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Come experience an eco-adventure wildlife tour with Cabañas San Isidro! The reserve maintains a vital role as one of the front-runners on Ecuador 's east-slope with respect to tying together land acquisition and protection projects, serious biological research, community involvement, and world-class nature tourism in one of the most ecologically sensitive, and important zones that the country has to offer. Name your delight, Ecuador has it all!
Cabañas San Isidro was founded over fifty years ago by the Bustamante family of Quito, Ecuador, when the uncharted lands of eastern Ecuador where first made available to the public by a government campaign to convert unclaimed lands into productive farms.
With a deep concern for proper natural resource management, as well as for the urgent need to protect the unique flora and fauna of the zone, Simón Bustamante (one of the pioneer modern-day explorers of the Ecuadorian Amazon) left the majority of his vast (now privately owned 1,100 hectares, plus 800 bought with our local foundation) property untouched despite the pressure from many levels to clear the forest for what was then considered land improvement. Over the years, Cabañas San Isidro has matured into a comfortable lodge, surrounded by large and accessible tracts of primary cloud forest run by Simón's daughter, Carmen.
San Isidro Lodge is the major nexus in the Cosanga Valley that links the Antisana and Gran Sumaco Reserves by way of a wide and splendid flat montane forest reserve; flat forests in the Andes these days are hard to come by since much of this habitat type has been converted into pasture.
More recently San Isidro has worked closely with Biocomercio and GIZ to help make the reserve more sustainable through community projects designed to benefit everybody involved. The goal is that the lodge, the locals, and the forest can forge a relationship that benefits everybody, leaving the smallest ecological footprint possible.
Cabañas San Isidro offers ten private and comfortable double rooms that are widely spaced about on the sprawling gardens. All allow immediate access to the outdoors right from the open-air, front porches of each. Cabañas San Isidro’s lodge and lush cloud forest reserve can be reached by paved road from Quito’s new international airport in only about two hours, so getting here has gotten easy.
San Isidro lies right between two large national parks, so ‘gettinglost’ is part of the fun, and discovery is a daily event. Amazing cuisine, cooking classes, primary forest trails, mammal watching, birding, and archaeology are some of the activities waiting for you here.
You will leave from Quito at 08:00 to the Amazon watershed, with scenic and biodiverse cloud forests on your minds. Your first stop en route, however, will be at a rose plantation where you will have the opportunity to ogle at many of the most popular and spectacular varieties that Ecuador produces. After this it will be time to move up in elevation to the majestic, windswept paramos of Papallacta - a very tundra-like habitat. On clear days here, the views of the surroundings and various volcanoes are breath-taking; a stop right up at the continental divide is one of the best spots from which to photograph the snow-capped volcano, Antisana, as it towers over the mountains below.
After what will have probably been a chilly morning (at best!) you will get to Guango Lodge in time to enjoy a delicious and hot, sit-down lunch, traditional Ecuadorian style, right next to the active hummingbird feeders. In the afternoon you will embark on a hike along the trails that fan out around the lodge to get a taste of the beautiful Andean temperate forests and the birds that often adorn their branches; colorful mountain-toucans and tanagers would be a hit.
Not letting it get too late, you will make your way down-slope - about a one-and-a-half hour drive - to Cabañas San Isidro, where you will shoot to get in with daylight and settle into your rooms before dinner. At dinner, you will be officially welcomed and have your first taste of Ecuador’s best known hot toddy, a delicious drink - called “Canelazo” - made from water boiled with real cinnamon, fruit juice, and a dash of cane alcohol, that is sure to help warm you up. There will be guinea pig tasting opportunity for the adventurous ones.
After a magnificent dinner - your food is widely recognized for its originality and exquisite quality - a night hike awaits you, where you will be in search of owls, strange insects, nocturnal mammals or any other critter that might grace your presence. You will spend the night at San Isidro.
You’ll put your birding caps on this morning and get out for the early morning activity. While you slept, the lights around the lodge will have collected a mob of moths and other insects, which means one thing: a buffet for insectivorous birds in search of breakfast! You will spend the early morning watching trogons, woodcreepers, flycatchers, and tanagers glean all sorts of bugs in a seemingly frantic attempt to satisfy their morning hunger. And if this has not awakened your appetites, the smell emanating from the dining room should. You guessed it: time for a controlled stampede in for a buffet breakfast.
Well fed and ready for more, you will set out on one of San Isidro’s newest adventures: a “virtual safari”. While at any moment a rare mammal could pop into view during the walk, they are wary, so your safari is designed to run a trap-line of sorts, checking the motion-sensor cameras and the photos that they have taken over the last weeks, days, hours, and even minutes; it really is a thrill to see a photo - that no one else has seen - of a puma, oncilla, tapir, or even an anteater, taken right where you are standing!
Checking the cameras all the while, your walk will lead you to the beautiful Pumayacu Falls, right in the heart of the reserve, and then down to the edges of the pristine waters of the Cosanga River where we will enjoy a catered lunch at a remote riverside beach where a torrent duck might even come drifting by.
