Ecuador’s Hidden Gem: The Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve

By Charlie Bennett

Ecuador is an incredibly underrated travel destination for anyone with a yen to soak up a rich cultural heritage, while also observing some of South America’s most incredible flora and fauna.

BellaVista Welcome

Bellavista Welcome

Though I was fascinated as I toured the historical sites on the cobblestone streets of Quito and amazed by the sun-drenched islands on the Galapagos archipelago, the best part of my trip to República del Ecuador was the previously unknown-to-me Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve.
Located just about two hours north of the Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, Bellavista is a conservation reserve in the heart of a subtropical cloud forest, nestled in the midst of the majestic Andes Mountains.

BellaVista Flora and Fauna

BellvVista Flora and Fauna

Cloud forests are renowned for their biodiversity, their moist and tropical ecosystem being the perfect environment for an astonishing wealth of flora and fauna. Bellavista has become a veritable Mecca for ornithology buffs, as this relatively small conservation reserve is home to an incredible 275 bird species.
But you don’t have to be a passionate bird watcher to be astounded by the biology of Bellavista, as you will also be blown away by the amazing flowers (in bloom year round) and the lush, green moss that grows on virtually everything.

During my nine-day Ecuador travel experience, I got to spend three days and two nights at Bellavista, and it ended up being the highlight of my trip.

My travel companion and I left from Quito to Bellavista at 6:30 and we reached our destination just in time for breakfast at the lodge at 8:30.

BellaVista Sunrise

Bellavista Sunrise

After breakfast, we were presented with some options as to how we would like to spend the day. Do we want the easy hike, the intermediate hike, or the difficult hike? Since it was our first day, we decided to take it easy and opt for the less-challenging hike.

I was worried about what the difficult hikes must be like if this was the easy one, as we climbed 2000 feet in about two hours. But the pace was slow enough that we could catch our breath while our tour guide shared his extensive knowledge on the plant and animal life we encountered.

We stepped up our game the next day and took on the intermediate hike which was to be about a two-and-a-half hour jaunt in which we climbed almost 3000 feet in elevation.
It was a moderately challenging hike, but not terribly difficult because again, we stopped often to get a rundown from our tour guide on everything we were seeing. We observed a number of different bird species, some boasting a diversity and vibrancy in colors I had never witnessed before.

We had originally planned on taking the difficult hike on our third and final day at the reserve, but we were both a bit sore from the two day treks prior so we opted to stay back at the base and observe the birds from a more comfortable elevation.

BellaVista Wildlife

Bellavista Wildlife

I’d never been particularly interested in bird watching prior to my visit, but the incredible hummingbirds that swarm about the reserve ratcheted up my enthusiasm for the avian observation.

I had been advised to bring a set of binoculars and I’m glad that I did, and since the best nature experiences at Bellavista take place on the longer hikes, you’ll want to make sure you bring a binocular harness so you don’t have to hold them at all times.

You won’t need the binoculars to obverse the resplendent hummingbirds, however, as they will fly very close to you. In fact, if you don’t mind the speedy little birds buzzing right near you, wear red clothes, which are said to attract the hummingbirds.

You are in a rainforest, so make sure you dress appropriately. I rocked a poncho style rain jacket that covered both my head and pack, though both were moist after a day of hiking. It’s also pretty muddy so you might want to bring some footwear that is appropriate for groggy conditions.

BellaVista Cloud Forest

Bellavista Cloud Forest

While you have to be mindful of the rain and mud, you also need to remember that you are at a location very high in elevation and right on the equator and as such, when the sun comes out it can be very unforgiving to those that aren’t wearing a sun hat or heavily lubricated with sunscreen. Be aware of this.

Aside from this, all you really need to live it up at Bellavista is a healthy curiosity and a good camera!

All in all it was truly an amazing experience!

Charlie Bennett is an aspiring travel writer whose work currently appears courtesy of Ecuador and Galapagos Travel experts GAdventures.com