Ecuador // The southern sierra //

Parque Nacional Podocarpus

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Spilling down the eastern flanks of the Andes towards the tropical valleys of the Oriente, PARQUE NACIONAL PODOCARPUS presents a spectacular landscape of high páramo, dense, dripping cloudforest, rushing waterfalls and crystalline rivers. Its wide-ranging altitudes (900–3600m), climates and habitats harbour a staggering diversity of flora and fauna, including an estimated 3000 to 4000 plant species, over 500 recorded bird species – hummingbirds, toucans, tanagers and parrots among them – and important populations of mammals such as mountain tapirs, giant armadillos, pudu (dwarf deer), spectacled bears, monkeys and pumas. The park was created in 1982, partly to protect some of the country’s last major stands of podocarpus trees (Ecuador’s only native conifer, also known as romerillo), whose numbers commercial logging had drastically reduced. Other notable trees here include the cinchona (known locally as cascarilla), whose bark is the source of quinine, first discovered in this very region.

There are two main entrances to the park, corresponding to its geographical divisions: one is the Sector Cajanuma in the Zona Alta (upper section), near Loja; the other is the Sector Bombuscaro in the Zona Baja (lower section), reached from Zamora. Also in the Zona Baja is a third, little-visited entry post at Sector Romerillos, the gateway to a very rugged, long-distance hike down to an even less frequented entrance to the Sector Valladolid in the far south. The southwestern reaches of the park are often visited on guided hikes and horse treks from the small village of Vilcabamba (for more details), though there’s no formal entry post here. Tickets, available at the entrance posts, cost $10 and are valid in all sectors for up to five days.

 

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