Leaf Cutter Ants at Napo Cultural Center Ecuador

leaf cutter ants

I don't know much about leaf cutter ants.   I've only seen them on two occasions.   Once on a night walk in Costa Rica and once in the Ecuadorian Amazon when I was staying at the Napo Cultural Center.

Doing a quick search on the internet, I've read that the name "leaf cutter ant" is generic and there are 47 species of ants that can be considered leaf cutters.

I also read that they can destroy crops - and I believe it after what I saw.

But with all that - they are fascinating creatures!

At the Napo Cultural Center lodge, there were a lot of walkways and natural areas all around the lodge area.

Walking from the main dining area to my tent, I couldn't help but notice the ants carrying the leafs across one of the pathways.

As I looked, the path was really far starting further than I could see, over the grass, down and over the walkway over the grass, across another walkway until their hole in the ground.    Even the grass path was trampled down by these tiny little ants.

Walks and Canoe rides at Napo Cultural Center Ecuador

a monkey peers through the canopy

There are many activities at the Napo Cultural Center.   This article is about the things we saw while hiking and canoeing through the tributaries.

To read the article about the Clay Licks and Tree Top Tower, you can go here: Lisamroberti.com/amazon-clay-licks

I was graced with one magical sunrise.   The first day there, it was overcast and the last day we paddled out before the sunrise in the dark - more on that later.

The only way to get to the Napo Cultural Center is via canoe...so we spent a lot of time in the canoes.   The naturalist and one other person paddled the canoes and we sat 2 side by side.   

The amount of plant life was spell bounding and the canoeing was very peaceful.

Here are some videos and images from the canoe and from the hikes around the water and lodge.

a monkey walking in the tree tops
2 blue and white birds sit on a branch
long nose bats on tree
long nose bats on a white tree
Caiman's eyes
poison dart frog

To see more images from the Amazon and the Napo Cultural Center, go to my photo galleries at


Night Walks at Napo Cultural Center – Ecuadorian Amazon

a gray moth type creature

When the opportunity for a night walk came up, I wasn't too sure.  I am not a fan of insects - especially spiders.

All my little girl nightmares whirled around in my head about giant insects.

But, I've never missed an outing in the wild, so I put on my "big girl panties" and headed off with the group.

I was so surprised how much I really loved it and as other people left to go to bed, I stayed until the end.

Aaron Baggenstos, the trip leader from Aarons Tours (a company I travel with often), had brought macro kits with him.   So, I was able to borrow a trigger unit and he held the flash unit on the animal.

This was really my first time shooting macro, so the photographs aren't stellar - but they will give you an idea of the little critters that roam the jungle at night.

I have to admit there was one - that was so very creepy looking, I just couldn't take its picture - it looked like a giant spider and scorpion mated...just thinking about it gives me the willies.

We went out on two different nights for macro.   The last night we didn't stay too long as we had to pack and had a very early departure the following morning.

brown bug with antenna on a leaf
black scorpion

This scorpion was very small.. you can see by the size of the leaf - but I still would NOT want to get stung by him.

red dragon fly
some kind of creature with tons of legs - looks blue
big spider with dark black and brown
close up of the spider

This spider was quite big - bigger than my hand.  It's the same spider, the second picture is just cropped in so you can see some detail on it's body and face.

some type of cricket
smiley face spider.  a clear spider with black markings that look like a smiley face
close up of the body of the smiley face spider

A spider with a translucent body and then a smiley face on it's back.   This was a very small spider.  We couldn't see the smiley face with the naked eye, we saw it when zooming into the camera to see if the image was sharp.

a small frog on a leaf
a gray moth type creature
green cricket type insect
black scorpion
green lizard
tiny orange and black frog on a hand
orange and black frog on a leaf

Amazon Clay Licks and Tree Top at Napo Cultural Center Ecuador

parakeets at the clay lick

One of the activities at the Napo Cultural Center is visiting the Clay licks and another is the Tree Top Tower.   On my trip, we visited two of the clay licks and the Tree Top Tower on the same day.  

The day started early with a 5:00 am breakfast.   We got on the rowed canoes with the rubber boots that we had been fitted with the night before and they rowed us in the dark back to the welcome center - where we stopped the day before.

It was unsettling to be in the canoe, very low to the water in the dark.   It was a very overcast day, so no sunrise.

