Mashpi Lodge, located in the heart of the Ecuadorian Choco region, one of the lushest, pristine, and biodiverse places on the planet, is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience even for the most seasoned travelers. Replete with glow-in-the-dark fungus, transparent frogs, miniature jaguars, and walking palm trees, Mashpi Lodge often gives off a mystical feeling – like you have entered into another world in another lifetime. Home to thousands of plant and animal species, several of which are still undefined by science, Mashpi is a place where your inner scientist yearns to spend months, even years, on end. However, there are other places to visit and other realms to step into. So…
How long should a guest plan on staying at Mashpi Lodge?
Can I stay at Mashpi Lodge for one night?
In short – of course you can! However, be aware that you might leave feeling a little disappointed that you did not plan on spending another night or two at the Lodge.
The Choco cloud forest comes to life twice a day: shortly before sunrise and right before sunset. A one-night stay only allows you to experience one sunrise and one sunset, and if it is raining on the day that you arrive, you could miss seeing the forest come alive at one, or even both, of those times. Some species are much more active at sunrise while others are more active in the evening, but if it rains during the one sunrise or sunset that you have at Mashpi Lodge, you might miss out on seeing certain kinds of wildlife. The night walks near the Lodge are an incredible experience: hundreds of nocturnal species can be seen that otherwise remain out of sight during daylight hours. Unfortunately, if it happens to rain on the one night that you spend at the lodge, you won’t be able to see as many species during the amazing night-walk experience.
Additionally, the trip to Mashpi itself from Quito takes three hours, so spending three hours to get to the Lodge and then another three hours to return to Quito the following day is quite tiring. Due to these considerations, we do not usually recommend staying at Mashpi Lodge for just one night.
However, there are still several activities that can be done if you decide on a one-night stay. A short walk away lies the Life Center, a hub of learning and discovery. In addition to its expansive and covered deck – offering incredible sweeping views of the cloud forest that cover neighboring ridges and several mammal and bird species at the nearby feeders – the Life Center is home to more than a dozen butterfly species in all stages of metamorphosis. There is also an ever-changing display of more than fifty kinds of orchids, most of which are endemic to the region.
A visit to Mashpi Lodge would not be complete without climbing the Observation Tower, which rises 26 meters (85 feet) above the ground. Located on a high ridge above Mashpi Lodge, the view from the top is truly breathtaking, giving visitors a 360° view of the entire Mashpi reserve, as well as the small towns that sit off in the distance. Climbing it right before sunrise or sunset is highly recommended, as the sky is often flooded with vivid orange and red hues. The Observation Tower is also an excellent place to see several bird species, including the elusive hawks and ospreys that make Mashpi their home.
Very close to the Observation Tower is the Skybike, an ingenious, foot-pedal cable car that is exactly what it sounds like: a two-person bike that moves 200 meters (655 feet) across the cloud forest canopy using pedals. This allows guests to stop, admire the spectacular view and multiple bird species, and even allows riders to back up to get another look at something they might have missed below.
What about staying at Mashpi Lodge for two nights?
Staying at Mashpi Lodge for two nights allows you to experience the forest to the fullest, which is why we recommend that you stay for at least schedule your stay for two nights. It also doubles the opportunities to experience the forest at dawn, dusk, and at night, which are the three best times to see wildlife. Birds are especially active in the early morning when, due to their high metabolisms, they seek to ingest the majority of their calories. They are also the loudest in the early hours, cheerfully advertising their presence to anyone nearby.
A two-night stay also allows for guests to visit at least three of Mashpi’s crystal-clear, rejuvenating waterfalls. It also gives them the opportunity to ride the full length of the Dragonfly Canopy Gondola, a 5-person open-air cable car that takes guests soaring over the canopy of the cloud forest (in the northwestern part of the reserve) and the tropical rainforest (in the southeastern corner). This amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience gives guests an entirely new perspective of the forest, its plunging waterfalls and its unique wildlife.
How long does Mashpi Lodge recommend staying for?
In order to enjoy Mashpi Lodge to the absolute fullest, we recommend staying for a minimum of three or more nights. In addition to all the aforementioned activities you get with one and two nights, a longer stay gives guests the opportunity to enjoy all of the fascinating options offered at Mashpi Lodge, including its award-winning Samay Wellness Center, specifically designed as a veritable sanctuary for your senses. The Wellness Center serves as an idyllic place to enjoy views of the verdant cloud forest, an open-air hot tub, and a spacious outdoor yoga deck. Ultimately, Samay will leave you feeling restored and inspired. The Lodge itself has several comfortable quiet areas, too, that are ideal for simply relaxing and reading a book, playing a game, or just spending some quality time with family or friends.
On the other hand, staying for three or more days gives guests the opportunity to go on two of the longest expeditions: a.) the hike to see the fascinating cock-of-the-rock lek and b.) the visit to the town of Mashpi. The hike to the lek starts during the wee hours of the day (3:00 AM), making for an initially sleepy but gradually invigorating night walk. The three-hour hike means that guests arrive at the lek at around 6:00 AM, just in time to watch the awe-inspiring, intricate mating dance of the rarely seen cock-of-the-rock. The lek usually consists of anywhere between five and twenty individuals, and some of the guides even join them, closely imitating their sounds and movements! Once the performance is over, an alternative route is used to return to the Lodge, which takes another three hours. Guests are usually back at the Lodge by around 10:00 AM, ready for a relaxing afternoon after such an intense and fascinating early morning.
The visit to Mashpi Town starts at around 5:00 AM, with a trip aboard the Dragonfly Canopy Gondola. Watching the sunrise and the dense fog slowly lifts from the forest as you ride above it is an extraordinary experience in and of itself. Once you arrive at Tower 6 at the end of the line, there is a large and open hut with washrooms and an area where guests enjoy a box breakfast. From there, guests hike down along a trail that is approximately 5 kilometers (3 miles) long to the town of Mashpi. Most town inhabitants either work at the Lodge, have relatives who work at the Lodge, or provide supplies to the Lodge, so the town is very welcoming! There is a large swimming area nearby in the Mashpi River where guests can swing from vines into the water and even see river fish swimming inquisitively around them! There are other activities that can be done in and around the town of Mashpi, including a visit to an organic farm that provides fresh and exotic produce to Mashpi Lodge. After a box lunch, guests hike back up another route to the Life Center, and then back to the Lodge in time for a delicious dinner.
There are so many things to see and activities to do that days spent at Mashpi Lodge fly by quickly and you will inevitably end up wishing you could stay longer. Based on the sheer number of plants and species to see, activities to do, and the facilities themselves to enjoy, a stay of three or more days is recommended. However, regardless of the number of days you stay for, you will undoubtedly leave with incredible memories that will last a lifetime.