Mashpi Lodge is located at the very center of the incredibly lush Choco rainforest, which is teeming with life in all of its forms. Exotic birds, incredibly unique animals, eerily transparent frogs, stunningly rare endemic plants and orchids, glow-in-the-dark fungus…and the list goes on and on. There is just so much to see and enjoy, and so many adventures awaiting those who visit, that the sheer amount of choices might overwhelm you. The best part? None of the activities are extremely difficult. However, some activities are easier than others. So, really, just how difficult are the activities for guests at Mashpi Lodge?
Rainforest Activities with a low degree of difficulty in Mashpi Lodge
Difficulty Level: Non-existent
Similar to: Eating a triple ice cream cone on a hot Sunday afternoon
Similar physical activity: A walk in the park
Some things in life simply go together, like ice cream on a hot day. At Mashpi Lodge, there are several amazing activities involving very little to no difficulty at all, and are at the core of the Mashpi experience. A brief description of these activities is below:
Early morning wildlife observation
Every morning at 6 AM, a few Mashpi Naturalist Guides head up to the terrace of the Lodge with high-powered binoculars and scopes, along with hot gourmet coffee, freshly squeezed fruit juice, and a delicious assortment of fresh cookies. The cloud forest in the immediate surroundings of Mashpi Lodge are literally alive with birds and other wildlife in the early morning, all expertly searching out their respective and tasty breakfasts. Despite the ever-present, ever-shifting fog in the early morning, this wildlife observation is one of the best opportunities for guests to see some of Mashpi’s rarest endemic species, all from the comfort of the Lodge itself.
Guests can take either a very easy, 30-minute walk to the Life Center or catch a ride aboard one of the Lodge’s vehicles. The Center has a large deck with sweeping, 270o views of the verdant Choco forest, serving as another excellent place for spotting birds and other wildlife. The Life Center also hosts a display of nearly 100 different endemic orchids, as well as a colorful butterfly garden. Guests can learn about and observe the entire lifecycle of butterflies and walk through the garden itself, which is home to more than a dozen butterfly species.
The Dragonfly Canopy Gondola
The first station of the Dragonfly Canopy Gondola is a very short walk (or vehicle ride) from the Lodge. The gondola line is 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) long, but only moves at 50 meters (160 feet) per minute, allowing guests to truly enjoy the stunning birds-eye views of the forest below. Guides can even stop the gondola for extended wildlife observation, and guests can ride to the end of the line and ride back again, making the Gondola a very easy yet very rewarding activity at Mashpi that offers a tremendous view of what the Reserve consists of and is home to. While physically undemanding, guests need to be able to handle heights, as the Gondola at its highest point rises more than 60 meters (200 feet) off of the ground!
The Samay Spa
The award-winning Spa at the Mashpi Lodge is the perfect place to still your mind, care for your body, and nourish your soul. There are several different kinds of massages offered at the Spa, and there is a large open-air hot tub available to guests – the perfect space to lie back, gaze out on the lush greenery of the rainforest canopy, the deep blue sky, and let the worries of life wash away. Next to the hot tub is an expansive, open-air yoga deck surrounded by lush forest and singing birds – an unquestionably ideal place for stretching, meditating, and recharging your inner batteries.
The Hummingbird Garden
A short drive from Mashpi Lodge, the Hummingbird Garden is an open-air observation point with several well-stocked feeders for hummingbirds and other kinds of animals. The sheer number of birds seen at the Hummingbird Garden will leave you speechless, and the opportunity for seeing some of Mashpi’s rarer animal species will make this spot one of the highlights of your trip to Mashpi.
The Research Lab
Located next to the Lodge itself, the Research Lab is the hub of cutting-edge knowledge into the plant, animal, bird, and insect species found in the Mashpi Reserve. Just a short walk away, a visit to the lab is sure to open guests’ eyes to the incredible biodiversity and endemism of the Mashpi reserve and Ecuador’s Choco rainforest. The Research Lab even hosts some eye-catching displays of many weird and wonderful insects that have been found over the years in the forest!
