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7 Reasons to Visit Podocarpus National Park, Ecuador: Hiking, Birds (37 Photos)

Posted in: Ecuador Photos, Ecuador Travel

Ecuador’s Podocarpus National Park is said to have some of the highest plant and animal diversity in the world. In this post, we share 7 reasons to visit this amazing place.

beautiful river in Podocarpus National Park Ecuador


7 Reasons to Visit Podocarpus National Park

Podocarpus National Park covers an area of just over 1460 km2, with an elevation range from around 700 meters above sea level to over 3700m.

Podocarpus is a:

  • National Park (established in 1982)
  • Biosphere Reserve (recognized by UNESCO in 2007)
  • Ramsar Site (declared in 2012)

The park straddles Loja and Zamora, two provinces in southern Ecuador.

Watch on YouTube

Let’s learn 7 reasons why you should visit this mega-diverse National Park.

Waterfall at Podocarpus National Park Ecuador


1) Endemic Plants & Elfin Forest

Podocarpus National Park is considered the “Botanical Garden of America.” There are around 4000 plant species in the park, and 40% of them are endemic, which means you can’t find them anywhere else in the world.

trees and ferns in Podocarpus National Park Ecuador

Beautiful plants in Podocarpus National Park Ecuador

There are many unique tree species, like the Podocarpus glomeratus from which the park gets its name. You’ll also find a large number of orchids in Podocarpus.

Because of the range of elevation in the park you can explore lower montane rain-forests (at about 1000m) and high altitude elfin forests (at about 3000m). These forests have distinctly different ecosystems.

hiking in Podocarpus Ecuador

Plants in Podocarpus National Park

The high altitude elfin forest is a rare ecosystem with miniature trees. The trees are usually between 5 to 8 meters tall with shallow root systems. Most of the moisture in this type of forest comes from mist and fog when the clouds move from lower elevations up over the mountains.

The epiphytes (air plants) really add to the unique look of the elfin forest, there are usually more in this forest than in other types of forests.

Air plants in Podocarpus Ecuador

The park is so unique and biodiverse because it covers an area where coastal dry vegetation meets the more humid Amazon and Andes ecosystems.


2) Rare Mammals in Podocarpus National Park

Four of the 68 mammal species in Podocarpus National Park are on Ecuador’s Red List as either endangered or vulnerable.

The vulnerable or endangered 4 are the:

  1. Spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus)
  2. Northern pudu (Pudu mephistophiles)
  3. Mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque)
  4. Jaguar (Panthera onca)

Animals in Podocarpus National Park Ecuador Spectacled bear

While it’s rare to see large mammals at the park, it does happen. Here’s a short video clip of a spectacled bear. The video quality is a little fuzzy, but still gives us the feel of how exciting it would be to see one in the wild.

Video of Wild Spectacled Bear at Podocarpus National Park:

Watch on YouTube

Other mammals in the park include, the common grey shrew opossum, the dwarf deer, the amazonian hog-nosed skunk, spider monkeys, and the ocelot.


3) So Many Birds!

Podocarpus is home to over 600 bird species! This park is a bird lovers paradise.

Bird watching in Podocarpus National Park Ecuador

Among the bird species are 81 different kinds of tanagers and 61 species of hummingbirds.

Among others you can see the Andean cock-of-the-rock, toucans, the Nebilna Metaltail, and the White-breasted Parakeet.

You may also see some interesting birds nests throughout the park.

Birds in Podocarpus National Park Andean cock of the rock

Andean cock-of-the-rock

birds nests hanging from a tree in Podocarpus National Park Ecuador

If you’re serious about bird-watching in Podocarpus it’s recommended that you hire a guide or travel with an agency. It can be difficult to locate the birds on your own. The guides know the best times and places to see the birds, they can also recognize them by their calls which can help with location.


4) Podocarpus National Park Hiking

There are 7 trails for hiking in Podocarpus National Park. They are of varying difficulty and take you through different ecosystems.

  • If entering from Loja ask your taxi to wait while you register (entrance is free) and then to drive the 8kms to the Refugio (ranger station) and trail heads.
  • If entering from Zamora, you’ll have a 15 to 20 minute walk from the entrance to the visitors center where you can get information about the hiking trails.
Cabin-in-Podocarpus-National-Park-Ecuador

Visitors center, Zamora entrance

hiking by rivers in Podocarpus National Park Ecuador

There are two main entrances to Podocarpus National Park:

  • To access the higher elevations – Cajanuma in Loja
  • To access the lower elevations – Bombuscaro in Zamora

4 Cajanuma Trails (Loja):

  1. Oso de anteojos: A 400m return hike that takes you through the cloud forest.
  2. Bosque Nublado: A 700m hike that takes you around the side of a mountain. You’ll see a cloud forest and enjoy a look-off point on this hike.
  3. Los Miradores: A 5km hike that takes you through the cloud forest, and the Loja, Vilcabamba and Malacatos valleys. (This is a very popular hike. It’s recommended to hike it counterclockwise.)
  4. Lagunas del Compadre: A 14.5km hike that takes 2 days. This hike requires a guide and takes you to Lagunas del Compadre where you can camp and go sport fishing.

