The Antisana Ecological Reserve, located in the Province of Napo about 50km to the south east of Quito, offers a multitude of attractions for the tourist: impressive landscapes, hikes through Andean and mountain forests, camping, climbing, lakes, wild life and cultural life. Among the park’s natural features, the Fallarones of Isco stand out. A group of rock walls located close to the park, the Fallarones are one of the main resting and nesting places of the almost mythological Andean condor.
The major attraction in the highest areas of the park is the volcano Antisana itself. This massive snow capped mountain has a height 5,758 meters; it is the highest point of the Reserve and one of the highest peaks of the Ecuadorian Andes. In the area surrounding the volcano the visitor will see evidence of flows of lava from past eruptions. Close by is the Micacocha lagoon which, apart from providing water for the capital, is famous for the large size of the trout that can be caught here.
For those interested in climbing Antisana, the way up the mountain starts with a path located in the Valley of Tambo in the end north west of the Reserve, close to the limits of the Cayambe–Coca Reserve. In the valley there are also hot springs where the visitors can relax; the waters have a high mineral content and are famed for their healing properties. Here the visitor will find good quality tourist infrastructure.
For anyone interested in experiencing the beauty of the area at first hand, the Tambo valley is also the starting point of a trail that leads to Cotopaxi National Park. It is known to trekkers and more adventurous travelers as a difficult hike where good physical condition is necessary, but finally one well worth the effort.
It is also possible to camp near Santa Lucía Lagoon (Mauca Machay), a seasonal lake of glacial origin, located on the north western flank of Antisana. It is a well known place to camp as the surroundings provide a beautiful landscape typical of the altitude.
One of the important cultural attractions of the Reserve’s area of influence is the Chagras. The Chagras were Andean cowboys, employed by the great haciendas to look after cattle. They are still around today, and can be seen dressed in their distinctive llama-fur chaps and ponchos designed to keep out the cold winds of the high Andes. In this region traditional festivals still celebrate the prowess of the Chagras, whose riding skills are legend. When a tournament is called the word spreads fast, and the Chagras come from far and wide in order to show their grace and skill on horseback. The festivals usually end with popular bullfights.
The mountain forests of this international biodiversity hotspot contain almost half of the plants species known to exist in Ecuador, many of them unique to this region.
Of the 416 bird species found here, 150 are classed as vulnerable, notably hummingbirds, woodpeckers, parrots, flycatchers and gloriously colored tanagers. The Antisana paramos or moorlands are also vitally important for the protection of the rare Andean condor. They nest in the ravines of El Isco, which is consequently one of the best places to observe them. Some of the endangered mammals to be found in the Reserve include spectacled bears, tapirs and pumas.
The Micacocha lagoon is surrounded by ancient lava flows, and is one of the Reserve’s most picturesque spots.
The Tambo Valley, with its healing hot springs, and trail to Cotopaxi National Park. Trails also lead from here to the Antisana volcano.
The strange waves of lava in Antisanilla emerged from the ground rather than from the crater of the volcano, and create an extraordinary landscape.
Depending on the altitude, the average annual temperature ranges from 3 to 17 °C.
What to Bring:
Binoculars for bird-watching.
How to get here:
The three main access roads to the Reserve are:
The Quito–Píntag–Laguna La Mica road, which take you to the Antisana paramo;
The Quito–Cotopaxi National Park – Valle Vicioso road, which requires a 4×4 vehicle: and
The Quito–Baeza– Jondachi–Tena road, which leads to the east of the Reserve.
As much of the Reserve is private property, trips should be arranged in advance with the Ministry of the Environment.
The area by numbers:
• 73: Species of mammals identified in the Reserve.
• 26: The percentage of all the bird species identified in Ecuador which are found in this Reserve.
• 3-17: The average annual temperature range, in °C. depending on the altitude.