The most profound bear experience

Apr 4, 2024

There are many bear experiences that hold a certain magic. I count myself incredibly fortunate to have crossed paths with so many bears in different places around the world. There’s so many qualities about them that captivate me deeply.

However, amidst these treasured encounters, one stands out as the most profound: my experience with the Andean Bears. Also affectionately known as the spectacled bear for the distinctive facial markings that adorn their face, this species holds a special place in the pantheon of bears. They are the last of the short-faced bears, a branch that diverged from the broader Ursidae family, and possess a unique heritage and charm.

Among the most enigmatic of the eight bear species, the Andean Bear was once a rare sight. Yet, against the backdrop of Ecuador’s highlands, a remarkable transformation has occurred. What was once a fleeting glimpse has become a daily occurrence in Bear Canyon, as the Andean Bears traverse this sanctuary with a newfound assurance.
 

 
Each bear is endowed with its own unique set of facial markings, making them easy to identify. With each return visit, the familiarity grows stronger, akin to returning home to beloved family members. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the same bears—watching them mature, raise new generations, and etch their stories into this conservation success story.

The bond that forms between observer and the bears defies easy explanation. It’s a bond woven with threads of connection—connection to the bears themselves, as they traverse their ancestral landscapes with grace and resilience; connection to the land, whose rugged beauty serves as both cradle and fortress for these majestic animals; and connection to the stewards of this wilderness, whose tireless efforts have made Bear Canyon an incredible conservation success story.

To stand amidst the towering peaks, surrounded by the stirring presence of these magnificent bears, is a homecoming of sorts, where the heart finds solace in the company of kindred spirits, both human and animal alike. And as I witness the passage of time etched upon the landscape—marked by the growth of bear cubs into adults—I am reminded of the enduring bonds that unite us all, across species and generations.
 

 
What adds a layer of fulfillment to the experience is the requisite effort it demands. Navigating this terrain demands more than mere footsteps; it calls for a blend of agility, determination, and reverence for the wilderness that envelops you. To draw near to the bears, one must embark on a journey down a rugged 200-meter canyon—a descent that takes you into the heart of their domain. At an elevation of 7,500 feet, every step up is a reminder of the altitude as we climb the equivalent of a 60-story building.

For me, the allure lies in these immersive, on-foot experiences. There’s a rawness, a palpable immediacy to being in the midst of the wilderness, unshielded by the confines of a vehicle. Every sense is heightened in these moments, inviting you to connect on a deeper level with the world around you.

It’s in these moments, when you’re enveloped by the landscape, that the true essence of the experience unfolds. To observe the bears in their natural habitat, to witness their movements, their interactions, without any barrier—it’s a privilege that transcends mere observation.

And as you make the arduous journey back up from the depths of the canyon, muscles burning and heart pounding, there’s a profound sense of accomplishment—a tangible reminder of the lengths we’ll go to in pursuit of connection with the wild.
 

 
Danilo stands as a beacon of inspiration, a testament to the transformative power of passion and dedication. A humble rural farmer, his life took an unexpected turn in 2010 when he encountered his first bear—a moment that ignited a flame within him, sparking a deep-seated commitment to protect these majestic animals.

Fuelled by his newfound reverence for bears, Danilo embarked on a remarkable journey, carving out a path as a conservationist. He founded the Mirador del Oso Andino, a non-governmental organization dedicated to safeguarding the Andean bear and its habitat. Through tireless advocacy and community engagement, Danilo sought to foster a harmonious coexistence between humans and bears—a vision that defied conventional wisdom and challenged long-held prejudices.

Central to Danilo’s approach was the recognition that true conservation transcends mere protection—it requires active collaboration and mutual respect. Thus, he brokered an unprecedented agreement with the local community, offering compensation for any crops damaged or consumed by bears. In every other situation, the bears would be chased away or killed, so this gesture of understanding and cooperation was nothing short of revolutionary.

The significance of Danilo’s work extends far beyond the borders of his community. In a world where wilderness is increasingly besieged by the encroachment of human activity, his example serves as a beacon of hope—a reminder that coexistence is not only possible but imperative. As our planet grapples with the profound challenges of habitat loss, species extinction, and climate change, Danilo’s story offers a glimmer of optimism—a blueprint for forging a more harmonious relationship between humanity and the natural world.

In celebrating the triumphs of Danilo and the Mirador del Oso Andino, we bear witness to the transformative power of one individual’s unwavering commitment to a cause greater than themselves—a reminder that, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, positive change is not only possible but within reach.
 

 
Join me in 2025 and 2026 for an unforgettable adventure amidst the Andean Bears and their awe-inspiring habitat. Discover firsthand the remarkable tale of a conservation success story as we traverse the rugged beauty of Bear Canyon and contribute to the ongoing efforts to protect this precious ecosystem. Whether you’re a seasoned explorer or a curious soul, this journey promises an immersive experience like no other—a chance to witness the power of collective action, the enduring beauty of our planet’s wild places, and the most amazing Andean bears. Let me know if you’re ready to be part of this extraordinary expedition.

Tour dates:

  • Feb 2-12, 2025
  • March 12-22, 2025
  • Feb 2-12, 2026
  • March 12-22, 2026

Click here to learn more: thewildlifecollective.com/photo-tours/andean-bears