Cabañas de San Isidro

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 2 hours, so getting here has gotten easy. San Isidro lies right between two large national parks, so ‘getting lost’ is part of the fun, and discovery is a daily event. Amazing cuisine, cooking clases, primary forest trails, mammal watching, birding, and archaeology are some of the activities waiting for you here!

Itinerary 4 days

Day 1

We will leave from Quito at 8:00 A.M. to the Amazon watershed, with scenic and biodiverse cloud forests on our minds. Our 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!) we 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 we 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, we will make our way down-slope – about a 1 ½ hour drive – to Cabañas San Isidro, where we will shoot to get in with daylight and settle into our rooms before dinner.

At dinner we will be officially welcomed and have our 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 us up. There will be Guinea Pig tasting opportunity for the adventurous ones! After a magnificent dinner – our food is widely recognized for its originality and exquisite quality – a night hike awaits us, where we will be in search of owls, strange insects, nocturnal mammals or any other critter that might grace our presence. Night at San Isidro.

Day 2

We’ll put our birding caps on this morning and get out for the early morning activity. While we 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! We 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 our 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, we 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 our 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, our walk will lead us 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, we’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 we will take full advantage! After dinner, for those interested, we 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.

OPTIONAL (TASTING MENU)

8 dish sampler menu featuring Amazonian & Andean flavors: $15 + 22% per menu, additional to full board rate. This needs to be pre-booked.

-Visit our Guinea Pig farm and organic garden; many of the veggies and herbs that land on your plate – free of pesticides and other chemicals – are grown right here at San Isidro in our own greenhouse.

-If you are interested in learning a new exotic Andean or Amazonian dish, a cooking class might be up your alley, so let us know and learn to make a “maito” or a “quinoa” soufflé.
Night at San Isidro.

Day 3

This morning we 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 we 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. We’ll make our way back to the lodge for a well deserved lunch!

We will take time for a post-lunch “siesta” before hitting the trail again. This afternoon we’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 afternoons carrying-on in the tree canopies right overhead in hopes of attracting females. We 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.

OPTIONAL: Try another cooking class to learn yet another local recipe!

OPTION 1

This morning we 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 LagoAgrio, 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! We will have packed lunches along and a picnic lunch eye level with the falls would be the ideal setting.