Trip report for San Jorge Magic Birding Circuit March 1-12
Falma Moye, Ph.D.
Challis, Idaho 83226
I knew that I wanted to go to Ecuador for a birding trip; however could not decide whether to wing it and see what I could find on my own or go on a guided tour. I am genetically wired to avoid tours and groups of people. However, after much research and discussion with my two birding companions, also ladies from Idaho, we decided to try the San Jorge Magic Birding Tour and Eco-lodges. Their website caught my attention immediately with the lure of multiple birding localities and varied habitat. I was also intrigued by the idea of having an Ecuadorian guide, who could also introduce us to the many facets of his country.
Selecting San Jorge was a GREAT! decision. We had a fabulous time with George, who I prefer to call Jorge, his delightful and talented wife Irina, and all of the kind and efficient staff at his lodges. Fabulous birding! Five star food—and lots of it! All of the accommodations were comfortable. If you do not speak Spanish, not to worry. Jorge’s English is excellent. Jose –probably your first contact when you arrive at Quito—speaks excellent English and is always ready to help. Now a little more about the experience.
Jorge is an amazing man and naturalist. He’s full of energy and even a bit of mischief! I especially liked his approach to the birding part of the trip. We were up at the crack of dawn and out in late afternoon to maximize opportunities to see birds. Jorge works incredibly hard to help you see birds and is very effective (but sensitive to the birds) with the laser pointer. That is no easy task in the dense vegetation. I especially liked the fact that he would continually point out birds that we had already seen. As it turned out, this technique gave us many views in different lighting, and by the end of the trip, I quickly recognized some birds by sound or general impression. I also learned to spot birds better in the dense foliage. Jorge’s English is excellent—as is his sense of humor. He is also very sensitive to the varied physical abilities and birding skills within the group. He works hard to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to see the birds. We were also lucky that there were no scope hogs in the group.
The group size was perfect. We never had more than 8 people. For a few days the three Idaho ladies had Jorge and Irina to ourselves. How lucky we were! It gave us a chance not only to have incredible birding but also to get to know these two wonderful people much better.
What can I say about the diversity of birds! Ecuador is unbelievable, and we only scratched the surface. Hummingbirds at Tandayapa are abundant, varied, and enchanting. I—we all-- spent hours watching the hummingbirds. Tandayapa has been carefully laid out with many comfortable viewing sites to watch hummers on feeders and also in vegetation. Great photo ops! Coming from the US where there are only a few species of tanagers, I was astounded by the variety and beauty of tanagers in Ecuador. At Tandayapa, feeding stations and fruiting trees afford spectacular views of those gorgeous birds and lots others. I saw more than 325 species on this trip. Of those there were only a few migrants that we see in the United States. The burrowing owl near the field where workers were harvesting artichokes by hand was a special surprise, delivered by Jorge.
Jorge has thoughtfully laid out a birding circuit—if you take the 12 day trip-- which transects multiple habitats at varied elevations on the west and east side of the Andes. We birded on the west side of the Andes at about 1000 meters in tropical rainforest at Milpe, 1500 meters at Tandayapa, and from 1500 meters to about 3000 meters on the Nono Mindo road. San Jorge Lodge—the historic lodge and staging area is at about 3000 meters northwest of Quito. We birded around that property and also at Yanacocha, which is a reserve near San Jorge at +3000 meters. On the east side, Jorge does not have a private lodge, but instead we stayed ay at wonderful cabanas in Baeza called Kopal Cabanas. They also serve fantastic pizza—as good as anywhere in the USA. The east side trip took us from >4000 meters at Papaletta Pass to upper Amazon rainforest. Unfortunately some major storms kept us from Cosanga Reserve, but that did not deter Jorge. He always has an ace up his sleeve, and the alternate route led us to torrent ducks and quetzals. Wow!
If you can’t do the full 12 day trip, even the shorter trips will get you into many varied habitats and lots of birds.
