Podocarpus National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks in Ecuador due to its topography and location in the Eastern Ranges of the Andes Mountains in southern Ecuador. The park includes ecosystems within the Sierra and the Ecuadorian Amazon. Its altitude ranges from 900 to 3,600 meters above sea level. Podocarpus was declared a national park on December 15, 1982, a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2007 and in 2012 it was declared a Ramsar site, for wetlands conservation.
The park has valleys, slopes, mountains, glacial lakes, paramo, cloud forests, thickets, rivers and hills. This national park has more than 622 registered species (including over 37% of the birds in the country), which is why it is known as one of the richest destinations for birdlife in the world with mountain turkeys, rock roosters, parrots, hummingbirds, high-altitude toucans, tanagers, several species of raptors, torcaza, the eagle, woodpecker, bearded turkey, zumba, blackbird, Andean gull, dog bird and the guajalito.
There are also more than 4,000 species of flora, of which 40% of them are endemic, meaning it only exists in this region and you can’t find them anywhere else in the world.
Other animals that you can find in the park are pygmy deer, puma, various deer, páramo wolf, tigrillo, tapir, spectacled bear, spider monkeys, tapirs, cutines, jambatos, glass frogs, the anolis podocarpus lizard, the opossum, the marsupial mouse, the polynivorous bat, the American tiger, pudú, cervicabra, preñadilla, sardines, foxes, squirrels and the chucuri. In the park there are four major species in danger of extinction: the jaguar, the mountain tapir, the northern pudú and the spectacled Andean bear.
Near Podocarpus there are several additional natural areas that are worth visiting including Yacuri National Park and the Cerro Plateado Biological Reserve, which belong to the Podocarpus – El Cóndor Biosphere Reserve.
What makes the park unique is the mixture of the dry vegetation from the Coast, the humid vegetation of the high Andes and the forests of the Amazon, providing a great diversity of species. Some of the most common things to do in the Podocarpus National Park are hiking, biking, bird watching, horseback riding and camping.
The Podocarpus National Park is located between the provinces of Zamora Chinchipe (70%) and Loja (30%). The park can be reached through the city of Loja or through the city of Zamora. If you go from Loja, you access the Cajanuma Administrative Center. While if you visit from Zamora, you arrive via Bombuscaro.
Entrance to the park is free and is open daily from 08:00 AM to 5:00 PM. You must register at the entrance to the park at the rangers’ refuge.
When is the best time to visit Podocarpus National Park?
The best time to visit Podocarpus National Park is from September to December, when the weather is warmer and there is less chance of rain, ideal for the hiking trails.
What to bring or pack to visit the Podocarpus National Park?
The perfect packing list for Podocarpus National Park all depends on what area of the park you plan to visit. If you visit Loja you should wear warm clothes, a poncho, a waterproof jacket and closed-toe shoes, but if you go through Zamora it is advisable to wear light waterproof clothing and water shoes.
- Warm clothing (in case you visit the Lojano side of the park)
- Insect repellent
- Waterproof jacket
- Hiking shoes
How to get to Podocarpus National Park?
There are two main entrances to Podocarpus National Park. If you want to visit the lower part of the park, you have to go from Zamora along the Bombuscaro road for 7 kilometers until you reach the parking lot and follow the path that takes you to the park refuge.
If you want to visit the upper section of the park, you have to go from Loja along the road to Vilcabamba, continuing on for 15 kilometers until you reach the first checkpoint, and from there drive on 9 more kilometers to the Refuge from the Administrative Center.
Podocarpus National Park – Loja
Entering through the Administrative Center of Cajanuma, there are a range of short and long hikes, such as visiting the Lagunas del Compadre, which are 14 kilometers from the administrative center. The administrative center in Cajanuma has a conference room, cabins, a camping area, bathrooms and four assigned trails. If you are not interested in camping inside the park, don’t worry, you can stay in the shelter where there are five rooms, which cost $3.00 USD per person per night.
The four hiking trails from Cajanuma
Spectacled Bear: On this trail you walk through the cloud forest and can appreciate the flora and fauna. On this trail there are several information signs about the fauna and flora of the park. Distance: 400 meters | Difficulty: Low
Cloud Forest: This trail goes around the foot of the mountain range and returns to the first refuge, giving you the opportunity to enjoy the cloud forest and see a spectacular view from its natural viewpoint. Distance: 700 meters | Difficulty: Low
The Viewpoints: In this hike you pass through the cloud forest and the paramo to reach the viewpoints that give a panoramic view of the valleys of Loja, Vilcabamba and Malacatos. Distance: 5 kilometers | Difficulty: Difficult
Lagunas del Compadre: These lagoons are the main tourist attraction of the Podocarpus National Park, it is a long route that ends in the lagoons. Keep in mind that it takes at least two days to do this route, since its 14.5km distance is only one way. You can camp but you need to register with the park rangers. It is advisable to visit the lagoons in the months of November and December, with the lowest chance of rain and you can camp on the shore of the lagoons. In this sector you can hopefully see the mountain tapir and the moor wolf. Distance: 14.5 Kilometers | Difficulty: Difficult
Podocarpus National Park – Zamora (Bombuscaro)
In Buscaro there is an environmental interpretation center and a multipurpose room for educational activities. From this side of the park you can visit three trails, but to get to the first refuge you must park and climb a kilometer uphill.
La Poderosa Waterfall: A beautiful trail through the tropical jungle that takes you to an impressive waterfall that will leave you breathless. You can take a dip into the pool at the base of the waterfall and cool off. Distance: 500 meters | Difficulty: Medium
El Mirador: From the viewpoint you can appreciate the city of Zamora and the mountains that surround it. Distance: 1 Kilometer | Difficulty: Medium
Higuerones: You walk through a beautiful orchid garden and see the Bombuscaro River. You will have a great chance to see birds along the way. This tour can take several hours. Distance: 2 Kilometers | Difficulty: Medium
La Chismosa Waterfall: Small waterfall located just 200 meters from the environmental interpretation center, down some steps. Difficulty: Easy
Podocarpus National Park – Yangana – Valladolid
Cerro Toledo Viewpoint: It is a natural viewpoint located 12 kilometers from the Yangana road to Valladolid with a breathtaking view of the forest and the Andes Mountains. It is an excellent place to observe different types of birds.