Mainland Ecuador is a fabulous microcosm of all that excites me about Latin America. It has local traditional communities that have not changed that much in centuries, both in the depths of the Andes and in the heart of the rainforest.
If you, like me, love wildlife and spectacular birdlife, then there is a particular hidden paradise that I think is one of the best spots in the country. Despite being one of the planet’s most biodiverse spots, it receives relatively few visitors, even considering it is only a few hours’ drive from the nation’s capital, Quito.
The cooler climes of the Mindo highlands and its easy accessibility make it a brilliant choice for families too, especially as there is a fabulous luxury lodge there too, called Mashpi Lodge, a magical haven in the clouds.
The Ecuadorian Choco around Mindo has for many years been subject to threat of deforestation but increasing efforts at conservation have paid off. The private reserve of over 3,000 acres of cloudforest that Mashpi sits in was purchased in 2001 by a former mayor of Quito, Roque Sevilla, who is also a keen orchid enthusiast – there are no shortage of species here!
More than 80% of the forest here is primary growth and most of the lodge’s staff were formerly employed in logging. So even the communities here are being encouraged to turn their livelihoods from deforestation to conservation, no mean feat.
The lodge itself stands amid stunning natural pristine forest that you can see in all its glory from the floor to ceiling windows. There is a remarkable team of naturalists and scientists who, of course, lead hikes into the forest and give fascinating talks and insights into the flora and fauna. Crucially what they also do is offer their own expertise in ongoing research projects into local wildlife at the lodge’s own research centre.
You can get out into the forest either on guided walks via hidden waterfalls and swimming holes or even into the forest canopy itself by riding on their innovative Sky Bike, or the newly opened Dragonfly canopy gondola, a brilliant way to look out for the wildlife that inhabits the higher levels of this complex ecosystem.
Of course, in keeping with its sustainable ethos and dedication to conservation, the gondola is powered by renewable energy and designed to blend silently into the surrounding forest.
In this cloudforest wonderland, expect to see monkeys, beautiful birds including many species of hummingbirds, rare species of butterflies and amphibians. In fact, the lodge’s own naturalists discovered a new species of tree frog, now named the Mashpi Torrenteer, just a few years ago.
Just another reason why the conservation work and research projects run by this delightful lodge are so vital to helping to preserve the Ecuadorian cloudforests – a truly magical place.
Images courtesy of Mashpi Lodge.