The slopes of the Andes are dressed with a wonderfully intricate ecosystem: The cloud forest. This ecosystem, also called “Andean brow” due to its generous vegetation, is one of the most diverse in the world.
The cloud forest seems like a mossy jungle with tall trees decorated with orchids, mosses, bromeliads, and other epiphytes. Many of its characteristics are similar to the rain forest. However, as it is not flat but on a slope, the sun rays are able to penetrate deeper inside the forest, thus giving rise to exuberant and unique life forms.
The cloud forest is perhaps the ecosystem that holds the greatest variety of birds and plants in the world. Of the 32 Bird World Life Zones, 26 are found in Ecuador. Although this small country occupies approximately 0.02 % of the world’s land surface, it holds about 10% of all the bird species of the planet. Many of these species are endemic to the different ecosystems found in the country, especially to the unique and rare cloud forests.
This ecosystem includes many species from the rain forest, some from the highlands, and others that have evolved to its unique conditions. Some of the most impressive bird species of the cloud forest are: Cock of the Rock, the Toucan Barbet, an abundance of Hummingbirds, Tanagers, Mountain Toucans, Cotingas, Manakins, and many others.
The vegetation is also surprisingly rich. Numerous epiphyte species, bounteous orchids and bromeliads, dress these slopes. Currently it is believed by many scientists that the largest number of orchid species is found in this ecosystem, many of which remain undiscovered or unlabeled.
El Oriente of Ecuador
The Rio Quijos eco-lodge is located just two hours from Quito between the towns of San Francisco de Borja and El Chaco nestled in the Rio Quijos Valley. In addition to the exuberance of its flora and fauna, a number of waterfalls and rivers are featured in the Quijos Valley. The Quijos River drops over the 400ft+ to create the San Rafael waterfall and just upstream is the breathtaking Rio Loco waterfall, both treasures of the El Oriente.
Apart from the hundreds of bird species recorded, the valley shelters other rare animal species such as the Andean spectacled bear, which is rarely seen but is one of the most impressive animal species of the Andes. A hike to the Cuevas follows a beautiful jungle trail into the canyon and eventually in a cavern filled with the rare Tayo Birds (Oil Birds). Early evening brings out a host of exotic birds of the El Oriente, including the elusive Gallo de la Pena.
The Quijos River is home to rainbow trout and the Rio Quijos eco-lodge has a private river beach, just minutes away from the lodge and cabins. In addition, the Rio Borja and the Rio Cosanga are trout fishing settings and can be visited in the valley.
El Oriente is is also home to animals such as the jaguar, pink dolphins, caimans, pumas, the Conga ants, and many other fascinating species and are all part of this Protected Forest and are growing in tourism infrastructure.