I’ll be forever grateful for a past Virtuoso Life assignment that brought me to the Galápagos Islands, but my follow-up trip to explore and report on continental Ecuador left an equally indelible impression. The country’s mainland, I found, has plenty of its own magic, made from its mix of indigenous cultures, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and one of the world’s highest concentrations of natural biodiversity.
One of my favorite stops was Mashpi Lodge, sequestered in a private nature reserve 100 miles northwest of Quito. The lodge partners with local communities to create a sustainable future and its formation led to the protection of more than 40,000 acres of surrounding rain and cloud forest. During my stay I observed endemic orchid and bird species (and, equally intriguing, birding fanatics from as far as Australia), hiked to hidden waterfalls, rode a “sky bike” (yes, that’s a thing, read on), met passionate conservationists, dined on traditional Ecuadorian dishes (and loads of local chocolate), and gazed at bioluminescent flora on night treks through the forest. Here, a few of my favorite photos from the trip.