Thursday, 20 July 2017

Hiking in an Ecuadorian cloud forest

A new experience for me recently was to go hiking in a cloud forest, in Maquipacuna Forest Reserve, Ecuador. Located just a couple of hours drive from the capital, Quito, this is a great place to explore the natural beauty of mainland Ecuador. 

On the drive to Maquipacuna from Quito it is possible to visit the 'middle of the world' monument - latitude 00° 00' 00''. You can also stop at Pululahua, an extinct volcano whose crater is now farmed to take advantage of the fertile volcanic soil.

Heavy rainfall meant that we had to negotiate landslides on the way to the cloud forest - there was a 30 minute wait while the road was cleared for the one shown below. 

Set up by an Ecuadorian couple, Rebeca and Rodrigo, in order to conserve the cloud forest, the non-profit Fundacion Maquipucuna now employs several local people, and the reserve covers an area of 6000 hectares. Large swathes of secondary forest are growing back in reclaimed land around the central area of primary forest. The ecolodge itself sits in the middle of the forest and is surrounded by hummingbirds and other forest wildlife. 

The weather was very different to the previous week we spent in the Galapagos Islands!

Although when we visited it was not the right season to see the famous Spectacled Bears, there was plenty of other wildlife to be seen, especially birds and insects. A variety of hiking trails were available, many of which were clearly marked and did not require a guide. Others were more challenging and a guide was recommended, and guides were also helpful for spotting and identifying wildlife. Local guide Arsenio had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the local birdlife, and took us on an early morning hike when we spotted a toucan, hawks, toucan barbets, and many more. 

We spotted this basilisk on the river bank early one morning.

There was also an in-house entomologist staying at the ecolodge, Nancy Miorelli, who provided guided night walks. There was an incredible variety of insect life in the forest, with just a few examples shown below. 

More heavy rainfall prior to leaving for the return journey to Quito gave us cause for concern, but thanks to our driver Bernardo we made it back safely!