Ecuador is home to over 4,000 species of orchids. These specatuclar blooming epiphytes grow in high altitude cloud forests of the Andean Sierra and the equatorial jungles of the Amazon Basin. There are so many orchids that the only comprehensive identification guide contains six huge volumes. Furthermore, as soon as a guide is printed, it is out-of-date as multiple new species are discovered every year.

Diversity of Orchids in Ecuador

While I am not an orchid expert, I do love to photograph these beautiful, often strange-looking flowers. When I first started looking for flowers in the wild, I found it fairly easy to spot the large, flashy models similar to the potted versions sold at Trader Joe’s. Today, with over three years of experience looking for orchids in the wild, I better understand their diversity. I’ve photographed tiny beauties only a few millimeters in width and stunning giants that would overwhelm a wedding corsage. I’ve found orchids growing high in the air and low to the ground. I have found them staring me in the face and shyly hiding behind imposing bromeliads. Chasing orchids is almost as much fun as spotting a rare bird.

Orchids from San Jorge de Tandapaya, July 2016 | ©Angela Drake

In order to provide a leg-up, I highly recommend that orchid lovers first visit the impressive native collection at the Botanical Garden in Quito.Seeing the different shaped petals and leaves will open up a whole new world for the orchid aficionado. This single stop will help visitors to better understand the stunning variety of wild orchids in Ecuador.

The Best Season to See Orchids

Given the right conditions, most orchids flower annually. Although it is possible to see orchids pretty much year round, the best chance in Ecuador is from February to June. However, take note of the dates on many of the photos in this article. I’ve provided the dates and locations to help give you an idea of which orchids might be blooming on your next visit!

Orchids in a tree, San Jorge de Tandapaya, September 2015 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from the Orchidarium San Cristobal in the Napo Province, Ecuador, February 2016 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from San Jorge de Milpe, June 2015 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids in a tree, Yanacocha Reserve, November 2014 | ©Angela Drake

Botanical Gardens with Orchid Collections

An orchid collection is called an orquideario in Spanish or an ochidarium in English. Not all botanical gardens have them but it is rare to find one in Ecuador without at least a small collection.

Our favorite gardens with collections include:

Taken at the Quito Botanical Garden in Parque Carolina, October 2013 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from the Botanical Garden in Guayaquil, January 2015 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from the Botanical Garden in Guayaquil, January 2015 | ©Angela Drake
Taken at the Quito Botanical Garden in Parque Carolina, October 2013 | ©Angela Drake

Nature Reserves with Orchid Collections

Many private reserves have small collections of native orchids collected from their own grounds. Generally speaking, reserves relocate fallen orchids to a small garden near the main lodge or along an established trail.

Our favorite reserves with orchid collections include:

Orchids from the gardens at Cabañas de San Isidro, Cosanga, Ecuador, June 2016 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from the Orchidarium San Cristobal in the Napo Province, Ecuador, February 2016 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from the Orchidarium San Cristobal in the Napo Province, Ecuador, February 2016 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from the Orchidarium San Cristobal in the Napo Province, Ecuador, February 2016 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from the gardens at Panticucho, Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador, August 2014 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from Cabañas San Isidro, May 2015 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from San Jorge de Tandapaya, July 2016 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from the gardens at Cabañas de San Isidro, Cosanga, Ecuador, June 2016 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from San Jorge de Tandapaya, July 2016 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from the gardens at Panticucho, Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador, August 2014 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from San Jorge de Milpe, June 2015 | ©Angela Drake

Orchids in the Wild

Wild orchids are a pleasure to see. Be that as it may, they require some level of dedication to find. I think birdwatchers are in a prime position to see some of the prettiest orchids in Ecuador as many grow high in the tree canopy. Eyes trained to spot birds can easily adapt to spot orchids. In addition, a pair of binoculars doesn’t hurt either!

Lucikly, there are orchids that grow on low tree trunks or branches; some grow directly from the mossy ground, and many love rocky outcroppings where they can receive heavy doses of equatorial sunlight. While you think these might be easier to find, sometimes they are very well camouflaged. Keep your eyes open wide!

Our favorite trails to see wild orchids include:

Orchids from the Yanacocha Reserve, November 2015 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from the Yanacocha Reserve, June 2015 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from San Jorge de Tandapaya, July 2016 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from the Yanacocha Reserve, Rocky mountain face; August 2014 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids in a tree, San Jorge de Tandapaya, September 2015 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from Guango Lodge near Papallacta, Ecuador, June 2016 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids in a tree, San Jorge de Tandapaya, September 2015 | ©Angela Drake
Orchids from the Yanacocha Reserve, December 2015 | ©Angela Drake