The Refugio Paz de las Aves is the best place for birding and photography tours in Mindo, Ecuador. Each year more than 3,000 visitors visit and observe the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, 6 species of antpittas, and as many as 186 species of birds. This is all made possible by the hard work of Angel and Rodrigo Paz, their wives, and their children.
Why is Refugio Paz de las Aves so successful?
Refugio Paz de Las Aves, a private reserve in Ecuador, was created in 2005 by Angel Paz and his brother, Rodrigo. Their idea was to create a place for birdwatching and photography tours in Mindo – Ecuador. For several years, Refugio Paz de las Aves conducted tours on rented land belonging to local farmers, introducing a new source of income for many of their neighbors. These partnerships have helped us forge strong relationships that have lasted many years, contributing to our success.
In July 2022, with the help of birdwatchers and naturalists around the world, the Paz family was able to purchase most of the land where they have conducted tours for almost two decades, a first step to the long-term conservation of this primary, montane cloud forest located in the heart of the Choco-Andino Biosphere Reserve.
The fact that so many people came together to help is another sign of success that reveals the ability of Angel and Rodrigo to build lasting relationships with their clients. In large part, this is due to their unique business model that leaves birdwatchers feeling like they have visited long-lost friends rather than a tourism operation.
Today, the Paz family is registering a non-profit organization in Ecuador called Fundación Paz de Las Aves that will allow them to expand their conservation efforts while maintaining stewardship of the land. This new era will allow the family to continue welcoming birdwatchers and photographers while also supporting scientific studies, reforestation of farmland, and educational opportunities for the local community.
Moving to Mindo for new opportunities
My name is Angel Paz and my family’s story begins in the Cantón Baños de Agua Santa, a little town nestled into the slopes of Tungurahua, one of the most active volcanos in Ecuador. My parents, Manuel Paz and Teresa Villafuerte, struggled to provide and care for their seven children. They were forced to move in order to search for better work opportunities. Over 40 years ago, they brought my siblings and myself to Mindo, located in the Noroccidente of the Province of Pichincha.
This subtropical region is located 2 hours northwest of Quito and has attracted birdwatchers and photographers for decades. However, my parents moved to the area to farm. Though money was in short supply, they ensured that each of us completed primary school. However, our childhood and adolescence were also spent working on the family farm. Our parents taught us the values of respect, honor, and integrity, and also the importance of following dreams.
From Farmer to Birdwatcher
Rodrigo and I created Refugio Paz de las Aves on August 10th, 2005. We started with a small path on our parent’s farm that led to a lek of the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock.
Even as we built the trail, we asked ourselves, “Is it possible that foreigners will visit our farm to see these birds?”
After a month, the path began to deteriorate and not one tourist had come to see the birds.
Another five weeks passed. Finally, our first tourist arrived asking to see the Gallo de la Peña. We were all surprised and overjoyed that after only four hours of birding, we were paid $10, the equivalent of a complete day’s work for a farmer. Thus began the miracle.
That one tourist would soon turn into thousands. And Refugio Paz would eventually be known throughout the world. Today, our destination is one of the most visited birdwatching and photography attractions in Ecuador.
Angel Paz… the Antpitta Whisperer
One day, I was walking on a trail to the lek when I saw a dark bird with patches of light brown on its chest, long legs, and a wide beak eating earth worms on the path.
As I approached the bird, it flew away into the forest undergrowth. I thought to myself, “This bird with long legs and a big beak should be my friend.”
So, I began to follow the bird into the cloud forest, offering her worms but she wouldn’t accept anything. However, I was very determined and the forest became my new home as I spent day after day trying to befriend her.
Then the great day arrived and she finally accepted the worms and became my friend from that day forward. I baptized her with the name of my wife, Maria. She comes out from hiding to see me when I call her name.
Maria is the Giant Antipitta who welcomes everyone to The Refuge Paz de las Aves.