I could go on and on about the birding part of this trip, but there were so many other aspects that made the trip even more special.
Irina—Jorge’s wife—is a talented chef who creates wonderful food with fresh, local ingredients. Fresh fruits and juices were on the menu every morning at breakfast. Delicious empanadas, fresh locally farmed trout, local vegetables were all perfectly cooked at artistically presented. Each plate was a work of art that we could not wait to dive into. Soups are standard in Ecuador, and Irina has created a variety of soups for lunch and dinner that were so delicious. You will not go hungry, and if you are not careful may even put on a pound or two.
More about Irina. Aside from being a creative chef, she is also an amazing bird spotter. We were so lucky to have her travel with us for much of the trip. At every opportunity, she would exit the car, pull out “largavistas” or binoculars. Soon thereafter, we would hear “Jorge! Arriba! Arriba!” Sure enough Irina had spotted a spectacular bird. Her passion for birds rivals her husband’s. Irina’s English is not as good as Jorge’s so I had a great time practicing Spanish and getting to know this wonderful woman. I would go back to San Jorge just to visit mi amiga nueva.
I am not sure this review has done justice to the San Jorge experience: birds, people, food, lodging, habitats, new friends. Memories of Stalin and his family at Tandayapa; Jose and Vincente at San Jorge; Carmello and family at Milpe. Wonderful, hardworking, people who have a passion for making the San Jorge experience special. Beautiful country and beautiful people.
With so many places to bird in the world, I would go back to San Jorge in a heartbeat! It is an incredible value for the cost. Jorge and his family put much energy and money into conservation efforts. Truly one of the greatest trips of my life. Check out the San Jorge Eco-lodge website www.hostsanjorge.com.ec. Be sure to go to the photo gallery and check out Jorge’s photos.
!If you want to bird in Ecuador, this is the way to go!
A few other points of interest for Ecuador: In Quito try either Hostel El Arupo in new town, or the Hotel San Francisco in the heart of old town. Both were nice and very reasonable. We planned to stay at the Secret Garden on out last night there, but one look at the place sent us to Hotel San Francisco. We also ventured into the Cuyabena reserve in the orient and stayed at Jamu Lodge. The reserve was interesting, hot and humid. At Jamu we had a very good guide named Washington, but the birding aspect was lacking. The guide knew birds, but it was not the focus of the trip. There were very few birds right around the primitive Jamu Lodge. If you want to go to Cuyabena, check out Cuyabena Lodge on the internet. When we went near there in a boat, it seemed that there was much more bird life.
Happy birding and travels.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- San Jorge Eco-Lodge & Botanical Reserve/Quito (High Barren Plains/Highland Rainforest) 18th Century Spanish Hacienda located in the Pichincha Foothills offering airport transfers 24/7 or pick up from downtown Quito. Comfortable Andes hacienda rooms with private bath/hot shower, decorated in typical decor; game room, lounge, restaurant, bar and small museum. Free Wi-Fi offered in upper level rooms. We are the only private nature reserve near the city of Quito, situated on a 230 acre reserve, offering nature and complete relaxation, yet 25 minutes away. Explore our beautiful gardens, birdwatching & hiking trails, hummingbird feeders, delicious cuisine and views of 11 mountains & volcanos in the distance overlooking Quito. Pre-reserved guided tours are available for birdwatching, hiking & natural history, medicinal plants, cultural tours & add on extension cruises to The Galapagos Islands or Amazon Jungle. We also own San Jorge de Tandayapa Hummingbird Lodge & Sanctuary (Cloud Forest) & two Lodges at San Jorge de Milpe Orchid & Bird Reserve - San Jorge Cliff Lodge & NEW San Jorge Forest Lodge (Upper Tropical Rainforest) listed #1 in Trip Advisor. All private reserves & lodges are within 2 hours radius of Quito. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- San Jorge Eco-Lodge And Botanical Reserve
- San Jorge Eco-Lodge & Botanical Reserve Hotel Quito