The best places to see wildlife in Ecuador

Located in the north-west corner of South America, Ecuador is one of the 17 most biodiverse countries on Earth – despite being little more than the size of the UK. And while most people immediately think of the Galapagos Islands when it comes to wildlife tourism here, that overlooks the 48% of its territory that is covered by the tropical forests of the Amazon basin. There is incredible wildlife and unforgettable landscapes to be found on the mainland, which many travellers miss out on.

Because of Ecuador’s equatorial location, and the difference in altitude between localities caused by having the Andes mountains cut an unwavering path across the country, different territories experience vastly different seasonal weather. So, when attempting a birding or wildlife itinerary, it’s wise to prepare for all types of elevations and conditions – often on the same day! With that in mind, you can easily visit Ecuador year-round, though which part of the country you should head to will depend on what you want to encounter and experience.

Although Ecuador is one of the smallest countries in South America, it has the fourth-highest avian diversity of any nation in the world, with an official list of some 1,736 species of bird. Tourism was relatively quick to catch on to this, with birdwatching trips starting here in the late 1960s. By 2006, a national strategy was developed for this activity by researchers, communities, conservation organisations and the Ministry of Tourism, helping to create a more sustainable industry for birdwatching.

As ever with nature-minded escapes, a knowledgeable guide is invaluable in making the most of Ecuador’s birdlife. Travellers arriving today to catch a glimpse of the national bird, the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), will find plenty of tour options amid the volcanoes and slopes of the Andes. Similarly, Ecuador is home to more than a third (136 species) of all hummingbird species in the Americas, and guides can help you to identify where and when to see them.

Aside from the UNESCO-listed Galápagos Islands, which became the country’s first national park in 1959, Ecuador counts an additional six biosphere reserves and more than 70 protected natural areas. From colonial Quito – the first capital city ever to gain World Heritage status – you can connect with the Amazon lowlands, the Pacific Ocean or the dry forests of the southern region. It’s just a matter of working out what wildlife you’d rather see.

Yasuni National Park

A golden-mantled tamarin (Norby Lopez)

This park offers prime access to the lowland Amazon rainforest of Ecuador, opening up one of the richest and most biodiverse places on our planet. Its forests harbour over 600 bird species and more than 12 types of monkey, as well as giant otters, sloths, jaguars and five other species of wild cat. To get deep into the forests, you’ll need to take a riverboat tour or stay in a nearby jungle lodge, where there are canopy towers and walkways that offer the chance to observe elusive birds on their own terms. Set aside a week to also take in the harpy eagles of Limoncocha and river dolphins of Cuyabeno in reserves around the area.

Best for: Jaguars. But while this wild cat is high on most must-see lists, the park’s clay licks are just as appealing and attract large numbers of parrots, macaws, parakeets and mammals.

The High Andes

A condor in the High Andes (Humberto Castillo)

Quito is surrounded by volcanic mountains covered in magnificent glaciers that deserve dedicated trips just to admire their flora and fauna. Cayambe Coca and Antisana national parks, in particular, are dominated by snowcapped volcanoes, Andean forest and páramo, providing opportunities to spy Andean condors, spectacled bears and carunculated caracara birds of prey. You’ll find access to trails, wildlife observatories and a lush forest interior remarkable for its sightings of tanagers, hummingbirds and toucans.

Best for: Volcanoes. Because the Earth isn’t a perfect sphere (it bulges at the equator!), Chimborazo (6,263m) is the furthest point above the Earth’s centre – greater even than Everest. Further north, Cotopaxi (5,897m) is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, and its glacial lake fills with resident and migratory birds.

The Cloud Forests

A mountain toucan in the Cloud Forests (Alamy)

The western and eastern slopes of the Andes are home to sprawling, misty cloud forests that lie between 800m and 1,500m. These evergreen areas are home to some of Ecuador’s highest concentrations of birdlife, ranging from hummingbirds and colourful tanagers to mountain toucans. You’ll also find larger mammals such as the mountain (woolly) tapir, puma and the only bear species found in South America: the spectacled bear. Most public and private reserves and lodges can be reached by vehicle.

