The Cloud Forest in Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet! It's a recognised hot spot for bird watching, orchids and epiphytes, butterflies and mammals. The rivers, streams and waterfalls also provide the perfect playground for adventure activities like tubing and canopy ziplining. This alluring forest is often shrouded in clouds, giving it a mysterious fairytale feel. The hidden secrets of this wonderland reveal themselves willingly to intrepid visitors. So, for anyone seeking a uniquely different experience in Ecuador, the cloud forest should be on your radar.
Keep reading to learn more about the ecuador cloud forest, as well as 8 compelling reasons to plan your visit.
Cloud forest (also known as Pre-montane forest) is an unusual habitat located on the slopes of the Andes mountain range. The cloud forest differs to the rainforest in that it is at higher altitude (from 900m up to 2500m), and on sloped terrain. This creates a humid, mossy, dense jungle-like habitat that is mega-diverse in plant, bird and animal species. While cloud forest trees are not as tall as in the Amazon, they are covered in rich mosses, bromeliads and other epiphytes. As the name would suggest, cloud forests are often shrouded in mist and cloud, caused by condensation of moisture in the mountains.
Cloud forest can be found in very regions of Ecuador. The largest area is located just 90 minutes drive north-west of Quito city, along paved roads. It is a favorite place to visit on day trips or weekends to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Ecuador’s Cloud Forest offers some of the best birdwatching in the country, attracting keen birders from around the world. The Andean Choco slopes are home to over 550 bird species, including the famous Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Golden-Headed Quetzal, and Plate-Billed Mountain-Toucan. Perhaps the biggest crowd pleasers though are the colorful hummingbirds, flitting at lightening speed between flowers. The Ecuador cloud forest has 35 different hummingbird species, often found around feeders at special birding lodges.
Serious bird enthusiasts should check out Happy Gringo's Choco Highlands and Slopes tour. By visiting lodges at varying cloud forest altitudes and locations we maximise your chances of ticking off a large diversity of bird species in a short time.
The lush landscape of the cloud forest lends itself perfectly to outdoor adventure. Try canopy ziplining for a unique perspective of the cloud forest from up high in the trees. River tubing is popular with locals and heaps of fun, racing downstream on the rapids. Cloud forest treking is the ideal way to learn more about plants and spot wildlife. Hidden waterfalls make great swimming holes to relax a few hours away. Happy Gringo run a flexible itinerary cloudforest adventure day trip from Quito, for an easy and inexpensive adrenalin filled day.
Our favorite way to experience the wonders of the cloud forest is to stay at a cloud forest lodge. Naturalist guided tours give a great introduction to the cloud forest ecosystem, and help you to spot and identify plants, birds and animals. Cloud forest lodges are designed to ecologically blend into the environment, and play an important role in protecting the forest.
Cloud and rain in the mountains does have one big advantage - it creates hundreds of waterfalls of all sizes. Perhaps the best are to be found close to the town of Mindo, where trails lead down to a network of different falls that are easily explored. A cable car takes you across the valley to the trail head. Take a picnic along to make a day of it, cooling off with a swim in the shallow waters.
Today, large swathes of Ecuadorian cloud forest are protected, providing a safe home where flora and fauna can thrive. The Mindo Nambillo Reserve, Bellavista & Tandayapa Valley Reserves, Intag Cloud Forest Reserve, Milpe & Silanche River bird sanctuaries and the Mashpi Reserves are all open to visitors. These areas of primary forest are rich in plant species, and home to large mammals such as the Andean bear, puma, deer and armadillos - although luck is needed to spot them.
A spectacular multi-day cloud forest horse riding trip is available throughout the year, providing a different perspective of the forest. Riders explore the forested slopes of Corazon Volcano, as well as high Andean paramo moors habitat. An expert horseback and nature guide takes you into remote regions only reached by trails lined with dense foliage and teeming with wildlife.
Chocolate lovers will be surprised to learn that Ecuador's cloud forest also holds some sweet secrets. Various local chocaletiers have set up shop in the town of Mindo, and open their doors so visitors can learn about how chocolate is made. Tours take you through the entire process from harvesting the cacao beans to the fermentation cycle, separation of cocoa butter, and flavoring of the final product. Tastings are part of the day, and artesanal dark chocolate bars make interesting gifts to take home with you.
Ecuador is home to an unbelievable 4,200 species of orchid, many of which grow in the damp habitat of the cloud forest. The Pahuma Reserve gives a great introduction to orchids spread across a 375 hectare area. A large part of the orchid fun is in the local names given to species - look out for the Dracula and Monkey faced orchid for example.
The abundance of flowers also attract butterflies of all colors and sizes to Ecuador's cloud forest. Mindo's butterfly house keeps 11 different species including large, camouflaged owls-eye butterflies. Visitors can witness the complete natural transformation from egg to caterpiller to chrysalis to butterfly.
In conclusion, we highly recommend a visit to the cloud forest in Ecuador. It's a truly unique and fascinating habitat, providing a wonderful immersion in nature. There are fun activities for all ages and interests, as well as diverse lodging options. There is a large area of pristine cloud forest very close to Quito, so why not make some time in your itinerary to come check it out?