At the welcome center, we boarded a power canoe and canoed back to the main river to get to the clay lick.

We stayed pretty far back on the river so as to not disturb the birds.  They hadn't made their way down onto the soil yet.    

the clay lick area from across the river

There were a lot of birds flying around and resting in the trees.   We couldn't see them very well, but we could hear them.

3 birds on the clay lick
2 parakeets in the trees

There was another bird hunting the parakeets and the parakeets didn't stay long.   As we boated back to the welcome center, we saw a Howler monkey and her baby up in the tree and 2 red titi monkeys.

howler monkey high in the tree holding her baby
2 red titi monkeys

We then went to the tree top tower.   It was a decent walk thru some mud to get to the tower.   

Not only am I afraid of spiders, I am super scared of heights...I don't even like to get on a glass elevator or a Ferris wheel.  

It was a little scary as the whole tower moved quite a bit.   We went to the first landing and it was a really nice view point that was still in the trees and then went up to the upper landing which was above all the trees.    It shook a lot more up there and I didn't stay too long before going back to the first landing.

looking down from the first landing -  you can see some of the tree tops and part of the stairs

Looking down from the first landing area

the stair case down from the first landing area

The following images were taken from the very top:

Panorama from the very top
View from the top looking towards the river...so many tree tops
me being brave at the very top
looking down at the first platform from the top
leaning over looking straight down from the top

Being above the trees offered such a different perspective.   We were, unfortunately, not rewarded with lots of birds as we hoped but still an experience.

We had a little snack up in the tower and as we walked back out we stopped to take a few images.

The tree trunk below was at the bottom of the stairs and a 6' tall person is a midget standing inside .

beautiful red and orange flower
a huge tree trunk
the walkway getting back from the tower
a butterfly getting some nectar

We than went to the other clay lick.  This one was very different from the first.    They had a covered seated stadium area in front of the clay lick.   I didn't take any pictures of it or the seats.   We got there early so we were the first group.   We had to sit and be quiet to not scare the birds and since we were photographers, we wanted a clear view.   

The birds have a lot of natural predators so they are timid to come down to the clay lick to get their needed minerals.    

Again, we could hear the birds and see a few.  So we sat quietly waiting for nature to do its thing.

cobalt winged parakeet on a branch

Another group came in and sat behind us.   They stayed a short while and then left.

After about 2 hours of waiting in silence, the parakeet show happened.   

They stayed there for about 10-12 minutes with many of the parakeets leaving and more joining.   It was fascinating to watch them and to hear them!

parakeets on the ground and some flying in
many parakeets on the clay lick making a mound

We walked back to the cultural center for lunch and then a slow canoe ride to the lodge.   A fabulous day in the amazon.


creepy, eerie, jungle noises AKA Howler Monkeys

caimin eyes

Have you ever been in a jungle?   Or even a really thick forest?

Just imagine, it's hot and humid...you feel sticky all over.   The river is narrow and the light is getting low with the evening approaching.

You see spiders (and these are not your normal spiders) everywhere

a huge spider on the bark of a tree

And eyes of reptiles peering at you from the water

caimin eyes

it's just you and the other people in your boat..there are no other boats around

and you hear this

I was very happy that I was not alone in my canoe 🙂

The sounds came from Howler monkeys.   They can be heard from over a mile away.   Eerie...but also very cool!

Napo Cultural Center Ecuador Amazon Lodge Review

The Napo lodge

I'm not sure exactly what I was thinking when I signed up for an extension to my Galapagos trip to go to the Ecuadorian Amazon.   It sounded exotic and colorful and fascinating and so I just signed up....then the realization - massive heat, humidity, huge spiders, snakes, and other poisonous critters lived in the amazon...I was a bit nervous to take on this particular endeavor.

It was a bit of an adventure that is for sure!   I did this trip as part of a group trip with Aaron's Tours.  It was an exploratory add-on after Galapagos with a few days in Quito in between.

The trip started with a 6:00 am breakfast and a 7:00 am departure for the Quito airport.  It was a quick 30 minute flight to Coca.  

the mountains from the airplane window

Upon arrival we gathered our bags.    The restrooms at the tiny airport were maybe typical for a remote place. No running water and no electricity the day we were there.

