Questioning the predicament I’d gotten myself into, I’ll admit, there was what seemed like a not-so-brief moment when I couldn’t quite bring my feet to turn the pedals. I took a deep breath and as the Sky Bike slowly rolled from solid footing to dangling nearly 200 feet (60 m) above Ecuador’s Chocó-Andean Cloud Forest, the magic that accompanies a stay at Mashpi Lodge shifted into high gear.
Silent and remarkably easy to operate, the two-seat tandem Sky Bike rolls along a nearly 700-ft (213 m) cable stretching across a gorge and above a river. There’s no need for binoculars here; suspended in the treetops, I was face-to-face with a view of the forest I didn’t realize humans could enjoy in such a peaceful way.
My journey to Mashpi Lodge began in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. About a three hour’s drive, a stay here is easy to combine with a trip to the Galápagos Islands. A former logging spot turned private reserve, more than 2,000 species, including 400-plus species of birds, either frequent or call the area home. The biological diversity in this wildlife sanctuary is as striking as the rainforest vista.
More than just a hotel, in addition to its 24 guestrooms, Mashpi Lodge boasts a dedicated laboratory and a team of biologists, researchers and naturalists. Guests staying help fund research and conservation efforts; since the property opened a bit more than a decade ago, 18 new species have been discovered in the more than 7,100-acre stretch of tropical forest.
One of the species identified, the Mashpi Glass Frog, measures just 3/4 of an inch (about 2 cm) and features a clear underbelly that exposes its brightly colored vital organs to the naked eye. The fragrant flower of the endemic Magnolia mashpi caught the attention of scientists following sightings from the lodge’s open-air Dragonfly gondola. A favorite of guests, the cable car ride glides through treetops along a 1.2 mile (2 km) cable system allowing for wildlife and vegetation spotting, and stunning views.
“Let’s leave the taxi here, alright?” said our guide Anderson, as he assured my husband and I we’d reached a great spot to disembark the Dragonfly and do some hiking.
Hesitant to get off our ride through the clouds, it took just a few steps to realize this practically untouched landscape had much to marvel at from the forest floor. Lush foliage was dotted with everything from orchids and bromeliads to snakes and spiders, and a chorus of rainforest residents including howler monkeys and toucans kept us alert and entertained. Thanks to the rain gear and boots the hotel provides to guests, we weren’t deterred when a steady rain began to fall. And as it turned out, getting wet was in the cards; showers dissipated just as the trail revealed a gushing waterfall and swimming hole too inviting to walk away from without making a splash.
Happily drenched, I welcomed the hot shower waiting in my room and the fact that enjoying a bit of downtime didn’t require leaving the rainforest behind. All guestrooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows, so even when you’re in bed you’re either staring at the jungle or dreaming about it.
This article was originally published in No. 32 of Globetrotting Magazine.
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