Home > Ecuador > The Northwest of Quito, a paradise of nature and adventure, Part One

The Northwest of Quito, a paradise of nature and adventure, Part One

March 19, 2011

We have just driven past the huge Monument and Complex which mark de “Middle of the World”, just a few minutes north of Quito, the capital of Ecuador.  As we ascend on the paved road (which could take us in some four hours from Quito to the beautiful and popular beaches in the northern Pacific coast of the country), we can see the long and arid valley of San Antonio de Pomasqui, surrounded by barren hills.  It doesn’t take too long before that desert-like ecosystem and sight changes into a lush forest, teeming with exuberant vegetation…. We are going around the northern flanks of the huge volcanic building which makes the giant Pichincha Volcano, Quito’s eternal natural guardian and city backdrop….

We have just passed the small and picturesque town of Calacali and we begin to immerse ourselves in the mysterious and fascinating world of a typical Andean “cloud forest”…. In fact, the clouds carry in humidity from the tropical coastal wetlands, which condenses against the high mountain slopes and produce a rather constant drizzle.  Thus, the vegetation is abundant as results of having plenty of water.  As we start descending now, we marvel at the thick forest of high trees, laced with abundant epiphyte plants like the bromeliads, huge tree ferns and tree vanes. The greenery which prevails is only broken by the silvery shine of the whitish large leafs of, precisely, the “silver trees”.  Soon we can also start seeing several beautiful, cascades, tumbling down the high cliffs….

We make a short stop at El Pahuma, an Orchids Reserve, where we can admire some of the more than two thousand species of orchids which Ecuador boasts, magnificent and luxuriant in their unique colors and shapes. Next we go by the entrance to the popular touristic town of Mindo, the epicenter of abundant ecotourism and adventure sports activities along the entire namesake valley of Mindo, a part of the Mindo-Nambillo Cloud Forest Reserve, famous for the abundance of birds and butterflies.  But we are going a bit further to the west and down into a transition zone between the “cloud forest” and a more traditional tropical rainforest. Less than one and a half hours since we left Quito and we reach the busy town of San Miguel de Los Bancos, a crossroads between the Andes and the Pacific Coast of Ecuador. A short drive from there brings us into the Tangara (meaning “tanager”, in honor of the birds bearing the same name), Eco Lodge and private Reserve located on a natural balcony, overlooking the long and slightly narrow Valle Hermoso (“beautiful valley”), which indeed it is, crossed right at its center by the Rio Blanco (“White river”), its intensely white waters rushing downstream towards the coastal plains.

We are met by our gracious hosts and welcomed with a refreshing and delightfully tasting arasà juice, an exotic fruit from the zone. At the Lodge’s gardens we can already start observing several types of tanagers, small to mid-sized birds with sturdy beaks and bearing some truly vivid color combinations, like the yellow-back tanager, its wings and back plumage intensely yellow, shining against an equally intense blue-black of the rest of the body.  This area is also part of the world famous Chocò Bio-region, a corridor stretching from the south of Panama, across the western part of Colombia and into Ecuador’s northwestern zone, between the western flanks of the Andes and the coastal plains. The area is recognized as one of the world’s most outstanding “hot spots” of biodiversity. 

An unidentified species of trogon, with olive-pale yellow chest and rusty-orange back, appears out of nowhere and perches itself on a small tree branch, ideally posing for a picture, which I do take…. Anita, one of our hosts, tells us that also common in the area are the rather rare green toucans. This is a birding paradise, just waiting for the visitors to, rather effortlessly, enjoy watching the variety and colors of hundreds of species of birds, as well as learning about their living, feeding and breeding habits. Numerous hummingbirds of metallic shining colors also fly back and forth. No wonder the entire zone, all around the east and west slopes of Pichincha Volcano, is famous for the large number of hummingbirds, so much so, that they have been adopted as the city of Quito’s bird symbol. After another round of arasà juice and a delicious snack of grilled shrimps and green plantain’s “patacones” with crunchy fried “yuccas”, it is time to ready ourselves for the adventure part of the trip…. This part of the story will be told on our next issue……..

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