Best for: Birding. The Mindo cloud-forest route, on the north-western slope of the Andean foothills, and the Cosanga Circuit (north-east slope) have both held records for the number of bird species spotted during the annual Christmas bird counts – between 400 and 531 species in just one day!

Where Else?


Machalilla National Park

As well as being home to fascinating pre-Columbian archaeological remains, this Pacific-adjacent park is visited by humpback whales between late June and October, who return to the coast to breed. Snorkelling and diving excursions also offer the rare chance to observe the largest colony of oceanic manta rays in the world.

Puyango Petrified Forest

The Puyango Petrified Forest is the site of not just one of the world’s largest collections of plant and marine animal fossils, but also an internationally important birding area. Look out, too, for the annual flowering of guayacán trees in the dry forests of the south-west. The first generous rains of mid-December or early January will trigger this annual bloom, producing bright-yellow flowers that extend to the horizon.

The Andean Chocó

The vast strip of tropical land that lies between the high Andes and the Pacific is home to many endemic bird species, from the toucan barbet to the Andean cock-of-the-rock. Up in the north-west, the Canandé Reserve features some of the last untouched sections of lowland tropical forest in the Chocó, protecting rare bird species such as the great green macaw.

Need to know information for Ecuador


When to go: The weather is dictated by regional microclimates. The lowland rainforest is wet and hot (30ºC) throughout the year. The Andean highlands tend to be dry and sunny (20ºC) in summer (Jul–Sep) and rainy between February and April, with the latter coinciding with peak bird migration season in the cloud forests of Cosanga and Mindo. The Pacific coast sees migrating humpbacks travel up from Antarctica to breed between July and October.

Getting there & around: There are no direct flights to Ecuador from the UK. Connections from London to international airports in Quito and Guayaquil usually go via New York and Atlanta in the US, Madrid and Amsterdam in Europe, or Bogotá in Colombia. Airlines flying these routes include KLM, Avianca, and JetBlue. Return flights take from about 14 hours.

Tour operators offering tailor-made trips to Ecuador include Metropolitan Touring, Biotropica Expeditions, and Wildlife Worldwide

Carbon offset: A return flight from London to Quito via Madrid produces 1,057kg of carbon per passenger. Wanderlust encourages you to offset your travel footprint through a reputable provider. For advice on finding one, visit

Currency & visa: Currency: Ecuador has used the US dollar ($) since 2000. It is currently $1.27 to the UK£.
Visa: UK nationals don’t require a visa for stays of up to 90 days.

Further information: Birds of Ecuador (Helm Field Guide, 2018) by Robin Restall and Juan Freile – A useful primer.

The 21 best places to visit in August

August is an extremely popular month to travel, especially to Europe, when temperatures soar. Prices tend to skyrocket, too, as the school holiday rush means that families nab flights to make the most of their fixed six weeks off.

Of course, there are brilliant places to visit all over the world during August. Whether you’re after a hot island holiday, a life-changing wildlife experience or an unexpected long-term adventure on the road less travelled, we’ve got you covered.

Skip ahead to your chosen travel type by clicking on one of the below, or keep scrolling for the full list:

The best August destinations for nature and ideal weather

1. Off-the-beaten-track Croatia

Sibenik, Croatia (Shutterstock)

Croatia’s hottest (and driest) month is August – with temps climbing as high as 28°C – so of course the likes of Dubrovnik, Split, Hvar and other classic destinations will be packed with visitors making the most of the sun.

If you want to enjoy the sparkling weather in Croatia without the crowds, head to the Mamma Mia island of Vis. Or for a city vibe, discover all of the amazing things to do in Sibenik, or Rovinj. But hurry, these gems are starting to be discovered.

Alternatively, why not skip Plitvice and Krka and head to one of Croatia’s six lesser-visited national parks? Kornati may be tricky to visit, but it is perfect for true explorers. Paklenica National Park is another gem, ideal for hikers unafraid of a hot, hot hike.

2. Matera, Italy

Matera, Italy (Shutterstock)

Matera is one of Basilicata’s biggest draws and was named one of two 2019 European Capitals of Culture. A few days is the perfect amount of time to delve deeper into how Matera turned its reputation around from ‘Italy’s shame’ to ‘iconic cultural hot spot’.

