Ecuador's Cloud Forest - tailor-made journey
Pristine Cloud Forest • 600+ Species of birds • Amazing flora and fauna • Luxury lodge in a malaria free zone
Three and a half hours scenic drive from Quito lies Mashpi Lodge - a cocoon in the cloud forest situated on its own private 1,100 hectares of the endangered Choco forest and surrounded by another 18,400 hectares of natural protected area. With incredibly rich biodiversity, the area is internationally renowned as one of the best places on earth for bird watching. The area is free of malaria.
Hosting up to 48 guests, the award winning luxury lodge offers tasteful accommodation without trying to compete with the real attraction - the forest outside! Picture windows everywhere allows guests to feel part of their surroundings and at night, the only lights outside are the dance of myriad fireflies or the sparkle of the stars. An exciting addition to the Mashpi Lodge activities is the introduction of the 'Dragonfly', a gondola system that gently glides guests and their naturalist guide more than 2 km through the jungle canopy - there is an additional charge for this. Great food and expert guides so knowledgeable in all facets of flora and fauna found in this unique environment, will create enduring memories.
Day 1: Quito > Mashpi Lodge
This morning you will be met at your hotel in Quito and transferred with fellow guests to Masphi Lodge, located three and a half hours (110km) by road from Quito in the evergreen wilds of the Andes' western slope. Departing Quito on the highway north and after passing the Equator Monument and Latitude 0, the sudden shift in altitude (from 2800 metres above sea level to 1000 metres above sea level) will allow you to discover the spectacular natural diversity of the Andean landscape. The road crosses the valley of Pomasqui dominated by Andean dry forest, and then to the western flank of the Andes through the Cloud Forest and the road ends in Mashpi at the beginning of the tropical rainforest. Half way to Mashpi you stop to visit Tulipe Archeological Museum, a set of ruins that belonged to the Yumbo culture, one of the last cultures that settled in Quito before the arrival of the Incas and the Spanish. Continue on the road for 60 minutes and arrive to Mashpi.
Spend two nights at Mashpi Lodge including all meals, guided activities and excursions within the reserve (apart from the Dragonfly gondola that has an additional fee attached). There are walks, bird-watching and nature encounters, the Sky Bike, an informative Life Centre, waterfalls and a hummingbird garden. Wi-Fi, unlimited soft drinks and use of rain ponchos and rubber boots are all included.
After settling in, you are introduced to your naturalist guides who will briefly speak about the cloud forest and its conservation, the activities you will be offered during your stay, and helpful tips about what to wear and bring to the excursions. This is followed by lunch.
After lunch enjoy a hike in the cloud forest on the Cucharillo Trail - named after the Cucharillo tree (Magnolia dixonii), which in Spanish means 'little spoon', an Ecuadorian endemic that is common at Mashpi, although otherwise threatened throughout the country. The trail requires some physical condition due to its steeper portions, but has been made less demanding thanks to recycled plastic crates that have been used to form steps and make paths firmer. At the end of the trail find a large waterfall and rocky riverbed with beautiful ponds and smaller waterfalls. The excursion takes about 2 hours to complete. There is some time to relax before an evening excursion.
The forest transforms by sunset: the sounds and smells intensify and other senses are awakened. You will discover the evening croaking of nocturnal frogs and incessant buzz of insects. Turning off flashlights, you will be able to observe sparkling fireflies and feel bats zipping by and on the ground, discover the faint glow of bioluminescent fungi all around. Owls and other nocturnal birds may call into the night, while the rustling of branches above us may mean that we're in the presence of kinkajous (Potos flavus), an arboreal mammal relative to the raccoon, making their way through the trees in search of ripe fruit. The excursion begins at 7 pm and takes about 45 minutes to an hour. We then return to the lodge to enjoy a delicious dinner.
Day 2: Mashpi Lodge
Spend a full day enjoying many of the activities on offer...you choose depending on your interests and physical ability.
Trails As you enter the realm of the rainforest, you will become aware of Life at every step; mushrooms and "fox fire" fungi below, tree trunks festooned with orchids, lichens and mosses, giant ferns reaching up to the light above, coiling vines, swirling mists and clouds of moisture. And then, from nowhere, comes the sound of rushing water, a waterfall amid this glistening, green world, where you can wade through rivers, walk along their banks, revive your senses...
The two main trails are the Howler Monkey and Cucharillo (named after an oak tree). Along the trails, guests will learn more from both their Naturalist Guide and local guide about the myriad plants, insects and animals that inhabit this biodiverse universe. The guides will enthusiastically share their knowledge of their characteristics, behaviour and uses.
