Located in the Tandayapa Valley Cloud Forest in Ecuador, the San Jorge Tandayapa Lodge offers exceptional service, fantastic mountain and valley views and a never-ending show of more than two dozen hummingbird species. With gourmet four-course meals and nature hikes with a resident expert included, the San Jorge Lodges offer excellent value for birding and nature enthusiasts. See the following article from International Living for more on this.
We didn’t know our crimson-rumped toucanet from our Andean cock of the rock, but based on pictures and descriptions, my wife Sharon and I decided to include a bird-watching–hiking destination on our recent “retire in Ecuador” tour.
Located in the Tandayapa Valley Cloud Forest about 90 minutes northwest of Quito, its name is a mouthful: San Jorge de Tandayapa Eco-Lodge and Hummingbird Sanctuary.
We were picked up at 9.00 a.m. at Quito airport by José, the manager of this and two other San Jorge Lodges. When we reached the end of the drive, we were a little alarmed: We got out in the middle of a dense, remote forest and José pointed toward a steep dirt path heading up the mountain.
Thankfully, lodge staff carried our three large suitcases. It was a strenuous half-mile, uphill hike to the lodge, though there were benches for the weary along the way. We are hikers and in pretty good shape, but we wondered what they would have done with guests who were not able to make the hike.
Any misgivings quickly dissipated when we reached the open-air dining and hummingbird-viewing spot. We were greeted with tall glasses of luscious tropical fruit juice and a view of the surrounding mountains and valley.
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Strategically placed hummingbird feeders assured a constant show by some of the 26 species of hummingbirds in the area.
Not being “birders” ourselves, we were a bit amused by the seriousness with which the other guests manned telescopes and cameras and excitedly reported their sightings.
After stowing our luggage, Sharon wanted to relax and explore the lodge and vicinity. I wanted to hike. José secured Estalin as my private guide for the afternoon. The lodge, which opened in January 2009, had only three rooms when we were there (we understand that eight more will be opening soon) so besides being a guide, Estalin was the waiter, suitcase porter, and jack of all trades. His English was limited, which was fine with me because I was enjoying the chance to exercise my middling Spanish.
Estalin turned out to be a gracious and knowledgeable guide and excellent company. Hiking in this exotic habitat, I felt like a child on Christmas morning. Fascinating tropical plants, stunning flowers, and multi-colored birds abounded.
Quito is more than 9,000 feet above sea level, and one of the first things we noticed after our arrival there was that, because of the thin air, we were out of breath after climbing a flight of stairs. Tandayapa Lodge sits at just 5,800 feet elevation, which is a welcome descent when hiking. And once you reach the lodge, the hikes are not very steep.
Meals are included in the lodge rate, and the breakfasts, lunches, and dinners were all gourmet, easily some of the best we had in Ecuador. Continental dinner service was impeccable—four courses, wine, white gloves, towel over the arm, finished with strong, freshly brewed café con leche.
The second day, Dr. Jorge Cruz, owner of all three San Jorge Lodges, arrived to lead the birders’ hike. As José put it, Jorge (“el doctor” to staff) is an “encyclopedia walking.” We joined up for the morning leg, to soak up some of his knowledge and see what birding was all about.
In clear English and with a ready wit, Jorge described the wildlife, plant life, geography, and much more. When I was ready for a faster pace, Estalin and I split off from the birders and he showed me some new vistas.
If you want to get out of the city for a few days and splurge a bit, I recommend San Jorge Lodges (we also stayed at San Jorge Quito Lodge and loved it as much as Tandayapa).
This article has been republished from International Living.