Eva Merkx is one of the driving forces behind Happy Gringo Travel. Her experiences in Ecuador led her to share her passion for travel here with others. Along with her husband Cristian and their two children, Yulia and Hanna, she travels to the four regions of Ecuador-exploring the country in search of outdoor family adventures. This quest recently led to the Mashpi Lodge in the cloud forest northwest of Quito. Keep reading for some in-the-know insights into three days at one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World. The annually updated list showcases stunning locations internationally that combine sustainable tourism with conservation.
Mashpi Lodge is a ¨cocoon of luxury in the clouds¨ – a beautiful lodge surrounded by the magical cloud forest. It is located in the sprawling Choco Andino Reserve, which was declared a new biosphere reserve by UNESCO in July 2018. This part of the reserve is highly sought after by bird watchers and is teeming with endemic flora and fauna.
Within the boundaries of the Choco is the Mashpi Reserve- 1,200 hectares of lush cloud forest that´s protected from logging and other intrusions of the modern world. Founded by a former mayor of Quito with a passion for the outdoors, Mashpi has a strong conservation strategy-combining sustainable tourism and forest preservation to give guests a one-of-a-kind immersion into the diversity of the cloud forest.
Since the beginning, the Mashpi Reserve and lodge have been hosts to scientists from all over the world whose ongoing mission is to explore, research, and document the natural world of the cloud forest. New species have been discovered here and studies by universities worldwide are paving the way for a better understanding of the nuances of the forest.
The lodge is an elegant retreat and the activities that you can do as a family put you in the midst of an Andean paradise. Waterfalls, rivers, valleys, and rolling tundra covered in blankets of clouds hide howler monkeys growling in the distance, birds that capture the imagination, and surprises around every bend in the trail that friendly and fun guides point out with deft skill.
Mashpi Lodge is great to visit as a family – the activities, guides, food, and service are very much oriented towards making every member of the family feel good. The kids will explore the forest with their wildlife checklist, and the hikes and activities will be adjusted to your personal needs and interests as a family. Besides that, the naturalists´ local knowledge combined with backgrounds in science and education opens up the natural world for travelers of all ages.
TOP 10 MASHPI LODGE FAMILY SPECIALS
When I ask my kids what they most enjoyed at Mashpi Lodge, they say the waterfall swim! Nothing is better than a refreshing swim under one of the waterfalls of the reserve-very clean and pure water. There are around thirty waterfalls in the reserve, four of which are reached by the network of trails throughout the area.
Every morning at 6 am the lodge organizes a very special activity for the kids at their rooftop tower. Kids learn how to use binoculars for birdwatching, and how to spot birds and use the numbers of the clock to indicate where the birds are perching. Yulia and Hanna loved it and wanted to repeat this activity the next morning!
From Mashpi Lodge there are great options for forest hikes, from easy short hikes to more exhilarating hikes that take a couple of hours. We opted for the Capuchin Monkey Trail and hiked for 3 and a half hours through the dense cloud forest. En route, our guide explained about the flora of the region. Other highlights include a Tarzan jungle swing or taking a swim in an amazing waterfall that’s one of the most beautiful in the reserve. This waterfall was amazing, and what’s more, you can go around to the back of the chute of water to feel the energizing force! To get back to the lodge, we used the Dragonfly Cable car.
This is a huge cable car system over the forest canopy offering a relaxing way to enjoy the amazing views of the reserve. The network is one of the innovative ways that Mashpi has created that takes you into the cloud forest from above. Guides can stop the gondolas to point out the birds and other creatures of the reserve. After a fun hike, it’s a great way to finish the trip in style. Highlights include remote waterfalls seen only from above as they aren’t accessible otherwise.
With kids this is amazing; we learned the whole process of metamorphosis from the eggs to the emergence of beautiful butterflies. About 300 species of moths and butterflies have been identified to date in the reserve. About a dozen can be seen in the butterfly farm. Because of the number of different butterfly species in the reserve, they have been a major focus for study and research.
One evening, after the sunset, we went on a thrilling hike through the forest where frogs and nocturnal animals filled the air with a natural symphony of sound. We had a great guide who spotted everything in the shrouded forest… A few of the creatures we saw were huge spiders, frogs, and tarantulas!
A fun activity to do with the kids – Biking in the clouds is an experience that brings the forest to life. It´s located close to the lodge and only takes about 20 minutes. The trip takes you soaring over a gorge and one of the rivers of the reserve below. One person pedals the bike along a treetop cable with marvelous forest views from every angle.
Mashpi Lodge has combined sustainable tourism with a focus on scientific research that aims to further the knowledge of this biodiversity hotspot and promote environmental awareness. The laboratory, located adjacent to the main lodge, is home to a number of significant on-going experiments, which have already led to the identification of several species new to science. Here we met with a biologist who explained to us about the butterflies and moths of the cloud forest and about the scientific projects that are carried out at Mashpi.
The hummingbird garden is another highlight of Mashpi Lodge. Located at an hour and a half by car from the lodge, this is a beautiful quiet spot where hummingbird feeders are hung out so you can catch amazing views of around 19 different hummingbird species found in the area. Tucans, tangares, and squirrels are also often seen here. Since we were only at Mashpi Lodge for 2 nights, we didn´t have enough time to visit the hummingbird garden – a good reason for us to come back!
Mashpi Lodge also offers a great place to just relax and unwind in the peaceful surroundings of the forest. Every room has large panoramic windows that look out on the forest, using nature as part of the aesthetic of the design. Enjoy some time at the outdoor Jacuzzi or take a massage or beauty treatment at the Spa. Take a glass of wine at the beautiful bar, and experience the food! The buffet-style menu revolves around the food of the four regions of Ecuador, serving traditional dishes including ceviche from the coast and hearty stew from the mountains. The kitchen uses wild garlic grown in the reserve and many other herbs and spices from the forest that adds a new twist to the creative plates. Let yourself get spoiled by Mashpi Lodge service which is always there with a smile.
Family travel in Ecuador opens up enlightening adventures that take the whole crew into the natural and cultural treasures of Ecuador. For help planning a trip of discovery designed for explorers of all ages, contact a member of our team.