Your Own Private Páramo – El Angel Ecological Reserve, Ecuador

2019-02-03T13:12:29+00:00November 19, 2018   ||   Posted in: Ecuador - , ||   0 Comments

Very few people visit the high-altitude páramo landscape in the El Angel Ecological Reserve in northern Ecuador, and that’s a shame.

Paramo El Angel Reserve Ecuador

Classic El Angel páramo scenery: frailejón plants on the hillsides and polylepis trees in the valleys.

Exploring El Angel Reserve in Ecuador

Ecuador has more than 30 national parks, ecological preserves, and wildlife refuges. In 2012, then President Rafael Correa waived the entry fee to all of them (except Galapagos Islands National Park) in an effort to get more Ecuadoreans out into their wild spaces.

El Angel Ecological Reserve Ecuador

The entrance to the El Angel Ecological Reserve in Ecuador.

However, many parks in Ecuador are still virtually visitor free. Take El Angel Ecological Reserve for example. Located just three hours from Quito, this reserve contains some of the country’s most gorgeous high-altitude páramo plus three of the four species of Seuss-like frailejón plants on the planet and the world’s only known stand of a certain species of hobbity polylepis tree. Yet we saw a grand total of five other people when we explored this stunning park.

Frailejon El Angel Ecological Reserve Ecuador

Frailejón plants are related to pineapples.

Páramo is a moor-like mossy, marshy wetland that acts like a giant sponge, trapping water which is then slowly released. Páramo landscapes provide drinking water for millions of people and support some pretty odd and specific flora and fauna. The most striking páramo plant is called a frailejón. It grows quite tall (up to 23 feet or 7 meters), has huge hairy leaves (to protect the plant from extreme cold), develops yellow flowers, and is in the same family as pineapples.

Frailejon flower paramo El Angel Ecological Reserve Ecuador

The distinctive yellow flowers and fuzzy leaves of the frailejón.

The El Angel reserve covers 40,873 acres (16,541 hectares) at altitudes between 11,154 feet (3,400 meters) to 13,779 feet (4,200 meters). We saw just a tiny slice of this cold, harsh environment when we walked the 1 mile (1.7 km) Laguna de Valedora loop trail.

Laguna de Valedora loop trail - El Angel Ecological Reserve

Hiking in El Angel includes high-altitude lakes and odd páramo plants like these frailejón.

The trail was very well-groomed with graveled sections and stairways with handrails. That’s good since the spectacular landscape is likely to keep your eyes off the trail. Picture frailejón plants as far as the eye can see. Then add in scenic lakes, circling birds of prey, and a series of three inviting mirador gazebos. The trail even accesses to the lakeshore at one point. We recommend bringing a picnic.

Sleeping in El Angel

Polylepis Lodge - El Angel Ecological Reserve

Cabins at Polylepis Lodge inside the El Angel reserve in Ecuador.

About a mile past the entrance to the El Angel reserve you’ll find the entrance to Polylepis Lodge which is in its own private reserve which includes a 4 acre (1.6 hectare) forest of polylepis trees. There are 23 types of polylepis trees and all are marked by peeling, paper-like bark, gnarled, stunted stature, and a covering of moss and bromeliads. The polylepis forest at the lodge is full of a species of polylepis found nowhere else on earth.

Polylepis trees - Polylepis Lodge Ecuador

One of the hallmarks of polylepis trees is their red, papery, peeling bark.

The trees thrive there at 11,700 feet (3,566 meters) in a glacial valley that’s 2-4 million years old. It’s a rainy, foggy, windy environment which makes the cozy common spaces and rustic accommodations at Polylepis Lodge very inviting.

El Angel Reserve polylepis forest

A trail through polylepis trees around Polylepis Lodge.

Polylepis trees El Angel Reserve Ecuador

One of the hallmarks of polylepis trees is their red, papery, peeling bark.

Rooms at Polylepis Lodge include rustic cabins near the main buildings with hardwood floors, hot water, a double bed and bunk beds, private bathroom, and a wood-burning cast iron stove. There’s also a suite with its own jacuzzi and a standalone cabin further in the forest.

Polylepis trees El Angel Reserve

Polylepis trees around Polylepis Lodge in Ecuador.

polylepis forest El Angel Reserve Ecuador

Polylepis trees around Polylepis Lodge in Ecuador.

All guests have access to the lodge’s sauna and jacuzzi and use of the weirdly modern common room with its fireplace and mini-museum full of pottery found on the property. Rates include tours on the property and three meals a day. The food is good, fresh, and plentiful including locro soup and trout which is farmed onsite.

polylepis forest El Angel Reserve Ecuador

Polylepis trees around Polylepis Lodge in Ecuador.

polylepis lodge forest trails El Angel Reserve Ecuador

Polylepis trees around Polylepis Lodge in Ecuador.

 

Here’s more about travel in Ecuador

 

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