The Calacalí– La Independencia road provides access to some of the last pristine cloudforests in the western Andes, largely protected by private reserves that offer good lodging and excellent birdwatching. After leaving Quito to the north, the road meets the equator at La Mitad del Mundo before it sweeps west to bypass Calacalí, home to its own small equator monument, and begins a dramatic descent from scrubby hillsides (at 2800m) to thickly matted forests carpeting steep ridges and hills – the rich greenery broken only by curling wisps of clouds. Most of the reserves lie within transitional zones from 1000m to 2500m, where the humid air adds high levels of moisture to the forests.
Sixty kilometres from Quito around the village of Nanegalito are several private reserves, among them Maquipucuna, Yunguilla, Santa Lucía and Urcu Puyujunda; beyond them to the northwest, the Bosque Protector Los Cedros; and around the Tandayapa valley, the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve and Tandayapa Lodge. Some 25km further west from Nanegalito, the road passes the turn-off for Mindo, a pleasant village renowned for its birdlife and set in the verdant hills of the Mindo-Nambillo protected forest. The road continues its descent into rich agricultural land, passing small farming towns such as San Miguel de los Bancos and Puerto Quito before meeting the highway linking Santo Domingo to the coast at Esmeraldas.