In the language of the Kichwa, the descendents of the Incas, Pululahua means “Cloud of Water. And true to its name, the Pululahua Geobotanic Reserve is characterized by a thick cloud of mist that settles every afternoon over the high ground of this extinct volcano, whose last eruption is estimated to have been some 2,300 years ago.
Located virtually on the equatorial line, this most unusual Reserve is, in fact, the extinct volcano’s enormous 5 km wide crater, one of only two inhabited craters on the planet. Around the crater are several unusual dome-shaped elevations, creating a distinctive, intriguingly irregular landscape. The highest part of the reserve is the volcano Mt Sincholagua at 3,356 m above sea level.
The Reserve has well-marked trails, camping areas and information points, as well as a natural viewpoint on the rim of the crater, known as the Mirador de Ventanillas. Finca Colibrí, at the foot of Sincholagua, is recommended for horseback riding and mountain biking, and guests can even arrange to work on the farm in the morning in exchange for lodging.
Despite the fact that the Pululahua is located only an hour north of the capital, Quito, an amazing 905 species of plants have been identified here (10% of which can be found nowhere else) including various types of orchids. In the areas covered by cloud forest, visitors will be able to see entire tree trunks carpeted with orchids, bromeliads, ferns and thick growths of moss.
Around 30 species of mammals, including Andean foxes, little red brockets, and nine-banded armadillos, live in the Reserve, which is also characterised by the presence 102 species of birds, of which the guarro, or black chested eagle buzzard, and the many delightful hummingbirds which thrive on the nectar produced by the wide variety of flowers found here. These include: the sword-billed hummingbird, the only species to have a bill longer than its body; the large violet-tailed sylph, with long, iridescent tail feathers; and the turquoise-throated pufflegs, sadly bordering on extinction.
The surprising variety of iridescent hummingbirds within the Reserve is one of its most stunning sights.
The unusual landscape of Pululahua – the crater and the surrounding peaks – is spectacular, and there are many viewpoints around the crater, such as Ventanillas and Mauca Quito, which reward visitors with excellent views in the mornings, before the fog descends.
The average daily temperature ranges from 14–20°C, and the Reserve is shrouded in mist every afternoon throughout the year.
How to get here:
Pululahua can be reached from Quito by travelling to the Mitad del Mundo (the Column which marks the equator), and then following the road west to Calacalí. This road leads directly to the Mirador de Ventanillas.
An alternative route is to continue on from the Equatorial Line (Mitad del Mundo) on the road to the Hacienda Tanlahua (preferably in a 4×4) and from there on a third class road to the eastern part of the Reserve, called Hospital, Sincholagua or Mauca Quito (from here the visitor will have a spectacular view of the whole Reserve).
What to bring:
Binoculars for bird-watching.
The area by numbers:
• 2,300: The number of years since the Pululahua volcano last erupted.
• 1905: The year in which these lands were seized from the colonial landowners and returned to the indigenous people that worked them.
• 102: The number of bird species identified in the Reserve.
• 92: The number of plant species found nowhere else.