Rainforest Activities with a medium degree of difficulty in Mashpi Lodge
Difficulty Level: Low
Similar to: Eating Lasagna in Little Italy
Similar physical activity: An uphill walk in the park
The deliciously overpowering smell of fresh oven-baked pizza beckons on every corner of Little Italy, so resisting the urge to order it is a minor challenge for even the most seasoned of visitors. However, the piping-hot, cheese-stuffed delight of traditional Italian Lasagna is not hard to order, and once it’s in front of you, there’s no turning back. Some activities in Mashpi require a little more effort than the ones listed above, but they’re still very easy to enjoy:
Located a very short drive from the Mashpi Lodge, the Observation Tower soars 26 meters (85 feet) above the ground, giving visitors breathtaking 360o views of the entire Mashpi Reserve. It is especially beautiful in the late afternoon when some of Mashpi’s rare birds of prey can be spotted soaring far above the canopy, and the sun leaves a fiery red and orange trail behind it as it drops below the horizon. The only physical effort required is the climb up the 162 steps to the top.
The Sky Bike
The Sky Bike is exactly what it sounds like – an ingenious, two-person gondola that stretches more than 200 meters (655 feet) across the forest canopy. The Sky Bike is just a short vehicle ride from the Lodge, and once buckled into the gondola itself, one of the two guests pedals it across the canopy. This allows riders to stop and even backpedal to take a closer look at anything that they spot in the forest below!
Magnolia Trail and Magnolia Falls
Most of the short trails located near Mashpi Lodge fall into this category – not very difficult, but incredibly fascinating! Magnolia Trial is named after the towering, endemic Mashpi Magnolia trees located along it. Previously unknown to science, the Mashpi Magnolia provides shelter and nutrients to dozens of species in the reserve. Toward the end of the short trail, guests are rewarded with a refreshing plunge into a crystal-clear pool at the base of Magnolia Falls. After walking along the meandering, shallow river that the waterfall flows into, guests can climb aboard the Dragonfly and take a relaxing ride back to Mashpi Lodge.
Mashpi Torrenteer Lagoon
Located a short walk from Mashpi Lodge, The Mashpi Torrenteer Lagoon bears the name of an endemic frog species discovered in the reserve. The lagoon and small waterfall flowing into it are home to dozens of frog species, including the world-renowned, nearly transparent glass frogs, giant centipedes, hungry caterpillars, and other fascinating species.
Night walks are not particularly strenuous, but involve the added challenge of walking through the forest at night. Each person is given a strong flashlight to spot nocturnal forest denizens, which is particularly rewarding because several species in the Mashpi reserve only come out at night. Keep your eyes peeled and camera ready!
Rainforest Activities with a moderate degree of difficulty in Mashpi Lodge
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Similar to: Trying spit-roasted guinea pig in Ecuador
Similar physical activity: An uphill jog in the park
Sometimes an opportunity arises to try a local delicacy that we don’t think we can handle. But once we overcome our initial foreboding thoughts and take a bite, it tastes better than we thought it would. At the Mashpi Lodge, there are a few activities that require more effort, but are incredibly rewarding once we decide to do them:
Trip to the town of Mashpi
This is a day trip that begins with a foray across the rainforest canopy aboard the Dragonfly at 6:00 AM, giving guests the incredible experience of watching the cloud cover lift and forest’s inhabitants come to life. At the end of the Dragonfly line, guests begin a hike down to the town of Mashpi, where they can enjoy some natural pools in the Mashpi river and watch as river fish swim around them. After enjoying a box lunch, guests can visit an organic farm that provides fresh exotic fruit and vegetables to Mashpi Lodge, and learn about its unique farming methods. Upon leaving the town of Mashpi, guests hike up to the Life Center by an alternative route. This hike usually takes two or three hours as it is mostly uphill, but along the way there are several interesting places to stop and see endemic plant species. After taking a break at the Life Center, it’s a short walk back to Mashpi Lodge.
