Posted on December 28, 2017
By Nadine Kliffen, Marketing Team Pure! Travel Group
Finally, I accomplish to take a somewhat decent photo of the clouds that mysteriously entangle the ancient trees above me while the car finds its way through the mud. We just passed the entrance gate of the reserve and are following the five-kilometer long dirt road offering us an interesting taste of what is yet to come. It is hard to imagine that the small road through the pristine cloud forest leads to one of the most a luxury lodges in Ecuador, selected by National Geographic on their “Unique Lodges of the World” list.
Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries on earth, and not only because of the Amazon Rainforest and Galapagos Islands. El Choco is a bio-geographical region, located between the Andean Mountains and the Pacific Coast that stretches out from Panama in the north all the way to Peru in the south. Where the Andes meet the equator and biodiversity reaches its peak, I was fortunate to visit Mashpi Lodge with my colleagues of the Pure! Ecuador.
The minimalist lodge emerges in front of us out of nowhere. While the friendly staff takes over our luggage and cars, we are welcomed with a drink and guided to the restaurant. The giant, ceiling-high windows directly catch my attention; it feels like being outside in the forest again and I realize I cannot wait for what is to come. However, before the outdoor adventure begins, a delicious lunch buffet awaits us.
A little later, with a very happy stomach, I embark the “Dragonfly”: a cable system that allows visitors to explore the forest from a unique perspective. It rains gently, but thanks to the comfortable rain poncho and the breathtaking views I barely notice the drops. The Dragonfly goes above and through the forest, and during its 40 minute ride you have the opportunity to observe toucans and other birds, and with some luck even monkeys jumping from tree to tree. Besides the Dragonfly, also the “Skywalk” – an air bicycle for two persons – offers the opportunity to experience the tropical forest from above, in a very peaceful manner and at your own pace.
The surprises are piling up when we follow a small river upstream a little later. For a moment, I feel like a little girl again, walking through the water while my feet are well-protected by the rain boots. It is one of the clearest rivers I have seen in my life, making it easy to avoid the slippery dark rocks. We follow the river until reaching a natural pool with a small waterfall, where the guide challenges us to take a dip in the refreshing water. Despite the temperature of the water, I feel a deep connection with nature as soon as I feel the crystal clear water around me and I wish that this moment could last for hours.
Back at the lodge, a glass of quality wine and some lovely snacks prepare us for the next adventure: an evening walk. At night, many insects and amphibians come to life, making it a great moment to explore the secrets of the cloud forest. Several guides lead us through the dark forest while their special flashlights find different species of snakes, spiders, grasshoppers, and many other creatures that prefer to stay in the dark.
Not that much later, I wake up together with the morning sun. Just like the restaurant, my room has giant windows and while I am not really a morning person, the stunning view and the concert of the birds outside motivate me to get out of bed immediately. After observing tropical birds from the panoramic terrace and a wonderful breakfast, we walk through the forest to the “Mariposario”, a butterfly research center where colorful butterflies can be observed from nearby in different stages of their lives. Ecuador, and especially the cloud forest around Mashpi, has a very high number of butterfly species, between 2000 and 4000 estimated. Since this number is never officially established, Mashpi contributes to the research on the region’s butterfly species.
On top of offering tourists an unforgettable experience in the middle of nature, Mashpi Lodge aims to conserve the unique Choco-Andean forest in Ecuador that comprises about 125,000 hectares, of which 1,200 hectares is owned by Mashpi. Through research and community projects the lodge contributes to the preservation of this extremely biodiverse area hosting a whopping 400 bird species, in addition to many amphibians, insects, and even mammals, such as pumas and monkeys. Also the tiny and super quick hummingbirds are widely represented at the terrain of Mashpi and can be admired in the Hummingbird Garden.
Walking back to the lodge, I think about this unique place on Earth, where nature and humans live more in balance. However, also here, the environment is under threat of pollution and deforestation. It is amazing that a luxury lodge like Masphi contributes to the conservation of this biodiverse area, and at the same time offers its visitors a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I completely understand why Mashpi is one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges and it is amazing to live at only two hours driving from this natural paradise. With the hope to return again soon, we drive back to Quito.