and Reserves in the Andes
Cajas National Park
The main attraction in El Cajas National Park is its 275 plus Andean
lakes. Located 29 km west of Cuenca, many people visit the park
on the weekends for its trout fishing, rugged hiking, and camping.
At an elevation of 4000m the vegetation is primarily páramo (high
altitude grasslands) and the trees and ground are covered with mosses,
lichens, and other fungi. The western part of the protected area
is covered by dense cloud forest. Wildlife includes many birds such
as hummingbirds, gray-breasted toucans, and the giant conebill.
Cuenca, you can take a bus to the park information center where
there is a basic refuge with beds and a kitchen. A fee is charged
allows mountain climbers the opportunity to be able to boast having
reached the farthest point from the center of the earth. Chimborazo
(6310m), the highest summit in Ecuador, is the gem of the Reserve
along with the neighboring Carihuairazo Volcano. The area surrounding
these two peaks is great for climbing and backpacking trips as well
as day trekking. Typical dry páramo vegetation (high altitude grasslands)
covers most of the area with altitudes ranging from 3800-6310m and
the temperatures are extremely cold. Visitors can stay at one of
the two basic refuges with fireplaces and cooking facilities, but
it is necessary to bring your own sleeping bag.
Reserve is located in the provinces of Tungurahua, Bolívar, and
Chimborazo, and is accessible from either Riobamba or Mocha (north
of Riobamba on the Panamericana highway).
the main attractions of the Cotacachi-Cayapas Reserve are the numerous
Andean lakes that decorate the páramo (high altitude grassland).
This 204,420-hectare reserve contains several ecosystems, from coastal
tropical forest to pre-montane and montane cloud forest, to páramo.
The altitude has an impressive range from 200m to 4939m above sea
Cotocachi-Cayapas Reserve is home to spectacular wildlife including
spectacled bears, anteaters, jaguars, tapirs, monkeys, caiman, bats,
and more. Most of the tropical forest of this region is part of
an ecosystem that has almost entirely disappeared in other coastal
areas of South America. More than 20,000 species of plants have
been recorded along with 500 bird types, making it one of the most
biologically diverse regions on Earth.
is an excellent 4-5 hour hike around the spectacular Cuicocha Volcano
lagoon. This collapsed volcanic crater has a lake that is 200m deep
and 3km in diameter. You can take a boat ride on the lake, which
surrounds three protected islands.
in the provinces of Imbabura and Esmeraldas, there are numerous
ways to enter the Reserve. The Eastern section of the reserve can
be accessed from Quito by driving north towards Otavalo and continuing
on to the town of Cotacachi. The Lagoon is 18 km west of this small
town. You can also enter the Reserve from the lowlands by taking
a canoe from San Miguel entrance.
National Park is the most visited park in Ecuador with the snow
capped Cotopaxi volcano (5897m-the highest active volcano in the
world) as its main attraction. The Park was established in 1975
and covers 33,393 hectares that are primarily páramo (high altitude
grassland) and temperatures varying between 0-15 C due to it's altitude.
It offers excellent hiking, climbing, and mountain biking opportunities
along with visitor facilities and administration services. Facilities
include cabins, hiking trails, and opportunities to see various
fauna such as condors, deer, fox, and hummingbirds.
can also visit the Park's museum, see experimental llama herds,
and Inca ruins. The southwest part of the park, or the "Area
Nacional de Recreacion Boliche" has a popular camping site.
Park is conveniently located one and a half hours south of Quito
in the Pichincha, Cotopaxi, and Napo Provinces. The Park is accessible
by car or on foot, and there is no public transportation inside
the area. There are two entrances, one south of Machachi and another
north of Latacunga on the Panamerican Highway. Many tour operators
in and around Quito offer guided trips into and around the park.
Angel Ecological Reserve
Reserve was created in 1992 to protect 16,000 hectares of which
páramo (high altitude grassland) is the primary vegetation. The
flora is representative of the majority of the Ecuadorian páramos
with the exception of the "Frailejones", an endemic plant
found in the Carchi province. Other than this typical plant which
covers 85% of the landscape, there are a number of beautiful lakes
including the "Voladero" lake system. There are paths
that lead to the lakes, where you will find tourist information
and designated camping areas. This Reserve can be reached by heading
north from Quito to Tulcan, and from there, you can hire a bus or
truck to take you the 15km to where the Reserve's trail system begins.
149,900 hectares of páramo (high altitude grass) and subtropical
vegetation, the Ilinizas Reserve offers tourists great hiking opportunities
and breathtaking scenery.
two main attractions include the Quilotoa lagoon and the two snow
capped Ilinizas Mountains. The Quilotoa crater lagoon (3500m) can
be accessed from Latacunga. You can hike around the crater or down
to the lake, both of these options are strenuous and offer great
views. Visitor facilities include lodging and meals.
is a great preparatory climb for the higher peaks of Ecuador, or
simply an introduction to mountain climbing in the Andes for novice
small, protected area of 3383 hectares is located 30 minutes northwest
of Quito. The volcanic crater floor of Pululahua is used for agriculture
and makes for a fascinating hike. The western side of the crater
is open thus receives moist winds from the Pacific, which helps
the community develop this fertile land. Along with the benefits
of the moist winds, the presence of alluvial deposits allows for
fruitful cultivating on the crater floor.
can descend from the rim to the crater floor on foot along a well-marked
trail. The best time to visit is in the morning before clouds roll
into the area. To get to the Reserve from Quito, take a bus headed
to the Mitad del Mundo. The bus drops you off in the village of
Calacalí and from here you can walk, or find vehicle transportation,
for the remaining 1-km the crater's edge. A visit to both the Pululahua
crater and the Mitad del Mundo monument can be done on the same
Podocarpus National Park
in 1982, Podocarpus is the only Ecuadorian National Park in the
southern Andes. The park derives its name from the commonly found
Podocarpus tree, the only conifer native to Ecuador. Specialists
have distinguished six distinct life zones here due to the range
in altitude, from 1000m in the jungle to over 3600m in the páramo
(high altitude grassland). Between Loja and Zamora you will discover
unspoiled cloud forest and páramo vegetation that differs from the
páramo found in northern Ecuador.
activities within the park boundaries are consistently increasing.
At present, there is a basic refuge for tourists as well as a campsite.
Responsible tourism is necessary to combat the damage done by local
colonists who illegally bring cattle and horses into the park.
are two main entrances, one is from the highlands and the other
if from the lowlands. Take a bus from Loja to Vilcabamba, and get
off at the park entrance, then hike a few kilometers to the Cajanuma
park station. The second option is to take a bus from Loja to Zamora,
and then hire a taxi to the Bombuscara park entrance.