Andes to the Amazon

A Photography Expedition with Melody Sky and Jonas Paurell


Travel to the hight Andes mountains and the deep Amazon jungle to explore wildlife and landscape photography in Ecuador!

Imagine joining a photography expedition that will connect the deep impenetrable Amazon jungle with the cold and glaciated peaks of the high Andes. Imagine witnessing beautiful sunsets and sunrises surrounded by some of the world’s largest active volcanos, seeing emerald-blue lakes, exploring virgin jungle, watching amazing animals in the most biodiverse place on the planet, swimming in soothing hot springs, enjoying Ecuadorian food, culture and hospitality while you photograph, hike, and even horseback ride.


This is a unique opportunity to feel inspired, to travel, to photograph, to make new friends and to discover the warmth of Ecuador. Join photographers Melody Sky and Jonas Paurell on an unforgettable adventure. This is Ecuador!


Ecuador is one of the smallest countries in the Americas, however one of the most biodiverse in the world. Ecuador gives you the opportunity to visit both the Andes and the Amazon jungle within just a few hours. You will be amazed by the landscapes, the people and the diversity that the country has to offer, each region with special weather, flora, fauna and food culture. All this together makes Ecuador a hidden jewel and it is not surprising that Ecuador has several consecutive World Travel Awards.


This journey is created by photographers for photographers. This is a dream expedition - we have chosen exciting locations, which include beautiful landscapes, exotic wildlife, and cultural treats to offer a unique experience in Ecuador. We have selected exciting accommodation in small unique haciendas and eco-lodges so that we will almost always be able to stay on location and shoot when the light is right. The entire trip has been planned and organised so that you can get to the spots and experience the adventure.

This expedition is for photographers of all levels. Much of the expedition is at high altitude, which can be uncomfortable to some people and potentially even pose a health risk. Our trip starts in Ecuador’s capital, Quito, which is at 2,800m (9,286 feet) above sea level and then we will gradually climb up to 4,300 meters (14,100 feet). Please consult a doctor if you are unsure about your health prior to booking the trip. 

Given the fragile nature of the locations that we are going to we are limiting the number of spots on this expedition to 10. This will allow us to travel to locations where a big group wouldn't be appropriate, to not crowd our scenes, to make sure we leave no trace in the landscapes we visit and to have as limited impact on wildlife as possible. The limited expeditions also means that we will be a small group and will be able to all get to know each other well!


Day 1 | Quito - Cumbayá

Arrival and altitude acclimatisation day (Quito is at 2,800 meters and we will all need a first relaxed day to get our footings on arrival). Organised airport pick-up from Quito Mariscal Sucre International Airport, and hotel check-in throughout the day. If time allows, short visit to Quito old town. Welcome dinner and expedition briefing at 6:30PM.


Day 2 | Quito – Laguna de Cuicocha – Cotacachi

Laguna Cuicocha (the guinea pig lake) is a large caldera lake nearly 3 kilometres wide. The lagoon is part of the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve and is one of the most beautiful lakes in Ecuador. The route around the lake offers beautiful landscapes with majestic views of different volcanos such as Cayambe, Imbabura and Cotacachi, and sapphire-blue water and vivid flora, but it is at altitude, so the hiking can be a bit strenuous, especially as this is only day two at altitude (3,485 meters). The hike will take 4-5 hours (allowing time for photography) and will take us to a vantage point for sunset overlooking the lake. After sunset we will spend a relaxed night at a beautiful hacienda, which, if conditions are right, will offer great opportunity for astrophotography.


Photography highlights: Laguna Cuicocha, volcanos Cayambe, Imbabura and Cotacachi.

Day 3 | Cotacachi - Plaza de los Ponchos - El Ángel Ecological Reserve

We begin this day with sunrise photography and then a cultural visit to Plaza de los Ponchos in Otavalo, a colourful artisanal market for alpaca sweaters, scarves, textiles, blankets and also a place of history and tradition. This is an excellent opportunity for street photography and perhaps some portraits of the indigenous Otavaleño people, who make up 50% of the town population. The scene at the market is one of contrasts, with traditionally dressed Otavaleño stallholders surrounded by a modern town centre.


After lunch, we will start our journey towards El Ángel Ecological Reserve. Get ready for a mystical trekking through the only primary Polylepis forest in the world. This spot is home to the oldest Polylepis forest, which have glacial origin and is estimated to be from 2 to 4 million years old. After a walk across some of the lagoons and small cascades, we will move on to a different ecosystem: the Páramo of Frailejones, one of the most dream-like views of the Ecuadorian highlands. Will spend the night at a beautiful eco-lodge inside the ecological reserve allowing us to try our hands at night photography around the lodge. 


Photography highlights: Otavaleño culture, Plaza de los Ponchos, Polylepis forest, Páramo of Frailejones.

Day 4 | El Ángel Ecological Reserve - Yasuní National Park

Our sunrise will be at El Ángel Ecological Reserve and thereafter we get comfortable for the longest journey of the whole expedition, after 5-6 hours in the support vehicle we will arrive in Coca, where we will transfer to river boat (around two hours) that will take us deep into the Amazon jungle and finally we will reach our eco-lodge by canoe (around one hour). We will now be far from civilisation and deep in what is estimated to be the most biologically diverse place on earth! This is an experience few people have had and with the guidance of local nature guides and our photography guides we are hoping for unique images and memories for life.


The Yasuní National Park has been a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1989. The park is home to at least 596 bird species (that is one-third of the total native bird species for the entire Amazon jungle), 121 reptile species, 382 fish species, 117 bat species, and over 100,000 species of insects – and this is only what has been documented so far.