Hiking in Podocarpus National Park

3 Bombuscaro trails (Zamora):

  1. Cascada la Poderosa: A hike of about a 500m that takes you through the rainforest to a beautiful waterfall.
  2. Al Mirador: A 1km return hike that takes you to a lookoff with breathtaking views of the mountains and the city of Zamora.
  3. Higuerones: A 2km return hike where you’ll see an orchid garden and the Bombuscaro river.

Hiking trail in Podocarpus National Park Ecuadro

Along with Podocarpus National Park hiking, camping is available in both locations. You can also swim, go horseback riding, and do some sport fishing.

Camping and fishing in Podocarpus National Park Ecuador

At higher elevations, like on the Lagunas del Compadre trail the weather can be beautiful or brutal. The following videos will give you a taste of both.

Lagunas del Compadre: Podocarpus National Park

Beautiful weather:

Watch on YouTube

Brutal weather:

Watch on YouTube

For the higher elevation trails it’s best to pack warm waterproof clothing, a hat, gloves, and sturdy hiking shoes/boots.

At lower elevations (the Bombuscaro trails) the weather will be warmer, but may still be wet.

Don’t forget your sunblock and bug-repellent.


5) The Lakes of Podocarpus National Park

The lakes are one of the main attractions of the park. There are 50 glacial lakes in the central area of Podocarpus. This was declared a Ramsar Site in 2012.

The lakes support many mammal and bird species. There are also rivers and waterfalls in the park.

Beautiful waterfall in Podocarpus National Park Ecuador

River in Podocarpus National Park Ecuador


6) Butterflies in Podocarpus National Park

Along with other insects, you are very likely to see lots of beautiful butterflies. Many visitors are thrilled to see the Anna’s eighty-eight butterfly.

Anna's eighty-eight butterfly in Podocarpus National Park Ecuador

Anna’s eighty-eight butterfly (Do you see the 88?)

butterflies on the river bank in Pococarpus Ecuador

yellow butterflies in Podocarpus Ecuador

butterfly in Podocarpus Ecuador

Podocarpus National Park Butterflies


7) Orchids and Unique Flowers

There is an orchidarium (orchid garden) inside the park. Along with the orchids seen there, you can see them growing wild throughout the park. Many are endemic and ornamental.

You’ll also see many other unique plants as you hike through the different ecosystems in the park.

Flowers in Podocarpus Ecuador

flowers in Podocarpus National Park Ecuador

Plants in Podocarpus Ecuador

You may enjoy reading about the orchidarium in Cuenca.


Podocarpus National Park Map

How to get to Podocarpus National Park: To get directions to Podocarpus National Park click the directions arrow on the following map and then click on your current location (or the location you’ll be staying in while in Ecuador).

Map of Podocarpus National Park

This is a map of Podocarpus National Park itself. The park is in the south of Ecuador boarding Peru. The yellow shows the Biosphere Reserve, and the dark green is the National Park.

Podocarpus National Park map


Podocarpus National Park and You

Have you been to Podocarpus, or will you visit while in Ecuador? Please let us know by commenting on this post.

leafcutter ants Podocarpus National Park Ecuador

Leafcutter ants in Podocarpus

Thanks to National System of Protected Areas for help with research for this post!

Read more about travel and living in Ecuador.

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Meet the Author

Dena Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. She is a travel blogger and content marketer. She is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with GringosAbroad.

4 comments… add one
  • Lisa Feb 5, 2018, 11:07 am

    I’ve literally just published my blog post on hiking the Miradores Trail in Podocarpus National Park. I LOVED this hike! And although I had lots of fog and couldn’t see any of the vistas from the miradores, the biodiversity was incredible and it is one of my favourite hikes I’ve done (and I’ve done a lot!)

    I only had 1 day to hike from Loja, but will definitely return to do more trails in Podocarpus – especially the lakes trail.

  • Glenn Engelbrecht Feb 3, 2018, 11:12 pm

    Thank you for all your wonderful e-mails, i save them all, I had planned on retiring to Ecuador by the end of 2010, but the recession, and a couple other problems put that on hold. In one communication to another “expat” website, i commented on how much I admired the country, and was looking forward to retiring there soon, and growing my own chocolate: I actually received an e-mail from past President, Rafeal Correa, the very next day, thanking me for the nice things I said about his country, his ending salutation was: “as long as I`m President, you will always be welcome here.” Your e-mails are very nice, informative, great pictures, and well put together, thank you.

  • Lourdes Feb 3, 2018, 4:25 pm

    The beautiful and breathtaking photos captured nature in all its glory.
    Needless to say, how much I love Ecuador 🙂 three times I have visited the beautiful country. In Mindo, I saw some of the beautiful birds and butterflies which were featured in this video.
    Thanks for sharing,

    Cheers,
    Lourdes
    Montreal, QC, Canada.

  • David Khoury Feb 3, 2018, 12:17 pm

    These pictures of Podocarpus Park are beautiful, colorful, awesome, absolutely spectacular!

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