From the dense Amazon jungle to the high volcanic Andean peaks to the remote, pristine Galápagos Islands, Ecuador is full of breathtaking natural wonders. Hidden within the ocean, the rivers, and the mountains are thousands of species of plants and animals, making this one of the most biodiverse places in the world. Pretty impressive for a country the size of Wyoming. So where to begin?
Your first trip to the rainforest can be a little daunting. Unlike an African safari, where you’re on the lookout for animals larger than humans, the rainforest is full of small creatures that an untrained eye would pass right over. The Mashpi Lodge, in the Mashpi Biodiversity Reserve, makes delving into the rainforest a little easier.
The floor-to-ceiling windows of the Mashpi Lodge look out over the bright green rainforest from a high plateau. You’re more than 3,000 feet above sea level. When the thick clouds begin to dissipate, you can see giant ferns, moss-covered tree trunks, and delicate orchids. Open your window to hear birds chirping and frogs croaking. Sip fresh fruit juice on the terrace. A light mist settles on your arm, but it’s not raining. At least not yet. Sit in the jacuzzi with the wooden wall panels open to the breeze. And immerse yourself in books or a biologist’s talk in the reading area.
And then head outside. Guides are available to lead you through the thick vegetation. Climb the Observation Tower, for a bird’s-eye view of the forest. Try to spot toucans, woodpeckers, and tanagers from your perch. Ride the Canopy Gondola, an ariel tram with rotating seats that stops when peccaries, monkeys, or even a puma is spotted. Hike the steep Cucharillo Trail, pausing at waterfalls and rivers on your way up. Or enjoy the view and the butterflies from a hammock at the Life Centre with a cup of local coffee. Here they grow medicinal plants and much of the food you eat at the lodge. Bromeliads. Naranjilla and wild blackberries. Sweet basil and citronella. Chili peppers. Combined with beef and seafood. And Chilean wine. Whatever you eat, the meal is topped off with Ecuadorian chocolate.
But don’t eat too much. You can’t miss the night walks to see moths as big as your hand, tree frogs, owls, and foxfire. And a lot of things you still can’t identify. Just stay close to your guide.