Rachel Dex, co-founder of Think Galapagos is currently in Ecuador visiting some of Think Galapagos’s favourite lodges and checking out new places for future trips.
This week she made a trip to the Mindo cloud forest area just two hours’ drive from Quito with her two children Gabriel, 10 and Noah aged 7.
Armed with her mobile phone she made the first of what is hopefully a series of photos and videos of places that her family will be visiting during their two month trip to Ecuador and Galapagos.
The Mindo Area
The cloud forest area of Mindo is definitely one of my favourite places in Ecuador. When I lived in Quito between 1997 and 2003 I would often escape the city to come and spend time here on a weekend. This beautifully pristine tropical forest is so close to the capital yet filled with orchids, bromeliads and a host of insect and amphibian life, not to mention the amazing birdlife.
A Cloud Forest not a Rain forest
At 1500m in altitude, on the western foothills of the Andes, it is significantly lower than Quito and it is this altitude that makes it very different from rainforest. It is much cooler than the rainforest (with highs of around 27 degrees and lows of around 13 degrees at night). It is also very moist, which combined with the coolness creates a unique climate that makes for a very green and lush forest filled with epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants), mosses, orchids, and ferns.
Even though our visit came towards the end of the dry season (which runs June through December) in which rain is scare and sporadic, everywhere was still incredibly lush. During the rainy season the weather is still fairly predictable with the rain falling for a few hours each day at around 2pm, so it’s easy to plan activities around it.
My journeys to Mindo and El Monte in particular when I lived in Ecuador, were made as a wildlife enthusiast, but as I discovered this weekend it is also a great place to visit with a family.
Our journey started with a stop off at Sachatamia, a lodge which is located just off the main highway that takes you to Mindo. This spot is well known for its variety and quantity of hummingbirds. On a very average day up to 20 difference species of hummingbird are seen here, and on a good day you can see up to 35! The boys and I managed to identify 14 difference species whilst we were there.
From here we headed down to Mindo and El Monte lodge, our home for the next two nights. Getting there is quite an adventure in itself, crossing on a ‘tarabita’ or hand pulled cable car across the river, which of course the kids loved!
El Monte Lodge
It was great to see the owners Tom and Mariella who are such great hosts, and a real inspiration with all the conservation work they have done on a local and national level. El Monte’s Mindo Biological Station protects over 6,000 hectares of primary cloud forest that forms part of the 19,200 hectare Mindo-Nambillo Protected Forest. Tom’s latest project at the lodge is a micro hydroelectric plant powered by the river, the first project of its kind in Ecuador, which now provides the electricity for the lodge. Another new addition since we were there last are the fences around the organic vegetable garden to stop the armadillos getting in (not a problem many people find with their vegetable garden!)
As well as lots of great walks through the forest in which we saw some amazing birds (including a Golden Headed Quetzal and parrots!), luminescent beetles and some beautiful plant life, we also made a visit to a waterfall in the Nambillo Valley, which included a trip across the forest canopy in a cable car and a lovely one and a half hour walk each way through the forest.
I really think the lodge is much more lovely than it comes across on our website or the El Monte’s own website – so here are a few photographs that I took to try and capture a bit more of the look and feel of the lodge.
Our next stop is Galapagos so watch this space for further blog posts as the family rediscovers one of our favourite places.