What’s so special about the Cloud Rainforest Mashpi Reserve’s location

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Where is Mashpi lodge located? The Cloud Rainforest Reserve is within the Metropolitan District of Quito. It is one of the world’s most biologically diverse places – a breathtaking hotspot of life located where the equator meets the soaring Andes. Mashpi resort Ecuador is among the wettest places on the planet despite the hot tropical sunshine that often beats down from above. Unsurprisingly, this potent combination of water and sun supports an incredible wealth of plant and animal species. Mashpi’s location is a curious combination of factors not seen elsewhere on Earth.

Is the Mashpi Reserve a cloud forest or a rainforest?

Mashpi Reserve Choco bioregion, view from cloud forest

There is more than one kind of tropical forest; not all are the stereotypical rainforests of wide, meandering rivers, giant ferns, and enormous trees.

  • Tropical forests in the foothills – the air flows down from the mountains and collides with hot gusts streaming upwards from the coastal plains.
  • Lush forests extend down the Andean slopes – blanketed by dew carried in by clouds and provide a perfect storm for tremendous biological diversity in a place like no other.

As the altitude drops toward the southeastern part of the Reserve, the low-lying cloud cover slowly dissipates, magically transforming it into a tropical rainforest. The Reserve is not just a cloud forest or a rainforest – it is both!

The Uniqueness of Mashpi Lodge's Location

What makes Mashpi Lodge such a unique destination?
Located in the Choco Bioregion, Mashpi Lodge is a luxury nature lodge and one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth. The Reserve surrounding our hotel in the rainforest is home to over 400 species of birds, alongside numerous species of trees and frogs that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Additionally, its amazing topography includes waterfalls and distinctly unique flora that will make your trek through the forest an unforgettable journey. When choosing where to stay in the rainforest, Mashpi Lodge is undoubtedly one of the best options in South America. Our hotel has received several accolades and has been named the best rainforest hotel by several awarding entities. Learn more about our lodge.

The forests of Mashpi are found between 1,800 and 4,600 ft (550 and 1,400 m) above sea level on the western flank of the rugged Andes. Located right between the Choco tropical bioregion and the Andean cloud forest ecosystem, this location is key to its singularity – a transition zone between coastal rainforests and evergreen, mountainous forests. Technically, the transition between ecosystems is an “ecotone,” Mashpi is naturally blessed with species that inhabit both, but also with scarce species that are not found in one or the other. It is a veritable cradle of endemism rarely seen anywhere else on Earth.

The Mashpi Reserve’s topography is particularly accidental. From its most northwestern point to its southeastern corner, there is an altitude difference of more than 2,600 ft (800 m), interrupted by steep gorges, irregular slopes, and plunging ravines. The highest part of the Reserve is an actual cloud forest, starkly evident from the near-omnipresent blanket of fog that covers it and significantly reduces its exposure to sunlight. As the altitude drops toward the southeastern part of the Reserve, the low-lying cloud cover slowly dissipates, magically transforming it into a tropical rainforest. The Reserve is not just a cloud forest or a rainforest – it is both

Fog in the Cloud Forest at the Mashpi Reserve

What is the difference between a cloud forest and a rainforest?

Though the difference is subtle to the untrained or unaccustomed eye, it’s not too tricky to tell cloud forests apart from rainforests. In addition to the constant presence of heavy fog in cloud forests, the key to telling them apart lies in the forests’ iconic tree species and plant density. Tropical rainforests receive much more direct sunlight, meaning trees are much taller and leafier. This, in turn, has a secondary effect on the lower underbrush – less sunlight reaches the ground, so the underbrush is less dense in a rainforest than in a cloud forest. Another key characteristic is the presence of towering palm trees in the rainforest areas of Mashpi resort ecuador. As the rainforest transitions into a cloud forest, the palm trees are replaced by venerable cecropias, colloquially known as guarumos, which immediately stand out from the verdant green background of the cloud forest due to their distinctly silver-hued leaves.

