Immerse yourself in Ecuador’s Chocó Cloud rainforest – one of Earth’s most biodiverse spots

Words: Jonathan Whiley

The theme tune for Jurassic Park is running through my head. We’re deep in the humid Ecuadorian Choco Cloud Forest, suspended in an open-air cable car moving stealthily above the canopy. I’m waiting for the long neck of a Brontosaurus to emerge, but waterfalls are the only thing to disturb the silence – that and a three-toed sloth clinging to a rustling tree branch.

We’re on The Dragonfly, an experience that offers a 40-minute, mile-long bird’s eye view of the extraordinary Mashpi Reserve below. One of the world’s most biodiverse locations, it’s home to 1,200 species of flora.

Mashpi Lodge, a 22-room modernist boutique which sits in the remote reserve (a three-and-half hour drive, often on bumpy roads, from the capital Quito). Former mayor of the capital, Roque Sevilla, bought the land in 2001 to preserve it (only two per cent of the Choco Cloud Forest remains after deforestation).

The lodge opened in 2012 using local materials and mindful not to disturb a single large tree in its construction. It’s a magical place of pure imagination and curiosity; a place to spot exotic birds, swim in waterfalls, follow trails used by pumas and embark on night treks to  find newly discovered species such as the tiny, transparent Mashpi Glass Frog.

This is modern luxury – where experience and location is king. On arrival we are given a briefing in the expedition room and assigned a guide and a small group (private guides are also available).

Rooms come with dehumidifiers and have floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the dense jungle.

It’s an all-inclusive set-up; poncho and boots are provided, a complimentary drying service, all meals and guided expeditions. The food is excellent, with 75 per cent of dishes using local ingredients and an inventive nod to the heritage of Ecuador with delicious yucca and amaranth rolls and an Andean fruit-flavoured ceviche served by local, friendly staff.

While the atmosphere is low-key throughout, there is a busy schedule of activities to maximise your time. We visit the on-site research lab with its resident conservationists, ride a ‘Sky Bike’ above the jungle ravine – E.T. style – and rise at sunrise for breakfast in the enchanting Hummingbird Garden. Jurassic Park this is not – but what a place.

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