With highs of 29°C in August, summer is the ideal time to explore its fascinating cave districts in the sun, enjoy the natural beauty of Polino National Park, Italy’s largest, and sample the region’s authentic cuisine. For a longer trip, rent a car and head towards Pompeii, Sorrento, or in the opposite direction to coastal Bari.

3. Medellin, Colombia

Medellin, Colombia (Shutterstock)

August in Colombia, weather-wise, is a bit hit and miss. Whether you’ll get sun or showers really depends on which region you’re visiting, whether you’re after a wildlife adventure in the Amazon or some time in the city.

One thing Medellin has in August that makes up for its – at times – overcast appearance? The spectacular 10-day celebration of nature, known as Feria de Flores(Festivals of the Flowers).

Every August, the city blooms with the bright colours of flowers, paraded down the streets. Hundreds of concerts, crafts sessions and floral parades take to the streets and fill the city’s best venues. It’s a must for any nature lover’s travel wish list.

4. Off-the-beaten-track Greek island hopping

Ithaca, one of our off-the-beaten-track Greek Island picks (Shutterstock)

Sunseekers won’t be surprised to see Greece on our list for August. It’s a classic summer holiday destination, whether you’ve booked with a travel agent, arranged an island-hopping boat tour or you’ve planned your trip yourself.

As with Croatia, just because it’ll be busy doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the perks. After all, there’s a reason it’s so rammed.

Simply take the road (or waterway) less travelled to one of Greece’s secret islands, for an unforgettable beachside break with a difference. It’ll be incredibly warm, whichever island you choose. Average highs in August are 31°C, so make sure you’re prepared.

5. Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia (Shutterstock)

When you think of Tallinn, you may find the peach-coloured Alexander Nevsky Cathedral springs to mind, surrounded by droplets of crisp white snow.

We don’t blame you. Though freezing, Estonia and its neighbours Latvia and Lithuania make fine winter breaks. But they shouldn’t be overlooked in summer.

Walking through Tallinn’s comprehensive Old Town and soaking up the atmosphere in Freedom Square is just as satisfying in the sun. With plenty of steep hills to climb, to get to the best views of the city, it’s almost easier without all the ice…

The best longer-term travel experiences to take on in August

6. Guyana & The Guianas

The rainforest of French Guiana (Shutterstock)

South America’s smallest wonders Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname are prime for visitors at the end of August. It’s the perfect time to witness the breathtaking Kaieteur Falls in Guyana, follow in Papillon’s footsteps in French Guiana, and sample Suriname’s tasty, speciality rums.

Firstly, the weather’s always warm, but it’s dry season on the Guianan coast during August, andFrench Guiana tends to be drier and warmer in August – as does Suriname.

All three countries are sandwiched between Venezuela and Brazil, so we’d say you’re best off lengthening your trip and visiting all three at once. At least you’ll have the benefit of being as far off the beaten track in South America as possible.

7. Mongolia

Mongolia (Shutterstock)

You can’t really go wrong in Mongolia at this time of year. Expect vibrant steppes rich in shades of green during August, and just-right temperatures between 20°C and 25°C.

If you head to the mountains, you’ll probably find it’s slightly colder than everywhere else – arguably better conditions for longer treks, which won’t require sweating it out in the heat. Wild camping and cycling are other must-do activities in August – as is heading to the Gobi Desert in the south.

It’s also prime time to visit Lake Khövsgöl in northern Mongolia, near the Russian border. The country’s biggest and most beautiful freshwater lake dazzles in the sunlight, and seems to stretch for miles on end.

8. Northern Kyrgyzstan

Burana Tower in Chuy Valley, northern Kyrgyzstan (Shutterstock)

August lands firmly in the middle of Kyrgyzstan’s peak season (May to October), so certain areas will be packed with visitors and locals (here’s looking at you, Lake Issyk-Kul).

However, it is a good time to take on the epic hikes that Central Tien Shan (the ‘Celestial Mountains’ in Chinese) has to offer. The highest peak reaches 7,439m, so this is no casual climb. You’ll need to be an experienced walker, with a high-level of fitness to make the most of it.

