Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve: More Than A Research Station

The Welcome Sign

The Welcome Sign


For those of you that are regular readers, you already know how much we love the Bellavista Reserve. It was one of our first trips in Ecuador. In fact, we hadn’t yet moved into our home but were still living in a hotel when the van from the Bellavista Lodge picked us up and transported us a meer 2 hours away into an environment so very different from the big city of Quito.

The problem with living in Ecuador is that we can’t afford to escape the city every weekend. Lodges like Bellavista, though beautiful and well-worth visiting, can add up and our budget just can’t handle it. That’s why I was thrilled to learn that we could stay at the Reserve’s Scientific Research Station for just $18.00 per person, per night. It’s not as nice as staying at the Lodge but for a family that is comfortable with tent camping, it’s a definite step in the right direction.

One of the bedrooms at the Bellavista Reserve Scientific Research Station.

One of the bedrooms at the Bellavista Reserve Scientific Research Station.

Inside the Research Station, you’ll find a hallway with rooms on either side. Six of them, in fact, each with bunk beds to sleep 4 people per room. We comfortably slept 13 people, all but one sleeping on the bottom bunk. Bedding was provided by the Lodge. The Station can hold up to 24 people and a small house just outside can sleep another 4-6, but at twice the price.

Further inside the building is a large dining room with bench style seating and colorfully painted walls. Next to that is a galley kitchen, long and narrow, and well-supplied with dishes, cups, glasses, and silverware. There are some very large pots and pans for cooking for large groups. A stove with three huge burners is hooked up to gas. There are bottles of potable water as well as a sink for washing dishes. That water is cold water only indoors but showers had wonderfully hot running water! And believe me, a hot shower after hiking a muddy, strenuous Cloud Forest trail is a beautiful thing to have. In fact, the toilet facilities were more than adequate with flush toilets and toilet paper (sometimes not found in Ecuadorian establishments). The Lodge provided a towel for each of us. We placed our own bar of soap and hand towel at the community sink.

We also brought our own iron cast skillet, sharp knife and chopping board, stove-top percolators for coffee, as well as dish towels just in case. All came in handy.

To keep costs down, we supplied our own food and cooked our own meals. We did take turns cooking as the kitchen is narrow and having four different families try to cook individual meals at the same time would have been a fiasco. If you end up with dishwashing duty, try for breakfast as you will be able to look out the kitchen windows directly into the cloud forest.

If you don’t want to cook, you can always hire the Lodge to provide meals at the Station. Or you can hike (30 minutes) or drive (10 minutes) to the Lodge and enjoy the meals over there. Check the current prices before making this an option.

The dining room looking into the kitchen at the Bellavista Scientific Research Station.

The dining room looking into the kitchen at the Bellavista Scientific Research Station.

There is no electricity and the Station is nestled into a bowl at the bottom of a hill where you see very little sun. It gets dark quickly. We brought extra candles (and once we drank enough wine, we had a great way to hold them) and our headlamps. Any kind of camping lantern would be a bonus. The outdoor patio with tables and chairs was a wonderful place to sit in the evenings. It was pleasant, if chilly, with very few bugs. And we could use a gas powered lantern safely while outdoors. But nighttime brought other guests, well after we went to bed. If the sound of little critters bothers you, just remember you’re in the wild and a few animals are to be expected. Though none of us had a middle of the night encounter with any creatures, we do know they don’t like banana bread. One bite was taken from an entire loaf wrapped in aluminum foil. But one bite only. If I had to guess, I would like to think that an olinguito had somehow found a way in and was touring the kitchen for an easy meal.

The parking lot on the left and the Research Station roof on the right.

The parking lot on the left and the Research Station roof on the right.

The Research Station is located on a backroad with only a locked gate to hint that it might even exist. It’s well hidden and difficult to see from the road providing a layer of privacy. The drive down is steep and in wet weather could possibly require a 4-WD vehicle. Parking at the bottom is tight. We managed to fit 5 vehicles with a series of multiple point turns that would do our driving instructors proud. Of course, you don’t need cars to get here. The lodge will help you with transportation if need be.

In case you can’t tell, I can highly recommend staying here. It was a great place to spend time with friend. Our teens hung out on the patio chatting and playing cards while the more adventurous of us disappeared into the Cloud Forest for hours at a time. Below, you’ll find some of the great photos I was able to take on a single weekend. If you prefer to see the pictures in large format, click on any single one and you can view a slideshow of them all.

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The Trails at Bellavista

Marker on the trail - stream any which way you go.

Marker on the trail – stream any which way you go.

Imagine walking outside of your house, climbing a hill of maybe a hundred meters and seeing a completely different kind of habitat. If you live in a city near a park, this might actually happen but for most of us our home territory is pretty homogenous. But that is what you’ll find at Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve. Unbelievably, a change in a hundred meters can mean different trees, different insects, different frogs. And, believe it or not, it means the difference between seeing one kind of tanager and another. So while you can see many birds just by staying in one place, you increase your odds of seeing more by heading out to the many hiking trails on the reserve. And boy, are there a lot of trails!

The trail to the waterfall. Rubber boots recommended.

The trail to the waterfall. Rubber boots recommended.

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Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve – Part I

Blue-winged Mountain Tanager

Blue-winged Mountain Tanager

The green and lush cloud forest of the Bellavista Reserve is an absolute pleasure after the noise and traffic of Quito. Leaving the city, we drove past crowded city streets and watched the buildings shrink in size, the road narrow in width, as we drove further and further away from the city center. The first stretch of land outside the city is dry and dusty, the home of industrial parks and brick making facilities. It is almost unbelievable that just on the other side of this mountain desert we would find a rain forest. But find it we did!

The far side of the mountain is like a different world, the sides of the mountains covered in trees with an occasional clearing for a plot of farm land. We drove the winding highway, closing our eyes as the driver passed trucks on the steep mountain curves, and with each added kilometer the land felt a little more foreign. The leaves on many of the trees were huge, big enough to be umbrellas, and some shone silver in the early morning light. This was a forest like none we have in North America. We soon left the main highway and we headed straight up the mountain on a dirt road, bouncing along as our driver occasionally pointed out a bird in the brush or a view that we shouldn’t miss. Our adventure was beginning before we had even left the van.

A Strong-billed Woodcreeper - check out the tips of his tail feathers.

A Strong-billed Woodcreeper – check out the tips of his tail feathers.


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Celebrating My 100th Post with a Plethora of Hummingbirds!

Thanks to all of you who follow and share! I will soon be writing about our visit to the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy these little beauties! Happy 100th Post!