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Outing #21: Real Life Fairy Forests

Guandera Reserve and Biological Station, Carchi, Ecuador


Today, the Adventure Whales visited a place that is very special to me, the Guandera Reserve and Biological Station on the very northern end of the Ecuadorian Andes. I worked on the Reserve for six months in 2002 and still keep in touch with some of the lovely staff who welcomed me.

The guandera forest is also special because there is so little of it (only 4% of the original forest still stands) and almost no one has ever heard of it. The guandera is a tree that grows high in the mountains where it is almost always cold and misty. In fact, it grows up to the equatorial tree line at about 3600 meters (almost 12,000 feet) above sea level. That’s higher than Mt Hood, the tallest mountain in my home state of Oregon! They grow like banyan trees dropping new roots from their branches, eventually growing into a maze of trunks and branches that look like intersecting freeway interchanges that you can climb up into. Their yellow flowers have large, thick succulent-like petals and drop whole to the forest floor. I haven’t even mentioned the orchids, bromeliads, ferns, and ever present rainbows that make this the ultimate fairy forest.

This unique landscape is so poorly documented, I couldn't find any professionally produced videos about it. So, to explore for yourself, you can see a few of my old photos below. You can also check out this homemade video starring some of my old friends hiking through the guanderas and into the grasslands (called páramo) above the treeline. You can also check out this blog including photos of the trees, forest, and views from the mountaintops.

I did find a clip from a BBC video highlighting the fauna of high elevation Andean cloud forests. The Guandera forest is slightly different from these forests, but shares one of the cloud forest’s most elusive inhabitants--the spectacled bear. I never saw one, but we regularly saw the leftovers from their bromeliad feasts (they enjoyed the furry frailejones of the grasslands, too).


  • Have you ever visited a forest that felt like it should be in a fantasy or fairy tale? What made it feel magical?

  • What fantastic forests of the world would you want to visit?

  • There is only about 4% of the high elevation forest left in the Andes. Do you think that we should protect it? Why or why not?


Become a spectacled bear by making this adorable paper mask. (Bonus: the same site also has an adorable spectacled bear toy template.)

Then, make yourself a tasty (paper) bromeliad for a snack.


Post a photo of yourself in your bear mask munching your bromeliad treat in the comments below, on Facebook, or send me an email!

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