Located in Loja, Zamora Chinchipe, Podocarpus National Park was established as a national park in 1982, with a length of 146,280 hectares. This territory is an area of importance for biodiversity conservation. Its humid climate, intermediate altitude and mountain barriers make it the ideal place for life to grow. The region was recognized as a Biosphere Reserve in 2007 by UNESCO for its megadiversity in flora and fauna and its moors and cloud forest ecosystems, essential in both Ecuador and Peru.
The Podocarpus tree, which gives the park its name, is characteristic of the evergreen lowlands.
Did you know? National Geographic covered a story on locals of the area, who are said to live up to 130 years old by drinking the water that is filtered by the roots of the magical and mystical Podocarpus trees.
Cajanuma is the entry we suggest if you want to explore the higher elevations of the park. Here, you will find an information center and it also serves as a starting point for trails that you can explore without a guide. Venture into the cloud forest environment, a birdwatcher’s paradise.
Oso de anteojos: Easy. 400m hike through the cloud forest.
Bosque Nublado: Low difficulty. A 700m hike that borders the mountain and gets you up to a natural viewpoint.
Los Miradores: Advanced. 5 km circuit with beautiful views of the cloud forest, crossing the valleys of Loja, Vilcabamba and Malacatos.
Lagunas del Compadre: Advanced. 14.5 km trail that takes two days and requires a guide. You will get to Lagunas del Compadre where you can go fishing and camp by the shore.
Lagunas del Compadre:
Standing at 1.000-3.773m a.s.l, in the region of Picacho de Condor, a tropical humid forest environment contains hundreds of orchids, mosses and other plants that serve to retain water. Life is abundant, and hummingbirds buzz by. The spectacled bear also roams around, slowly making its way. Lakes and crystalline rivers, home to trout, are surrounded by Podocarpus forests.
The lower elevation sites of the park. Waterfalls coming from the highlands are a great place to enjoy nature.
Cascada la Poderosa: Medium difficulty. 500m hike that ventures into the rainforest, passing an impressive waterfall where you can stop and swim.
Al Mirador: Medium difficulty. 1 km hike that has an amazing view of the city of Zamora and the mountains surrounding it.
Higuerones: Medium difficulty. 2 km hike takes you to an orchid garden and the Bombuscaro river, a great bird-watching spot.
A viewpoint where you can observe the forests, and identify the environment of the Andes mountain chain.
Flora & Fauna:
Flora: there are more than 4,000 plant species and 40% of them are endemic. Orchids, Podocarpus, Epiphytes. Because of the ample altitudinal range there are rainforests in the lower mountain (1,000 m) and eldin forests up higher (3,000 m).
Fauna: spectacled bear, jaguar, tapir, pudu, opossum, deer, ocelot, spider monkey, glass frogs, lizards, over 622 species of birds, including 61 species of hummingbirds, wild turkeys, toucans and tanangers.
Activities within the park:
Trekking: you can find trails within the park that are ideal for trekking.
Hiking: there are several hiking trails, ranging from short to hour long adventures. You can ask the guides at the information center for a tour guide or advice on which hikes are suitable for your expertise and duration of your stay.
Biking: Bike through paths surrounded by the lush vegetation of this mega diverse site. Be prepared to encounter unstable terrain.
Camping: you can camp in designated areas of the park, such as the shores of Lagunas del Compadre. Be prepared for the cold, it gets very chilly at night!
Horseback Riding: ride across natural paths as you make your way through rivers and waterfalls. Enjoy a panoramic view of Vilcabamba.
Photography: you’ll want to capture the landscapes, unique vegetation such as orchids and bromeliads, and if you’re a birdwatcher, the hundreds of birds that you will encounter as you explore the park.
Biodiversity environmental checkpoint with multipurpose rooms.
How to get there:
From Quito: Make your way to the city of Loja. By car the trip is approx 11h 30 min taking the Panamericana Sur Highway E35. If you fly to Loja, there are two daily flights (TAME) leaving from Quito and the flight lasts 1h.
From Guayaquil: Make your way to the city of Loja. By car the trip is approx 6h 45 min taking the Panamericana Highway E35/E582. If you fly to Loja, there are two daily flights (TAME) 1h direct flight.
There are two access points for the park when departing from Loja:
From Loja to Cajanuma (for higher elevations): Loja-Vilcabamba 15 km to the checkpoint. From the checkpoint a secondary road will take you to the refuge (approx 8.5 km away).
From Loja to Bombuscaro(for lower elevations): Zamora-Loja road 60 km. From there a secondary road will take you to another path that gets to the park (7km).
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!