Travel to the high 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 maybe 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!
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 – Sigchos – Isinlivi
Morning departure to the town of Sigchos (2h30), which will mark the start of a three–day trekking journey to “El Quilotoa”, which will help us to gradually acclimitise to the high Andean environment and experience beautiful views. The trail goes through the Andean mountains, valleys, epic landscapes, towns, over rivers and past genuine Quechua communities to ultimately end up at an epic sapphire-blue crater lake after three days!
The trekking starts at the humble town of Sigchos where we will be dropped by our support vehicle, which will continue with your bags to the village of Isinlivi. After a light snack, we will make the same journey, except by smaller trails and by foot. The trek will take around 6 hours (allowing time for photography). After sunset we will spend a relaxed night at a beautiful hacienda, which, if conditions are right, will offer great opportunity for astrophotography.
The cosy eco-lodge we have chosen for this night offers breath-taking views, delicious locally sourced food, a warm stove and a great spa (at a small additional fee).
Photography highlights: the valley from Sigchos to Isinlivi, sunset from Isinlivi.
Trekking: 10 Km, -430m, +450m, highest point at 2900 meters
Day 3 | Isinlivi – Chugchilán
After a relaxed breakfast it is time to hit the trail. From Isinlivi the trail follows the Toachi canyon, offering amazing landscapes along the river, then climbs up to the plateaus and passing through small highland villages before arriving to Chugchilán. The trek will take around 5-6 hours (allowing time for photography).
The eco–lodge is located just outside of the small village of Chugchilán at an altitude over 3200 meters. It is a beautiful and cosy place, with views of the Rio Toachi Canyon, fantastic food (the lodge is vegetarian and has a strong local ethos) and spectacular mountain views.
Photography highlights: the valleys from Isinlivi to Chugchilán, highland plateaus as we reach Chugchilán.
Trekking: 12 Km, -480m,+740m, highest point at 3220 meters
Day 4 | Chugchilán – Quilotoa Crater – Cotopaxi
The day’s trek is at points steep, wild and at high altitude. It is the day to test what you’re made of! Following a wholesome breakfast at the eco-lodge, we will descent down the valley below us to cross a river before we can begin our climb up to 3900 meters, and the goal of this first adventure: El Quilotoa Lagoon. As we have had previous acclimatisation this should not be a problem, but be prepared to work for the reward - just imagine an azure-coloured crater lake surrounded by steep shadowy mountains and (most likely) deep blue skies overhead – this is Lake Quilotoa. The landscape along the route and the views from the crater rim, will make everything worth it!
Following our arrival to the crater, we will jump into our support vehicle and drive over to Cotopaxi National Park, which is centred around one of the world’s highest active volcanos El Cotopaxi. We will arrive in the afternoon and head out exploring and get ready for sunset over Cotopaxi – the national park is considered one of the most beautiful places of Ecuador! The mountain lodge where we will be staying is situated at almost 4,000 meters.
Photography highlights: El Cotopaxi, wildlife in the park, landscapes.
Trekking: 11 Km, +1000m, -350m, highest point at 4000 meters
Day 5 | Cotopaxi National Park
We will make the most of our time in the national park so 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. We will spend the day outdoors pursuing both landscapes and wildlife.
In the afternoon we will have a few hours rest, but for the 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. After sunset we will enjoy dinner and then maybe try our hands at astrophotography.
Photography highlights: Laguna limpiopungo, manantiales, local wildlife.
Trekking: easy trekking in the park
Day 6 | Cotopaxi National Park - Baeza Cloud Forest
Our sunrise will be at Cotopaxi and thereafter it is time to begin our journey from the high Andes to the Amazon basin. On our way down from the mountains we will stop one night in the cloud forest climactic zone to photograph cloud covered ancient forests. The cloud forest is also the home to many wildlife, and perhaps in particular hummingbirds.
The drive is around 5 hours so we better get comfortable and have a good book packed, (two good recommendations with the stories set in Ecuador could be: "The old man who read love stories," by Luis Sepulveda, or the "Map Maker’s Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon," by Robert Whitaker).
We will enjoy the hospitality of the eco lodge in the afternoon and move around the grounds.