We met the folks that were transferring us to the lodge - and oh what a transfer it is.   Our bags went into the back of a pick up truck and we went into an air-conditioned bus.   

street view of the city

Unfortunately, the bus broke down about 1/2 way to our destination, so we all got out and started walking with our camera gear and briefcases.   After a little while, the pick up truck came and took our gear and we walked the rest of the way.   It was an easy walk but warm in the sun.

the group walking down the street with all their gear

We got to a secured area with nice bathrooms, lounge chairs, cold water.   We had to sign some waivers and then we were given water bottles and a packed lunch.   We claimed our luggage to make sure it was all accounted for and tagged properly and the luggage left on a boat.

We then all loaded a power canoe.   It had one seat on each side and we all had our cameras / carry-ons with us.   We had to wear life vests on the power boat but it was covered from the sun and when it was motoring, the cool breeze felt very good.

me on the powered canoe in my life vest

We were on the power boat for about 2 hours and it started on the Payamino River and went to the Napo River.

view of the shoreline from the power boat
view of a building from the power canoe
view of the jungle from the power canoe
views of buildings from the power canoe

then the boat landed on a small dock area.   We all got out and were able to fill the water bottles and another really nice restroom break.   

From here, we got into small paddle canoes.   We watched as our luggage was taken on another canoe and we all boarded one canoe with our cameras and briefcases.

canoe loaded down with our luggage
another canoe with seats waiting for passengers

As we were paddled in the canoe down the river, the amount of wildlife was astonishing.    So many birds - and one of the participants with us, Grant, was an avid birder and fabulous spotter.  several types of monkeys, caiman, and oh yea....spiders.

a huge spider on the bark of a tree

And you know, it would have been one thing if the boat stayed in the middle of the channel with water all around and the spiders on the branches and leaves on the LAND....but many many many times, the boat would brush up against the bushes and leaves...and yup...don't you know, the spiders would hitch a ride in the canoe with us (or on one of us in the canoe).   Eck...it's making my heart pound just writing about it - as many of you may know, I am incredibly scared of spiders.  And I was not the only one.

The good thing is - we both kept our witts - even when a baby tarantula (yes, you read that right) hitched a ride on Chantelle's arm.   We did not tip the boat, no one went over board (well not because of spiders anyway) and none of the equipment went over either.  

I'm not exactly sure how we managed that one.   Enough about spiders...it's time to talk about the cool stuff...the stuff I came to the amazon for...

We saw a brown throated 2 toed sloth (it was the only sloth of the trip)

brown two toed tree sloth climbing high in the trees

Howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and a squirrel monkey baby, caymen and so many birds.  

monkey in the trees
monkey walking on a branch
caimin eyes
monkey hanging from a tree
2 monkeys playing on a branch
back of a black and white bird
front of the black bird that has white on its wings
birds that resemble chickens
paddling thru the rivers while the sun is setting

And this was just the transport to get to the lodge.

Big Caimen in the lake in front of the lodge

The river opened up to a lake that was in front of the lodge.   The lodge looked straight out of a movie.   

Napo Lodge from the lake

It was fairly dark by the time we got there because we stopped so much on the way to take pictures.   The luggage was already in the room waiting for me.

The room was very comfortable with a twin bed and a double bed, a little desk, a cabinet and a bathroom with toilet, shower and sink.   It also had a hammock on the front deck which I did not get an opportunity to use.

One of the beds in my room
the twin bed in my room
the desk in the room
the bathroom

My room was right on the water (as were many of them) - it made for the most amazing sunrises.

beautiful sunrise over the lake in front of my room

And also just stunning views from my deck.

view from my deck
panoramic view from my deck

We got settled in and then met for dinner.   There are a lot of stairs to go to the main lounge / dining area from the rooms.   I didn't see a handicap accessible area - but I didn't ask, so there may be one.   If you need an accessible lodge, be sure to ask before booking this one.

There was a bar in the lounge and a sitting area as well as the dining room.   Meals were served buffet style and the food was incredibly good.   No one went hungry, that's for sure.

bar and dining area

The building that the bar / lounge / dining were in was a tower.   There was an elevator that you could take up the tower or you could make the many flights of stairs.  At  the different levels of the tower were seats to have a beautiful view all the way around.    

one of the levels of the tower
some of the stairs to walk the tower
another level of the tower
sculpture of a giant river otter

I actually didn't go up to the tower until the last night - so I didn't see it during the day.

view from the tower at night
the view from the tower at night

Each morning we took the canoes out.  Sometimes we would get out and hike and other times we would stay in the canoe.