The Yasuní National Park will be our home for four nights so that we get an opportunity to explore the forests, rivers and lagoons by foot and canoe to photograph flora and fauna and to have a truly unique experience.


Photography highlights: Once in a lifetime opportunity in the Amazon jungle - Wildlife, nature, lanscape and macros. 


Day 5-7 | Yasuní National Park

We stay at the reserves making day trips by foot and canoe to see endless varieties of birds, reptiles, monkeys, toucans, parrots and sloths and we will also make visits to meet local cultures.


Photography highlights: Once in a lifetime opportunity in the Amazon jungle - Wildlife, nature, lanscape and macros.  

Day 8 | Yasuní National Park – Papalacta

After having spent a few days in the deep jungle, we will head for the crisp air of the high Andes again. We are heading to Termas Papallacta, which is a spa lodge situated high in the mountains on top of natural volcanic springs fed through fissures up to the surface. At the pools the temperature ranges from 36°C to 38°C and contains a natural mix of  sulphates, sodium, calcium, chloride and magnesium. The baths will rest our bodies and minds for the night, but for the keen there are also lots of opportunity for photography in the surrounding areas, which has rivers, canyons, and a spectacular view of the Antisana Volcano.

Photography highlights: Water travel out of the Yasuní National Park, high Andean landscapes.


Day 9 | Papalacta – Cotopaxi National Park

Waking up fresh and relaxed we do a short 2 hours drive to El Cotopaxi National Park, which is centred around one of the world’s highest active volcanos. We will arrive in the late morning and head out exploring – the national park is considered one of the most beautiful places of Ecuador! The mountain eco-lodge is situated at almost 4,000 meters.


We will spend the day exploring surrounding areas and before sunset, we will head over to Limpiopungo Lagoon, which has incredible views of Cotopaxi. The almost complete absence of light pollution makes this a fantastic opportunity for astrophotography. 


Photography highlights: El Cotopaxi, wildlife in the park, landscapes.


Day 10 | Cotopaxi National Park

We will head out bright and early to photograph sunrise, and then head back to the lodge to enjoy a great breakfast.


Since 1738, Cotopaxi has erupted more than 50 times resulting in the creation of numerous valleys formed by mud flows around the volcano, making the surroundings of El Cotopaxi just amazing. A variety of wild animals live in the park such as wolves, pumas, bears, rabbits, Andean condors, horses, and foxes. The goal of the day is the manantiales, which forms incredible landscapes and often is the hiding place of the local wildlife.


In the afternoon we will have a few hours rest, but for keen there are also opportunity to do some guided horseback riding in the mountains, the horses are gentle and the trails easy, it’s a great place to have fun. In the evening we will have a second opportunity to catch sunset over the Cotopaxi.

Photography highlights: Laguna limpiopungo, manantiales, local wildlife.

Day 11 | Cotopaxi National Park - Quito

Following a last sunrise photography session in the Cotopaxi National Park, it’s time for our journey back to civilisation. Our expedition is officially concluded with an enormous lunch in Quito after which transfer to the airport is included.


Photography highlights: El Cotopaxi, wildlife in the park, landscapes.


To note 

The entire tour is done in English.


We reserve the right to change the itinerary without previous notice due to weather conditions, National Parks regulations or notifications and unforeseeable circumstances.


This tour is governed by the Terms and Conditions

Ready to book your expedition?


Use the form below to send us a booking request, we will then confirm that we have available places in an email or over the phone, and provide you with a booking invoice.

Effort Level:

Medium effort. Some days on this expedition will include 4-6 hours of trekking at high altitude up to approx. 4300 meters. Other days will involve tracking/scouting animals in the deep amazon jungle. Previous trekking experience is strongly advised. More info about effort levels here. 

Photography Level:

All levels welcome



Dates: 12-24 May, 2019


Melody Sky

Creative Guide

Melody is a Scottish born action sports, travel and lifestyle photographer, film maker and artist currently based in Verbier, Switzerland. Melody began work as an underwater photographer and eventually ended up in Tignes in the French Alps where she worked as an ice diver. This quickly led her to skiing and eventually making ski films. Melody is the first female in Europe to have her ski filming broadcast globally and to be shown on a cinema screen.

Melody also works in documentaries and environmental photography and filming.

Melody's Instagram & Website

Jonas Paurell

Expedition Leader & Creative Guide

Jonas is the founder of Vagabond Expeditions, has been a passionate photographer for well over 20 years and has travelled, photographed and filmed extensively in Ecuador. Jonas is also a qualified Mountain Leader and will be leading the expedition. More info here.

Price: EUR 4,490 

(50% deposit due to secure your reservation, remaining 50% due 30 days before the start of the tour. Single occupancy supplement: +EUR 500). Price excl. VAT, if applicable.


Participants: 6-10

Start: Quito Mariscal Sucre International Airport, XXX 2019.

End: Quito Mariscal Sucre International Airport, XXX 2019, 3PM


  • The tour itself

  • All scheduled activities

  • All accommodation during the tour (10 nights). Most lodges and haciendas in shared rooms (single occupancy room option available for an extra EUR 600)

  • All main meals during the tour 

  • All transport during the tour (except for those by foot!)



  • Transport to Quito (e.g. flights)

  • Insurance. All participants are required to have their own insurance appropriate for outdoor activities; such as health, accident, mountain rescue, repatriation, cancellation, personal liability, etc.

  • Photo equipment

  • Trail snack to eat on the go - we recommend that you buy fruit, nuts or energy bars locally to last you throughout the entire expeditions (further info in the packing list)

  • Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages

  • Tips

  • Expenses for extra activities, such as: massages, spas, sauna, hot tub, etc.

© 2023 by Vagabond Trails Handelsbolag and Terra Photography Expeditions

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