The package cost includes transportation to and from Quito. If guests require transportation from another point in Ecuador, this needs to be discussed and arranged with the lodge, since the access road to the hotel will only be open at certain times of day – in order to minimize the impact of vehicles on the forest ecosystem.
The departure point in Quito is the Hotel JW Marriott. Departure is at 7.30am. Guests staying at other hotels in the city will be picked up by Mashpi Lodge’s own transport beforehand and driven to the JW Marriott.
We take the highway north of Quito, passing the Equator Monument and Latitude 0. Climbing up to the western pass, we detour for a short break at the viewpoint of the Pululahua Crater, a dormant volcano. From here on, it’s downhill towards the Pacific Ocean, turning off the main highway onto rural roads about 30 minutes after this stop.
About two hours after leaving Quito, we reach the archaeological site-museum of Tulipe, where we stop to explore the grounds and learn about the Yumbo people who created the waterpools and structures here.
About an hour and a half later, we arrive at the entrance to the Mashpi Reserve which extends over the surrounding 1,300 hectares (3,212 acres) – a haven for wildlife and biodiversity – and then continue to the Lodge itself, arriving at between 12 and 12.30pm.
Here guests are welcomed with a refreshing drink and checked in to their rooms.
According to arrival time, guests will meet their Naturalist Guides for a short briefing about the reserve and activities. Lunch is served soon after, followed by a short time to relax.
After lunch, the afternoon’s activities begin (please see options detailed below). These will depend on factors such as group size, physical abilities and weather conditions.
Optional night walks head out from the hotel following dinner (these excursions can be taken any night of the package).
For those who want to enjoy the beauty and magic of dawn in the forest – which is when most birds are active and calling, as well as when views are often most spectacular – early morning activities are organised before breakfast.
Following breakfast, we head out from the lodge to explore, returning for lunch and a rest, before enjoying an afternoon amid Nature, then dinner, night walks and sleep.
On the last day, there’s an early breakfast, followed by a morning activity. Guests return to the lodge and check out. An early lunch is served before departure at 1.30pm. We then drive back eastwards, winding our way up the Andes towards the capital, arriving at Quito hotels between 4 and 5 pm (depending on traffic, location and number of passengers).
Canopy Gondola *Will be ready approximately by July, 2013.
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.
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 35 minutes 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.
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.
The gondola carries six guests, plus their Naturalist Guide. It is roofed, with rotating seats, safety rails and places to hang day-packs.
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 Tower #5 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 can disconnect, where they can contemplate the views, sit in comfortable chairs, read a book, enjoy a fresh cane juice.
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 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, 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 back at the lodge.
There are few easier or better ways to appreciate the beauty of the Mashpi Reserve’s forest and hills than climbing the Observation Tower. Here, guests are able to enjoy an exciting bird’s-eye view 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. The tower lies a 10-minute walk from the lodge.
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.
Located close to the hotel, the sky bike makes for an original and exciting way to explore the forest canopy up close. Designed for two people to use at once, one person pedals the bike along a cable stretched between two points in the forest, around 200 m (655 feet) apart, crossing a gorge above a river flowing between rocks and trees below. 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.
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 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 strenuous 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.