The diversity in plant life and animal life here is really amazing.   It is incredibly clean and the food is really great - which is surprising with the remoteness of the camp.   

I am so glad that I went on this extension and got the opportunity to stay at Napo.   I highly recommend a visit there (even if you are afraid of spiders).

a panorama of the lodge

Below is my video review of the lodge - very similar to this written review but it has some additional information.

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Condor Tour in Quito Ecuador

Andean Fox in tall grass

During one of my days in Quito, I took a Condor tour with 2 of the other Galapagos participants.

We were super excited because prior to the Galapagos trip, 2 of the other participants did this same tour and had absolutely amazing images of condors in flight and portraits.   Unfortunately, we were not as lucky but we still had a good day in the cold and rain.

The only condor we saw was way far away - perched on a rock with his back to us.  Even through the spotting scope, he was very small and hard to see any details.   Here is my sole picture of the condor (and for those that understand photography - it was taken with a 500mm lens with a 1.6 x crop factor - so 800 mm and here is the image uncropped.)

a condor, barely visible in the hills across the ravine

and in case you couldn't find him in the picture -- see below the bird is circled in white.

the condor circled in the picture

One of the many overlooks we stopped at to try to find the condors...they were there ...somewhere

a panoramic view of the ravine

The tour was an all day tour that started fairly early and I don't remember the names of the places that we visited or even the identities of the birds we saw...

It was a very scenic drive with huge vistas everywhere and so many birds.

We got out of the car on several occasions to take pictures of the birds and deer - and the ground cover was beautiful.   I'm not sure how to describe it -- it was very squishy but not overly wet.   The naturalist explained that it held a lot of water.  There were many different kinds of plants and flowers growing it and it was like walking on foam balls.   Super soft yet supportive.   

some of the plants growing in the ground cover
different types of plants growing in the ground cover
yellow flowers growing in the ground cover
purple crocus growing in the ground cover
black bird with orange face and white fluffy legs

I wish I had taken notes on this day of the types of birds and how they lived.   I remember being fascinated by what the Naturalist told us and I guess I thought I'd remember...definitely taking better notes next time!

I do love the fluffy legs on this orange faced bird though

We also got super lucky and saw this Andean fox.   He hung out for awhile with us.

an Andean Fox - brown and black with red tones
Andean Fox in tall grass
Andean Fox running

We stopped at a really nice place for a meal.  They have multiple hummingbird feeders and we had a lot of fun and laughs trying to photograph the very fast hummingbirds.  

As you can see in the video below, my first attempt was a pretty epic fail -- until the birds starting hovering towards the end - they must have taken pity on me and gave me a chance to get something on film.

After our fabulous meal, I went to the lower feeder and this time I was smart and just kept my phone focused on one area and let the hummingbirds fly in and out.   I find this video very peaceful with the two different types of birds.

As we headed back to Quito, we stopped to photograph some more of their beautiful birds.

dark grey bird with a red mark on his neck in the trees
brown and golden brown bird feeding
green and blue and purple iridescent bird
brown and gold bird

I had two more days in Quito and I stayed at the airport hotel.  I caught up on emails and rested up for the next part of my trip...the Ecuadorian Amazon.

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Santa Cruz Island – 2

profile view of the tortoise

The final morning in the Galapagos.   Breakfast at 5:00 am with all our bags packed and ready to go.

It was super choppy getting into the pangas this morning with all the carry-ons but everyone made it with no one and no bags taking a swim...so a success!

First stop was El Chato 2 Ranch.   It is an ecological reserve for tortoises.    We donned big mud boots and went for a nice walk thru a cave and then to see the tortoises.  

The wood sign for El Chato Ranch
A tortoise in the water
profile view of the tortoise
front view of a tortoise

They had a little snack and gift shop.   And in the shop, they had tortoise shells -- of course we all had to climb in one to see what it was like to be a tortoise.   It's good their necks work differently than ours - because it was not comfortable.   And in the picture, you will see Aaron - the tour leader having some fun with me in the tortoise shell.

