Hotel Review: Valdivia Plaza

Jardin, Antioquia, Colombia was the only place on this trip we didn’t have a pre-booked room.  My research showed that there were enough budget hotels in town and I figured it would be easiest to just get one as soon as we got off the bus.

We were lucky, the bus stopped right in front of the Valdivia Plaza and they had rooms we could afford and they even took credit cards!   I had remembered the name from preliminary research on Trip Advisor and knew it would be a decent place.

The location is superb, right on the main plaza with restaurants and a small market just outside.

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Small but functional and clean roomdscn2997 dscn2998

Wifi only works in the restaurant near the reception.dscn2999 dscn3000

Cathedral in the main plaza dscn3002 dscn3012

The market has some food stalls and random stuff but nothing artistic that interested me.dscn3004 dscn3003 dscn3005

Margarita’s Restaurant is just across the plaza from Valdivia Plaza and has a good budget menu.

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Lodge Review: Hotel Minca – La Casona

When I was researching accommodation in Minca, I noticed that people kept raving about the hummingbird feeders at Hotel Minca La Casona so it was an easy choice!  Circumstances made us arrive after dark but we did get a good look around early the next morning.

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The one thing I would have liked is if the restaurant had been open for dinner or at least sandwiches.  We were just too tired (having woken up at 4:30am for birding) to walk into town.dscn2897 dscn2898

Nice bird posters on the walls in the lobby/restaurant.dscn2899 dscn2900

Rooms along an attractive corridor that also had some nice artwork.dscn2901

Our room was fairly simple but functional.  dscn2903 dscn2904 dscn2905 dscn2907

The corridors overlook some nice gardens and a swimming pool.  We had a morning walk around looking for birds.dscn2908 dscn2911 dscn2912 dscn2910

Hummingbirds were already gathering near the feeders just outside the restaurant.  The feeders were empty so I chased up one of the workers to come fill them up.  dscn2913 dscn2914

The hummingbirds lost no time in getting their breakfast!dscn2915 dscn2917 dscn2918 dscn2924 dscn2928

We were also served breakfast (included in the rate).dscn2951 dscn2953

But it’s more fun to watch hummingbirds eating!dscn2932 dscn2940 dscn2946 dscn2949 img_5393 img_5400 img_5427 img_5430 img_5436 img_5479 img_5492 img_5495 img_5447

The breakfast area overlooked a valley where we could see several parrot species flying through – Blue-headed Parrots & Orange-chinned Parakeets.  No Military Macaws though.img_5459 img_5464 img_5467 img_5473 img_5500 img_5504 img_5507

We hung around most of the morning to enjoy the birds, then had the receptionist call a taxi to take us to the airport which cost around 50-60,000 COP.  We could have saved a few pesos but taking a collectivo but that would have wasted time I would rather spend watching the birds!

You can book this pleasant little hotel directly on their website or via a few online hotel agencies like Booking.com.

Lodge Review: El Dorado Reserve, Colombia

The El Dorado Reserve is the flagship of the ProAves Conservation group and was founded over 10 years ago.  Their location high atop the Cuchilla de San Lorenzo, in the western sector of the northern slope of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta provides access to many Colombian endemic birds such as the Santa Marta Parakeet.  This place is a must for any birding trip to Colombia!

I’d like to say that getting there is half the fun but nothing compares to getting from the lodge to the birding location further up!

A welcome sight after the bumpy ride!

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A restaurant with a view!dscn2683 dscn2684

Some nice handicrafts made by localsdscn2685 dscn2686

The verandah looks out over the grounds and you can see some of the hummingbird feeders.  I’ll have to so a separate post for the birds as there are so many.dscn2687 dscn2688 dscn2689

We had a jennian room with a private balcony.  The room was beautifully furnished and the view was amazing!dscn2690 dscn2692 dscn2694 dscn2695 dscn2696 dscn2698 dscn2699

We went back to the restaurant for lunch and to look for birds.dscn2712 dscn2713

The second story of the main building has another viewing terrace and a cozy lounge to relax and talk to other birders.dscn2714 dscn2715 dscn2716 dscn2717 dscn2718

The lounge is decorated with conservation posters.dscn2719 dscn2720 dscn2721

Amazing sunset!dscn2736 dscn2739

Educational video about ProAves and the El Dorado Reservedscn2741Dinner was quite tasty with local home-made food and delicious juice. dscn2839 dscn2840 img_4839

El Dorado Lodge is easy to book on their website.  I recommend pre-paying the transfers and the morning birding excursion so you can use your credit card as much as possible.  They can accept credit cards at the lodge but only if the signal is working.  This lodge is an amazing experience and the staff clearly love what they do and their contribution to conservation.  Highly recommended!

