West of Laguna Cuicocha, the dirt road climbs to 3300m before descending into the remote and subtropical Intag region, where only a few isolated settlements sit amid richly forested hills. The area has become a focus of conservation efforts and several private reserves are guardians of these precious portions of Chocó bioregion cloudforest, one of the world’s ten biodiversity “hotspots”.
You can visit two reserves near the village of Santa Rosa about 34km from Cuicocha. The Intag Cloud Forest Reserve (t06/2648509, wwww.intagcloudforest.com; $44 per person in groups of eight or more, including meals and guided walks; reservations essential), which protects five square kilometres of primary and secondary forest ranging from 1800 to 2800m in altitude. High rainfall (2500mm annually) and humidity nurture an incredible array of flora and fauna, including more than twenty types of hummingbird, which you can expect to see zipping around. Visitors can stay at a simple lodge, equipped with solar-heated showers and composting latrines, and get to enjoy delicious vegetarian food. The owners helped found DECOIN, a local environmental organization that works on regional ecotourism projects and provides information on all the latest developments.
Santa Rosa is also the base for the nearby Reserva Alto Chocó, a 2500-hectare cloudforest concern run by the Quito-based Fundación Zoobreviven, 6 de Diciembre N32-36 and Whymper (t02/2522916, wwww.zoobreviven.org), which welcomes volunteers to work on reforestation projects, trail maintenance, environmental education programmes and patrolling the reserve against illegal loggers.