It doesn’t matter how stressed I am from travelling, from missed busses, delayed flights, lost luggage or inevitable language barriers, I know exactly where to go to calm down and relax for a few days: the forest. It could be any forest really, as long as there is plenty of green and I can hear the birds sing; but the rain forest in particular has an instant soothing effect on me. To the point of listening to rain forest sound tracks when I’m stressing out at home. Loyal readers might have heard me going on about my love for this here and there.

The reason why I’m telling you this right now, is because I have once again returned to the great forests of South America on my recent 2-week jaunt to Ecuador and I was absolutely amazed. Although I wanted to go to the Amazon rainforest with all my heart and soul, I ended up in the cloud forest of Mashpi. The only real difference between a cloud forest and the rainforest is the altitude it’s on – everything else is basically the same: the humidity, the bio-diversity, the sounds and the views. When Metropolitan Touring invited me to check out their flagship eco-lodge Mashpi Lodge in the cloud forest nature reserve of Mashpi, I didn’t have to think twice. With the blink of an eye, my trip to the Amazon was postponed – cloud forest, here I come!

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I had been ogling the lodge’s website for over a year, long before I actually got into planning my trip to Ecuador, because I had been researching unique eco-lodges in South America, and Mashpi Lodge jumped onto my radar for obvious reasons. It took about one quick look and I had fallen in love with the images on the website – the lush green forest, the number of animals to be spotted and then of course, the rooms…

A Window to Paradise

I arrived in at the lodge after a quick stop at the gate to watch a local coati next to the road – the first animal sighting, and already a mammal! Greeted with a refreshing cocktail I was quickly walked through the schedule for the upcoming days and checked into my room. Most guests don’t just visit Mashpi Lodge on a highly basis, but book a package of either two or three nights which includes the room as well as all meals, daily activities and educating lectures about the local eco-system. I stayed for just two nights, but to be honest, the programme was jam-packed with excursions and food – it felt like a week in paradise. More about the activities later – but now, the highlight of the hotel itself: the room.

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There’s not really much to say than, just look at it! If I could have a photo wallpaper in my bedroom, this is what it would look like – only that this is real and when you crack open the window on the right there, you get to hear the actual sounds of the forest, and the humid heat is slowly coming in. There are plenty of shades on the left and right of the window, so you enjoy 100% privacy even if you stand in front of these windows like nature made you. (I mean, who could resist?!)

Every detail in my room was right – from the fruit basket with local treats and the modern furniture, to the softest bed ever with bed linen that deliciously smelled like the forest out there. There was a desk to work on at nights and a gorgeous bathroom with a rain shower. I stayed in one of the smaller standard rooms (although there was hardly anything small or standard about it), but also got the chance to look at one of the gorgeous suites of which there are three. They are just a little bigger, but have TWO ‘glass walls’ and a bathtub with panoramic views.

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The rest of the hotel’s interior matches the looks and decor of the rooms: massive floor-to-ceiling glass walls; a mix of white, grey, beige and pastel colour schemes; modern wooden furniture with cork details; grey floor tiles which reflect the light to make it look even brighter. If you don’t want to hang out in your room (yeah right…), you can chill out in the hangout area next to the lobby, or the restaurant and bar area. The entire building is surrounded by the forest and wild gardens, and birds can basically be spotted from any angle. There is a gorgeous panoramic terrace, great for early-morning bird watching or a relaxing yoga session. The jacuzzi and spa area are open upon request. The coolest thing about the jacuzzi is, that there are no windows but only wooden panels and mosquito nets separating you from the forest.

 

The Ecological Responsibility

Mashpi cloud forest is secondary forest, which means that the native trees have been cut down by the national and international forest and agriculture industry. Sadly, no tree in Mashpi is older than roughly 50 years – but is it not great to see what nature and bio-diversity can develop in just a few decades? The nature reserve of Mashpi made the reforestation and revitalisation of the forest possible. The Mashpi Lodge is part of a wider project aiming to extend the nature reserve on an even larger territory and restore more of the natural beauty of Ecuador’s forests.

It comes as no surprise that the processes involved in running a hotel come with a massive ecological footprint – waste is unavoidable. The people at Mashpi Lodge however, try to minimize their footprint as much as they can. The hotel was built with as little impact on the local nature as possible and is managed super eco-friendly. The LED lamps help to reduce energy consumption, all water waste is treated biologically, and rubbish is being recycled and composted where possible.

