Cloud Forest

Beauty, bounty and biodiversity in the heart of Ecuador

Explore the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest

Where rainforest meets mountains, a special type of ecosystem known as ‘cloud forest’ prevails. The rare and beautiful cloud forests that flank the eastern and western slopes of Ecuador’s Andes are one of the country’s little known gems. Just 2 hours drive from the capital Quito, they make a wonderful addition to a Galapagos cruise, providing an excellent taste of tropical forests with a very pleasant year round climate.

Ecuador’s cloud forests are filled with exotic plants such orchids, ferns and bromeliads. They are also home to waterfalls and crystalline rivers, colourful butterflies and perhaps most notably some of the best and easiest bird watching in the world. Visitors get to experience beautiful tropical birds such as glistening green tanagers, toucans and several species of hummingbird that will thrill both novice and experienced bird watchers alike.

“Everything was an absolute joy.”

Jackie Gribble

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Our most popular cloud forest holidays

These trips are simply to show you some of the possible ways you could include the cloud forest in your Galapagos and Ecuador holiday. The great thing about Ecuador’s cloud forest, is that it is just 2 hours drive from Quito, so potentially if time is tight, you could even go for just one day (although we definitely recommend one night if possible, and 2 nights or more is even better!).

What is a cloud forest?

Accounting for just 1% of global woodland, these rare and beautiful forests enjoy incredibly high biodiversity levels. According to Rainforest Rescue, Ecuador’s cloud forests are considered the single richest hotspot on the planet, containing approximately 15-17% of the world’s plant species including thousands of species of orchids and over 550 of the 1,660 estimated species of birds found in the country. The region is part of the Chocó bioregion, which spans from Panama to Northern Ecuador.

Cloud forests occur within tropical or subtropical mountainous environments, where the atmospheric conditions allow for a consistent cover of clouds. More correctly termed pre-montane/subtropical rain forests, Ecuador’s cloud forests cloak the slopes of Andes Mountains from between around 900 and 2500 meters.

Billed Aracari Ecuador Cloud forest

More lush than a rainforest

For first time visitors, often the most striking thing is how the trees in cloud forests are almost always covered in ferns, bromeliads, mosses and other plants. Although cloud forest trees are shorter than in a rainforest, they can often appear lusher due to the incredible density of plant life growing on them. 

Cloud forests are swathed for much of the year in cool mists formed as the humid air from the Pacific to the west and Amazon to the East chills as it hits steep slopes of the Andes. This mist and cloud provides up to 40% of the water the cloud forest receives (compared to rainforests who receive almost all their water from precipitation). This means a large amount of water is deposited directly onto vegetation, providing an almost constant source of above ground water and creating a perfect habitat for epiphytes, sometimes known as air plants. These are a type of plant that grows on other plants.

According to the New York Botanical Garden, the diversity of epiphytes is higher in the cloud forests of Ecuador, Colombia and Peru than anywhere else on the planet. Since it is located on the equator, the plants of Ecuador’s cloud forests areas bloom all year round.

As well as a wealth of tropical bird species, Ecuador’s cloud forests are home to iconic species such as the Spectacled Bear, Jaguar, Sloth, Howler Monkey, puma and many other species.

Mindo’s extraordinary birdlife

One of our favourite areas of Ecuador’s cloud forest to visit is Mindo. Mindo is a town, a river and also an area on the western slopes of the Andes.

At an elevation of 1,300 meters above sea level Mindo is located at the midpoint between the highland Quito area and the Pacific coast and so has birds that visit from both the Coastal and the Sierra regions. This is one of the main reasons why more 400 species of bird can be seen in the immediate area around Mindo. If we include areas that can be visited in a day trip from Mindo, this number rises to an estimated 550 species.

These birds include an array of hummingbirds as well as iconic species such as the Cock of the Rock, Giant Antpitta, Club-Winged Manakin, Toucan Barbet and Torrent Duck to name but a few.

Andean Emerald Hummingbird Ecuador Cloud forest

Mindo bird facts

  1. Mindo was ranked for several years in a row in the top 3 highest bird counts in the world in the Christmas Bird Count sponsored by the Audubon Society. Beating off competition from over 2000 locations, the 24 hour count in Mindo has in some years exceeded 400 species.
  2. In the year 2000 Mindo was named as the first area in South America as an ‘Important Area for Birds’ by Birdlife International due to the high diversity and threatened nature of many of the birds found in the area.
  3. Mindo is home to the greatest number of endemic montane birds of any place in the world (according to Birds of Ecuador, by Ridgley and Greenfield)
Cloud forest
SEPTIMO PARADISO Ecuador Cloud forest

What is the difference between Ecuador’s cloud forest and the Rainforest?

Cloud forests are cooler and generally more lush than the Amazon rainforest region, as the unique climate of the cloud forest allows lots of epiphytes (plants living on other plants) to grow, which means orchids, ferns, bromeliads and mosses growing on branches of trees in the cloud forest.

Cloud forests are typically characterised by having clear, fast moving rocky rivers running through them, compared to the larger, silt laden and slow moving rivers of the Amazon region. Trees are typically much larger in the Amazon, vs the cloud forest. Whilst the Rainforest area is typically flat, the cloud forest areas lie on the slopes of the Andes which means they can be steep in parts, which offers some great hiking and viewpoints!

When is the best time to visit the cloud forest?

The cloud forest is a year round destination, like most of Ecuador. The rainy season in the western cloud forest areas is typically between January until May, with a lot of the precipitation in the form of mist and rain. However, the rain is usually pretty predictable during this time and starts at around 2pm and continues for a few hours, allowing plenty of time to schedule any activities.

Temperatures depend on the altitude of the forest you are visiting, the higher you go, the cooler they are, but typically they are very pleasant during the day and cool at night. In Mindo, which is the cloud forest area that most of our guests visit, the highest daytime temperatures are around 27 °C (80F) and lows at night of around 13°C (55F), pretty much all year round. In the dry season (June through December) when rain is very scare and sporadic, moisture levels are still maintained in the forest by mists that condense on the slopes of the Andes.


What to pack for a visit to the cloud forest?

This is a suggested list of what is helpful to bring for the cloud forest:

    • Binoculars or a scope if you have them
    • Camera
    • Torch (flashlight) to help in night hikes and also to find your cabins more easily
    • Light day pack
    • Sun cream and insect repellent
    • T-shirts and long sleeved shirts
    • Swimming costume if you fancy a dip in the river or at the waterfalls (water is cold but refreshing!)
    • Light waterproof jacket or Poncho
    • Sweater/Fleece or jacket for the evenings when it can get cooler
    • Hiking boots or sturdy shoes
    • Sandals for ‘after hours’
    • Sun hat
    • Umbrella (handy to have if caught in a rain shower)
    • Personal toiletries (though the lodges do have soap and shampoo)

Why Choose Us?

We listen to you. We take the time to understand what you want your Galapagos trip of a lifetime to be. We then we use our decades of experience and unrivalled network of local contacts and team of top guides to make it happen.

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Cloud Forest and Galapagos up close