It also boasts the dreamy title of ‘cloud forest’; a rainforest at a high enough altitude that clouds drift within its canopy, wrapping sections of the green treetops with what looks like wispy cotton wool.
The Chocó cloud forest sits at approx. 3116 feet and nestled within its vast expanse is the Mashpi Lodge, an eco wonderland that offers an incredible nature experience. ‘Mashpi’ is a Yumbo word meaning ‘friends of water’ and within this breathtaking biodiversity reserve, you will find plenty of it. (The Yumbos are the indigenous people of this region, pre-dating the Incas.) Picturesque waterfalls and streams run freely in this lush rainforest, which sparkles with dew and is alive with birds and critters you will have likely never seen. The Chocó is one of the most celebrated bioregions in the world, due to its high level of endemic species; ie those found only within the Chocó’s thriving walls.
The Mashpi Lodge
I arrive at Mashpi Lodge after a 4-hour drive from Quito, Ecuador’s capital. As we wound our way higher into the mountains, the surroundings becoming increasingly green and dense, I was struck by how deeply the lodge is nestled within the forest – it is spectacularly isolated. The building is a strikingly modern design, full of light and air, with sparse but carefully thought out furnishings. The floor-to-ceiling glass walls offer a staggering view of the forest’s canopy on one side, while displaying the forest’s walls on the others – a reminder of just how close it is. Each room boasts a full-length window with a forest outlook; even while sleeping you are cradled by the Chocó and if you leave the blinds open, you’ll wake to the early birds flitting from branch to branch, just beyond your bed.
Following a post-arrival rest, we’re taken to the Sky Byke; a zipline-style harnessed seat, dreamt up by an Ecuadorian engineer. Designed for two people at a time, one person relaxes while the other pedals the aerial ‘bike’ along the 200metre cable line. It’s a 15-20 minute round trip and the person who pedaled first becomes the passenger on the way back. (Tip: the return trip is slightly harder, so it pays to go first!) It’s a gentle ride and you move only as fast as you can pedal. There is much motivation to take it slow as you glide along the cable, high above the tree canopy, looking down on the gorge as you pass over it… trying to capture yourself and the incredible vista in a selfie.
Located close to the Sky Byke is an observation tower, 30metres off the ground. The 162-step climb is worth the huffing and puffing – at the top awaits an astounding 360º view of the forest.
After the Sky Byke it’s time for a nature hike. On any excursion into the forest, you will encounter fascinating, rare and exotic wildlife, many endemic to this particular region; toucans and manakins, iguanas and frogs (some no bigger than a thumbnail), the guinea pig-like agouti, howler monkeys if you are VERY lucky, and the coati – which is as creepy as it is stealthy. The Naturalists encourage moments of silence in which to absorb the unique sounds of the forest and its inhabitants… this proves to be a peaceful and rewarding exercise.
Bird watching is encouraged before breakfast on the following days… a very civilized affair held on the terrace of the lodge with coffee and fresh cookies provided! Early risers are rewarded with the flurry of activity from the birds that start their day at dawn, soaring over the canopy and darting from tree to tree, hunting their own breakfast. The Naturalists have hawk-like eyes themselves, able to spot the smallest bird or critter from astounding distances. They bring a telescope (on trail hikes, too) and can help you capture surprisingly good photos by holding the lens of your smartphone to the viewer!
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Written by Amy McCulloch
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Want to learn more about Mashpi Lodge? Check out this video!