Antisana is one of the great volcanoes of the Andean cordillera, crucial for the ecosystems that surround it as well as the entire northern belt of the Andes, whose waters filter into the Amazon Basin and feed and irrigate the region around Quito. The snow-capped mountain itself is quite a sight when it suddenly reveals its jagged, white contours as low clouds whimsically appear and disappear in the sky. Sometimes it clears gloriously while at other times it only peeks out to see who’s visiting.
Antisana always makes for a memorable outing and one of the reasons we can say this is just how easy it is to see some of the faunal species that inhabit its páramo habitat. We are quick to spot the activity as we approach: birds flying about, feeding on the ground, sometimes in great numbers… as well as various species of mammals. It is also an excellent place to exercise, with easy exploration routes; all this within a short distance from downtown Quito (about an hour-and-a-half from the capital).
Until a little over a decade ago, this natural sanctuary was rarely visited; to do so, one required entry permits from the landowner himself, since it was located within private property. The area immediately surrounding the volcano has since become a National Park and much of the nearby land is also being protected by conservation entities and private ecotourism projects.
You have several options when planning your day or half day there. The most common is to enter the Antisana National Park and visit La Mica Lake. This large body of water is the final destination if one takes the main route into the park. You can comfortably park your car (the road to the parking lot and registration area is paved and easily accessible).
But first, you should be on the lookout, as there are great possibilities to observe wildlife on the way there. It’s worth going slow. One can come across several bird species, including the unique Andean Ibis, a beautiful buff-colored bird with a spectacular curved beak. You may come across the Andean Gull, an elegant bird from a family that you would expect to see on a beach, in this case, a native of the country’s highland páramo. You might see the Carunculated Caracara, sniffing about the ground in search of food (it picks at the grass with its feet and seems like it’s dancing) or the boisterous but delicate Andean Lapwing.
If one is really focused on looking for birds, there’s more: including Peregrine Falcon, one of the world’s fastest birds; the Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, a powerful hunter that usually soars while seeking food; or, why not, the majestic Andean Condor, Ecuador’s national bird. Antisana is home to Ecuador’s largest populations of this species. Keep your eyes wide open, looking up at the sky, to identify this great gliding bird.
But birds are not the only encounters on the way to the lake (and around it). Various mammals are common and if you walk quietly, you will be able to spot them. A very special and quite frequent encounter is the Brazilian Rabbit. This species hides amid the tall grass and every now and then pokes its head out; you might see it as it feeds (adorably) before it notices your presence and darts away. Another amazing encounter is spotting families of White-tailed Deer grazing against the mountainous backdrop; and with some luck you might come across a Culpeo Fox, another paramo specialty.
Once in La Mica, the main route takes us to the top of a small hill located at the foot of the lake. The walk to the summit offers us a viewpoint of both the lake and the snow-capped mountain (spectacular on a clear day). One can walk the ridge to the end, towards other viewpoints, or return along the lake’s shore, where frogs, rabbits, and swimming birds such as the Silvery Grebe or Andean Coot are common.
This outing is especially fascinating during sunny summer mornings in the Andes. One can even stay at Tambo Cóndor, located near the park entrance, a nice paramo hotel with hummingbird feeders; or at Hacienda Guaytacara. If you’re only planning to spend the day, you might want to enjoy a delicious trout, a specialty here, at any of these places. You can also visit Secas Lake, which offers boat rides, or Jocotoco Foundation’s Chacana Reserve, a sanctuary for Andean Condors, where you may also be lucky enough to see Spectacled Bears, with unforgettable views of both paramo grassland, and the dramatic lakes and cliffs at Antisanilla, an immense lava formation created by the volcano’s ancient eruptions.
Contact Fundación Jocotoco
+593 992 44 0038
+593 997 61 8637 / +593 983 41 6322
+593 988 48 6196