Hotels, Eco Escapes & Lifestyle Resorts | Unearthing the Exceptional
Imagine a place where you can immerse yourself in the Andean cloud forest, breakfasting with sunbirds and bathing in waterfalls, or even enjoying a bird’s eye view of the forest canopy from a unique (and eco-friendly) aerial bike.
Better yet, a place where there’s no need to share your tent with a myriad of creepy crawlies. Nestled on a high plateau inside a 3,000 acre private reserve just two hours from Quito, you’ll find just such a place in Mashpi Lodge, an exclusive private gateway to a world of biodiversity and incredible natural beauty, as well as a pioneering step in luxury ecotourism.
Mashpi Lodge was designed by architect Alfredo Ribadeneira as a sort of sleek, contemporary cocoon within the cloudforest, exhibiting but never competing with its extraordinary beauty.
It is made of glass and steel, walls of windows opening out on to the environment – you can even enjoy a view of the rainforest while soaking in the tub.
It’s unashamedly luxurious, from the 600 thread-count sheets and Hansgrohe showers adjoining the light-filled bedrooms to the five star cuisine, but not a single tree was felled in building the hotel and Mashpi has continued in its commitment to sustainability and negative carbon footprint.
It’s luxury without compromise, views without interruption, and an experience without comparison.
Mashpi Lodge was designed as the ideal springboard for exploring the biodiverse world of its reserve. It combines the highest standards of comfort, service, guiding and cuisine that today’s most discerning travellers expect.
The highlight of anyone’s trip to Mashpi is the ‘canopy gondola’, or aerial tram. The two gondolas on the system will glide guests through and above the forest canopy on an exciting exploration of the Reserve’s ecosystem.
The gondola cable system extends over 2 km (1.25 miles) between two end/boarding stations, with one tower in the middle for possible embarking and disembarking. The gondola carries six guests, plus their Naturalist Guide. It is roofed, with rotating seats, safety rails and places to hang day-packs.
On the way out, it will travel dramatically above the trees’ upper canopy and on the way back through the forest understory, at a very slow pace. Each way takes about 30 minutes for the gondola to complete. The canopy gondola’s route enables guests to explore different areas of the Reserve as well as appreciating the trees’ ecosystem from root to tip, creating a complete vision of the various life-zones and types of forest within the Reserve.
The first time guests board the system, they will enjoy a round-trip journey of discovery, taking around two and a half hours in all to complete. The system can then also be used by guests to combine hikes of varying difficulty with travel by gondola.
On return journeys following a hike, if the other gondola is empty, guides can stop if the group spots a creature in the forest, enabling exciting, prolonged observation of plant and animal life.
As you enter the realm of the rainforests, you will become aware of Life at every step: mushrooms and “fox fire” fungi below, tree trunks festooned with orchids, lichens and mosses, giant ferns reaching up to the light above, coiling vines, swirling mists and clouds of moisture. And then, from nowhere, comes the sound of rushing water, a waterfall amid this glistening, green world, where you can wade through rivers, walk along their banks, revive your senses…
The two main trails are the Howler Monkey and Cucharillo (named after an oak). Both link up with the Cotinga Tower of the canopy gondola system. Along the trails, guests will learn more from both their Naturalist Guide and Local Guide about the myriad plants, insects and animals that inhabit this biodiverse universe. The guides will enthusiastically share their knowledge of their characteristics, behaviour and uses.
Due to Mashpi’s mountainous topography, trails are rarely flat. The Howler Monkey (mainly primary forest) and Cucharillo (mainly secondary), although short – 2 km and 700 m, respectively – are steep. The trails’ steepness is an advantage since the hillsides enable more light to penetrate the forest, thereby increasing the diversity of plants and animals that one can observe at each stratum.
Both trails have been specially adapted to make walking easier, using embedded recycled plastic crates to create steps and firm paths. The way back uphill on both these trails can be aboard the gondola, reached by wading through the shallow river in rubber boots, and walking the connecting trail to the Cotinga Tower.
