Of all 23 countries we visited, I knew that only a few would offer more wildlife opportunities than landscape and travel opportunities. As it turned out Ecuador was right at the top for wildlife photography.
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Originally, I had planned to have a friend back in Oregon ship my go-to wildlife lens, a heavy 100-400 mm, to me in South Africa rather than carry it through countries where I would not likely need it. But the exorbitant cost of shipping it convinced me to pack the big lens in my luggage.
I was extremely happy to have that lens with me in Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Botswana, where wildlife you couldn’t get very close to abounded. The same turned out to be true in Ecuador, the 21st country we visited on our one-year, round-the-world journey to 23 countries.
Ecuador, remember, is home to the Galapagos Archipelago, although it is some 500 miles offshore from the mainland of South America. The diversity of wildlife here, from small, colorful Sally Lightfoot crabs to large brown pelicans and giant land tortoises, was hard to believe.
The real astonishing thing is that the wildlife that inhabits the Galapagos Islands has had no reason to fear humans, as the place has been protected as a large biosphere reserve for decades. Being so remote and so guarded, it is not a place to which poachers flock, and hunting is forbidden. As a result, a photographer can get closer to these creatures – birds, lizards, reptiles, mammals – without spooking them or causing them to flee or back off. That is a real plus when you are trying to get a fill-the-frame portrait of a land iguana, sea lion, or even a finch.
Touring Galapagos by boat is the only way to go. Because the islands are spread out, we travelled between them at night as we slept and arrived at new islands that we could explore in the mornings. San Cristobal is the only inhabited island, and is where visitors start their exploration of the archipelago.
Wildlife photography also was the focus in the Ecuadorean Amazon near the town of Coca up the Rio Napo to the Garzacocha Lagoon and Yasuni National Park. The rainforest jungle around the Garzacocha Lagoon was filled with spider monkeys, giant spiders and exotic birds.
In the Mindo Cloud forest, I had opportunity to photograph rare and brilliantly colored butterflies. And, finally, in Quito there was the colonial buildings around the Plaza Independence, and the landscape from high up in the Andes near the Pinchincha Volcano provided a magical view of Quito below.
© Stuart L Gordon Photography