Hotel Review: La Casa del Farol Hotel Boutique

La Casa del Farol Hotel Boutique is a very attractive small hotel in the historic center of Santa Marta, Colombia.  We were only here for one night as our main focus was getting up to El Dorado Reserve for birding but if we had more time, we would have enjoyed staying here.

The building is very nice and only 5 minutes walk from the main square.

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Small pool in the courtyardDSCN2625

Breakfast areaDSCN2627

There were several courtyards with seating and some tables for breakfast.DSCN2626 DSCN2624

The rooms all have some kind of theme.  We got one with a Chinese theme which was very surreal after that late night arrival in Colombia, then waking up to THIS!  I had to remind myself that we were actually in Colombia!  The wifi was spotty, I could only use it from the room with the door open and laying on the bed nearest the door.DSCN2623 DSCN2614 DSCN2613 DSCN2616 DSCN2618 DSCN2617 DSCN2619 DSCN2621

Breakfast was really good, eggs cooked to order, toast, juice, sausage and Colombian coffee of course!DSCN2628

We really liked this small, atmospheric hotel and would choose it again if we ever come back.  You can book direct with the hotel on their website but I had some Orbucks in my account that I combined with a $50 off $100 purchase and ended up getting it for free!

The location is perfect, right in the historic center and walking distance to just about everything.  A taxi from the airport has a fixed rate of around 27,000 pesos.

Lodge Review: Guango Lodge (Short Visit), Ecuador

Although we didn’t stay in Guango Lodge and only made a day visit, I am going to list this in the accommodation as they do provide excellent accommodation at a super reasonable price and it’s about 1 hour from the airport by taxi, a bit more if you use the bus.  We didn’t have enough days in our schedule to spend a night here but we would have if we had the time.  And if we ever have a flight from Quito Airport after 12 noon (which allows for morning birding, breakfast, transport and check in) we will definitely stay here.

The sign is easily spotted if you are coming from Quito, it’s on your right.  If you are coming from Coca or San Isidro, it’s on your left and you need to watch carefully and let the bus driver know.

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Alejandro from Cabanas San Isidro had called ahead and they were expecting us so there was a gentleman waiting at the gate who grabbed our backpacks and led us to the main building.DSCN2457

Hummingbird feeders are scattered around the property so you can walk the trails and see them all.  If you aren’t an overnight guest, there is a $5 entry fee that also includes coffee or tea.DSCN2458 DSCN2459

The very attractive dining room has a nice porch with lots of hummingbird feeders and you can shelter there from the rain.DSCN2460 DSCN2461 DSCN2462 DSCN2463 DSCN2464

We did pretty well in our 2 hour visit getting good looks at most of the resident hummingbirds and one flowerpiercer.  If you spend the night, you have a better chance to see more birds as you can make an early start.  Here’s the full bird list.DSCN2541a DSCN2589 DSCN2586

Collared Inca maleDSCN2488

Collared Inca femaleDSCN2580

Chestnut-breasted Coronet DSCN2473 DSCN2479 DSCN2494 DSCN2510 DSCN2553 DSCN2554 DSCN2556 DSCN2559 DSCN2561

Buff-winged Starfrontlet DSCN2579

Tourmaline Sunangel – scroll down to see the flashy violet throat! DSCN2483 DSCN2504 DSCN2495 DSCN2499 DSCN2524 DSCN2543 DSCN2545 DSCN2546 DSCN2550 DSCN2551 DSCN2552 DSCN2548 DSCN2537 DSCN2534 DSCN2530 DSCN2529

White-bellied Woodstar DSCN2528

Masked FlowerpiercerDSCN2520 DSCN2573 DSCN2574

There was a Sword-billed Hummingbird hanging around the flowers but I couldn’t get a clear shot!DSCN2576 DSCN2477

Not bad for 2 hours in a rainy day!

