Cloud forest? To those unfamiliar with the term, it conjures up images of a mysterious fairy tale setting where a princess sits locked in the mist obscured tower of a beautiful castle. In reality, it’s just as magical and rare. In fact, cloud forest characterizes only one percent of the earth’s forests, but at the higher elevations of the upper montane in Ecuador, cloud forests are even more rare.
On a recent trip to the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, I had the opportunity to learn about this unique ecosystem and explore the enchanting cloud forest for myself.
Bellavista means “beautiful view” in Spanish, and it certainly defines the reserve accurately. With 360 degree views of the Andes Mountains, lush untouched tropical forest, and vast displays of brightly colored birds and flowers, the only word to describe it is breathtaking.
Although the landscape is absolutely stunning, the brightest star of the show at Bellavista is the birds.
With 340 species of birds recorded in the area, and 24 species of hummingbirds regularly visiting the reserve, the cloud forest is a bird lover’s paradise.
The distinctive sound of hummingbird wings buzzing and the sight of their aerial acrobatics quickly become commonplace to visitors because there are so many flying around fearlessly throughout the day. You can easily find yourself standing so close to those diminutive dynamos of the bird world that you can feel the wind of their beating wings on your face and see their tiny tongues as they sip nectar from bright red and orange flowers.
Being able to get so close to the hummingbirds senderismo en provides a unique opportunity to not only watch their behavior and interactions, but also to see a rainbow of iridescent plumage that would normally be moving too fast to see in green, blue, black, white, pink, purple, and yellow blurs. At Bellavista, hummingbirds actually land on branches and feeders so that you can see their patterns and colors clearly.
Then, of course, there are the other amazing bird species within the cloud forest.
It’s a truly awe-inspiring experience to see the steep, sun-kissed Andes set against a clear blue sky and hear the monkey-like call of toucan pairs singing duets in the distance, all while watching brightly colored tropical birds flit in and out of your vision.
Even if birds aren’t your thing, you’ll still find a lot to see in the cloud forest. One of the more exciting things to see is the newly discovered mammal species called the Olinguito. One member of the docile, raccoon sized species lives near “Juli’s Balcony” at Bellavista and I was fortunate enough to see the cute little critter myself early one evening as it ate small pieces of banana left out for it by staff members. Tentatively reaching out with monkey like hands to take the small bits of fruit and holding onto a branch with its prehensile tail, the face of the Olinguito almost looks like a teddy bear.