Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve

Wednesday, 9/ 9

Working with the travel agency, we narrowed down the day trip to either Parque Nacional Cotopaxi,  a national park of more than 80,000 acres surrounding Volcán Cotopaxi, or Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve, a 1700+-acre private conservation area ranging from 4200′ – 7500′ in altitude.  What a great win-win situation.  The costs were similar (~$200 for transport, a guided hike, and 2 meals for 2 people); the time spent in travel was basically the same; and we were guaranteed to see interesting things either place.  We rather arbitrarily decided that, since we had actually seen a volcano already but we had never seen a cloud forest, we’d spend the day at Bellavista.  For information about Bellavista, just continue scrolling down.  A list of the birds we saw on the guided hike can be found on page 2.  And if you want to skip ahead to photos of the hummingbirds at the Bellavista feeders, click on page 4. (Click here to jump to the page numbers; click on the number you want.)

Bellavista

We awaited the Bellavista van on the steps of our hotel; pick-up was scheduled for 6:30 a.m. and the van arrived around 6:45, after picking up another couple.  As we headed north out of Quito, we picked up Andrea, who would be our naturalist guide.  She was just ending a week off and would be staying at the Bellavista Lodge for the next 2 weeks, leading walks 2 or 3 times a day.  Andrea provided a narrated tour for the entire 2 hours we were on the road, pointing out buildings and landmarks of interest as we drove past. (Since Johnny, our driver, didn’t speak much English, we were grateful for the bonus.)   Just as we turned off the main road and started our final ~7-mile climb to Bellavista, she spotted a Pacific Hornero in a shrub by the roadside, which Johnny obligingly stopped the van for us to see.  Bird #1 for the day!  According to Andrea, “hornero” derives from “horno” (“oven” in Spanish); the nests they build are reminiscent of ovens, as you can see in the linked photo.

Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve is located on a high ridgeline above the Tandayapa Valley, on the western slope of the Andes northwest of Quito, along the old Nono-Mindo Road. (This and the other photos of the Bellavista property were downloaded from the Bellavista Web site.)  Cloud forests—more precisely, pre-montane/subtropical rain forests—can be found along the slopes of the Andes from altitudes of 2700′ – 7500,’ teeming with biodiversity.  The species list of birds for Bellavista and the Tandayapa Valley numbers 330 and still counting. (In fact, since 2006, this region has recorded the highest number of species found in one day during the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Counts.)  Bellavista boasts 8 – 14 species of hummingbirds at their feeders at the lodge daily.

We arrived at the lodge and had breakfast (cereal and eggs to order) in the geodesic dining room.  After breakfast, Andrea gathered us up to point out a female Masked Trogon perched on the rafters of the covered walkway.  (These photos, which from here on are ours, are more like pointillist paintings than decent photos—don’t look too closely.  She was almost too close for the camera to focus well.)  We then headed up a series of trails, listening and watching for birds as we went.



Continued on p. 2; click below.

5 Responses to Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve

  1. shamda says:

    I was in Bellavista late in April. It is truly wonderful. I am not particularly a bird person and went for an overnight and was very happy to have gone. Given what you write, I suspect Mindo might be better if you’re going for a couple of nights because there is more to do. Not that I couldn’t have done another night at Bellavista! It is one of the most relaxing places I have ever been. Very beautiful. I didn’t think I would get mesmerized by hundreds of hummingbirds but I did! The more I watched them the more fascinated I got. The rest of the birding wasn’t spectacular when I was there but the trails are magnificent and the staff is extremely accomodating to all levels of physical rediness. I was tempted to go zip lining but after falling off the trail and being saved by the vines I rolled into, I decided to forgo it for this particular trip.
    You’ll be happy with either I suspect. Ecuador is a beautiful country!

