Mashpi Lodge-Luxury in Ecuador’s Cloud Forest
Winding bumpy roads snake their way through Ecuador’s chain of Andean volcanoes. Three hours in the van watching city turn into farmland and eventually something more remote we arrived at our destination. Greeted by a large Jurassic Park style wooden gate, the doors opened and we began our descent into one of the most wild places I’ve been. Jungle in every shade of green imaginable stretched out for miles while the heavy mist sunk throughout crags of the surrounding valleys. This was the singular environment of Ecuador’s cloud forest and home to Mashpi Lodge.
Upon arrival at the lodge we were immediately greeted with a cool towel and a refreshing iced lemongrass tea and directed to the lounge were we were introduced to our guides and Mashpi’s resident biologist who told us the story of the land and the reserve. The high elevation rain forest, also known as the cloud forest or Choco, is a unique ecosystem regarded as a hotspot of biodiversity. Roque Sevilla, a former mayor of Quito, started the Mashpi reserve in order to conserve the cloud forest.
Mashpi is every bit an eco-minded nature lodge but don’t expect to find an open air hut with a thatched roof; this modern lodge is sleek but comfortably luxurious and wouldn’t be out of place in California or Copenhagen. My room was comfortably minimalist with a sumptuous bed perfect for relaxing from my day’s adventures and a plate of exotic, new-to-me Ecuadorian fruit.
Oh, and then there’s this.
Anywhere else the lodge would be the star, but at Mashpi it was clear that nature was the real star here. Rather than compete with the cloud forest the clean lines of steel and glass compliment and highlight the living,breathing world outside. Small nooks throughout the lodge offer up comfortable places to relax and a rooftop observation deck offers up a treetop view of the surrounding valleys.
Guests leisurely congregate at the lodge’s restaurant three times a day for meals. During my stay I met visitors from all over the world who have come to experience the unique wilderness of Ecuador’s cloud forest. Well-heeled Quitenos getting away from the hustle of the capital, an adventurous group of older Brits finishing up a month-long tour of Ecuador, a pair of newlyweds from Australia and an intrepid young family from California shared in our adventures at Mashpi. While it was hard to take my eyes away from the scenery outside, I was able to do so long enough to enjoy the food at Mashpi. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style with a changing set menu at dinner each night. Mashpi does a good job of balancing Ecuadorian specialties (llama in spicy Andean bean sauce anyone?) with more traditional North American and European fare for less adventurous eaters.
While the lodge is alluring in its own right the real reason I came to Mashpi was to experience the wild beauty of the cloud forest. Days start early at Mashpi with an early morning bird watch from the rooftop observation deck. Guides greeted warmly with a cup of coffee, then armed with binoculars and scopes scanned the treetops as the jungle woke up. Birds of every conceivable color graced tree branches and glided over the valley. Emerald toucanets snacked on tropical fruit, multiple species of trogon swooped overhead and a broad-billed mot-mot curiously perched on the observation deck to check us out. We even got a glimpse of the rare moss-backed tanager, endemic to Ecuador’s cloud forest and the symbol of Mashpi. With nearly 500 species of birds recorded on the reserve its no surprise Mashpi is a paradise for birders.
A 30 minute hike uphill from the lodge brought me to the hummingbird station, where over 32 species of hummingbird call Mashpi home. Adults and children alike sat transfixed as hundreds of jewel-toned birds flitted between trees and feeders and buzzed around our heads. These little hummers were as unfazed by our presence as we were mesmerized by theirs.
Birds aren’t the only creatures that call Mashpi home. A wide variety of mammals, while a bit more reclusive, can also be found on the reserve. Several research cameras set around the property have recorded herds of peccary, monkeys, and several species of wild cat including ocelot, margay and puma. On a visit to the Life Center I discovered that Mashpi is home to over 200 species of butterfly. It is here that Mashpi biologists are studying the owl eye butterfly, aother species endemic to the cloud forest. The owl eye butterfly is a master of disguise, not only does one half of its wing resemble an owl’s eye (for which it is obviously named) but each wing tip looks distinctly like the head of a snake. Well done nature, well done.
Have you ever wanted to channel your inner ET while gliding through a rain forest canopy? I’ve got two words for you guys-
More exciting than an aerial tram and more control than a zip line, this two person pedal powered bike allows you to explore the forest from a bird’s eye view. The sky bike is 200 feet high and is largely silent so as not to startle any wildlife. You can can go fast for a bit more adrenaline or take your time to enjoy the unique cloud forest canopy.
A video posted by Brianna Simmons (@casualtravelist) on
Exploring Mashpi by land is nearly as exciting as seeing it from the treetops. Throughout my stay I took a number of guided hikes throughout the reserve, our guides Jose and Manolo had were extremely knowledgeable and had an obvious love for the land. From spotting impossibly tiny frogs to answering all of my questions about the plants and animals we encountered, there was nothing these two guys didn’t know. My favorite hike took us down through the dense secondary rain forest to a pristine waterfall that we had all to ourselves. I couldn’t resist taking a dip because well, I didn’t come all the way to Ecuador to not swim in a waterfall.
On our way back up to the lodge we stopped at a small viewing platform for a rest. I got lost in my thoughts while looking over out over valley below and turned back towards the trail to find a surprise- Manolo had quietly set out a jungle picnic for us with a spread of nibbles including Ecuadorian cheeses, tasty little sandwiches and a bottle or Argentinian Malbec. Watching the clouds sinuously flow over the rain forest with wine glass in hand-it was this moment that was the perfect culmination of my time at Mashpi.
Mashpi Lodge offers five-star luxury in one of the most unique and remote ecosystems in Ecuador. This is the nature lodge for those who like to explore by day and relax in a luxurious retreat by night.
I was graciously hosted by Mashpi Lodge but as always, all opinions remain my own.