9. Jodhpur, India

Jodhpur, India (Shutterstock)

The Blue City of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, is a travel photographer (and Instagram lover’s) dream come true. A seemingly endless maze of blue houses, winding alleys, and colourful doors awaits.

Of course, there’s much more to it than that. Expect history and art in the renowned, 15th century Mehrangarh Fort. Admire the ornate decoration of Jaswant Thada. Get out into nature at the impressive Mandore Sculpture Garden, get active with water activities in Lake Kaylana, or picnic at the 12th century Balsamand Lake.

Visit in August particularly for bearable heat (lows of 26°C and highs of 34°C), and the good chance that you’ll find some savvy accommodation deals. August is off-season, so though you won’t find yourself a lone visitor at any stage, it’s likely you may experience a tiny bit less of the typical bustle.

10. Langkawi, Malaysia

The stunning views of Kilim Geoforest Park in Langkawi, Malaysia (Shutterstock)

There’s so much to explore in Malaysia, it almost seems unfair to single out the archipelago of Langkawi. Though we suppose, with more time, there’s nothing to stop you heading further afield…

But with suitably warm temps (often around 28°C to 31°C), incredibly natural beauty to marvel, cable cars and boat trips galore, and unusual wildlife sightings practically guaranteed it’s an appealing all-rounder for a sunny getaway without the ‘packaged holiday’ feel.

The best August destinations for arts & culture

11. Edinburgh, Scotland

A sign for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh, in 2018 (Shutterstock)

In August, you won’t struggle to find a variety of culture and entertainment festivals in most of the major British and European cities. For the best of the best in summer fun, you need to head to the Scottish capital.

Not only does the famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival and its world-class comedy and theatre take over the architecturally-stunning city for the entire month of August, but you’ll also find a host of other big name festivals.

Expect arts exhibitions, orchestras and dances at the Edinburgh International Festival, performances at The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Festival – both throughout the month. Towards the end of August, there’s a fireworks concert in the city centre, and a mix of multicultural events at the Edinburgh Mela Festival on 31 August.

12. London, England

London, England (Shutterstock)

Every month in London has something for everyone, but August really ups the ante in terms of arts and culture offerings for travellers.

As the name suggests, Greenwich + Docklands International Festival takes over south east London. Performance art takes place indoors and outdoors – expect everything from laser shows and colourful powder fights to stilt walkers and acrobats abseiling down historic buildings.

For classic music fans, BBC Proms has performances running throughout August.

As the month draws to a close, embrace the colourful madness of the iconic Notting Hill Carnival. The London Craft Beer Festival takes place in the middle of the month at Tobacco Dock, a former warehouse in Wapping.

And for those foodie travellers, the many street food markets dotted across London will delight in warmer months – go beyond Borough Market and try visiting Mercato Metropolitanoin Elephant and Castle, or Boxpark in Shorditch.

13. Papua New Guinea

Mount Hagen Cultural Show in Mount Hagen township, Papua New Guinea (Shutterstock)

The city of Mount Hagen in the western province of Papua New Guinea comes alive in the middle of August for days-long performances, feasts and musical festivities hosted by locals during the Mount Hagen Cultural Show.

Drier than June and the coolest month of the year overall, the weather also makes a compelling argument for August as the best time to explore Papua New Guinea’s exotic cities and towns.

Of course, Papua New Guinea is a challenging destination and truly off the well-trodden trail. As such, only very experienced travellers should plan to visit, keeping a close eye on the FCO’s Official Travel Advice before going, too.

14. Guča, Serbia

Guča, Serbia’s famous Trumpet Festival (Shutterstock)

The Guča Trumpet Festival, known sometimes as Dragačevski Sabo, is probably a little less well-known than the likes of the Edinburgh Fringe and Notting Hill Carnival.

Nevertheless, the small Serbian town of Guča comes alive for three days in early August for its annual festival, showcasing the best in brass music performances. Hundreds of thousands attend each year.

15. Tunisia

The Roman ruins of Dougga in Tunisia (Shutterstock)

Tunisia’s perhaps not the first place you’d think of for a short break with a focus on the arts. However, August provides a few opportunities to see a different side to this North African country.