Lodge Review: Cabanas San Isidro

Cabanas San Isidro is a beautiful eco-lodge set high in a cloud forest only 2 hours from the Quito Airport.  You can easily get there by bus from either Quito, Coca or Wildsumaco Lodge.  When booking, we were told to get off the bus in Cosanga, walk to a particular small roadside restaurant and call them and they would come and get us.  It was pouring rain as you can see!

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They assigned us to a beautiful cabin with a spectacular view over the cloud forest.  DSCN2292

I didn’t want to step on the macaw!DSCN2294

The cabin was gorgeous, spotlessly clean and very attractively furnished.DSCN2293 DSCN2295 DSCN2296 DSCN2298

And the view to die for……………..well bird for!  The rain wasn’t letting up so we hung out on the balcony looking for birds.  DSCN2297

It rained most of the afternoon but it finally did let up for awhile.  DSCN2299 DSCN2300

I was in “give up” mode and not really paying attention when I heard parrot squawks.  I barely had time to reach for my camera (which I had put down as it was heavy) but the two White-capped Parrots disappeared into the trees on the left.  I think they perched as I could still hear them but they must have taken off shortly afterwards.  I was hoping they would come back, or more would fly by but they didn’t.  DSCN2301 DSCN2302

The rain had let up enough to walk down to the main building and it was getting close to dinner time so we walked down.DSCN2303

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Map of the trails which we had planned on walking but not in the rain!DSCN2410 DSCN2409

The dining room is beautiful with some nice bird artwork on the walls.  They also have a nice selection of bird books.  Some people have posted on Trip Advisor that wifi is available but it wasn’t working they day we were there.  (This would later become very important).DSCN2317 DSCN2318 DSCN2319

We were there in time to see a few straggling hummingbirds before they turned in fo rthe night.  Then we sat down for dinner.  Alejandro, the very friendly manager joined us.DSCN2320

At this point, I should mention that the day we were there was 16 April, the day of the big earthquake.  I did a separate post about that as this post is meant to review the property.  The food was excellent!DSCN2321 DSCN2322

In spite of the outside influences (rain, earthquake) we really loved Cabanas San Isidro and wish we could have stayed longer.  The grounds are amazing and there are lots of birds (will do a separate post for birds), and the local guide is excellent!  He even found the rare San Isidro Owl for us!  The staff were “grace under pressure” while the earthquake was happening.  We felt it shake the buildings and everyone was nervous but not panicky and Alejandro got information as quickly as he could when he could get a signal.  You can book directly with the lodge.  The lodge gets rave reviews on Trip Advisor too!  We would definitely stay here again if we ever get back to Ecuador!

Lodge Review: Wildsumaco Lodge, Ecuador

Although most people fly in and out of Coca when they visit the Ecuadorian Amazon, I strongly urge you to plan at least one way by bus so you can visit some beautiful and birdy eco-lodges such as Wildsumaco.  Ask the bus driver to let you out at the road to Pacto Sumaco and make sure you have called the lodge to let them know which bus you are on so they can send someone to meet you.  There is a good map on their website so you can visualize it.  We didn’t have a local phone but a friendly bus passenger kindly phoned on our behalf.

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The road is fine and you don’t need a 4×4 if you have a rental car.DSCN2114 DSCN2115 DSCN2116

We were given a nice room near the hummingbird feeders. DSCN2117 DSCN2118 DSCN2119 DSCN2120 DSCN2121

The verandah on the main building overlooks a valley so you have a good chance at fly-bys, with Military Macaws being the most desired species.DSCN2127 DSCN2124 DSCN2125

A view of the rooms from the verandah.DSCN2146

This is where you kick back and relax with a drink while waiting for birds or hiding from the rain.DSCN2126

It started raining pretty heavily around 4pm so we did a lot of hiding with our cameras!DSCN2155

Even during meals, you still have a great view!DSCN2153

The bar and a small gift shop.  Cash only, no credit cards accepted which put a damper on my shopping.  There are lots of cozy chairs to relax in after birding.DSCN2149 DSCN2147 DSCN2148 DSCN2150 DSCN2151 DSCN2152 IMG_4472

The food was excellent, just like home-made!  Meals are served with delicious fruit juices and very yummy desserts!

