We spent several gratifying days bear hunting inÂ Maquipucuna Nature Preserve, 2 hrs from Quito, Ecuador. Three of the 5 days we were there, we had closeup sightings of rare and endangered Andean spectacled bears!
Two decades ago the non-profit Maquipucuna Foundation (led by husband/wife team Rebeca Justicia and Rodrigo Ontaneda) raised enough money to buy and protect a big swath of the richly biodiverse cloud forest in the Choco Andean corridor. In a country that has been hit even harder with deforestation than our own province of British Columbia, this is a much-needed shot in the arm for a huge population of unique life forms, ranging from plant to animal and bird life (350 species of birds, with 35 of those being hummingbirds).
Baiba and I have had plenty of experience volunteering with environmental NGOs, and both agree that Maquipucuna’s outreach program with the communities that border the preserve is a model of how to work with local people in self-determination of quality of life. Former wildlife and lumber poachers are now employed as guides, lodge staff and organic farmers on the preserve, creating steady income and job satisfaction.
By booking a visit to their ecolodge, you are treated to not only a unique bird and wildlife viewing experience (the peak of spectacled bear-viewing season is Dec/Jan), but will also help provide the finances needed to maintain a vital tract of habitat in the foothills of the Andes.
At the beginning of our Ecuadorean sojourn, we went on a week-long hiking binge in the hills above Vilcabamba with our friends, guidebook authors and inveterate South American travellers Robert & Daisy Kunstaetter who are based in that tiny village (they’ve written, or contributed to over 20 guidebooks in S. America).