Explore the Cloud Forests of Ecuador

Pristimantis crucifer Mashpi Jaime Culebras

Cloud forests are truly fascinating ecosystems that contain rich biodiversity and amphibian species found nowhere else in the world. This year during the SAVE THE FROGS! Ecuador Ecotour we will spend three nights in the remarkable cloud forest ecosystem of the Mindo Valley. The Mindo Valley is not just beautiful and pristine, but its history contains a unique story of conservation, ecotourism, and sustainable development. The dedicated individuals who live in the Mindo Valley started a movement to protect this incredible landscape because they are passionate about the many plants and animals that call this cloud forest home.

Pristimantis crucifer Mashpi Jaime Culebras
Photo of Pristimantis crucifer from Mashpi, Ecuador, courtesy of Jaime Culebras

During our travels to Ecuador, you will learn how the Mindo Valley’s astonishing biodiversity is truly a tale of two ecosystems! We will journey to the northwestern cloud forest, which is in between two biodiversity hotspots; the Choco-Andean-Lowland and the Tropical Dry Forest. The clash of these two spectacular ecosystems creates vast biodiversity and natural wonders. It is home to many species of birds, amphibians, reptiles, and insects. Due to these unique conditions, there is a high level of endemism, meaning these species live nowhere else on the planet! To visit this cloud forest is an exceptional opportunity to see rare wildlife and it is a once in a lifetime experience to see an incredibly unique ecosystem.

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A breathtaking waterfall in the valley of Mindo

“Starting in the 1960’s the valley of Mindo, Ecuador became known in the international scientific community as an area incomparably rich in biodiversity. Since the declaration made by Birdlife International in 1997 of the Mindo area as an international Important Bird Area (IBA) this town has slowly become an ecotourism destination. As a world-class birding destination, Mindo boasts over 500 species of birds, many of which are endemic.  Mindo is not only known for its numerous bird population, but also for its pristine rivers and the 19,200 hectares (50,000 acres) protected primary forest.”
Casa Divina Lodge

Ecuador cloud forest Chelsea Carson

We will travel to the cloud forests of Mindo, a world-renowned location famed for both its herpetofauna and its bird life. The conservation of the Mindo Valley is an ecotourism success story as the forests would likely have been destroyed decades ago if the community had not come together to save the cloud forests and the biodiversity they contain. While we are in Mindo, you will have the opportunity to find glass frogs with a local Ecuadorian amphibian expert. Each morning you will be able to find the famed Cock-of-the-Rock birds. In the afternoon, you can zipline above the cloud forest canopy, search for poison dart frogs or just relax at your cabin and soak in the surrounding environment.

A beautiful lizard blends in by a waterfall

Do you know what defines a cloud forest? Yep, you guessed it, the clouds! Other characteristics include variable terrain, high altitude, colder temperatures, and constant moisture. These conditions create lush, verdant landscapes where everything grows on one another. It is a wonderful sight to behold! Due to the mountainous terrain, there are many lookouts which offer views of the expansive rolling Andes. The change in elevation and topography, along with rushing rivers and diverse plant life have supported evolutionary adaptations between amphibian species and led to high endemism.

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The rolling hills of the Andes, near Mindo

Below is a highlight of two species that are endemic to the Mindo Valley that we encountered during the 2016 Ecuador Ecotour. We hope to find these fantastic frogs again!  

Epipedobates darwinwallacei, known commonly as the Darwin Wallace Poison-Frog, is part of the family of poison dart frogs. Most amphibians are active at night, but this family is known to be diurnal. Like other poison dart frogs, they have a warning coloration to signal to predators their skin is toxic. The toxins are secreted from glands in their skin and create a chemical defense against predators which are also active during the day.

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Darwin Wallace Poison-Frog, Epipedobates darwinwallacei

The name “dart frog” is derived from the fact that indigenous people of Central and South America would use the toxins of the frog to coat the tips of their arrows and darts for hunting. Most dart frogs have toxins that are mild and cannot harm humans. However, there are some species which have highly toxic skin that are harmful to the touch and could cause serious damage, or even be fatal, if ingested. Most predators learn quickly that these bright, little frogs do not make a good meal. The Darwin Wallace Poison-Frog can be found just in front of our cabanas at Casa Divina Lodge and we cannot wait to admire more of these amazing amphibians on our next ecotour to Ecuador.

Pristimantis ornatissimus, or the Ornate Rainfrog, is an incredible frog species that we may see in the valley of Mindo. The rain frogs are described in the family of Craugastoridae and members of the genus Pristimantis are the most diverse. The Ornate Rainfrog is the most beautiful! The Ornate Rainfrog has captured the hearts of Ecuadorians and amphibian biologists for its breathtaking coloration and pattern. Unfortunately, due to a small range and habitat loss populations are decreasing rapidly. The IUCN has classified this beautiful frog as endangered. By supporting preservation of the Ornate Rainfrog’s ecosystem, we can help save this beautiful amphibian from extinction.

Ecuador Jaime Culebras Pristimantis ornatissimus
Photo by Jaime Culebras, an exceptional amphibian biologist and guide from the 2016 SAVE THE FROGS! Ecuador Ecotour 2016

We will take full advantage of our time in the cloud forest and in the Mindo Valley and partake in all of these activities as well as engage with the local community, learn about conservation issues, and discuss the future of the area. Click here to join us in Ecuador!

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We found this beautiful glass frog in the Mindo cloud forests during the 2016 SAVE THE FROGS! Ecuador Ecotour.

“This was the crown jewel of the trip in every way. Outstanding accommodations, wonderful setting, spectacular surrounding scenery, great little town, the absolute best staff, wonderful guides, great food and activities.”
— 2016 SAVE THE FROGS! Ecuador Ecotourist Mike Horton on Casa Divina Lodge

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Red Spotted Glass Frog (Nymphargus grandisonae) photo by Melvin Grey, 2017 Ecuador Ecotour participant