Jul 10, 2017|
Last updated on October 19th, 2020 at 03:21 am
Ecuador Cloud Forest
Ecuador is a small country which, in terms of ecosystems, punches well above its weight. There is the singular Galapagos Archipelago in the east, the vast Amazon rainforest in the west, and the Andes Mountains running through the middle of it all. It is easy to fill a two or three-week itinerary with these regions, and remain oblivious to a special place to the north which might be the main drawcard for South America nature lovers. I am talking about the Ecuador Cloud Forest and the small town of Mindo at its heart.
Read below for my experience exploring the beautiful terrain of the Cloud Forest of Ecuador. As you plan your dream Ecuador tour package, tell your Travel Consultant that a stop here is a must.
Wildlife in the Ecuador Cloud Forest
First, we must discuss how great the wildlife is in the Cloud Forest. Higher in elevation than the Amazon rainforest, the forest plays host to its own menagerie of wildlife dwelling beneath low-lying cloud cover for much of each day. The larger of these include sloths, howler monkeys, jaguars, pumas, coati, tayra, and the spectacled bear. More commonly seen are the many species of butterfly, frogs, orchids, and birds.
That last one is the reason both amateurs and experts alike make their way to Mindo’s cloud forest. The sheer number of birdlife concentrated in the area, well over 400 species, makes this a world-famous hot spot for eco-tourism. There are trogons, toucans, tanagers, cotingas, and dozens of different hummingbirds. The cloud forest of Ecuador is one of the best places in the world to observe these tiny flitters. Additionally, a number of quality lodges have been built, some very recently, to cater to those interested in exploring in-depth. These lodges introduce the question: is it worth staying longer?
Excursions in the Ecuador Cloud Forest
Did you know that the Ecuador Cloud Forest is a perfect day trip from Quito? From Quito, it is only a 2.5-hour drive, along well-paved and scenic roads. Even better, it doesn’t require boarding another plane, like those visiting the Amazon, are obliged to do.
Experience time outdoors in a gorgeous setting with several active excursions before returning to Quito. Take a cable car across the forested valley, hike to half a dozen waterfalls or inner tube downriver. Guests can also spend downtime with time for some impressive zip-lining in the afternoon. Oh, and there is the thrilling Tarzan Swing! This makes for a fantastic family trip, and you don’t need to be bird aficionados to enjoy the visit.
Though my girlfriend and I don’t consider ourselves birders, we enjoyed photographing the hummers. We found ourselves staying a night at Sachatamia Lodge, just up the hill from Mindo. There were a number of feeders around the main building. While we ate breakfast, the birds enjoyed their faux nectar right outside. Staying a night here gave us more time to explore. Additionally, our guide Sandra was equipped with binoculars, scope, and with over 20 years of experience, she knew where to look. Check out Day 3 of the Luxury Galapagos & Ecuador Train Tour. This is a fantastic example of adding the Mindo Cloud Forest as an excursion to any tour.
Lodges in the Ecuador Cloud Forest
Hosteria Septimo Paraiso
To maximize sightings, wake early to witness the orchestral birdsong. There are great lodges to do so. One of these is Hosteria Septimo Paraiso, where stays of 2-3 nights are easily justified. Perhaps even better are those lodges located within a protected reserve, and there are two top-notch choices in this category.
Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve
Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve is 20 minutes uphill from Mindo. The lodge itself boasts a four-story geodesic dome with a restaurant and viewing platform. Officially certified as an Eco-lodge, the surrounding property of over 2,000 acres allows for truly world-class birding.
The Mashpi Lodge
A more recent development in the region is the stunning Mashpi Lodge. This lodge is a blend of nature and luxury atop a forested plateau removed from Mindo and really anything else. A guide described it to me as like being in Jurassic Park, with jeeps taking you deep into the primary forest, a sky bike ride thru the canopy, and highly experienced guides. I recently booked a 4-day/3-night stay for a family, the ideal amount of time to experience one of the newest and most sophisticated additions to Ecuador’s cloud forest.
Final Day in Ecuador’s Cloud Forest
On our final day, we found ourselves with Sandra at the venerable Birdwatcher’s House. This remote property was built by Vinicio Perez, one of Mindo’s first bird guides. Within the span of fifteen minutes, we spotted maybe two dozen species of hummingbirds and tanagers. There were bird hides for photographers intent on not spooking their subjects. He also let us try the oyster mushrooms he has begun growing, which often appear on the menu for his guests. It was a relaxing place, where the wildlife is never far away, and as we drove back to Quito for more days of touring Ecuador, it felt pleasant knowing there were many reasons to return.