Buenaventura Nature Reserve, Ecuador

Remember that time I got to go butterfly collecting with Shane and Lucie?

Well, we’re back, baby!

The lab needed more butterflies, so Shane and I headed back to the field! This time, we started the trip in the Buenaventura Nature Reserve, in the south of the country. We had hoped to come here the first time, but since it’s a reserve, it required permits, which we couldn’t get before the trip.

Getting to Buenaventura was quite an adventure.

It takes ~11 hours to get there by car. We don’t have a car. So, we planned on flying, but the national protests back in June canceled our original trip, and we were out the cost of the flights. So, instead of risking it again, we decided to go by bus.

In theory, you take a ~3-hour bus ride to Baños, an ~8-hour overnight bus to Cuenca, then an ~5-hour bus to the city of Piñas. From there, you catch an ~45-min cab ride to the cabins on the reserve. Getting around isn’t quick, so we planned to spend two nights in Cuenca to see the city and break the trip up a bit.

Unfortunately, there was a ton of rain and several mudslides on our route to Baños. It’s good that I always insist on travel snacks because the mudslides were so bad that we spent the night on the bus in a tunnel about half an hour outside of Baños.

Mudslide ahead.

We were actually lucky, though. We were able to pass in the morning, but shortly after, they closed the road for a few days to clean everything up. We eventually made it to Cuenca and even tried guinea pig, which I said I’d never do, but when in Ecuador, right?!

From Cuenca, we caught a pretty uneventful bus to Piñas. However, this ride was unique because we were in a big ‘ole charter bus on a dirt road winding our way through the mountains for at least two hours. No interstates or autobahns here! The views were stunning, though.

Views from the bus.

Finally, after another very bumpy 5 km ride on a dirt road (take a truck taxi!), we arrived at dusk at Buenaventura… which had no electricity. So, our hosts prepared us dinner by candlelight, and with nothing else to do, we went to bed at about 8 pm. 😆

The next morning, the electricity was back, and the birds were out in full force, which made up for the night before. We also made a new friend!

Meet Jerry, the coati!

He’s like a South American raccoon.

Butterfly collecting at Buenaventura was like living in the lap of luxury compared to our time in Balsas! The reserve has seven cabins that sit on the edge of the forest. We’d heard rumors that you could see Heliconius butterflies (the ones we needed) from the cabins. I’m happy to report that rumor was true! We caught ~6-8 butterflies around the cabins on our last afternoon at the reserve!

The cabins.
Each cabin has its own bathroom.

Follow the road next to the cabins up a short distance and you’ll find the common area. Presumably, since you’re in the middle of nowhere, the reserve cost (~$40 per night) includes all meals, which was perfect since it required no additional planning.

The Umbrellabird Lodge

The hotel, if you will, on the reserve is named after the Umbrellabird, which is what most people come for. Birds. The reserve has six or seven trails that weave through the forest, one of which is called the Umbrellabird Trail. We were on a mission for butterflies, so we didn’t see any Umbrellabirds. But, if I’m being honest, that bird could have been sitting on a tree in front of my face, and I probably wouldn’t notice it. Unless I can watch them eat strategically placed rotten bananas while I sip coffee, I’m probably not going to see them. I’m a bad birder!

So, as I said. Luxury collecting. Nice cabins, prepared meals, and, most importantly, easy terrain! In Balsas, we were hauling ourselves up big mud-covered hills. Here, we could casually walk up and down the main road, collecting as we saw things.

Views from the road.

Which, by the way, see things we did! We left with ~50 butterflies, which is a lot for the species we were looking for. I also had a lifetime butterfly achievement. I caught THREE IN ONE SWOOP!

Shocked and very impressed with myself!

For the record, butterfly collecting isn’t all fun and games. I mean, it’s a lot of fun, and you can certainly make a game out of it. But you also have to hand-feed every butterfly you catch. So, by the time we left, we were getting up at 5:30 am for an hour of hand-feeding butterflies before breakfast, and then we were back at it in the afternoon.

Butterfly breakfast is served! Blurry picture… we were tired.

Nonetheless, if you’re into birds (or nature in general) and looking for a truly off-the-beaten-path experience, then Buenaventura is a place to try. Without the goal of butterfly collecting, this place would have never been on our radar. So, I’m happy we had a chance to see this beautiful area!

Hasta luego,



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