The walk into Copal Waterfall takes guests through primary forest where many of the trees are more than a century old, the tallest of which are the Copal trees, which the waterfall is named after. The trail itself is a little more challenging than some of the others, as it crosses multiple hills, involving downhill and uphill hiking. Like the other waterfalls in the Mashpi reserve, there is an incredibly refreshing crystalline pool at its base, ideal for a quick dip to cool down to continue on the excursion. Unlike some of the other waterfalls, it is not located close to the Dragonfly Canopy Gondola, so guests also need to hike back out to the Lodge rather than catching a ride back.
Similar to the walk into the Copal Waterfall, the path to the Healing Waterfall crosses hills and uneven terrain, making it more challenging than other excursions. It is longer than the walk into the Copal Waterfall, but visitors have the opportunity to catch a ride back to Mashpi Lodge on the Dragonfly Canopy Gondola. There are some steep sections that require more concentration and focus on balance and, given the frequent rainfall in the Mashpi Reserve, it is common to traverse some sections of the trail that are muddy and even somewhat slippery. However, the effort is well worth it! The Healing Waterfall is the tallest in the Mashpi Reserve, and guests can swim behind it and feel the particularly energizing force of the water, making it a uniquely special place to sit and relax.
Rainforest Activities with a high degree of difficulty in Mashpi Lodge
Difficulty Level: High
Similar to: Drinking copious amounts of coffee to meet a deadline, only to discover it’s decaf
Similar physical activity: A full-out sprint uphill in a park to catch the last bus out, and the long walk home because you missed it.
There are times in life when we are faced with near-insurmountable odds, and yet somehow manage to beat them. The challenge seems nearly impossible, but we can’t resist the urge. At Mashpi Lodge, there are two activities that fall into this category. They may be seen as too extreme for some, but the feeling of immense satisfaction at the end of the day, coupled with the unparalleled opportunity to witness some of nature’s most exotic species, makes these activities an unforgettable experience for those daring enough to choose them:
Visiting the Cock-of-the-Rock is much more than an excursion – it is a veritable once-in-a-lifetime adventure that pushes guests to their physical limits while giving them the opportunity to observe one of nature’s rarest and most spectacular mating rituals involving one of its rarest birds. Leaving Mashpi Lodge at 3:00 AM, guests have a 3-hour hike through the forest with flashlights, reaching the lek at daybreak when the mesmerizing dance of 6 to 20 individual Cocks-of-the-Rock begins. The ritual lasts for around 20-30 minutes, and then guests take an alternate path back to Mashpi Lodge, arriving back late morning. A trip to the open-air hot tub is well deserved after this adventure!
Glass Frog Falls
Glass Frog Falls is possibly the most rewarding excursion through primary forest along some of the reserve’s most remote paths. While guests will be hard-pressed to spot one of the reserve’s elusive cats, they can often find fresh paw prints along the route near some of the camera traps set up nearby. Given the length of the hike to Glass Frog Falls, it is common to see Howler Monkeys and even Capuchin Monkeys throughout the day. The aptly-named falls are home to several Glass Frog species, although as a primarily nocturnal species they are very difficult to see during the day. The falls themselves are stunning, pouring down into a large pool full of cool, transparent water. Guests can return to Mashpi Lodge in different ways – hiking out to the Dragonfly and catching a ride back to the Lodge, walking out to the Sky Bike and pedaling back, or simply making the trek back out. Regardless, it is close to a full day of wonder, adventure, and fun – and it’s tiring!
There is a near limitless number of activities and fun combinations of things to do at Mashpi Lodge with varying levels of difficulty. The highly knowledgeable team of Naturalist Guides are very experienced in advising guests what the best options are for them based on their interests and physical capabilities, ensuring that everyone enjoys Mashpi to its fullest! So fear not, all guests who travel to Mashpi invariably come away amazed at the incredible life in the reserve and thrilled with an unforgettable experience in Ecuador´s Choco forest.