Close to the lodge, the centre is conceived as a place for learning and discovery, but also where guests disconnect, where they can contemplate the views, lie back in a hammock, read a book, enjoy a fresh fruit juice or a brew of locally-grown coffee.
Guests will learn more about the butterflies that inhabit the region, being shown the process of these creatures from eggs to pupae to chrysalis to winged wonder. Some 200 species of butterfly have been identified to date in the Reserve, with nearly a dozen observable at the Centre.
Other points of learning include various species of frogs and toads inside glass terrariums, as well as dozens of species of orchids, bromeliads and passion flowers all around the structure.
Close to the Centre, we have established an area for growing medicinal plants (ideal for a reviving herbal infusion) and beyond, many varieties of bushes and fruit trees, including banana and plantain, manioc, cacao, tobacco, coffee, coca and bread fruit and heart of palm. These attract all sorts of wildlife, from birds to rodents to mammals – making for easier observation from the comfort of the Centre’s expansive wooden deck.
Most of the interpretation at the centre will be imparted by local guides or people involved with the project from local communities. Guests will find ingredients from these gardens in the dishes prepared at the restaurant.
Guests are able to enjoy an exciting bird’s-eye view of the forest and the dramatic panoramas that surround the lodge from the observation tower. This is a metallic structure, with a staircase that climbs to about eight-stories high (26 m or 85 ft), ideal for wildlife observation, particularly at dawn or dusk. Species that can be spotted here include toucans, woodpeckers, barbets, tanagers and parrots as well as raptors. Several towers are planned within the Reserve.
The Mashpi forest is transformed at night, with far more activity than during the day. Optional night walks will head out from the hotel after dinner to discover its nocturnal creatures and their behaviours, ranging from moths as big as your hand, to miniature glass and tree frogs, croaking toads, birds, owls, rodents and mammals, and even fox fire, an Avatar-like luminous fungus. It’s a magical world, often astounding at the micro level, and seldom explored, ready to be discovered in expert company.
Aerial Bicycle makes for an original and exciting way to explore the forest canopy up close. Designed for two people to use at once, they pedal their way along a cable stretched between two points in the forest, around 200 m (655 feet) apart. Silent, easy-to-use and fun, it’s an activity for children over 8 years-old accompanied by an adult, providing guests with another chance to observe the natural world close to the lodge and even spot its denizens.
Several bicycles are planned in the Reserve.
The forests of Mashpi boast 22 hummingbird species identified to date, inhabiting different specific altitudes, with around 16 species alone observable by guests. In order to make it easier to see these amazing creatures, a shelter with seating provides the ideal setting, feeders for the birds strung from its roof. The site is located at a natural viewpoint, which, on clear days, provides breathtaking views of the Reserve’s forested hills.
Water is key to life in Mashpi, and there’s nothing like a refreshing dip at the end of a walk. Several rivers cross the Mashpi Reserve close to the hotel, many forming beautiful small waterfalls, cascades and pools. The water temperature is between 18 and 20°C (64 and 68 F). Leks Leks are places where certain bird species gather to take part in fascinating and often elaborate displays to seduce females. One has to imagine them like the bird equivalent of a youth-club disco. Males, often brightly coloured, engage in vocal, mechanic and choreographic “performances”. They provide an incredible opportunity for us to view certain species, capitalising on their regular schedules which allow us not only to know where but when they will display. We have found four leks to date: two of the Long-Wattled Umbrellabird, (Cephalopterus Penduliger), one of the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (Rupicola peruviana) and one of the Club-Winged Manakin (Machaeropterus deliciosus). These leks can be visited but require very early starts in some cases and long walks in others.
Mashpi is an exciting place for photography and botany (particularly orchids) in general. Special interests can be accommodated upon request. Transport within the Reserve Electrically-powered buggies are employed within the Reserve to carry those guests who wish to use them from one sight or attraction to the next, thus reducing the impact on the forest and its creatures.
Mashpi Lodge is set within a 1,ooo-hectare (2,600-acre) private reserve, which is part of the globally important bio-region the Tumbez-Choco-Darien – that stretches from Panama, through Colombia and Ecuador, to northern Peru along the Pacific slopes of the Andes.