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  2. John & Jan Belz says:

    My wife & I are doing the same Road Scholar trip this coming March. Like you, we plan to arrive in Quito a couple of days (actually 3 nights) ahead of the program. We too are birders. We’re thinking of two nights in the Andes/cloud forests. Do you wish you had had more time to spend at the Bellavista lodge? Would two nights there be overkill? Any other birding recommendations outside of Quito?

    Your blog is excellent. We have shared it with several other couples we know that will join us on the Tip Top III. You’ve done us all a real service. Thank you.

    Tina writes:

    Excellent decision to arrive in Quito a bit early. There’s so much to do in the city and in day trips out and about. I could easily have spent 2 full days (rather than our 1 half-day) at Bellavista. (My husband, who is not quite so excited about birds, might have had a different opinion—although he really enjoyed our time there.) I would imagine the morning chorus is something to behold. There’s a lot of hiking trails available at various levels of difficulty. One caveat—you’ll be there during a wetter time than we were. So be sure to be prepared for rain (although not as much rain as you would find in a rain forest). The rain can be cumbersome for the humans and their optics, but the birding is spectacular once the rain stops. If it’s sufficiently wet/muddy, I think they provide Wellie-type boots for some of the trails. Given the naturalist’s schedule when we were there, they offered at least 2 guided hikes a day. I could have done the same hike many times, since there was so much to see and hear and it was all new to me. Be sure to purchase the small pamphlet on birds of Bellavista, available at the office. Definitely worth it to narrow down the likely options of what you’re seeing.

    On the other hand, if you want to do more than birding, you might look into Mindo (which is just a bit further down/up the road). They have rafting, zip lines, a canopy cable car over the river, and lots of birds too. From what I’ve heard folks say, Bellavista is primarily good for harder-core birders while the Mindo area let you do a variety of things during your stay.

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  3. Nell says:

    Tina thank you for the information. I’ve left a message with my Travel Agent to see if they will handle booking Bella Vista for us.

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  4. Nell< says:

    When you booked your tour to the Cloud Forest how was the payment arranged. I’m somewhat concerned about the request for a check that is to be mailed or overnighted to a US bank in another state than the one they live in.

    Tina wrote back:

    Our trip to Ecuador/the Galápagos Islands was organized through Elderhostel (now Exploritas). They worked with a US travel agency (Holbrook Travel) that had direct connections with the various operators in Ecuador. So for our day trip to Bellavista, we simply gave a credit card number to the Holbrook agent and she handled the reservations. But many of the tour operators based in Ecuador are not set up to accept US credit cards (or, if they are, they tend to charge a hefty transaction fee). As a result, people from outside the country who deal directly with businesses in Ecuador often have to do a SWIFT money transfer to move money from one country to another. This is a perfectly appropriate way to send money (your bank should know all about it). But it is a bit unnerving, since the funds leave your bank account and (seem to) just disappear temporarily. So you really have to trust the folks you’re dealing with. If you are working directly with the Bellavista folks, I found them to be very straightforward and reliable. They operate a lodge that gets good reviews; their reputation is important to them and I’ve seen no evidence of problems on their end. If, however, you’re booking it through a 3rd party, you might do some searching on the Internet to see if others have had good dealings with that organization. Personally, I have found the TripAdvisor travel forum to be extremely knowledgeable and helpful. This URL should take you directly to the Ecuador forum, where you can search for whatever information you might want or post your own question: http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g294307-i2253-Ecuador.html.

    The international transfer of money is an anxiety-provoking process. You’re wise to be cautious up front.

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  5. shamba says:

    great post! i’m going to quito in a couple of weeks and have been trying to decide what to do with 4 days in quito. bellavista is high on the list – along with otavolo. i’m thinking of an overnight in bellavists – does it seem like a good idea to you (having been there)? i’m not a knowledable birder but i like looking at them. with a guide i’m sure i’ll learn more and likely get more intersted! i also love taking photos. i have asthma (no really serious attacks – yet) and my back isn’t great but i’m working on strengthening it before the trip. i think i’m going to the same islands that you went to but on a different boat. any suggestions appreciated.

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