Due to Mashpi's mountainous topography, trails are rarely flat. The 2 Km Howler Monkey (mainly primary forest) and 700 metre Cucharillo (mainly secondary growth), although short are relatively steep. The trails' steepness is an advantage since the hillsides enable more light to penetrate the forest, thereby increasing the diversity of plants and animals that one can observe at each stratum. Both trails have been specially adapted to make walking easier, using embedded recycled plastic crates to create steps and firm paths.
Life Centre Close to the lodge, the centre is conceived as a place for learning and discovery, but also where guests can disconnect, where they can contemplate the views, lie back in a hammock, read a boo, and enjoy a fresh cane juice. Guests will learn more about the butterflies that inhabit the region, being shown the process of these creatures from eggs to pupae to chrysalis to winged wonder. Some 200 species of butterfly have been identified to date in the Reserve, with nearly a dozen observable at the Centre. Other points of learning include various species of frogs and toads inside glass terrariums, as well as dozens of species of orchids, bromeliads and passion flowers all around the structure.
Close to the Centre, we have established an area for growing medicinal plants (ideal for a reviving herbal infusion) and beyond, many varieties of bushes and fruit trees, including banana and plantain, manioc, cacao, tobacco, coffee, coca, bread fruit and heart of palm. These attract all sorts of wildlife, from birds to rodents to mammals "“ making for easier observation from the comfort of the Centre's expansive wooden deck. Most of the interpretation at the centre will be imparted by local guides or people involved with the project from local communities. Guests will find ingredients from these gardens in the dishes prepared at the restaurant.
Observation Tower There are few easier or better ways to appreciate the beauty of the Mashpi Reserve forest and hills than climbing the Observation Tower. Here, guests are able to enjoy an exciting bird's-eye view and the dramatic panoramas that surround the lodge from the observation tower. This is a metallic structure, with a staircase that climbs to about eight-stories high (26 metres) ideal for wildlife observation, particularly at dawn or dusk. Species that can be spotted here include toucans, woodpeckers, barbets, tanagers and parrots as well as raptors. The tower is just a 10-minute walk from the lodge.
Night Walks The Mashpi forest is transformed at night, with far more activity than during the day. Optional night walks will head out from the hotel after dinner to discover its nocturnal creatures and their behaviours, ranging from moths as big as your hand, to miniature glass and tree frogs, croaking toads, birds, owls, rodents and mammals, and even fox fire, an Avatar-like luminous fungus. It's a magical world, often astounding at the micro level, and seldom explored, ready to be discovered in expert company.
Sky Bike Located close to the hotel, the sky bike makes for an original and exciting way to explore the forest canopy up close. Designed for two people to use at once, one person pedals the bike along a cable stretched between two points in the forest, around 200 metres apart, crossing a gorge above a river flowing between rocks and trees below. Silent, easy-to-use and fun, providing guests with another chance to observe the natural world close to the lodge and even spot its denizens.
Hummingbird Viewpoint The forests of Mashpi boast 22 hummingbird species identified to date, inhabiting different specific altitudes, with around 16 species alone easily observable by guests. In order to make it easier to see these amazing creatures, a shelter with seating provides the ideal setting, feeders for the birds strung from its roof. The site is located at a natural viewpoint, which, on clear days, provides breath-taking views of the Reserve's forested hills.
Refreshing Waterfalls Water is the Key to life in Mashpi, and there's nothing like a refreshing dip at the end of a walk. Several rivers cross the Mashpi Reserve close to the hotel, many forming beautiful small waterfalls, cascades and pools. The water temperature is between 18 to 20 degrees celcius.
Day 3: Mashpi Lodge > Quito
This morning an early start which takes advantage of the fact that many bird species come to the hotel to feed. After a cup of coffee, walk down the road seeking out mixed-species feeding flocks; these usually feature different insectivorous bird species that move together while foraging. In a single flock, we may see over 20 different species, making these more-or-less common encounters an undeniable treat for bird aficionados. The activity takes one hour before we return to the lodge for breakfast. Approximately at 8:30 am we leave the hotel and head to Copal Waterfall. This beautiful 2-hour hike features a landscape of moss-covered trees, bromeliads and orchids at every corner. The trail ends at a spectacular waterfall over 50 metres high. Return to the hotel by noon for check out and enjoy our last meal at Mashpi before heading back to Quito.
Pricing (per person) $NZD
You may extend your time at Mashpi Lodge. Why not combine a visit here with the Amazon or to the Galapagos Islands? These offer a totally different experience and wonderful contrast for those interested in nature and the environment.
Not included - Dragonfly gondola is available at an additional US$40 + tax (payable locally)
Specific travel dates apply
*per person share twin
2 Nights From
- Transfers to from central Quito hotels
- 2 nights' accommodation including all meals and soft drinks
- Forest excursions with expert English speaking guides (apart from the Dragonfly gondola which is available at additional cost)
- Specialized lectures
- Waterproof ponchos and rubber boots
- A visit to the archaeological site of Tulipe