Places & Spaces: Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador

At Mashpi Lodge, on the thickly forested slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes, you can disappear into the clouds.

Deep inside a 1,300-hectare rainforest reserve in Ecuador, mere three hours northwest of the equator, you will find Mashpi Lodge, an eco-friendly hotel bursting with activities to teach you about this unique mountain bioclimate and its wildlife – which include cycling along a high wire, listening to frogs and making chocolate.

This being Earth Month, it’s only appropriate that the lodge opened this week for the first guests to enjoy the rich flora and fauna of the bioreserve: colorful butterflies, monkeys, birds, pumas, and orchids galore.

To experience the forest first hand, you can travel along the forest canopy in the “Aerial Tram” – an open-air gondola car – giving you a monkey’s eye view of the treetops and their inhabitants. As you sit in a swiveling chair, for a 360-degree perspective, you can listen to the resident biologist make sense of it all.

Or, for those preferring solitude, climb a ladder and sit on a forest platform, or check out the hummingbird viewpoint (blink and you’ll miss them – they’re the smallest animals, and fastest birds, in the world). Adrenalin junkies can take a zipwire ride through the primeval landscape, or ride an aerial bicycle, designed for two, along a 655-foot-long cable; then cool off in a waterfall. Creatures of the night can go on a nocturnal safari (guided; you don’t want to get lost in the dark jungle). Reptile lovers can learn about frog songs and snake secrets. Or you can just sit in bed and watch it all.

The 22 guestrooms are furnished in a simple, contemporary style, with warm tones, wood and floor-to-ceiling-windows looking onto the rainforest; all have WIFI; suites and bathtubs with views (other rooms have showers). All are TV-less; it’s in a communal area – after all, you’ve got a live-action nature film going on outside your room. There are also outside terraces to tune into the jungle sounds, with secluded yoga-perfect areas; and an extensive library, where you can hear talks from experts.

In the restaurant, ingredients used are garnered from the forest – plantain and chocolate – or locally-grown organic: mandarinas, guavas, naranjillas, squeezed into freshly-made juices. You can gather your own, too – yucca, bananas, palm hearts and coffee, or make cocoa beans into their end delicacies, ripe for eating. After all that culinary excitement, you’ll need to chill out. The spa has a jacuzzi open to the outside and a massage room with treatments featuring jungle ingredients such as earth, stones, herbs and leaves. Swimming is wild, in the rivers.

Mashpi Lodge is working closely with the local community. A quarter of the staff (80% from the surrounding area) will own a stake in the project. As well as being socially responsible, hydroelectric power will be used soon.

Rates from $1,296 per person including tax, transfers from Quito with visits to archaeological sites and museum, and lunch at a volcanic crater, en route; all meals at lodge; guided daily excursions and activities within reserve; rubber boots, rain ponchos and binoculars for your jungle walkabouts (this is a rain forest, after all).

Photos: Mashpi Lodge

Places & Spaces is a travel guide that will inspire you to carve out a vacation on your calendar. All of the gorgeous locations and accommodations in our guide share our concern for the environment. From tent glamping to lavish built environments, fair warning, you’ll feel compelled to pack your suitcase.

Fiona Flores Watson

Fiona Flores Watson covers Places & Spaces for EcoSalon and currently resides in Seville, Spain.