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An enticing view of the hummingbird feeders…………more details in the next post!DSCN2128 DSCN2129

We LOVED Wildsumaco and are happy to recommend it especially for birders.  Although we could only stay one night, we would have liked at least one more night.  The rates are around $340 for 2 people including 3 meals a day and use of all their trails.  The lodge is actually the birding destination.  You have the hummingbird feeders, verandah & outlook and more birding up and down the road which leads from the lodge to the main road.  This lodge doesn’t participate in online travel agencies but you can book direct via their website.  It’s a good idea to hire their guide for at least one morning as they know the best places to see the local birds.  I told them that my priority was parrots, especially Military Macaws and they took us to the best places and we did see a lot of parrots!

Lodge Review: Napo Wildlife Center, Ecuador

When you are visiting the Ecuadorian Amazon area including Yasuni National Park via Coca you will be in a very remote area so choosing the right eco-lodge is very important.  After I researched all the options, I decided on Napo Wildlife Center because of the birding opportunities and the fact that they own the land the parrot clay licks are located on.  I also like that the lodge is run by the local Anangu tribe so all the profits go back into the community.

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After the long journey down the river, it’s very exciting to get your first glimpse of the lodge, it’s spectacular!DSCN1673

We were greeted with a cool towel & glass of juice by the friendly bartender.DSCN2083 DSCN1674

Then we walked upstairs to the main lodge and were given an orientation to the property.

Pro Tip:  Buy the booklet “Birds & Common Mammals of Napo Wildlife Center” right away.  I would even ask the guide on the boat to set one aside for you.  They tend to sell out.  I didn’t realize this so I didn’t put up a fight when one man from our boat grabbed the booklet shown as an example and I almost didn’t get one but luckily a new supply came a few days later.  It’s an excellent little book for $20 with pics of all the birds to help you identify all the photos you will take.DSCN1675 DSCN1676

Delicious welcome drinks and snacks!DSCN1677 DSCN1678

Our cabin was fairly close to the main lodge.DSCN1680

It’s a gorgeous little cabin with beautiful furnishings!DSCN1679 DSCN1681 DSCN1682 DSCN1683 DSCN1686 DSCN1687 DSCN1691

We had a nice deck overlooking the garden down to the river.DSCN1689 DSCN1690 DSCN1705

As dusk approaches, they light up the buildings.DSCN1692

They have a small gift shop at the lodge and more handicrafts are available at the village which you visit on clay lick day.DSCN1693 DSCN1694 DSCN1695

Library with bird guide books.DSCN1700

The first day we saw a film about NWC and the local community.DSCN1699

Stairs leading to the observation tower.DSCN1696

All meals are served buffet style with a couple main choices, veggies, rice and a dessert.DSCN1701 DSCN1702 DSCN1703 DSCN1704

Blue lights at night.DSCN1697 DSCN1698

Map of the whole property.DSCN1896 DSCN1897

The views from the top of the lodge’s canopy tower.  They even have an elevator so you don’t have to walk up the stairs!DSCN1898 DSCN1899 DSCN1900

We booked a 4 day/3 night package minus the flights as I used Avianca Lifemiles to get to Coca and the bus when we left.  This ends up being only 2 full days in the lodge as both the first day and last day are taken up by traveling down the river.  It’s still not cheap and came to just over $600 a night for the 2 of us but it did include everything except drinks, tips, internet, laundry & shopping.  Credit cards are accepted for everything except the tips.

Since we were traveling independently but unable to afford a private guide, we were put with several others and assigned a naturalist guide-Lena, local guide-Vladimir and a canoe paddler.  We were the only dedicated birders in our group so this did result in a few compromises as the guides attempted to keep birders and non-birders happy.  For example on the clay lick day it was raining lightly which usually keeps the parakeets away but I wanted to try anyways since we wouldn’t get another chance whereas the others wanted to spend more time on cultural activities so Lena took the others and had Vladimir take me and my husband to the 2nd clay lick.  The guides are all superb and highly skilled at spotting and identifying birds and other wildlife.