Aaron sitting on top of the tortoise shell that I am inside of

We stayed for awhile and then made a stop at a ravine on our way to the airport - it had started raining so we did not do the walk at the ravine.

a panoramic view of the ravine

Back to the dock where they loaded our suitcases on top of the boats (so happy it had stopped raining) and then on the boat across the water to the other side and on the bus to the airport.

lading the suitcases on top of the boat

A fairly fast flight back to Quito and to the airport hotel.    The Galapagos trip was over with many fond memories and some new friendships.

I'm so glad that I was able to experience some of the Galápagos Islands. It was an interesting and educational trip.        

Santiago Island – 2, Galápagos Islands

the little cove where the panga landed - nothing but lava

This was the last afternoon destination and we returned to Santiago Island...but a different area of the island then the first time we stopped on Santiago Island.    

This side was desolate. Even though the first stop at Santiago Island had a lot of black lava, it also had green and bushes and life.   

Here, it was just destruction.   Black lava as far as the eye could see.

the little cove where the panga landed - nothing but lava

I really had a hard time walking on the uneven lava with my twisted ankle so didn't venture quite as far as some of the other photographers but I was still able to see so many different types of lava.  

rope lava
lava that is very bumpy and round

The volcano erupted about 120 years ago and just now, pioneer plants are starting to take hold.    The pioneer plant is the first plant that starts to grow on the lava.

As I walked on the lava my mind started wandering about Mother Nature.   How She destroys as easy (or maybe easier) than She creates.  Tornados, tsunamis/hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes destroy so much life in seconds / minutes / hours or even days and then it can take years or centuries for life to come back.

nothing but lava as far as the eye can see

During the walk, the naturalists showed us where a tree died, we saw some fossils.  

I know it is natural, I realize that, but my heart ached for all the life that was lost the 120 years ago when the volcano erupted.  Life I can't even begin to know or understand. 

The thoughts put me in a solemn mood as I hobbled along and then finally sat on the lava just watching the impossible blues and greens of the water.

the green and turquoise waters meet the blue sky

One day when the time is right, the island will be teeming with life again.   It starts with the pioneer plant and then other plants will take hold then the birds will come back and maybe some mammals.   

The island is just biding its time until it can once again support life.   Until then, it was a beautiful reminder that life can change in a heartbeat and that all things truly are beautiful if you have the correct perspective.

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Bartolome Island – Galapagos

a view of the rocks and the island across the water

Another early start so we could get to the view point on Bartolome Island nice and early in the morning.

The mornings on the boat always consisted of a nice breakfast and then loading onto the pangas.   

Bartolome Island is a small island with a long walk up to a view point to see 365 around.   Unfortunately, we didn't have a beautiful sunrise but the walk and view were very nice...albeit - quite slow for me on my twisted ankle.

one of the staircases up to the top of the island
a long walkway across the island
a long walkway thru the island
a view of the rocks and the island across the water
the walk ways from the top of the island
A view from the top

It was very windy at the top.   From the top, we could see all around the island.   It was actually cold from the wind at the top and I didn't stay long.   I knew it would take me longer to walk down then everyone else, so I started back down to take it slow with the ankle.  

At the bottom, where we were getting onto the pangas, 2 sea lions had taken up residence.   The naturalist had to gently persuade them to leave their resting place so we could all safely get back into the pangas.

the sea lion sitting where we needed to go to get back on the panga

From the pangas, we went around some of the other islands.   There were boobies fishing and then we saw some penguins.

boobie soaring thru the sky
penguins on the lava rock

The water was a bit rough so it was difficult to photograph the birds and the penguins.

We returned to the catamaran and got ready to go on our next and final snorkel excursion.

It was a bit rough still but I didn't want to miss the last opportunity.  I was secretly (ok, probably not so secretly) hoping for more sea lions.

What I saw was hundreds of different colored star fishes, lots of little fishes, a white tipped shark, and the penguins!  The penguins are so fast.

The naturalist also found a bunch of critters deeper in the water under the shelves made by the side of the island.   I wasn't really up to going underneath, so I didn't see them.

But if you go to snorkel near Bartolome Island, you are bound to see some cool critters.

The below short video is little snippets from that snorkel session filmed on my GoPro camera.   

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