Tropical Andes to Amazon
June 2023, 2024 & 2025
The Amazon rainforest is not just the largest rainforest on Earth, but one of our Planet's most enormous wilderness areas with vast areas of intact habitat. Ecuador comprises just a small portion of the Amazon, but what it does have is particularly diverse. This is because Ecuador's Amazon lies at the foot and eastern slopes of the Andes, where a constant flow of moisture laden cloud from the eastern Amazon, maintains a stable climate, without a pronounced dry season. This stability enables plants and animals to evolve with climatic stresses which would reduce the rate of evolution in areas where rainfall varies more through the year.
Climatic stability was of particular significance during the last Ice Age, when a cooler climate led to a drying of the Amazon. Vast areas of Amazon became too dry to support rainforest and turned into savannah. The areas where forest cover was maintained were called refugia - island refuges where rainforest species continued their evolution in isolation.
As glaciers receded and rainforest spread back across the Amazon, it did so from these Refugia where to this day, diversity is highest. In Ecuador, this manifests itself in the highest diversity of frogs anywhere in the world, found at around 200m above sea level. Bird diversity is extreme, with several of Aqua-Firma's primary sites comprising 570 or more species of bird and up to 13 species of monkey.
Whilst species diversity in Ecuador's Amazon is something to behold, so is its geographic diversity.A flight into the Ecuadorian Amazon from the capital, Quito, will soon see you flying above cloud level and alongside the glacial volcanic peaks of Cayambe, Antisana and Cotopaxi. As you fly further east, you follow the progress of fast descending rivers as they cut deep valleys into the side of the Andes mountains. The highest growing forests are made up of Polylepis trees, which can survive at m ore than 5,000 metres above sea level, but grow at an incredibly slow rate of 0.1mm per year.
Species diversity increases rapidly ad you descend into warmer air, where still we find volcanoes, such as Sumaco and Reventador rising high out of the foothills of the Andes. Their steaming cones stand high above cloud forest rich in tree ferns, bromeliads and hummingbirds, cut by raging rivers and waterfalls.
As the Andes begins to join the vast lowlands of the Amazon Basin, rivers become perfect for white water rafting. As gradients reduce further, river volumes increase but turbulence subsides. And so from a lowest Amazon altitude in Ecuador of 120 metres, begins a 3,000 mile journey of water through lowland forest to the Atlantic Ocean. These areas, which include the Rios Napo, Tiputini, Yasuni and Cuyabeno, are where we find fantastic 'hunting' grounds for purely photographic shooting of rainforest flora, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects.