Shelter: Mashpi Lodge
Intimately intertwined with the jungle’s natural density, Mashpi Lodge is an immensely serene, deeply immersive experience in the heart of an otherwise treacherous land. It’s hard to believe the whitewashed stone structure was erected to stand tall amidst conditions that are constantly damp.
The property inhabits Mashpi Reserve, Ecuador’s most beloved cloud forest, set in in the heart of the Equatorial Chocó Bio-Region and regarded as one of the planet’s most important hot spots of biodiversity. In order to create the ultimate hideaway in the forest, it took a village. All 22 rooms are set intimately within the canopy, offering floor-to-ceiling views of the dewy leaves that rest around the perimeter of the property.
A capsule in the middle of it all, the property also features a two-story dining room that serves both coastal and Andean delicacies and has an open, panoramic terrace, where a pergola-style roof offers the perfect shade under which to read a book.
Upon entering the hotel grounds, it’s clear that the place is run by scientists. After selecting the appropriate rain boot size, new guests are ushered into an orientation, where one of Mashpi’s trained naturalists details an overview of the land guests will explore during their stay.
Due to the lodge’s remote location, access to rare fauna and flora is immense, and the team at Mashpi is well equipped to guide travelers through the thick vegetation. Before stepping into the forest, it’s important to be aware of where you place your hands. Drooping branches of a plant may seem innocent, but if you were to grab particular plants when, say, bracing yourself for a fall, you’d end up with a palm full of splinters. Words of advice like these, shared by the lodge’s staff, are vital for journeying along the jungle floor without encountering trouble.
Recently, the property’s team of scientist and guides found a new species, the Mashpi Torrenteer. The tree frog is native only to the Mashpi Reserve, increasing Ecuador’s amphibian count to more than 550 varieties. Roque Sevilla, former Mayor of Quito and a majority Mashpi shareholder, believes this finding only confirms the importance of conserving these forests. "It has been a great joy because it endorses what I felt the first time I went to Mashpi: A sublime place full of life and biological value; much of which has not been registered by science or perceived by us, the Ecuadorians. Therefore, I feel a moral obligation and a great illusion to preserve such a rich area.”
As a passionate environmentalist, Sevilla designed the hotel so that guests can interact with nature, not shield themselves from it. “The idea of using a vast amount of glass was born out of the wish that our guests feel connected with the forest at all times,” Sevilla says. “We never planned to compete with nature. We rather expect to provide a perfect complement for the wonders that can be found in the Reserve.”
And wonders there are: I witnessed the region’s biodiversity on my daily excursions with Mashpi’s guides. Bird lovers can experience hummingbirds in their natural habitat, as hundreds of them congregate around the lodge. A step up from zip lining, adventurers can sky bike almost 700 feet across the forest’s roof, peering down over a gorge where rivers flow between rocks and trees. To get your primate fix, you can walk the Howler Monkey trail to Mashpi’s Life Centre, where you can view a number of species from the comfort of the lodge’s expansive wooden deck. Once inside, the butterflies that inhabit the region swarm.
Brightly-colored mariposas circle the area, and a special display shows how they develop from eggs to caterpillars, eventually forming into the creatures we know and love. But the most in-demand adventure of all in the realm of rainforests is the opportunity to soak at the base of the many waterfalls that dot Mashpi Reserve. Between them, you can jump from rock to rock while enjoying the iridescent orchids, lichens, and swirling mists.
The last night of your stay, I recommend venturing into the jungle after dark. The Mashpi guides will reveal a land that’s hidden from the sun, where snakes slither in small streams and frogs rest on hanging leaves. You’ll find the same joy that Sevilla first found on his initial visit to Mashpi: “Just as there is a visible world in Mashpi, there is a hidden world which the guests do not necessarily see.” [H]