAY 19 (Mon): OTAVALO - TANICUCHI: The group departs the Otavalo region for the Tanicuchi region. Accommodations at La Cienega (BLD)


An aerial view of Cotopaxi, one of Ecuador's many shield volcanoes.


DAY 20 (Tue): COTOPAXI NATIONAL PARK: Today the group explores Cotopaxi National Park and Riobamba, with important sites along the way. Cotopaxi National Park offers massive mountains, aromatic vegetation and wild creatures ranging from colorful, tiny frogs and hummingbirds to elusive llamas and condors. The rocky basaltic summits of Ruminahui and Sincholagua reward the visitor with expansive views of the world below. Accommodations at hostel in outskirts of the city (BLD)

DAY 21 (Wed): RIOBAMBA: Today the group visits colonial Riobamba, Ingapirca (Ecuador's most important Incan site) and colonial Cuenca. Accommodations at hotel in colonial section of town (BLD)

DAY 22 (Thu): CUENCA: Today we have a Full-day exploration of Cuenca, with its various museums, ruins, and other fascinating sites. (BLD)

DAY 23 (Fri): GUALACEO: Today we have a full-day field trip to the fantastic Indian villages of the Gualaceo countryside and other sites and return in PM in time for our return flight to Quito. Accommodations in Quito (BL). By special arrangement, there will be a farewell dinner at Ecuadorian private home (BLD).

DAY 24 (Sat): QUITO: Departure transfer to airport in time for return flight to States (B)


Here are some more images of my trips to Ecuador:




Beautiful fabrics from hammocks being sold at Ecuador's famous Otavalo Market.  I have only been to the market once but it was well worth the three day stay!  Lots to do in the town and in the surrounding area.



The spectacular road traveling through the Andes on the way to Otavalo.



On one of my many treks in Ecuadoran Andes, we came across these spectacular wild orchids which were common along the trail of this beautiful caldera lake.



A brilliant sunset along the Rio Napo of Ecuador's Amazon Basin.  Nights like this were common while there.


A quiet foggy morning kayaking the tributaries leading to the Rio Napo.  The early morning sounds of the jungle were sublime.  Listening to the creatures of the forest wake up was the best way ever to start a great day!  While in this region one day, there was a massive earthquake in Peru over 500 miles way that caused a tidal surge in the Amazon Basin causing river levels to rize over 3 meters in a matter of seconds!  We rode this wave like a tidal swell in the middle of the ocean. I had never experienced anything like this before or since.  After an ayahuasca journey, the tribal elders in the village near us were convinced that it was the "Anaconda God" was angered and moved.



We trekked for miles in the forest.  The light was dim as the canopy was basically completely contiguous.  The only flora growing below the canopy level were these bromeliads and other epiphytes, but little to nothing was growing at all on the forest floor!




These forests are flooded for many months of the year. 



The Kapawi people in their village.  We were welcomed in to their homes to share food and drink and a volleyball game! 



The Kapawi taught us how to use their blow darts.  I was dead on with two out of three hits on a fruit located about 100 meters away! 



The Kapawi Lodge is located in a vegetated ox-bow lake deep in the Amazon Basin.  A two hour plane ride from Quito, followed by a one hour speed boat ride is how you get to these remote bundalows.  I was inspired by the unbroken forest canopy that stretched for as far as the eye could see in all directions during our flight to the region.



The grub was good and there was plenty of it!



A rainforest giant with Liana hanging to the forest floor.  These massive trees were still common in this region of the Amazon.  I hope this is still the case.



The amazing "Walking Tree"!  It literally "walks" through the forest!  Well, it actually simply grows new adventitious roots on the side of the tree that is in sun "flecks" in the forest.  The roots on the non-sunny side atrophy and drop away while the tree appears to "walk" through the forest to find sunlight.



My first Kinkajou!  Some of the Kapawi villagers found this little guy climbing around a small tree near the village.  Normally they would hunt and kill it but this time they let him live (at least until we left...) so we could enjoy this wonderful Procyonid (same family as racoons!).



Another Procyonid seen on the trip was this South American Coatimundi as well as several other wild ones.  This one was basically a "semi-wild" pet of the village.  The villagers did feed it but it would disappear for days.


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