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Birding in Mindo Ecuador at Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve

By Edited Jun 17, 2016 0 0

Birders will know that Ecuador is one of the “birdiest” countries on the planet. With over 1500 species of birds packed into a relatively tiny area, Ecuador offers rich rewards to birders. Birding in Ecuador can take you to its many diverse environs, from the Amazon, to the cold wet cloud forests, to the wonders of the Galapagos. There is a lot of information available online on birding tours of Ecuador, so I will not go into these general details here. I am just going to provide some first hand impressions of a birding trip I took to Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve near Mindo, about two hours away from Quito.  

 

Mindo is definitely one of the birdwatching hotspots in Ecuador. Its proximity to Quito also makes it a quick and potentially relatively inexpensive destination, relative to, say, a trip to the Galapagos or the Ecuadorian Amazon. Thus, you can easily pack in a side trip to Mindo even if your itinerary is focused on other areas of Ecuador. There are several eco-lodges in the Mindo area, of which Bellavista is one of the well-known ones. If you have time, it is well worth visiting more than one lodge, as the lodges are situated at different elevations, which can result in unique species of birds seen near each lodge. Even if you are not a birder, a trip to Mindo is still a very enjoyable experience. The area is very scenic, with thick cloud forest draping the hills, and pretty valleys in between. The cloud really do touch the forests - in the higher elevations it is often quite chilly and damp, but it feels fresh and exhilarating, as you are often enveloped in mist. A walk through the woods will make you feel as though you are in an enchanted land - the moss-covered trees with orchids, bromeliads and other epiphytes hanging from them, and the bright splashes of color from the blooming plants in the forest make for quite a spectacle.

 

Bellavista Lodge offers day trips from Quito as well as two and three day packages. It is well worth staying for the extended packages in order to have a truly immersive experience in the cloud forest. When you book with them in advance, you can arrange for their van to pick you up and drop you off in Quito. The two hour drive from Quito will take you through some stunning vistas as you climb into the cloud forest. The lodge itself consists of several attractive “jungle-chic” cottages scattered around the property, with balconies that look out onto the forest. There is a central area with the main office and a lookout where you can sit and watch several species of hummingbirds and other birds at the lodge’s feeders. The bird activity at the feeders is one of the most incredible aspects of Bellavista lodge, and indeed, one of the things Bellavista is famous for. Brilliantly colored hummingbirds and tanagers, flashing various hues of green, purple, blue and yellow will come up to within a few feet of you. Even non-birders can sit entranced by the feeders for many hours watching the hummingbirds zooming back and forth.

 

The dining area and the shared dorms are located in a geodesic dome structure off to one side. This dome has glass windows on all sides, allowing for a 360 degree view of the forest as you dine. On arrival, you are served a hot breakfast in this area, during which your guide will explain the various options for activities in and around the lodge. The lodge package includes guided hikes on the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve in the early morning (before breakfast), late morning (between breakfast and lunch) and afternoon. There are hikes of varying difficulty levels to suit the needs of guests. Generally, if you are fit enough to go on the moderate or tougher hikes, it can be more rewarding in the sense of being able to visit more scenic areas and primary undisturbed forest. The guides I met were very friendly and knowledgeable, and possessed of incredible bird identification and spotting skills. Thanks to them, I was able to identify or see many species that would otherwise have passed unnoticed or just been fast-moving blurs in the forest. Many of the guides are local people who have picked up their skills from working at the lodge. Thus, the lodge also provides an important contribution to the local economy. The guides are also all-round naturalists, and drew our attention to the beautiful orchids and other flowers, as well as other flora and fauna that we encountered in the forest. In addition to the hikes on the lodge property, there are also options to go on side trips to other birding areas, visits to a butterfly farm and an orchid reserve, and ziplining. These cost extra, but some of them might be of interest to guests.

 

The meals served at the lodge were flavorful and included some great tasting fruit and produce, of which I believe a lot was locally sourced. Certainly after the hearty appetite we worked up during our hikes, we always looked forward to returning to the dining room! In sum, birding in Ecuador at the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve near Mindo is a wonderful trip out of Quito, and I would recommend it to anyone, whether a birder or not.

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