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Ecuador’s Cloud Forests: 13 Things to Know (Travelers Guide)

Sure, Ecuador has the Amazon rainforest. But have you heard of the cloud forest in Ecuador? In this article, you’ll learn about Ecuador’s cloud forests, what to see, where to find them, and how to prepare for your trip.

cloud forest ecuador

Cloud Forests in Ecuador: 13 Things to Know

1. What is a cloud forest?

If you are going to visit a cloud forest, it would be useful to know what a cloud forest actually is. Another name for a cloud forest is a tropical montane forest.

As opposed to lowland rainforests, cloud forests occur at higher elevations, literally up in the clouds. As such, they are often very foggy, mossy, and abundantly green.

mindo valley cloud forest ecuador
Mindo Valley, home to one of Ecuador’s cloud forests

2. Where can you find cloud forests in Ecuador?

Cloud forests in Ecuador can be found all through the Andean mountains. From north of Quito to south of Vilcabamba, near the border with Peru.

The mountain slopes catch the air as it rises off of the Pacific Ocean, resulting in lush and verdant jungles.

Cloud Forest Map

Check out the map below for cloud forest locations throughout Central and South America.

Current Neotropical montane cloud forests and páramo. The mapping algorithm, based on CF min , minimum annual relative humidity (RH min ) and Frost, detected TMCF across the Neotropics, including (A) Mesoamerica and the Caribbean islands, and (B) South America. "Other vegetation" includes other tropical alpine vegetation or non-TMCF forest (see Thresholds for frost). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0213155.g005
Cloud Forest map from researchgate.net

The map of the montane and subalpine cloud forest zones in Central and South America was produced by Eileen H. Helmer of the U.S. Forest Service. Along with other researchers, she published this research article about neotropical cloud forests, which contains the above map.

As you can see on the map, Ecuador has a wide band of cloud forests running north and south, along the Andes mountains.

3. 12 Cloud Forest Parks and Reserves in Ecuador

Here are the names of some of the cloud forest parks and reserves in Ecuador.

Some of them are National parks, while others are privately owned and operated.

Name of ParkDistance from QuitoPark Website
Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve 47.3 miles (76.2 km)bellavistacloudforest.com
Buenaventura Reserve 24.5 miles (39.5 km)jocotoco.org
Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve 42.8 miles (68.8 km)National Park Site
El Pahuma Orchid Reserve 34.7 miles (55.9 km)ceiba.org
Los Cedros Biological Reserve 73 miles (118 km)loscedrosreseve.org
Mashpi Reserve 69.6 miles (112 km)mashpilodge.com
Maquipucuca Cloud Forest Reserve 52 miles (83.7 km)maquipucuna.org
Mindo Nambillo Cloud Forest 63.4 miles (102 km)mindocloudforest.org
Pacha Quindi Nature Refuge46.1 miles (74.2 km)Facebook Page
Reserva Las Tangaras63.4 miles (102 km)Facebook Page
Tandayapa Bird Lodge43.6 miles (70.1 km)tandayapabirdlodge.com
Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve 38.2 miles (61.4 km)santaluciaecuador.com

Here’s our guide to Ecuador’s 11 National Parks and 25 Reserves and Refuges

4. Is it easy to drive to a cloud forest? Are the parks accessible?

Given that part of the definition of a cloud forest means that it has to be at least partway up a mountain, it can be a bit of a challenge to get to one.

I’ve included the distance from Quito (as that is likely where you fly in to) as a guide.

Keep in mind that some of these roads are twisty-turny, so you might have to drive slower than you would expect. And the driving in Ecuador might be different than you’re used to.

But how easy it is to get to, really depends on the particular park. Some can be driven to with relative ease. Others are so remote that you have to take a variety of transportation methods.

Your energy level may influence what you are able to do within the park.

Some of them have beautiful lodges (see the links above, especially recommended are Bellavista Lodge, Mashpi Lodge, and Maquipucuna) where you can stay in comfort and watch the birds.