Mashpi Reserve from above

One particularly fantastic experience that visitors can enjoy at Mashpi is a trip aboard the Dragonfly Canopy Gondola, which rises to 650 ft (200 m) above the ground, offering breathtaking, 360° views of both the cloud forest (at the beginning of the line) and the rainforest at the end of the line.

It allows you to appreciate the forest from many angles, creating a unique perspective of the ecosystem. This view is suddenly changing in radical and transformative ways. In such a way, seeing the diversity of trees that cannot be distinguished from the forest floor reveal their proper size, color, and texture.

Dragonfly Canopy Gondola in the Mashpi Reserve

It’s important to consider water’s role in this forest.

In ecuador Mashpi Lodge, you can feel the power of the water in an obvious way. The mist falls in the mornings to reveal the green of the forest below, full of life. There is the rain, which can sometimes be heard, jumping from the leaves, and falling to the ground. There are the rivers: beginning with the great Mashpi River and the streams that cross the Reserve, giving life to everything they touch.

Water: The Essence of Life in a Cloud Rainforest

The Mashpi Reserve is unique for another reason. It is the origin point for much of the rain and the rivers that crisscross northwestern Ecuador. The inevitable force of gravity pushes each drop and condensates into little streams that meander into estuaries, pools, and fresh ponds home to numerous animal, insect, and macro-invertebrate species. There are so many of these estuaries and small bodies of water that many remain unnamed. Finally, far below in the tropical rainforests of the lowlands, they all come together and form rushing waterways like the Mashpi and Pachijal Rivers. From the moment the water condenses in the highest parts of Mashpi’s cloud forests until it flows into the rivers below, it encounters countless species of plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds, insects, fungi, mammals, and fish, each one incredibly unique.

Waterfall in the Mashpi Reserve

The downward trajectory of water originating in the Andes is fundamental to the existence of microclimates – small pockets that have vastly different climates despite being located very close to one another. The Mashpi reserve is home to many microclimates; the upper reaches of the Reserve are cool and damp, while the lowest parts are hot and humid. In a very general sense, the Choco is known as a “very humid subtropical region.” This means the climate remains at idyllic temperatures throughout the year, hovering at an annual average of 23°C (73°F), not going below 18°C (64°F) or above 25°C (77°F). According to biologists, this “goldilocks” temperature assures the proliferation of life. As alluded to earlier, there is tremendous rainfall, averaging more than 188 in (3,000 mm) of precipitation annually! Incredibly enough, there are places in the ravines and around the waterfalls where precipitation is much higher, providing the conditions necessary for aerial plants like orchids and bromeliads to flourish, along with all the animal species associated with them, such as frogs, hummingbirds, bees, and countless others.

Foliage and Waterfall in the Mashpi Reserve

The higher, cooler parts of the Reserve attract a wide variety of birds, making it the best place for birdwatching. At night, it is also the best place to observe exotic frog species, such as the world-renowned crystal frogs, the endemic Mashpi Torrenteer frog, and multiple species of tree frogs.

Mashpi Torrenteer Frog

Is the Mashpi Reserve the world’s most biologically diverse place?

While difficult to say for sure, Mashpi is undoubtedly a hotspot of biodiversity, teeming with life. On a larger scale, Ecuador is home to more than 1,700 species, making it the most biologically diverse place per square mile. The Choco bioregion is home to more than 1000 species of plants, 400 species of birds, and 200 species of mammals, most of which are in the Mashpi Reserve. Mashpi is in the most biologically diverse part of Ecuador, and Ecuador is arguably the most biologically diverse country in the world. So, if Mashpi Reserve is not the world’s most biologically diverse place, it must be close!

The combination of water and sun results in an incredible variety of plants and animals. One factor is that it lies directly between the Chocó Tropical bioregion and the Andean cloud forest ecosystem. It is essential for its distinction because it creates a transition zone. It’s endowed not only with species from both ecosystems but also with rare species that do not exist in one or the other. It’s truly a unique location and an unprecedented combination of weather, altitude, geography, and proximity to the equator, making visiting Mashpi Lodge an unquestionably spectacular experience. Visitors worldwide revel in its extraordinary wonders, seeking the best that nature offers – life in abundance.

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