Ecuador has a column of cloudforest running virtually the whole length of the country. It’s a steeply sloped, valley-ridden corridor festooned with subtropical forest, which earns the title of ‘cloudforest’ due to its altitude (at least 2,000 m [6,560 ft] above sea level).
Due to the steepness of the terrain here, Ecuador’s cloudforest has seen relatively little human settlement or large-scale farming. And, nowadays, private reserves protect selected areas from logging. This means it’s one of the country’s best-preserved bioregions — and, consequently, it’s here you can spot some of Ecuador’s rarest and most eye-catching birdlife.
Independent travel isn’t really doable in Ecuador’s cloudforest, so you’ll stay at a cloudforest-based lodge. Our chosen lodges are focused in the Mindo, Bellavista and Mashpi reserves.
Lodges are deep in the forest. Most have strong ecological credentials, and you’ll have a range of activities included in your stay.
Accompanied by naturalist guides, you can explore this biome on guided birdwatching trails, walking tours, ascents up canopy towers, visits to observation platforms, and (in the case of Mashpi Lodge), a ‘skybike’ (a two-person bicycle suspended on a cable, which you pedal through the various canopy layers).
Once among the trees, you’ll notice that the humidity ratchets up. The sky peeping between the greenery often appears blanched white, because you’re literally standing among cloud.
Sometimes, you can watch the cloud furl and fret its way over the thickly forested gorges and basins. You’re seeing hot air rising from Ecuador’s lowlands and forming clouds of mist as it collides with a more mountainous region. The effect is especially apparent if you climb a canopy tower at your lodge and look out over the treeline.
As a bioregion, the cloudforest can appear similar to Ecuador’s Amazon Rainforest. Indeed, the two habitats share much of the same flora. While the Amazon is mostly flat, Ecuador’s cloudforest clings to often-vertiginous slopes, and there’s no major body of water in sight (you won’t be canoeing here).
But, water still permeates your cloudforest experience. You’ll see (or hear) it dripping from mossy branches, thundering down from the canopy, gathering in pools or large upturned leaves, and moistening the thick layer of leaf litter on the tenebrous forest floor.
The trees are mostly spindly and staggeringly tall. Many are wrapped in climbers and wear orchids and bromeliads like sumptuous brooches. Sometimes, you’ll see sinuous aerial roots hanging straight down from trees’ crowns, while the spaces in-between the trees are often latticed with lianas and splodged with bushy tree ferns.
Bird-wise, hummingbirds are the stars of the show: you can see many species here. As well as several types of toucan, you also have the chance to spot even rarer species such as long-wattled umbrellabirds and the Andean cock-of-the-rock, a ludicrously punky-looking bird from the contingidae family.
Best time to visit Ecuador’s cloudforest
Although rain showers are to be expected all year round in the cloudforest, the region becomes slightly drier between June to September, which can make for slightly more comfortable birdwatching conditions.
In general, no matter when you visit, you can expect mist in the early morning. It often lifts mid-morning and gives way to bright sunshine. Cloud returns in the afternoon, along with showers, which can sometimes continue into the evening.
Map of the Cloudforest
Places & hotels on the map
Photos of the Cloudforest
Accommodation choices for the Cloudforest
We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit the Cloudforest. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.
Bellavista is a rustic lodge situated on the fringe of Mindo Cloud Forest Reserve. Built in a dramatic dome shape it has stunning views down the hillsides into the valley below.
This quirky lodge has a great location in the Mindo cloud forest 2-3 hours drive from Quito. Accommodation comes in the form of six individual log cabins, which are simply furnished but a comfortable size and private hot-water bathrooms.
Tandayapa is a small birding lodge set on the western slope of the Ecuadorian Andes in the Mindo cloudforest region, and started life as a reforestation project in 1999. Its location in the Tandayapa Valley makes it a perfect base for exploring the Choco bio region.
Mashpi is a new, luxury lodge in the cloudforest region of Ecuador. It features contemporary design and decor, mixing warm earth tones and clean lines: a cozy cocoon amid the forest.