After a full morning of exploration, you’ll visit the Yanayacu Biology Station, up the road from the lodge, in the afternoon for a chat and more in-depth look at all of the important and fascinating research taking place in the reserve; researchers from all over the world and Ecuador congregate here to do their best to unravel the life histories and secrets of the denizens of a cloud forest system still so very much in need of study. Many new species to science have resulted from these efforts.
Dinner is always something to look forward to at San Isidro, so you will take full advantage! After dinner, for those interested, you can take another short stroll around the lodge to check the lights, where we will surely encounter the usual myriad of beetle and colorful moth species that have descended onto the white walls; their designs and patterns seem limitless! For the more gung-ho spirits, a night hike to check some more camera traps might whet the appetite.
This morning you will venture down a nearby trail or two to watch the antpittas, an extremely retiring (and subtly beautiful) group of South American birds, as they come to devour worms at the feeders - a photographer’s delight. After a hearty breakfast, you will venture out to the archeological ruins on the property for a look at what is left of a group, the “Curisetas” (translated as the “Goldsmiths”), that inhabited the region pre-colonially; most interesting is that they were never conquered by the Incas. Their history is a bit murky, but this small group of natives seemed to have faded away without much of a fuss or fight.
The Curisetas were best known for their prowess at mining and then molding gold jewelry, and for hauling large rocks from distant areas and placing them as directional monoliths; their pottery shards are still easily found in the rivers on the property. You will make your way back to the lodge for a well-deserved lunch.
You will take time for a post-lunch “siesta” before hitting the trail again. This afternoon, you’ll head down to a mating lek of the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. Several males of this loud and bright orange bird, something like South America’s answer to the Birds of Paradise, can often be found in the late afternoon carrying-on in the tree canopies right overhead in hopes of attracting females. You might even want to check any motion sensor cameras along the way to see if any critters passed by over the last 24 hours. As always, another inventive dinner awaits.
This morning you will plan to rise a little earlier, zip up our bags and bid San Isidro farewell (after breakfast, of course!) for a visit to the spectacular Cascadas San Rafael or, in English, “Coca Falls”. It will take the better part of two hours to get there along the road to Lago Agrio, but highway conditions are generally good and the scenery breath-taking. Set in the foothills (between the cool forests of the subtropical zone and Amazonian lowlands), you will notice the change: warmer temperatures and taller trees.
The kilometer hike through the lush tropical forests to the falls can be a great place to spot an Umbrellabird or even a troop of Capuchin or Spider Monkeys. Upon approaching Ecuador’s mightiest of all waterfalls, you will feel its rumble well before you see it - sort of an eerie feeling, really. You will have packed lunches along and a picnic lunch eye level with the falls would be the ideal setting. From here, it will be time to make your way back to Quito (or down into the Amazonian lowlands to connect with the next leg of the trip).
This morning you will visit the Cordillera de Guacamayos (only a 20-minute drive from San Isidro), on the eastern edge of the Antisana Reserve where, on a clear day from this relatively low mountain pass, you can see jagged, high paramo peaks to the west. Looking the other way, the eastern lowlands of the Amazon sprawl out below us, where Harpy eagles and jaguars still prowl. Right at the pass a very historical trail begins, and plummets down through various life zones, through some of the most pristine subtropical forests any visitor to Ecuador could hope to find.
Think back half a century when there were no roads into the region, only horse trails; this is exactly where pre-Colombian tribes, conquistadors, and old-time explorers trudged through on their journeys across the spine of the Andes to the lowlands. It is quite a bit better off though, with a rocked and machete-cleaned trail, but the essence is still there. Depending on your energy levels, you may hike down a few kilometers, and even have a decent shot at seeing a wild group of common wooly monkeys that often sound off, betraying their presence.
All the while you will be enjoying the staggeringly beautiful cloud forest that envelops you, so soak it in. After a lunch back at San Isidro, it will be time to zip up your bags for the trip back to Quito (or down into the Amazonian lowlands to connect with the next leg of the trip).
San Isidro’s cabins and reserve are nestled in the picturesque Quijos Valley, one of the westernmost headwaters of the Amazon basin - in Napo province and only two about hours from the airport - at an elevation of about 2,050 meters (6,800 feet) above sea level in a zone still mostly blanketed by extensive humid forest.
Thanks to the recent paving of the roads to San Isidro, as well as to the rest of eastern Ecuador, getting here and moving around is much easier; bumpy, gravel roads are a thing of the past. The scenery is spectacular all the way down, with steep and forest-cloaked mountains, and there are even some great stops along the way, like rose plantations, thermal springs, and fabulous hummingbird feeding stations. These areas are legendary in the birding world and will greatly add to your list of bird possibilities and your Ecuador experience.
Mariscal Sucre International Airport
Transfer not provided
Please book your flight to arrive at Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO). Upon arrival, you will need to pass through immigration, claim your bags and then clear customs, which is usually a very smooth affair.
You will then exit out into the main reception lobby at the international arrival area where you will be received by your private transfer, or you can take a taxi or bus (Aeroservicios) if you have not arranged for a transfer to get to Quito (the new airport is outside Quito and can take up to one hour to get to the city, depending on the time of your arrival; the ride usually takes less than 30 minutes). There are official airport porters - licenses hanging from lanyards around their necks - with carts to help with bags.
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