About 80 miles from Quito, this eco lodge in the sky is owned by 12 campesino families, who are regenerating 1800 acres of now-protected forest. Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve offers lodge accommodations as well as beautiful wood-and-glass cabins, stilted out over dense jungle that's once again dripping with life.
In just 10 years, the cloud forest surrounding Santa Lucia Lodge (near Nanegal, Ecuador) is coming back to life. Before the area came under protection in 1988, logging, hunting, and farming were widespread.
Now, second-growth trees mix seamlessly with primary; trunks are coated in lichen and moss; and orchids, bromeliads, and mushrooms sprout from tangled branches. More than 394 bird species—from hummingbirds and toucans to the notorious cock-of-the-rock—have been recorded in the area, and motion-sensing cameras have caught pumas and the endangered Andean spectacled bear in action.
There are not many places in the world where you can capture three distinct species in a single frame. In the Galapagos you can, from just a few yards away.
I especially liked watching (and photographing) the way very distant relatives interacted. Here, newborn sea lion pups chase the tails of marine iguanas while vibrant Sally Lightfoot crabs skitter from the Godzilla-like creatures.
While it appears that this blue-footed boobie mother is regurgitating fish for her chick, she's actually just pretending, probably trying to get my group to take pictures and move on. Just because you can get within feet of animals in the Galapagos doesn't mean they'll put on a performance for you. In this case, frigatebirds and other boobies often steal food straight from a parent's beak, so they have to be strategic about feeding.
Who knew this view of Pululahua Volcano exists from a hotel bed just 30 minutes outside Quito. Not many people, which I discovered on a recent visit: http://www.afar.com/afar/staying-on-the-edge-quitos-volcano-hotel.