The Cloud Forests of Ecuador: “Rain but not from the sky”

By Abi King | South America

Apr 17
Abi King - woman looking across a viewing platform at Mashpi Lodge in a cloud forest in Ecuador

Overlooking the cloud forest in Ecuador

The cloud forests of Ecuador are not awash with colour. Instead, they pick a single one and run with it.

Green isn't just green here, it's gob smacking, gut punching, grandstanding green, a green that explodes with greedy, reckless abandon.

The cloud forest column runs virtually along the whole country. At 2000 metres above sea level, its steep slopes and subtropical valleys teem with wildlife. 

And you can visit. Here's how, with cloud forest facts and a plan to get you to Ecuador. 

Disclosure and handy other info: I visited this cloudforest in Ecuador by staying at Mashpi Lodge at the suggestion and organisation of Metropolitan Touring. I flew from Cardiff to Quito via Amsterdam with KLM. As ever, I kept the right to write what I like. As ever, as always.

Mashpi Lodge is one of a number of Eco Lodges in the otherwise unpopulated bioregion of the Ecuador cloud forest

Mashpi Lodge is one of a number of Eco Lodges in the otherwise unpopulated bioregion of the Ecuador cloud forest

The Cloud Forests of Ecuador

Introduction: Rain but not from the sky

The cloud forests of Ecuador are not awash with colour. Instead, they pick a single one and run with it.

Green isn't just green here, it's gob smacking, gut punching, grandstanding green, a green that explodes with greedy, reckless abandon.

A green that brings lesser sights to life, like the web of a spider or the jagged skeleton of a leaf that catches raindrops between yesterday's green.

Rain, too. There's plenty of rain here, or at least that's the first impression. It's also the second, since rain does fall most of the time. The forest's secret, however, lies in the fact that rain manages to fall from the leaves without falling from the sky. Clouds condense on the greenery itself, gathering, trembling, amassing and then rolling with a drip and a flourish from the tip of a leaf to the next.

Hummingbird with wings outstretched at feeding station in Ecuador together with mottled leaves and snail

The wildlife in the cloud forests of Ecuador reward those with patience

Where to stay in Ecuador's cloud forest

Terrain is steep, here, which means that mass farming never took off. Today, it's virtually impossible to travel independently and most visitors stay in one of the private Eco Lodges in the thick of the forest. This article talks predominantly about Mashpi but others include Mindo and Bellavista. Read on for more about Mashpi.

Preserved Bioregion with Outstanding Birdlife

The leaves resemble umbrellas drawn straight from Thumbelina's tales. The tree trunks stretch into the grey bulbous mist like scaffolding for skyscrapers, while the wildlife itself... is shy.

Pumas prowl at night, so I'm told. And raccoons by day, as I've seen only moments ago.

Butterflies use fake snake eyes to scare predators away while hummingbirds flit and fuzz and buzz around so close you can feel the flutter of their wings.

Horizontal view of trees and platform at Mashpi lodge reaching into the sky in the cloud forest

In Ecuador's Cloud Forest, if you have a head for heights, you can climb into the canopy and appreciate the wildlife along the way...

Patience is Key in the Cloud Forest

In short, I'm learning that beneath the green lurks a less flash wildlife. One that requires patience, a degree of silence, and a curious and inquisitive eye.

Orangutans  do not blaze in orange in this part of the world. You won't hear the heavy footfall of elephants nor the orchestral weight of the whale.

But the beauty is no less bewildering. It just requires patience and comes cloaked in both grey and iridescent green.

Giant moth in the Ecuador Cloud Forest

Patience pays off when visiting the cloud forest in Ecuador...

Why are they called cloud forests?

The term seems to be a literal interpretation of how these forests appear. Low-hanging clouds hover over the upper canopy of the trees, giving off the appearance of permanent fog. The moisture condenses onto the leaves of trees and drips onto the lower plants. The water comes from the clouds, but not through rain.

Cloud Forest Activities 

Here at Mashpi Lodge in Ecuador, we're all about getting up close and personal with nature. The lodge itself teeters (or so it feels) on the edge of an earthy cliff, immersing itself in the canopy layer of the cloud forest that cloaks these 22 rooms. Each room bears floor to ceiling windows and the dining area comes straight from the imagination of Jurassic Park itself.

Mornings start early, with swirling mist and hot swirling coffee, as we stand on the rooftop on the lookout for birds.

We slush and swish along leafy, muddy paths and the brave (or foolish) among us (@MrTravelLab in this case) freshen up in waterfalls and later swing right through the trees on a vine like Tarzan (albeit wearing substantially more clothes.)

It's not all hard hiking, though.

Wine and cheese appear outside the butterfly farm and there's a chance to stop and rest to watch the hummingbirds buzz by.

But all of that takes place at ground level, amid the squelch and security of nominally dry land.

Then there is the sky bike...

Many activities available at the Mashpi Lodge in Ecuador Cloud Forest - signpost, plants and new stars

Nature walks, birdwatching and conservation projects available in Ecuador's cloud forest

Fun Facts about Ecuador's Cloud Forest and Her Wildlife

  • The cloud forests of Ecuador are one of the most biodiverse regions anywhere on the planet.
  • An estimated 500 types of bird live in this habitat alongside animals such as ocelots, anteaters, monkeys, and peccaries.
  • Some of the birds have fantastic names: the Andean cock of the rock; the coronet, the booted racket-tail, the violet-tailed sylph and the fawn-breasted brilliant. What's more, those are all hummingbirds. 
  • Ecuador's cloud forest is also home to toucans and trogons; both the golden-headed quetzal and the plate-billed mountain toucan are fairly common. 
  • It's wise to keep an eye on the ground lest you trample on a giant earthworm. By giant, we mean snake-size.
  • Harder to see due to their camouflage are tree frogs, grass frogs, and other amphibians. If you feel something wet and sloppy land on your skin, that's what it could be...
  • Spectacled bears are harder to find. But they are out there...

