The newly opened and highly anticipated Mashpi Lodge is set within a 3,200-acre private reserve that is part of the Tumbez-Choco-Darien bio-region that stretches from Panama, through Colombia and Ecuador, to northern Peru – all along the Pacific slopes of the Andes. The reserve is located three hours by road to the northwest of the capital, Quito. After crossing the Equator you leave dry valleys to be enveloped in a world of tumbling mountains and roiling rivers, until the road winds down into a profusion of trees, plants, and animals.
Within all this, Mashpi is a contemporary cocoon. The glass-and-steel lodge, co-owned by former Quito mayor Roque Sevilla and owner of Casa Cangotena, is set on a hillside that takes in the dramatic views, providing guests with a constant reminder of their unique setting. The 22 rooms include three expansive suites, and in the high-ceilinged dining room the menu features touches of the Pacific and Andean cultures.
Guests can explore the bio-diverse world of the reserve by climbing the observation tower, pedaling through the forest on an aerial bicycle, bathing in rivers and waterfalls, discovering the Life Centre with its butterfly farm and terrariums, and hiking along trails through the forest in the company of expert naturalist and local guides. By September Mashpi’s 2-km.-long ‘canopy gondola,’ or aerial tram, will be ready to take guests on extended explorations of the forest.
THE SHARE INCENTIVE
From its inception Mashpi sought to work with local communities to ensure they were aware of, and became involved in, the lodge and the decisions affecting the establishment and management of the reserve. Through Ecuador’s Ministry of Production, Mashpi has implemented a program whereby the locals and lodge employees can become shareholders, playing a pivotal role in conserving the highly bio-diverse – but endangered – forests to the northwest of Quito.
Mashpi will also provide an alternative job source, and the plan is for eighty percent of staff to come from surrounding communities. It will also build and finance a local school focused on biodiversity and ecology, for pupils up to the age of 11 (at least to start with). Close to the nearby village of Mashpi, and within the reserve, the lodge will cultivate a farm to supply it with fresh fruit, vegetables, spices, and legumes.
The creation of Mashpi, it is believed, played an important part in the recent decision by Quito municipality to declare 42,000 acres adjacent to the reserve a “natural protected area.” Called ‘Mashpi, Guaycuyacu y Sahuangal,’ it is the largest of its kind in Ecuador and constitutes a strong signal by Quito to protect its highly diverse surrounding ecosystems.
A senior biologist and his team have been on Mashpi’s staff since July 2010, and six volunteers from the biology department at the Quito San Francisco University are working on projects in the reserve, where there have already been studies of butterflies (with 80 species cataloged so far), birds, frogs and reptiles, and various animal species, including pumas.
The reserve is part of the biodiversity hotspot known as the Chocó-Darien, globally recognized as one of a dozen locations with the highest concentration of plant and animal species on the planet. It is thought that the reserve is home to some 500 species of birds, with 250 spotted to date. (By comparison, there are around 1,000 bird species across all of Europe.) There are also dozens of species of amphibians and reptiles and hundreds of kinds of insects.
The only difficulty is actually seeing all these creatures, especially in the dense forest. But the design of the trails, night walks in the forest with naturalists, and the lodge’s upcoming ‘canopy gondola’ are aimed to make things a lot easier.