We aren’t big drinkers, so we didn’t use the bar at all.  Drinking water is provided in a few places and they give you refillable bottles to carry with you on the excursions.

They supply boots and rain ponchos if weather requires them.  We both have huge feet so struggled to find boots that fit.  I finally gave up and used my own boots.  I didn’t care if they got muddy and/or ruined as I planned to chuck them out anyways after the trip.

Be prepared for very early wake up calls.  This is nothing new for birders but came as a bit of a shock to a few non-birders!  Breakfast is served before you head out, around 5am so I was setting my alarm for 4am just so my stomach would have woken up enough to tolerate food!

The food was pretty good and they did accommodate my request for non-spicy food in at least one of the choices.  The fruit juices were really good!

Since we are on a tight budget, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience but was well worth it for the many birds we got to see!

Trip Advisor Reviews

Hotel Review: Hosteria Airport Garden, Quito

Having limited time and wanting to concentrate on birding, we spent no time at all in the actual city of Quito.  However, we did need an airport hotel one night as we had a flight to Coca (jungle lodges staging point) very early in the morning.  After doing some research and looking at the cheaper options, I chose Hosteria Airport Garden because of the attractive garden which I hoped would have some birds to watch.  Unfortunately, the day we got there, around 4pm-ish was rainy and cold so we didn’t get to watch birds.  The garden was very pretty as you can see in the photos so it would have been birdy in better weather.

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The room was medium sized but had everything we needed, including free wifi.

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They serve home cooked dinners in the evening if you book in advance and it was really good.  There aren’t any restaurants within walking distance that I could see so it was a good deal.  The next morning, the taxi they pre-arranged showed up right on time and in less than 15 minutes we were in Quito Airport domestic terminal ready to fly to Coca!

Lodge Review: Sachatamia, Mindo, Ecuador

When you are in one of the top birding spots in the world such as Mindo, Ecuador, you need a lodge that understands the need of birders and Sachatamia easily ticks all the boxes!

Beautiful birdy location – check!

Attractive cabins  rooms – check!

Friendly staff who can cater for birders, book good guides, early breakfasts, etc – check!

Full service restaurant with ala carte menu – check!

Easy to find location on main road but away from traffic, near birding reserve – check!

Let’s take a closer look.

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This statue always freaked me out at night, I think someone is standing there!DSCN1528

There are several nice porches where you can sit and relax and watch tanagers * hummingbirds coming to the feeders.DSCN1525 DSCN1526 DSCN1527

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The grounds are spacious and have paved walkways between cabins and facilities.  They are light at night but it’s still best to bring a torch.DSCN1530

I didn’t get a photo of the pool and jacuzzi as my battery was dead when we used it after the first day of birding.  See them on the website.  It was great to have a hot soak after a full day birding!DSCN1529 DSCN1531 DSCN1532 DSCN1533 DSCN1534

This was our cabin.  It’s a duplex but no one was in the room next door so we had it all to ourselves.DSCN1535 DSCN1536

Views to die for!DSCN1537 DSCN1538

We actually arrived at night so one of the staff had to show us how to get to the cabin.DSCN1072

Rooms are attractively furnished and have bird artwork.  Wifi doesn’t reach to the cabins but you can get online at the restaurant & front porch.DSCN1071 DSCN1070 DSCN1069 DSCN1073

This is the lobby which is next to the restaurant.  You can sit here and watch birds even when it’s raining.DSCN1516 DSCN1519 DSCN1521 DSCN1524 DSCN1515 DSCN1514

We like a window seat for meals so we can enjoy the view.  DSCN1509

 

Enjoying our breakfast while watching hummingbirds enjoy their breakfast!DSCN1512 DSCN1513 DSCN1510 DSCN1511

Sachatamia was my personal favourite out of all the accommodation on this trip and I hope these photos show you why.  They have also earned a Certificate of Excellence on TripAdvisor so others agree.  It’s reasonably priced and can be booked direct with them on their website or use a booking portal to get airline miles like Rocketmiles, Pointshound or Hotels.com via TopCashBack.  The staff here are lovely and always happy to help with anything you need.  We stayed 3 nights and wish it would have been longer!