Other activities cater toward robust and adventurous people (see point 11).

mindo cloud forest hiking trail

5. Is there a cost of admission?

The best way to experience a cloud forest is with a tour guide. This can be as part of a guided hike, or as part of a multiple-day adventure with overnight accommodations.

How much it costs, really depends on what you want to do, but you should expect to pay a park entrance fee at a minimum.

6. What is the climate like in a cloud forest? What should I wear?

Firstly, be prepared for high humidity, which averages at 95% throughout the year. There is some variation in rainfall as Ecuador has a rainy season (from late October to early June), and a dry season (from late June to early October).

During the rainy season, expect rain every day, especially in the afternoons. In the dry season, there is less rain, but still a fair amount of clouds and fog.

Temperatures vary between 52°F (11°C) overnight and 77°F (25°C) during the day.

So what should you wear? In short, clothes that are moisture-wicking and dry quickly. Heat rash is real and very unpleasant.

Long pants are a good idea, as you never know what you will brush up against. You’ll also want hiking boots with good traction, or even rubber boots. And don’t forget your sunhat.

ecuador cloud forest

Check out our Annual Climate Charts for Ecuador

7. What else should I bring?

8. What animal species are in the Ecuadorian cloud forests?

This is where a guide comes in handy, and lots of patience, as the animals here are very good at hiding.

If you’re observant and happen to be in the right place at the right time, you may be able to spot a puma, a spectacled bear, an Andean coati (a raccoon-like animal), sloths, howler monkeys, armadillos, anteaters, or a tayra (from the weasel family).

Some reserves organize night tours, which give you a better chance of seeing nocturnal animals in action. I wouldn’t recommend doing this without a qualified tour guide.

There are also lots of amphibian and reptile species to keep an eye out for.

9. What birds should I be on the lookout for?

The Andean slopes in Ecuador are home to an estimated 550 species of birds, including 35 different hummingbirds.

Here are some of the unique birds you can see here:

  • Black-Chinned Mountain-Tanager
  • Golden-Headed Quetzal
  • Plate-Billed Mountain-Toucan
  • Violet-Tailed Sylph
  • Cock-of-the-Rock
Andean Cock-of-the-rock
Andean Cock-of-the-Rock

10. What about plant varieties, and orchids?

If you like orchids, you will love the cloud forests of Ecuador as they are home to over 4,500 species of orchids! The humid environment is perfect for them to grow.

The lush forest is also home to lots of air plants, ferns, and mosses.

Other flora includes elephant ear plants, bromeliads, cecropia trees, heliconias, and copal trees.

While you are looking at the flowers, you’ll likely notice the abundance of butterflies, including the blue morpho.

11. Are there adventure sports?

There are lots of things to do if you really want to get your adrenaline going.

There are tour packages that offer transportation from Quito and offer adventures like ziplining, river tubing, horseback riding, and swimming under waterfalls. Look for these tours in the Mindo area.

If you’re looking for something adventurous, but not too wild, Mashpi Lodge offers a gondola tour for up to 4 people.

12. Is there chocolate?

Perhaps the most important question of them all: Is there chocolate? And the answer is Yes!

In the Mindo area, you can go on chocolate and coffee tours and see how these items go from the tree to your tummy.

Learn more about the famous Ecuador chocolate. This is one of the best things to buy in Ecuador, before heading home.

cacao tree cloud forest
Cacao tree with a cacao pod

13. Is there anything of archeological significance in the cloud forest?

For a trip back in time, visit Tulipe Pacchijal Cloud Forest. There you will find ruins created by the Yumbo (pre-Incan) civilization.

They are thought to have lived in the area from 800-1660 AD. The site in Tulipe contains petroglyphs, ceremonial mounds, and swimming pools.

Many travelers will visit both Ecuador’s cloud forests and the Amazon rainforest on the same trip. The Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world.

Keep reading: 15 Ecuador Landmarks to Visit

cloud forest ecuador river
River flowing through a cloud forest in Ecuador

Learn more about the 12 longest rivers in South America.

Your Turn

Have you ever been to a cloud forest? What aspect of them appeals to you? Is there a reserve that I should add to my list? Let me know in the comments below.


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