Cycling Through Ecuador's Cloud Forest 

We're Cycling in the Air...

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I want to close your eyes and imagine two things for me.

One, that you have the soundtrack from The Snowman playing in your head, ba-dooms and all. (We're just going to cunningly switch the word walking to cycling.)

And two, that you're high atop the cloud forest, ready to launch off into the mist on a rickety, stickety looking tandem bicycle thing with a roof hook.

Allow me to explain in this video:

Mashpi Lodge: Eco Retreat in the Cloud Forest in Ecuador

Mashpi Lodge is a one-of-a-kind wilderness retreat.  While only three hours from downtown Quito, you wouldn't know it once you're there. The Lodge engulfs visitors in the surroundings of the cloud forest. 

The steel and glass structure has floor-to-floor, wall-to-wall windows throughout. The Lodge, which has 24 guest rooms, is situated on over 3,000 acres of rainforest, 80% of which has been untouched by man. You are just as likely to wake up to see a monkey swinging past your room or a coronet preening by your window.

The spacious, stylish rooms are paired with a two-story dining room that allows for guests to be awed by nature as they dine. A team of naturalists and scientists staff the resort's research centre; they lead hikes, give talks, and explain the natural habitats of the jungle. Lodge residents have the opportunity to explore by day and relax by night.

At over 3,100 feet above sea level, "guests can watch the club-winged manakin bird conduct its courtship dance, trek to 190-feet-tall waterfalls, climb an observation canopy into the treetops, or spot the Mashpi torrenteer frog species."

The Mashpi Lodge began when Roque Sevilla, the former mayor of Quito, purchased the land in order to protect the biodiverse area which was at risk following years of deforestation and goldmining. After nearly ten years of conservation efforts, Sevilla decided he need to share one of the most beautiful spots on earth with the world.

The cloud forests of Ecuador mark a fascinating bio region full of birdwatching experiences, sky bikes, hiking, nature trails and more. Here is how you can visit the cloudforest. #Ecuador #Travel
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About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.

  • Lovely post, Abi! You really captured the essence of the cloud forest in your words and photos. It brought back good memories!

    • Abi King says:

      Ah, thank you. It’s such an atmospheric place – but much quieter than I’d expected.

  • Alex says:

    I absolutely loved Mindo, in Ecuador, which had a similar air of magic about it. Beautiful photos… can’t wait to hear more!

    • Abi King says:

      Ah…I fell in love with Ecuador, actually. Stunning country. I’d love to go back to see the rainforest and more of the Galapagos…and maybe Mindo too! And, and…

  • Loving these bird shots! Great captures.

    • Abi King says:

      Cheers! Forced me to return to manual – which is a good thing as it’s so easy to become lazy ;-)

  • What amazing colours. Great photos. Thanks for sharing. Enjoy the rest of your stay.

    • Abi King says:

      Just home now after an amazing time. Mind whirring still…fascinating place.

  • Corinne says:

    I will definitely head here next I’m in Ecuador. How beautiful!

    • Abi King says:

      If you love birds and being still and quiet in the midst of a forest then this is ABSOLUTELY the place for you.

  • De'Jav says:

    Nice pictures to show the nature and wild life. Ecuador has so much to offer it’s a beautiful country.

    • Abi says:

      Ah, it’s SUCH a beautiful country (or at least, the parts that I saw: cloudforest, Quito and Galapagos.) I was really impressed with Quito and would love to go back – and of course make it to the rainforest and the coast!

  • Andy says:

    You did a great job of capturing these pics Abi and your descriptions brought me back. I was in Pasachoa Forest Reserve in Ecuador back in ’99 and hardly managed to snap a thing. It was beautiful though.

    • Abi says:

      Ah – thank you!. There certainly was one afternoon when there was no hope of catching enough light for photos through the grey and forceful downpour…Like stepping into a different world.

  • What a spectacular piece of travel writing. I felt like I was there with you. And now, I must visit this place!!

    • Abi says:

      Thank you – would have been fun if you had been there!

  • Sounds like the creatures are small in the cloud forests of Ecuador – but their impact as big as their larger brethren in Africa or under the sea. We’ve been fortunate to visit the Galapagos (and Quito), but didn’t make it further afield. Perhaps one day… Lovely photos!

    • Abi says:

      Yes, you’re right, they ARE important, even thought they are small. Just a quieter experience in a whole different world.

  • Christian says:

    Nature at its best. Very nice shots of cloudforest. Thanks for sharing!

  • Abi,

    Your travel writing is truly inspirational. We are currently in Quito and heading out for a day trip to the cloud forest tomorrow. I know a day trip will not be long enough, but we plan to return again in April towards the end of our trip. We have been in Quito for the past four days and as wonderful as it is in the city, I am anxious to see the beauty of the flora and fauna in the cloud forest!

    • Abi King says:

      Ah, hi Kristi, thanks for your kind words! Enjoy it on my behalf – I’m at the desk at the moment. Have fun!

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