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 sunrays 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.
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.
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.
One of the most visited cloud forests in Ecuador is the natural reserve Mindo – Nambillo Protected Forest, which climbs the slopes of Pichincha volcano. In addition to the exuberance of its flora and fauna, a number of waterfalls and small rivers are featured in this site. Both the Mindo valley and the Tandayapa valley that are part of this Protected Forest are growing in tourism infrastructure. Apart from the hundreds of bird species recorded for both sites, they shelter 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.
The town of Mindo (approximately a two hour drive from Quito) has a beautiful orchid display, a butterfly center, and other tourist and scientific attractions. Opportunities for rafting or tubing in the wild and not-so-wild nearby rivers are also offered. The Tandayapa valley has private reserves with lots of trails, camping areas, and excellent lodging infrastructure. Trout farms also can be visited in this valley.