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The revenue of the lodge and donations by guests are a way to generate income for the Mashpi nature reserve, which is also publicly funded by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Production. One part of the project is also to support a Resident Biologist who works with a team to study the local wildlife and plants. While there are not so many mammals to be found in these forests, there are particularly high numbers of insects and birds present – some of which are endemic. During the guided nature walks organised by the lodge, you get to learn and see plenty of them. It is nice to see that the surrounding nature is the beating heart of the lodge – not the other way around.

80% of the lodge’s employees are from the local villages and the hotel uses organic products available from local producers – and thereby creates jobs and a constant income for the communities! I met several of the young men training to become nature guides for the lodge and for them this line of work is not only a job, but also a way to share their traditional knowledge about nature and conservation, an opportunity to learn another foreign language (for some Spanish is the first foreign language, and then comes English) and potentially even a chance to enter higher education to study biology or tourism. They also all look a little bit like Greek gods… not that that really matters (no?).

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Guided Activities

All activities offered by the lodge are included in your stay, and are always accompanied by one head nature guide (who will speak very good English and studied biology or something similar) and an assistant local guide from one of the surrounding villages (who knows everything about every plant and animal of the forest and is particularly good at spotting them). The lodge provides each guest with a small backpack, a reusable water bottle, mozzy spray and a mozzy bracelet – all yours to keep. There are also wellies and walking sticks available to use for the walks. Here is a rough overview of possible activities.

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Hard to see, but this is actually a tiny scorpio, which one of our miraculous guides spotted out of nowhere.

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1. Life Centre & Butterfly Station

The Life Centre is is a research station, roughly 30 minutes walk from the lodge. There is a little flower garden outside, but the spectacular highlight is the butterfly garden on the inside. There are many different species of butterflies, large, small and in all colours, fluttering about or just hatching in the hatchery. There is also a terrace with great views over the surrounding hills and valleys.

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2. Hummingbird Station

Walking the other direction, back up the hill above the lodge, you will reach the hummingbird station, where bright red containers filled with sugar-water attracts huge numbers of hummingbirds; all sorts of different species. Most of them are green and look more or less alike, but there are also some odd outsiders with electric blue feathers, white feather-boots around their ankles or gorgeous long tail feathers.

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3. Sky Bike

Forget zip lining – if you ask me, it’s all about moving slowly through the forest! Zip lining is great for an adrenalin rush, but if you are actually interested in what’s going on in the canopy and getting views over the trees, a sky bike is the way to go. I had never experienced or heard of anything similar, and absolutely loved it! The sky bike at Mashpi Lodge bridges a little valley, first it goes downhill and from roughly halfway through the line you need to use your muscles to make it to the other end – a great workout. The views are gorgeous and I had never come that close to the flowers and epiphytes high up in the canopy!

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4. Waterfall Trails

The lodge is surrounded by a great network of trails which are used by the local population, the researchers and biologists, and of course, you. Some trails lead to gorgeous waterfalls, like this one below, which falls into a huge pool deep enough to jump into. Your guides will bring some lunch along as well which makes for the perfect picnic.

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Fine Dining

With a hotel so remote and isolated, it is important that there is a good restaurant to indulge in – the only other option to get food would be to hike to one of the closest villages (let’s say 1.5 hours walk?)… Luckily, the restaurant at Mashpi Lodge is awesome and dishes out some of the best food I’ve tasted in Ecuador.

As mentioned, a lot of the used products come from the intermediate area of the lodge and food is very much prepared as fresh as possible. The dishes range from very traditional tastes of Ecuador to international cuisine and interesting fusion creations.

Breakfast is super fresh, with a chef show-cooking your eggs and all sorts of fruit juices. If you need to get up before breakfast times for an early walk, the bar will already be serving coffee and the kitchen is happy to prepare a brunch-pack. Lunch is served buffet-style, with loads of salads and small bites you can easily mix and match. Dinner is a la carte with 2-3 options of main courses, reaching from meat over fish to vegetarian. The bar offers fresh home-made lemonade free of charge, which is very yummy, but of course also alcohol drinks which are not included in the package price.

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All in all, my stay at Mashpi Lodge was one of my favourite cloud forest experiences I’ve ever had. Compared to the cloud forest in Costa Rica, the temperature was a lot higher, and I hardly needed my jacket or jumper. The food was amazing and my room absolutely stunning. Despite of that, the luxury element of the hotel is more about the setting and exclusivity, not about the atmosphere or over-the-top-ness.

Of course, it’s not a cheap trip to make, but what you get is undeniably special. And you support a project that does a lot in terms of nature conservation, and sustainable and local economy. Definitely worth every penny!

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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.

Disclaimer: I was invited to Mashpi Lodge by Metropolitan Touring. All opinions are my own.