This is a reserve for climbers, and the two sharp peaks of the Ilinizas, according to legend once a single volcano split by an ancient eruption, are the main feature. Today these two peaks are a magnet for climbers from around the world.
The smaller North peak (5,116 m above sea level) is a suitable climb for inexperienced mountaineers and those wishing to acclimatize before attempting Ecuador’s major summits, while the ice-capped South peak (5,305 m) challenges even seasoned climbers. At the southern edge of the Reserve the visitor will find another major attraction, Lake Quilotoa, (3,400 meters) an emerald green lagoon set in a circular crater, with steep cliffs leading down to its shores.
The Ilinizas Reserve is also highly varied and its great variety of ecosystems, from cloud forests to evergreen forest and windswept moorland, means that here the visitor will find vast numbers of plants birds and animals. An estimated 292 species of plants are endemic to the Reserve, including many of the orchids which flourish at the higher altitudes (1,800 – 3,000m) of the reserve’s cloud forest, clinging to the trunks of trees together with bromeliads.
Large mammals are also common, from the more common white lipped and white collared peccary, Andean fox, opossums and agoutis – resembling large guinea-pigs – to the rarer pumas, and extremely endangered spectacled bears.
The 257 bird species found here so far include many species native to the cloud forests which are considered endangered on an international level, such as antpittas, wood quails and puffleg hummingbirds.
Climbing the Ilinizas is a memorable experience for both experienced and first-time climbers. Quilotoa Lake, set in its deep volcanic crater is an extraordinary landscape, visitors can hike round the crater´s rim, visit on mules or kayak across the turquoise waters. The cloud forests are excellent for bird-watching, and maybe even spotting some of the larger mammals.
The local “Tigua” paintings, named after one of the villages near to the Reserve. These intricate paintings are as colorful as the community’s clothes. They are painted onto stretched lambskin and depict scenes of everyday life, against a backdrop of dramatic Andean scenery, erupting volcanoes and emerald lakes. There are dancers, farmers, llamas and condors, mythical creatures and the ever-present Allpamama or Mother Earth.
While the average annual temperature in the Reserve is between 9 and 11ºC, it can reach 21ºC at the height of a sunny day and at night go down to freezing. The visitor should remember that the higher you go, the colder it gets.
The Reserve is often cloudy and wet, and visitors should come prepared, with appropriate clothing and footwear.
What to bring:
Binoculars for bird-watching
A warm sleeping bag is also recommended, depending on the accommodation
How to get here:
The Ilinizas are located near the village of El Chaupi, which can be reached by taking the road to Sigchos west off the Panamerican Highway near the town of Machachi, to the south of the capital Quito. From El Chaupi, a 90 minute hike will take you to the refuge. This same road eventually leads to Sigchos, in the south of the Reserve, and allows visitors to reach El Corazón mountain.
An alternative route involves turning off the Panamerican Highway at the town of Lasso, south of Machachi. This road winds around the base of the Ilinizas.
To reach Lake Quilotoa, from Quito take the Panamerican highway to Latacunga (95km), and from there the road west towards Pujilí. The road passes the Kichwa communities of Tigua and Zumbahua before reaching Quilotoa, 4×4 vehicles are recommended.
Local traditions and folklore:
This Region is home to many Kichwa communities, who, for the most part, still cling to their traditional ways of life: farming llamas; cultivating traditional, hardy crops such as beans and corn; and speaking Kichwa, the language of the Incas. They continue to wear their vibrant, traditional clothes, with hand-embroidered blouses, necklaces of gold beads and bright shawls for the women, despite the harsh, wet climate.
The area by numbers:
• 5,305: The height, in meters, of Iliniza South, the Reserve´s highest point. Iliniza North stands at 5,116 meters.
• 4,788: The height, in meters, of Corazón Volcano, a relatively easy climb within the Reserve.
• 50: The number of mammal species found in the Reserve, although this number is expected to rise on further research.
• 40: The height, in meters, of the walls of the Toachi Canyon, formed after Quilotoa erupted. The canyon is ideal for hiking and horseback riding.