55 km from Quito you can visit the reserve that is named after the famous Ilinizas volcanoes!
Because of its extensive area (149,900 hectares), the ecological reserve encompasses different ecosystems: the paramo and the subtropical cloud forest.
Among its lagoons and volcanoes, Ilinizas Ecological Reserve holds the Toachi river. This river that originates in the Ilinizas, is the main water source of the Esmeraldas River.
Quilotoa crater and lagoon
Only 3 hours and a half away from Quito, South of Latacunga. The Quilotoa volcano is the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. The Quilotoa lagoon inside its caldera is a breathtaking view! You can walk around the trails that surround it or take a boat across its turquoise waters. On the trail surrounding the lagoon you will reach approximately 11,840 ft. From the viewpoint you can observe the water-filled crater with a diameter of approx 3 km and 250 meters of depth. This trek is approx 45 min long, in a path surrounded by paramo vegetation. The lagoon is a result of a volcanic eruption more than 100 years ago.
In the area there are lots of places to camp, and a small cabin with snacks provides tourists with food.
Iliniza Sur and Iliniza Norte
The Ilinizas are two mountains that originated from the same volcano which later split in two.
From the Ilinizas, 2 rivers, the Toachi and Pilatón contribute as a water source for towns and cities nearby. The reason why the cloud forest ecosystem is important is because it is the ecosystem that holds and generates the most water.
Iliniza Sur is the sixth highest summit in Ecuador, resting at 17,268 ft. Iliniza Norte, 16,818 ft high, is the eighth! Climbers practice in the Ilinizas before the bigger summits (Cotopaxi, Cayambe, Chimborazo) for acclimatization. Because the Iliniza Sur is permanently covered in snow, it is a more demanding climb than Iliniza Norte. If you want to observe the Ilinizas from inside the reserve, you can camp in La Virgen camping area or enjoy treks and bike trails along the area. If you want to go higher up, you can visit Nuevos Horizontes refuge which stands at 15,416 ft between Iliniza Norte and Iliniza Sur. The shelter offers accommodation and basic facilities.
Corazón “Heart” volcano
This heart-shaped mountain gets its name from two ravines that descend from the summit and meet, forming a heart. This volcano, located 38 miles from Quito and 13,79 miles from Aloasí, is the westernmost in the Avenue of Volcanoes. It is located north of the Ilinizas and south of Atacazo. Its summit reaches an elevation of 15,709 ft!
Near the Corazón you can find a small hill known as La Moya. Within the area there are indigenous constructions known as pucarás, which used to be military bases. The area also holds pre-Columbian ruins that are still little explored.
Activities permitted within the reserve:
Trekking: there are many trails inside the park but two of our favorites are in Quilotoa. You can take the short trail up to a viewpoint or take the longer trail that surrounds the lagoon.
Mountain climbing: You can conquer the summit of the Ilinizas and El Corazon. Because Iliniza Sur has more humidity it is a more challenging climb with snow and glaciers. Iliniza Norte is less demanding. As for el Corazon it is relatively easy, professional mountain climbers use it as acclimatation before climbing to higher summits such as Chimborazo or Cotopaxi.
Camping: there are designated camping areas within the park. One of the most visited is the one near La Virgen parking lot.
Jungle Excursion: there are tours that take you to explore the cloud forest! This green, lush environment concentrates diverse of species of insects, birds, and small mammals.
Biking: you will find several trails where you can take your bike.
Horseback Riding: there are lots of great horseback riding excursions that allow you to experience the park in a different and entertaining way.
Photography: Quilotoa lagoon is one of the most documented places by tourists! Its impressive turquoise water will make you want to take out your camera.
Flora: polylepis “paper tree,” chuquiragua bushes, pajonales grasslands, valeriana, ferns, orchids, pumamaquis, frailejones, lecheros (milk plants).
Fauna: foxes, X snake, white tail deer, squirrels, pygmy owls, pumas, spectacled bears, paramo wolves, armadillos, rabbits, gulls, hummingbirds, bats, and more.
How to get there:
From Quito to Quilotoa: Take the Panamericana Sur Highway to Latacunga (1h 50 min). From there take route Latacunga- La Maná until you get to the Zumbahua community (100km). Enter Zumbahua and take the paved road to the crater for about 13 km.
From Quito to La Virgen: Take Panamericana (south) to Machachi (approx. 1h). From the main road, through a paved road you will reach El Chaupi. From there take a secondary road that leads to La Virgen sector.
Cost: there is no entrance fee for the reserve, there is a fee for the Nuevos Horizontes refuge ( Internationals: USD $15. Ecuadorians and residents: USD $7. Meals can be purchased at the refuge for approx $7. )
What to take:
-Water: an essential for all the walking! Stay hydrated and carry your own water bottle.
-Sunscreen: the Paramo sun is very intense. Put on sunblock before you start your day and take it with you.
-Hat: for more protection from the sun! You can also take a hat to cover your ears from the cold at night.
-Snacks: if you’re going on a hike remember to take snacks for energy.
-Comfortable booties: make sure your shoes are comfortable for long walks. It would be best if they are taller than regular shoes and waterproof since you can encounter water.
-Long sleeved shirt: a light long sleeved shirt is great for protection from the sun and cold.
-Layers: bring along cozy sweaters or jackets but keep in mind that you’ll be walking a lot (it’s better if they are light).
-Waterproof jacket: in case it rains!
-Long socks: it is important to keep your feet warm in the cold weather!
*If you’re camping remember that it gets very chilly at night!