Photography highlights: Hummingbirds and cloud forest
Day 7 | Baeza Cloud Forest - Yasuní National Park
In the early morning we set off to the Amazon, but of course not before a hearty breakfast. Our day's journey by road is about 5 hours and will take us to 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 and a half 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 8-10 | 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 11 | 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 12 | Papalacta – 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 as we arrive at the airport.
All Terra Photography Expeditions follows a curriculum that aims to teach the theory behind photography in a way that directly translates into easy actionable processes in the field. As we move through nature we also go through an introduction to the skills and knowledge required to be safe in the great outdoors.
Photography Techniques Covered on the Expedition
Storytelling - Telling stories and evoking emotions within the context of landscape photography
Composition - A comprehensive introduction to the theory of composition, including the elements of art and principles of design
Process - Learning and implementing a process to achieve a consistent quality in landscape photography
Focussing - A science based method for focusing to make your images sharp
Long exposure and filters - Long exposure and the use of Neutral Density (ND) filters, especially related to moving water and clouds
Night photography - Explore the nighttime skies and landscapes to show the world at a different time
Panorama photography - exposing and merging multiple images
Multiple exposure and graduate filters - Achieving correctly exposed images in challenging conditions using graduated filters and multiple exposures (exposure bracketing)
Finding locations - Using maps, weather services and other tools to identify potential photography locations and times.
Outdoor Skills Covered on the Expedition
We are first and foremost out to enjoy the mountains and to pursue the art of photography, however, as we are moving toward our locations there is always time to share some outdoor skills.
Planning for a day out in the mountains in ever changing conditions
Using safety equipment and emergency transponders
Navigation with map and compass
Relocation with map and compass
Using sighting for fast movement
What it means to be a leader in the outdoors
Group management skills
During this expedition we will be staying in eco-lodges, a mountain hut and a spa throughout the expedition. Accommodation will mainly be in twin rooms, with the occasional triple room. Single occupancy room option is available for most nights at an extra EUR 600, please get in touch for more information.
Environmental and Local Ethos
The entire expedition is delivered with a strong ethos for the protection of the environment where we will endeavour to leave as small a footprint as possible. We only use local suppliers for the expedition in an effort to contribute to local communities and economy.
The Agenda, Weather and Daylight Hours
The weather in the high Andes is generally speaking stable but it can shift one hour to next as we are still in a high mountainous area, so even though we have a planned agenda, this will be open to revision on the day. Each day we will study the synoptic charts and the local maps over breakfast to plan our day. Sunrise is at approx 6AM and sunset at 6PM throughout the expedition.
Trekking at Altitude
If you are coming from sea level we recommended that you arrive in Quito on extra day before the tour to sleep off the jet lag and start to acclimatise - this is not strictly necessary, but it will make you feel a bit more comfortable on the first day of trekking. The tour is designed so that we increase our sleeping altitude with 300m per day. This allows the body to gradually acclimatise and for us to enjoy our time as much as possible. If you have any questions about altitude - don't hesitate getting in touch!
Melody is a Scottish born action sports, travel and lifestyle photographer, film maker and artist 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 and has seen her work published globally.
Creative Guide & Expedition Leader
Jonas is the founder of Terra Photography Expeditions. He has been a photographer for well over 20 years. Jonas is a qualified International Mountain Leader (UIMLA) and will be leading the expedition. More info here.
Price & Details
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 most nights at 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.
Trail snack to eat on the go - we recommend that you buy dried fruit, nuts and chocolate locally as this contributes to the local economy and will taste better than anything that you can find at home!
Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
Expenses for extra activities, such as: massages, spas, sauna, hot tub, etc.
Price: from 4895 EUR
(50% deposit due to secure your reservation, remaining 50% due 30 days before the start of the tour. Single occupancy is possible at a supplement. Price excl. VAT, if applicable.
Start: Quito Mariscal Sucre International Airport, 12 May 2019.
End: Quito Mariscal Sucre International Airport, 25 May 2019, 3PM
We reserve the right to change the itinerary without previous notice due to weather conditions, and unforeseeable circumstances.
This tour is governed by the Terms and Conditions