If you’ve ever perused our selection of Inca Trail trips, you may have seen references to something called a “cloud forest.” You could be forgiven if the first thing that comes to mind is something out of a fairy tale; a bunch of trees completely made out of fluffy clouds, for instance.
The reality is slightly less fantastical, but no less magical: Cloud forests are, in fact, tropical forests that prominently feature a layer of dense fog at the canopy level. They’re generally found in tropical forests near mountain ranges, since the landscape creates an optimal climate for the low-hanging fog. The result is a gathering of trees that constantly have a heavy mist around the treetops at all times. Hence: cloud forest! (And a pretty cool natural phenomenon at that.)
Cloud forests have their own unique ecosystems. The heavy fog both filters the sunlight and provides the underlying foliage with a source of moisture. As such, the environment is conducive especially to mosses and ferns, and tends to be humid and boggy. In Peru especially, the number of species that thrive in cloud forests is staggering. Apparently there are thousands of orchids in the cloud forests of Peru, as well as an unknown amount of flora and fauna that has yet to be discovered.
Take the Manu Cloud Forest, for example: This area is protected by conservation organizations in Peru for its sheer biodiversity. According to PeruPeru.com: “The reserve protects the world’s biggest display ground of the blazing red Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, two species of Quetzales, Mountain Toucans, Amazonian Umbrellabirds, myriad species of tanagers and hummingbirds, orchids (including two species new for science first discovered by Selva Sur researchers), Tree Ferns, cascading waterfalls, Torrent Ducks, Andean Dippers, and much more.”
So by now you might be wondering where you’ll see cloud forests on our Inca Trail trips. While you’re en route to Machu Picchu, you’ll hike through dense cloud forests as you walk in the footsteps of the Incas, spotting orchids and rhododendrons along the way. Also, when you’re at the second pass of the hike at 3998 m (13113 ft), you’ll go through some beautiful cloud forests while on the climb to the third pass.
So while cloud forests may not be as impossible as their name might imply, they’re still stunning pieces of natural ecology and definitely something to be experienced for yourself. Are you ready to make the trek through these forests to Machu Picchu?