Established in 1964, the International Festival of Carthage, is held every July and August, offering live music, theatre, opera and even a bit of ballet.

Dougga International Festival is another opportunity to experience live music – this time in the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre, located in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Roman city of Dougga. The festival ends in the first week of August.

The best places to visit for wildlife watching in August

16. Discover birds and monkeys in northern Ecuador

Squirrel monkey in the Ecuadorian jungle (Shutterstock)

Ecuador is on South America’s west coast. A delightful combination of the Andes, Amazon and the Galápagos Islands (just to name a few), it’s home to many unique and colourful wildlife species. No surprise then, that it’s become one of our top August wildlife trips.

Head to the northern part of the country to give yourself the best chance of seeing the cheeky-looking squirrel monkey, a marmoset or tamarin in the wild.

Birders in Ecuador have the opportunity to see around 1,600 species in total. Undeniably, it’s one of the planet’s best birdwatching countries. Staying in the north, you’ll see rare macaws, the sleek Andean condor, hummingbirds aplenty and brightly-patterned toucans (again, to name a few). Get your binoculars ready…

17. Go polar bear watching in Arctic Canada

Polar bears in the Canadian Arctic sunset (Shutterstock)

Summers in the Canadian Arctic are, unsurprisingly, rather short. They’re also the best time to get out on the water in a Zodiac and do a bit of polar bear-spotting from your expedition boat.

As we all know, polar bears are best admired from a distance. They’re nowhere near as cuddly as as they look. But you may have a chance of getting a little closer than usual, as the Zodiacs can get quite close.

17. Whale watching in San Juan Islands, Washington State

Whale-spotting from San Juan Islands (Shutterstock)

Hop on a Washington State Ferry from Anacortes to reach four of the 172 San Juan Islands. The weather here is mild most of the year, but the sunniest time to come is during August – coincidently also the best time to see killer whales. This is one of the top places in the world to see the black and white beauties.

San Juan is the most popular islands, with its Whale Museum and plenty of outdoor activities. If you want a more peaceful, wild experience, head to lesser-visited Orcas Island and take on the 6km climb up Mount Constitution. If you’re lucky, you can spot Vancouver from the top on a clear day.

19. Watch macaws in Manu National Park, Peru

Macaws in Manu National Park, Peru (Shutterstock)

Visit the south-east region of Peru in August and you’ll find yourself stunned by the natural prowess of Manu National Park. Also classed as a Biosphere Reserve, you’ll be awed by its lush Amazonian jungle, and the striking Andean Highlands.

It’s the perfect place for the avid birdwatcher to see the wow-worthy macaw in its natural habitat. These beautiful parrots – often a mix of red, yellow, blue and green feathers – are best spotted collecting clay at ‘clay banks’ or ‘clay licks’ around the park, to feed on later. It’s quite an incredible sight.

August is typically the beginning of the season for the most sightings, with September and October also thought to be ideal months.

20. Meet orangutans in Borneo

A young orangutan in Borneo (Dreamstime)

Borneo’s orangutans basked in the spotlight when Dame Judi Dench visited an orangutan sanctuary during filming of her documentary, Wild Borneo Adventure, for ITV.

August is one of the best times for us non-knighted folk to head to this South-East Asian island paradise to try for a wild sighting.

Danum Valley in Sabah (in the northern part of the island) offers 400 sq km of rainforest reserve for wild orangutans to swing in. Travel along the Kinabatangan River, too, to try and see these magnificent creatures in their homes.

21. See grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park

Grizzly on the move in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA (Shutterstock)

Unlike polar bears, we think it’s fair to say that grizzlies do look a little bit mean. They’re quite elusive, too: there are only around 150 bears living within the Yellowstone Natonal Park itself, or around 700 in the Greater Yellowstone Area.

To see one roaming, you’ll need proper viewing kit. Wake before sunrise or wait until sunset and use dusk and dawn to to scour the area with your telescope and/or binoculars.

Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley are two of your best sighting spots, but Dunraven Pass, Swan Lake Flats and Gardiners Hole are also good places to try.